The Ultimately Fighting Championship has lobbied extensively over the years and their efforts have finally paid off. After many setbacks, New York finally hosted their first UFC event and by all accounts, it was an enormous success. UFC president and mouthpiece, Dana White, insists the historic event broke all records. UFC 205 attracted nearly 20,500 fans and generated $17.7 million at the gate. The number greatly surpassed the UFC’s previous record of $12 million. The UFC’s first trip to the Big Apple could easily be their most successful event of all time. Conor McGregor, who has become the company’s biggest draw, made history of his own. The company should be applauded. If everything went so smoothly, why does UFC 205 feel like a major nightmare the day after?
Unfortunately, UFC’s biggest show also shined the spotlight on the company and the sport’s biggest problems. One of the biggest stories to emerge from the weekend extravaganza could very well lead to the dismantlement of the UFC as a whole. If it doesn’t, it could lead to major changes. To borrow a phrase from Joe Rogan, those changes would greatly “diminish” the UFC’s role in the sport of mixed martial arts. So, what went wrong? What will the UFC need to do to establish their legitimacy as a mainstream sport? Sadly, UFC 205 poked holes into the mask that the sport has been wearing, as it attempts to disguise itself as a big league sport such as the NFL, NBA or MLB.
Cutting The Weight
One of the biggest problems associated with the UFC and MMA in general is weight cutting. The lack of discipline on behalf of many fighters and the company’s inability to fix the problem was on clear display during the lead up to UFC’s historic New York event. Fighters missing weight has become more common than heel hook submissions. Nearly every single event has at least one fighter that exceeds the threshold. Some head backstage, purge, sweat, and eventually make the weight, but the weight cutting is a problem in and of itself. UFC 205 clearly identified the company’s inability to control the risks their fighters are willing to take to get an edge.
Thiago Alves is no stranger to weight issues. He originally fought at welterweight or 170 pounds. Even at that weight class, Alves missed weight several times. And then, his career hit a skid. His solution? Cut even more weight and fight smaller guys. If Alves wasn’t stepping inside the Octagon and risking his life, he could easily be considered a coward. And of course, he was unable to make the lightweight limit for his UFC 205 fight with Jim Miller. Miller bravely accepted the fight regardless and miraculously won. Nonetheless, the size difference was on display during the fight and Alves isn’t alone.
It is hard to ignore Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum entered the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight. As so many other fighters have done, he dropped down in an attempt to get an advantage over the competition. After four straight wins, it was clear he had made the right choice. Of course, he missed weight several times. During the weigh-ins for UFC’s 205 card, Gastelum didn’t even bother getting on the scale. This led to the cancelation of his fight against Donald Cerrone and also angered Dana White, who insists Gastelum will never fight at welterweight ever again.
UFC 205 was filled with contests between smaller men and much bigger competitors. Sometimes the smaller man wins, but it is undeniable that the bigger man maintains a big advantage. Even the hero of the night, Conor McGregor, was substantially bigger than his opponent. McGregor has fought at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. His welterweight bout with Nate Diaz proved McGregor should be nowhere near featherweight and lightweight is a stretch as well. While McGregor may have skills, one has to wonder how much of a factor weight and size truly is in MMA. At times, it feels like MMA has become less about skills and more about beating the scales and manipulating the system. Ronda Rousey also has an immense size advantage over her opponents. Is it any coincidence she only lost to someone slightly bigger than her?
Cutting significant amounts of weight is unsafe and it diminishes the legitimacy of the sport. The UFC is powerless to do anything, despite some of their fighters missing weight countless times. And, the fighters seem to agree losing a percentage of their purse is worth it, as long as they maintain the size advantage over their opponent. How can the UFC fix this problem? Who knows? Boxing added more weight classes and that proved to be a double-edged sword.
The Rankings Structure
If you listen to Dana White, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about a fighter’s union. Nonetheless, it is clear a fighter’s union would greatly diminish the UFC’s control over their fighters. And, it would potentially deteriorate the company’s near monopoly over the sport. It is highly unlikely the league’s new owners will like the ideal. It could actually bring the UFC down to the level of Bellator, while pushing these organizations out of the spotlight. A lot people watch boxing, yet they’re unfamiliar with Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions. These promotional groups stay out of the limelight, which is something the UFC doesn’t want. The league has always squashed rivals by boasting about its talent pool. Well, if the UFC wants to remain out of a union structure, you wouldn’t know it looking at UFC 205.
The UFC has simultaneously diminished the legitimacy of its sport, while also opening the door for unions to move right in. Face it, Conor McGregor should’ve never been anywhere near the UFC lightweight title. McGregor had never fought at lightweight in the UFC, yet he was gifted a title shot, because he was their main draw. And, it was difficult to pass up the opportunity to watch him dominate a smaller man to make history. Many lightweights deserved the title shot over McGregor. They include Tony Ferguson, Jim Miller and Khabib Nurmagomedov. This isn’t an isolated event. The UFC consistently manipulates their rankings to put together more favorable fights, whether or not the fans like it.
Take former champion Ronda Rousey as an example. Rousey was beaten brutally by Holly Holm. She hasn’t fought since, yet her title shot has already been secured. The loss should move Rousey to the back of the line, but it didn’t. Instead, she has leapfrogged Julianna Pena and Raquel Pennington. Both are on a four fight winning streak. Don’t forget Dan Henderson, who was given a title shot again middleweight champion, Michael Bisping. It didn’t matter than Henderson had only 2 wins in his last 5 fights. And those other 3 fights? He was stopped by either knockout or submission. Now, look at guys like Lyoto Machida. The former champion was forced to string together 6 wins in the Octagon before he got a title shot. Why? His fights were considered boring.
And how about Jon Fitch? Fitch accumulated 8 straight wins, before finally getting a shot at the title. It is no secret that title holders are paid more than their lesser known counterparts. Champions are more likely to obtain sponsorships, film roles and more opportunities to earn more. The UFC’s ability to manipulate or completely ignore those rankings is frightening and one of the biggest reasons fighters are turning towards a union. The Professional Fighters Association intends to play an integral role in the formation of a fighter’s union. And one of their primary goals is to create an independent ranking system, which could not be manipulated by the UFC or any other MMA promoter.
With more fighters speaking out, a fighter’s union may very well be right around the corner. If the UFC continues to pander to select fighters, that once impossible ideal could soon become a reality.
At the end of the day, the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a very successful showing in New York. It set records, broke into New York, and created history. But, at what cost? There was a time when Dana used to criticize boxing for having a single big fight. He would complain how fans would pay 50 bucks for a single fight only to stay up and watch the fight end in the first round. The UFC now undeniably faces this same problem. The organization’s talent is lacking, because they refuse to promote and market more than one or two fighters.
The problem isn’t a lack of talent or personalities. The problem is the UFC puts little to no effort into the majority of their fighters, while marketing Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey heavily. They have created their own dilemma, which has forced them to manipulate their own rakings to ensure viewers tune in. The UFC may have gotten their day in New York and Conor may have created history by holding two titles simultaneously, but in doing so, the sport that desires to be legitimate has been lowered to the same playing field as the WWE.
The UFC needs their fighters to vote against a Union, in order to remain relevant. As they continue to ignore most and only focus on two, the potential of a union coming into fruition starts to look more probable. If that happens, the UFC and their new owners will have nobody but themselves to blame for becoming irrelevant. After all, they are the ones responsible for turning their sport into a circus.