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Serious Question: Will the UFC Exist in 50 Years?

(No party can last forever. / Photo via Getty)

By Mike Fagan

A few weeks ago, I posed a question to Twitter: “What are the odds the UFC doesn’t exist in 50 years?” I figured most people would call me crazy for even asking the question, since human beings underestimate the likelihood of unlikely events. Yet, the responses I got — responses from people whose opinions I respect — swung hard the other way:

“Really really high.”

“Absolutely gone within 50 years.”

“50 years? 99 percent.”

“[W]ould guess better than 50% chance it doesn’t exist in 50 years.”

“I’d say zero chance in 50 years.”

Of the ten or so people to respond, none gave the UFC better than a 50/50 shot of existing in 50 years.  Now, that seems low to me, but it speaks to the nonzero probability that the UFC may cease to exist between now and 2064.

The UFC seems to be in total control. They’ve bested all their serious competitors. Their TV deal with Fox/Fox Sports has cemented them in the mainstream, albeit a NASCAR-esque niche of that mainstream. They have a virtual monopoly on the top fighters in the sport. So what could bring them down? Let’s speculate!

THE IMPENDING APOCALYPSE! This one’s cheating, but let’s just use it as a catch-all for natural disasters, acts of God(s), and mutually assured destruction. We also shouldn’t discount the possibility of aliens returning for Georges St-Pierre. In short, there may not be a place for MMA because there may not be a place for human beings on this planet.

HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER! Ted Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions in November 1988 and renamed it World Championship Wrestling. Within six years, Monday Nitro, WCW’s flagship TV show, began drawing better ratings than the then-named World Wrestling Federation’s Monday Night Raw. WCW ultimately failed in its attempt to usurp the WWF, and Turner was forced to sell the promotion in 2001.

It’s not a perfect analogy — the WWF of 1990 did not have the same sort of stranglehold on talent as current-day UFC (or WWE for that matter). The perfect time to enter the market would have been in the vacuum of Pride’s absence, and the UFC has already weathered storms that Affliction and Strikeforce posed.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. It took Turner and WCW six years before they were competing neck-and-neck with the WWF. Scott Coker could build momentum with a compelling and entertaining product made out of scrap parts over the next couple of years before Viacom opens the pocketbook to poach UFC/UFC-level talent.

SCANDAL! Pride fell apart when anti-yakuza lawyer Toshiro Igari took on agent/promoter Miro Mijatovic’s case over being extorted at gunpoint for the rights to promote Fedor Emelianenko. Igari worked in conjunction with Japanese authorities and got PRIDE taken off of Fuji TV with a “cease and desist order” in 2006; when another TV partner couldn’t be found, parent-company Dream Stage Entertainment sold the promotion and assets to the UFC. If you think the UFC can’t fall within 50 years, remember that no one thought Pride would be dead within a couple years during the summer of 2005.

The Fertitta family’s own mob ties aside, what if someone discovers something like promotion-sanctioned fight fixing, or widespread cover-ups of failed drug tests for marquee fighters? Unlike the NBA and NFL, it only takes one scandal to bring down a fight promotion.

DEATH IN THE OCTAGON! The UFC’s been incredibly fortunate in terms of the health and safety of their fighters inside the Octagon. That is, of course, excluding the company’s best fighter snapping his shin in half on one of the biggest shows in the company’s history.

The sport’s had its fair share of deaths resulting from competition. When Douglas Dedge died in 1998, the focus shifted to a lack of fatalities in sanctioned events. Then Sam Vasquez died following a fight in Houston in 2007. Now we celebrate the fact that no one has died inside the Octagon.

With the UFC putting on close to 50 events a year and filling those events with lesser and lesser talent, it’s reasonable to assume that someone enters the Octagon a living, breathing person and leaves the Octagon a stiff, lifeless corpse in the next half century.

Boxing survived Benny Paret’s death in 1962 — but that was long before the issue of concussions in sports became a sensitive subject. Combine a death inside the Octagon with a politician looking to make waves, and the negative publicity could drown the UFC.

MMA’S CURT FLOOD! In 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood, citing a variety of reasons, refused to report to his new club. Flood’s action set off a series of events that eventually led baseball to free agency in 1975.

The idea of a fighter’s union or a fighter’s association is almost always predicated on a fighter (and more likely a group of fighters) acting as Curt Flood did in 1969. Given the lack of leverage for all but a few fighters, MMA’s Curt Flood will likely have to be a champion — a drawing champion. Randy Couture almost played that role in 2007, and Georges St-Pierre could have played that role had he taken a more political stand over the last year.

What should concern the UFC more than a fighter’s union, however, is some number of elite fighters forsaking the UFC and attempting to run their own event. Floyd Mayweather’s name is never far from a fighter’s lips, and it’s hard to imagine the UFC’s top stars looking at Mayweather’s eight-figure paydays without scratching their heads.

If you approached me with a wager of the highest Duke stakes and gave me 50/50 odds, I’d bet on the UFC still being around in the next 50 years. That said, I imagine it looks quite different than the current product, and Dana White and the Fertittas will have surely moved on from their leadership roles by then; maybe the business is passed on to an heir who steers it off a cliff. It would not shock me if the promotion dissipated between now and then, and you wonder how much preparation the UFC has made for unknown unknowns.

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