Waiting For The Next Hype
As the saying goes, after an up there is always a down. The UFC is, without a doubt, in a down period at the moment. So far this year, the promotion has not been able to put one card together which could draw above-average ratings or buy rates. UFC 211 this weekend was no different, although it was the most stacked card in recent times.
For hardcore MMA fans and cage fighting connoisseurs, a Jedrzejczyk-Andrade bout or the battle between Jiu Jitsu wizard Demian Maia and allrounder Jorge Masvidal seemed intriguing, but bouts of the magnitude these two have should be pushed by main event fights involving high-selling names and well-known figures. Who is left that could provide the kind of intrigue Conor McGregor created last year?
The Irishman is still chasing his dream of fighting "Money" Mayweather in a boxing ring. Everyone knows what in Ronda Rousey's last two fights happened, and no one knows if she ever comes back. The UFC is even struggling to finalize George St Pierre's comeback bout, which could have drawn at least more eyeballs than usual and pushed the important July 8 event. It feels like we, the critics, start repeating ourselves. Some saw the promotion’s downfall when WME-IMG, the new owner, took over last year. Some predicted hard times when McGregor and Rousey left the room almost at the same time.
On Saturday night, Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos met in the Octagon in the main event of UFC 211. The heavyweight title and the unofficial baddest-man-on-the-planet moniker were on the line. Both athletes have much in common. Not only are these two about the same age, but they also behave respectfully in public, have likeable personalities and are skillful at what they do when putting the six-ounce gloves on. A lot of people—be it from the media or the UFC staff—like to work with them. But look at how little buzz their fight created. And then compare it with the recent heavyweight slobberknocker between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. (Granted, that is a rather unfair comparison. It just comes to mind, as these two events took place within a few weeks.)
After a down there is always an up. Boxing is certainly on the rise right now. After lackluster years with a big bag of issues on the back of the sport—some caused by the system involving dozens of associations, promotions and other players—the guys and girls wearing the twelve-ounce gloves are returning to the spotlight again. The Joshua-Klitschko extravaganza in London was just the beginning. Last weekend, it was announced that Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin would meet in September, as the dream match at middleweight could finally come true. The likes of Keith Thurman, Vasyl Lomachenko or Deontay Wilder are great talents waiting to explode and become mainstream attractions.
Now, you could assume if the UFC just stays calm, pushes some of the more charismatic athletes and waits for this down period to be over, then the company will be fine for the long haul. But the business model after the sell does not allow that kind of approach, as critics also have pointed out repeatedly. Paying back huge loans is only possible when the UFC generates profits every year. The morale in considerable parts of the roster is noticeably low. Luke Rockhold, someone with the right mix of fighting skills and superstar appearance, called for an impromptu middleweight boycott this week, showing his frustration about the recent matchmaking. Rockhold is not alone with his criticism, as several other fighters have shown their middle finger towards Dana White and the UFC, because they are not happy with their pay, contractual situation or the way the promotions grants marquee fights.
Right now, the UFC has to put out fires on several fronts. It would not be as concerning if the company had financial security. This down period is somewhat of a natural development on the one hand, yet a costly phase on the other. The up will be coming. But does the UFC have enough time to wait?