Things are a-changin’ in the MMA world, mainly the UFC. And it remains to be seen whether it is for better or worse.
Consider these major tide-turns, in only a span of about one year:
(a) This month, the UFC did away with its beloved knockout and submission of the night bonuses replaced, for example, by the far more politically-correct “performance of the night” bonus.
For those of us paying attention, we know this was clearly motivated by an attempt to dodge violence-encouragement accusations and mainstream the company even further. Tis no surprise that the change came on the heels of this event. But dear top brass: Stop trying to ‘mainstream’ the sport, violence-wise. It cannot be done. It’s a sport, like boxing, based on violence (in an indirect way), at the end of the day (as much as we may want to high-brow it up and talk about ‘technique’ as the sole factor fans flock to watch). Sure, implement greater safety (though there is already plenty to safeguard the fighters) but soften it too much, dilute it too much and you’ll end up with a product no one cares to see. Much like a porn star who decides to tone it down and start doing made-for-TV sitcoms: honey, that was never your audience.
(b) White went from saying women would never fight in the UFC (my personal preference: sorry, full disclosure here. I’m like GSP — I just don’t enjoy watching two women beat each other to a pulp), to signing Rousey and promoting her (above all other fighters, above even Jon Jones) and going as far as to, this month, say she is the biggest star the company has ever had (um, no). The whole thing is just… odd.
(c ) With Anderson on his last legs (yes, he’s returning but c’mon — this isn’t the Silva of three years ago, much less five years ago) and GSP in semi-retirement (not to mention, complaining about the UFC’s protocol on PED’s), the organization has lost its luster. Will the company regain it? Not anytime soon, it seems. No one on the current roster has the star quality, coupled with the skill, of an Anderson or a GSP (or hey, let’s even kick it back to Brock).
Darn, fans miss that UFC 100 era right about now.
(d) There is talk of making the fighters wear uniforms — huh? World, please tell me this is a joke.
(e) The intense number of cards… Seriously? Do we really need a fight card 2X, or 3X, a month? Such only means more diluted cards containing only one or two fights on each that folks care to see. Fans watch fights where they actually know of the fighters –they do not watch fights for the sake of ‘watching a fight.’ If that were the case, I’d just go down to my local MMA gym and hang out for a few hours on a Saturday. Predictably, the cards are becoming less and less exciting (this past weekend, 10 out of the 12 went to a decision). As for Fight Pass… worth it? Only for the most diehard of fans. TUF? Do people really watch anymore? Speaking of which, and the upcoming Latin-America-focused TUF season, the UFC’s general manager of Latin America is… wait for it… a dude named Jaime Pollack. Now, maybe Jaime is one of those Latino-Americans with a completely Anglo name (could be, hopefully): because I’d shudder to think they have a non-Hispanic in charge of, you know, the Hispanic market.
(f) There were some rumors the past couple of months that Ariel Helwani is being slightly pushed out of his ‘main interviewer’ role (a shame if true, as he’s put it such hard work over the years and is ‘the name, face’ of post-fight interviews — and most MMA interviews, for that matter). You can’t ‘upgrade’ from Ariel, sorry. Is the UFC looking for an Erin Andrews type of replacement? Hint: No go. Erin Andrews actually knows what she’s talking about. And apart from Karyn Bryant, who’s now busy behind the anchor chair, no other female interviewer in the MMA world does (unless they want Paula to leave Brazil). Need eye candy for the male viewers? Why? I thought Dana said almost 50% of the fans are female? (a stat that is clearly untrue but, hey, for argument’s sake). Back to the eye candy argument: it is not needed. Male viewers have that in the ring girls — what they would rather see is an in-depth, knowledgeable interview. Ariel provides that — not a random girl with a deer-in-headlights look that is wondering if she has lipstick on her teeth.
(g) The drug issue. White says he hates TRT? Wonderful, agreed — but a bit contradictory. If the UFC wants to put its money where its mouth is, how about they stop making noted TRT-user Sonnen the face of the company (sorry, I am still reeling from the “Give Chael a title shot as his first fight back in the LHW division!”, all the more ironic as I type this over my “UFC: As Real As It Gets” mousepad). Also, why not test the fighters more — sporadically, without notice, and repeatedly? Honestly, the fans have whiplash regarding this PED’s issue and the UFC is not making it any easier.
(h) The UFC cannot make up its mind on whether it wants to be mainstream or not. Here are some tips, if it does: NFL cheerleaders don’t usually bare it all for Playboy. Neither should UFC ring girls. And, Roger Goodell does not behave like this. When a respected journalist calls the UFC world “crazy,” and describes a scene of intimidated (possibly frightened-about-losing-media-credentials) reporters, you might want to wonder whether you’re ready for mainstream and, if so, actually be consistent on reforming the company and its image.
In conclusion: I love you, UFC. I really do. Please, stop changing into something other than what you are. That gritty, scrappy company with gritty, scrappy fighters (and a consistent Dana White) is why we all fell for you in the first place.