By Matt Saccaro
The UFC has come under fire lately for several reasons: Declining numbers, oversaturation, the fading of their stars, launching a digital network with a questionable premise, not hiring Ben Askren and so on. When we fling insults at the UFC, we need to remember a few things about the company in order to put these negative occurrences and circumstances into perspective. Let’s start with the most obvious but frequently-ignored point:
1. The UFC is a business.
The purpose of the UFC is to make its owners money. The UFC does not exist to feed fighters’ families. There’s not much else to say on this front. Companies have to make money to be viable. Yeah, it sucks that some guys get paid an absurdly small amount of money for what they do, and it sucks that the UFC is upping the PPV price.
That’s just something we have to deal with though. If you don’t like it, vote with your dollar. If enough people tune out, Zuffa’s wallet will know and they’ll either change their tune accordingly or lose money.
2. The UFC is an international company.
There’s been talk about the UFC hiring unfit-for-television jobbers lately. It’s true but necessary. The UFC is headed to distant lands where MMA is in its most nascent stages. The talent pool in these places is more like a mud puddle. The UFC has to work with what it’s given in China and Singapore. Deepening foreign talent pools can only happen by growing the sport overseas, and growing the sport overseas can only happen when they have foreign (foreign to us, home grown to them) fighters on the card. And since there aren’t many great foreign fighters, the UFC has to scrape the bottom of a very empty barrel. This results in fighters getting a place in the “Super Bowl of MMA” who shouldn’t even be in the bleachers, let alone on the field.
Furthermore, these fighters — guys like Royston Wee — aren’t meant for us North Americans. The fights on the UFC’s digital network aren’t meant for us either. They’re meant for other markets. It’s fun to take potshots at the UFC for the terrible card quality on the digital network, but it’s a wanking contest. It’s like willfully eating someone else’s dinner and then complaining it wasn’t what you ordered. Zuffa knows we don’t give a fuck about low-level fighters in countries with a non-developed MMA ecosystem. That’s why they’re not airing events packed with those fighters in the US (unless you choose to watch them).
3. Nobody is forcing you to buy every PPV or watch every free card.
If you don’t like a Fight Night or TUF Finale card, don’t watch it and check out the post-event GIFs on r/MMA the next morning.
There’s no need to complain about card quality if you’re a fan. Dana White isn’t putting a gun to your head and making you slide out the credit card. Subjection to a watered-down, awful PPV is self-inflicted.
“But I want to watch ALL the fights!” Well, that’s your problem. Free MMA is not a right. Besides, I’m sure you’re the kind of person who’ll find another way to watch the PPV that’s of dubious legality. Ironically, you’re probably the kind of person who complains about fighter pay while stealing from fighters…
4. The UFC is sports entertainment.
There exists a sport that’s pure competition with no entertainment-enhancing aspects to it whatsoever. It’s called amateur wrestling and nobody watches it.
The UFC is not amateur wrestling. The UFC is not a sport; it’s sports entertainment.
There’s no competitive architecture (no, the laughable official UFC rankings — a gimmick to keep non-UFC fighters out of Internet arguments — don’t count). Skill is secondary to star power. The UFC has never been about pitting the two best fighters in the world against one another. It’s been about booking the fights that will draw the most money. This is hardly a novel concept yet so many MMA fans are in ridiculous, quite frankly embarrassing, denial of it. They think that if the UFC is sports entertainment then that somehow makes them as bad as a professional wrestling fan — a “loser” who watches a soap opera meant for prepubescent boys.
No amount of insecurity-fueled rejection can counteract the facts. If the UFC wasn’t sports entertainment, they’d have signed Ben Askren. They’d have never let James Toney, Brock Lesnar, or Kimbo Slice (dis)grace the Octagon. They’d have never given Chael Sonnen, Nick Diaz, or Frankie Edgar title shots coming off losses. They’d have let the fights and fighters shine over obnoxious figurehead
Vince McMahon Dana White.
And, of course, there’s the manufactured hype in between fights: “We said all the trash talk just to sell the fight.”
We all watch real fighting with fake, pro-wrestling storylines. It’s called the UFC.
5. The UFC is only 20 years old, they’re not supposed to have their shit together yet.
Whenever the UFC is compared to boxing it’s usually cringeworthy—something like saying two Facebook prelim tomato cans are the MMA equivalents of legendary boxers. One aspect that makes sense to compare, however, is longevity.
Boxing has been a popular sport since time immemorial. The UFC has only been around for 20 years. Yes, MMA in the forms of Pankration and Vale Tudo have been around for a while, but the majority of people don’t know about that and don’t care either; Pankration might as well be a liver disease to them. All they know is “UFC” and boxing. The UFC is new and frightening and weird. People roll around on the floor and cut each other with elbows and knees. They bend each other’s arms the wrong way. Boxing is safe and traditional. Fighters only smash brains into shriveled sponges with punches, so it’s acceptable. This is how people think. Children were even banned from a UFC show in Germany! MMA is still outlawed in New York and use of the cage, MMA’s most recognizable symbol, is banned in parts of Australia.
The UFC, at only 20 years old, has tons of ground to cover, and many issues to sort out. Like an angsty college kid, the UFC is still mapping its future. The path will be littered with both successes and failures.