Anthony Mahon / Feature / February 2018

The Troubling State of the UFC

Written by Anthony Mahon

Last week, I read a Deadspin piece by Patrick Wyman titled “Who Cares About The UFC In 2018?”

While the title of the article is a kick-in-the-nuts for any fan of the MMA organization, it’s 100% accurate.

UFC made steady progress as a cult favorite throughout the mid 2000s, slowly transitioning to a mainstream powerhouse. They broke pay-per-view records left and right. Their success led to the creation of the reality series The Ultimate Fighter and eventually, a lucrative deal with FOX.

In recent years, two names have been key to UFC’s mainstream success: two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor and former Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Ronda Rousey.

However, Rousey signed with the WWE after two devastating losses against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes. Conor McGregor—while a busy man in his own right—has not defended the UFC Lightweight Championship since unseating former champion Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. Despite being a former UFC Featherweight and current Lightweight champion, McGregor has zero title defenses period.

UFC President Dana White eventually confirmed that the UFC 223 fight between interim Lightweight champion, Tony Ferguson and undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov will be for the undisputed championship.

Despite the issue of titles having a little more clarity, the prolonged absences of two of MMA’s biggest names has had a negative impact on the UFC. McGregor hasn’t fought in a year and a half, and Rousey may never fight again.

Name value aside, the UFC has a wide array of issues. Their exclusive sponsorship deal with Reebok grossly underpays its fighters, forcing them to abandon their higher-paying independent sponsorships for Reebok kits. This caused a flurry of talent including Ryan Bader, Rory Macdonald, Gegard Mousasi, and former UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson to jump ship to Bellator MMA.

The UFC made very minor alterations to their fighter payment structure and it’s still not close to what many fighters were making with their multiple individual sponsors. In addition to payment structure changes, the UFC added ridiculously excessive media responsibilities.

According to ESPN, athletes are now obligated to provide “four days of ‘advance’ media promotions, six hours of ‘fight week’ promotion, and one hour of ‘post-fight’ promotion.” Athletes competing in headlining bouts—main or co-main events—are additionally required to permit the UFC filming access “eight days prior to a fight.” The UFC can also request a “one-day, eight-hour commercial shoot” twice a year for each of its individual athletes.” 

The UFC’s rigorous schedule—with a whopping six events taking place since the beginning of 2018—has led to thin rosters for watered-down cards and a downturn in ratings. Granted, Bellator is also suffering in numbers despite having more name value on their roster than ever before.

The best fighter on their roster, UFC Flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson, is constantly disrespected. Johnson has held the Flyweight championship for a staggering five and a half years, is #1 on multiple pound-for-pound rankings, and recently broke the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history. That considered, it was surprising to many, including UFC 216 headliner Tony Ferguson, that Johnson only received a co-main event spot on the card.

The UFC is in its last year of a major seven-year deal with FOX. 2018 could be make or break for the MMA powerhouse, depending on whether or not the organization makes some big changes.