Showdown Joe: Is MMA Moving In The Wrong Direction?

Much has been said about the new ownership of the UFC, namely it’s slashing of jobs since it took over from Zuffa and the recent report that thirty fighters have been cut. Perhaps it’s the old take one step back to take two steps forward approach, but perhaps it is indicative of the industry as a whole.

I recently had conversations with some financial analysts (who wish to remain anonymous) regarding not just WME-IMG’s ownership of the UFC, but Viacom’s hold on Bellator as well as FOX, ESPN and the upcoming broadcast rights negotiations for The Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Offering my opinion may seem worthless in comparison to some of the questions I would much rather have answered, based on the ever changing landscape that is the television world and what it all means for Mixed Martial Arts in general.

We all know about the sale of the UFC to WME-IMG and the changes we continue to see, all of which is standard in the corporate world whenever new ownership comes in. They “clean house”, placing their existing staff into positions they deem as redundant. Out with the old and let the new blood infuse it’s way into executing any new goals the company has laid down as the new way of doing things.

We’ve also heard about the sleeping giant that is Viacom, and the apparent endless money vault they can tap into to take Bellator to a whole new level. The perception is that should Viacom decide to make a run with Bellator, then the UFC is in big trouble. But then I was asked to think about a few items that have recently taken place.

A new CEO was appointed atop Viacom, with an apparent need to take drastic action to fix a variety of issues, namely to stop some of the financial struggles the company has been experiencing. Restructuring has recently taken place, most notably for MMA enthusiasts to Spike, which is being rebranded to Paramount.

The scary part is that apparently the station will be less geared towards males and now become more genre friendly. Perhaps entertainment in favour of sports. Potentially bad news for Bellator MMA.

All of this also comes amidst Viacom’s parent company, National Amusements having massive financial struggles as well, with restructuring taking place, trickling down the ladder into Viacom … etc, etc.

If Viacom assets were to be sold, would they then sell Bellator? Would they sell it to Scott Coker? Would Scott buy it? And if any of this takes place, there goes all the “Viacom money” we’ve all heard about. And my goodness, what will that mean for all the fighters who have already parted ways (perhaps not so amicably) with the UFC or who now see Bellator as a viable option to get paid more money for the services they provide?
There’s also the case of ESPN, which is apparently a liability to Disney now. Restructuring is allegedly continuing to take place as we speak, with a few options being bandied about. Bid on the UFC broadcasting rights as the exclusive holder, share those rights with FOX or see if Bellator is an outright option if they lose the bidding war or refuse to enter that battle anyway.

Now there’s also the curious case of the UFC and Fight Pass.

The man who apparently created it, Marshall Zelanik was released. In came Eric Winter who then resigned. Apparently, neither of the two have been replaced with a few parties telling me to not be surprised if Fight Pass is sold, alongside the broadcasting rights to the next cable provider who picks up the UFC.

There’s also NBC, and their current view of World Series Of Fighting, which has had it’s fair share of lawsuits … but then gets a $25M infusion of investments this week alone.

Across the large pond is ONE FC and of course Rizin FF, who is quietly making a resurggence with their Pride 2.0 concept. There is money overseas but what does that all mean for MMA in North America and as a whole?

All of this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the current and future landscape of MMA. For many, it’s a cross roads filled with red flags. For others, it’s a situation where we keep our fingers crossed that none of this is truly bad news and in fact, all will be just fine for the sport we love so much.

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