The UFC is heading towards another transition period, as is tradition.
We've seen it non-stop lately -- Conor McGregor taking time off, Ronda Rousey's future questionable, no word on a potential Brock Lesnar return. The Diaz brothers keep turning down fights. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, Urijah Faber, Miesha Tate, Dan Henderson, Tim Kennedy all retired, with Michael Bisping, Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Daniel Cormier and others all getting up there in years. While the UFC is constantly in "star building" mode, 2016-2017 is the biggest exodus since perhaps the years surrounding the UFC signing with Fox.
2010-2011 was a tough one. Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Shane Carwin. To a lesser extent Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian. The UFC hit some real speed bumps on PPV particularly in the years following Brock Lesnar's exit. With the re-emergence of major, marquee stars in recent years, the company had a fantastic 2016. However, after emptying the cupboard, 2017 hasn't been so kind. Not only that, but the PPV viewers may not even be around to watch the newer stars "get the rub" from familiar faces of days past.
SportsBetting.ag's lines for this summer tell an interesting tale. Junior dos Santos, who helped carry the UFC into the Fox era, is a +145 underdog in a May re-match against Stipe Miocic. Georges St. Pierre, who will be almost four years removed from the UFC, is fighting a weight class up, and is still a -160 favorite -- yet he's facing another fighter in the "old guard" in Michael Bisping. Jose Aldo at -145 over new Hawaiian sensation Max Holloway, and the impressive Cody Garbrandt at -135 over TJ Dillashaw also raise eyebrows. As far as betters are concerned, the older dogs are still plenty live.
The UFC has seemed to take a bit of a roll of the dice of late, maximizing the use of those familiar faces. Dan Henderson was given a championship fight on his way out, Michael Bisping earned a last minute replacement title fight. Urijah Faber was given countless opportunities, as were Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida. The UFC got lucky in some of those situations, with young, fresh stars emerging. Others, not so much. The Bisping victory has actually caused a bit of a "legends tour," with new (yet aging) challengers like Yoel Romero and Jacare Souza being passed up.
With all of the parallels drawn between MMA and pro wrestling, the definitive difference is one the UFC always has to battle -- it can't pick and choose its stars. For every Ronda Rousey and Mickey Gall, there's Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant and Philippe Nover that either don't work out, or don't live up to the hype. UFC fighters have the ability to control their own destiny, but the company itself guides them. With the UFC looking poised to lose even more big stars, how will they adapt? Will they adapt? Do WME-IMG, the UFC's new owners, even see it on the horizon?
Free agency has been another issue. Ben Henderson, Rory MacDonald, Kyoji Horiguchi, Nikita Krylov, Lorenz Larkin all left for greener financial pastures, even though they were ranked UFC fighters. Not giant needle movers by any means, but valuable tools for the UFC's present or future. UFC also played hardball with the likes of Misha Cirkunov, before eventually signing him. Fighters like Jacare Souza, Donald Cerrone Frankie Edgar were offered and signed deals before reaching free agency.
There doesn't appear to be a rhyme or reason to the new regime, but they haven't shied away from short-term money grabs at the expense of long-term gain. We wonder how that will play out with the changing landscape of MMA, and the UFC particularly.
How do you feel? Are the UFC doing the right thing? Sound off in our comments below.