We launched Fightful in 2016 at a big time in wrestling, MMA and boxing. There was also an insane crossover between the three.
WWE Smackdown was going live on Tuesday nights and instituting a brand split, while their NXT territory heated up. Ring of Honor, New Japan Wrestling and independent promotions were all gaining in prominence as wrestling became more popular globally.
MMA was hot as well. Ronda Rousey hadn't yet retired, Conor McGregor was still rocking. Jon Jones was becoming a controversial star that drove traffic numbers, and several names were jumping over to UFC's top national competitor, Bellator.
Boxing -- well, that was in a completely different place.
In the time since then, Bobby Lashley (former Bellator Fighter) headed to WWE. Ronda Rousey essentially retired from MMA and joined WWE. Brock Lesnar has played the hokey pokey with WWE and UFC. Conor McGregor jumped to boxing for a superfight with Floyd Mayweather -- lots of crossover for a site like ours to highlight and specialize in.
However, 2018 has been a rough patch for MMA. In the first half of the year, there was no Ronda Rousey -- she left the sport. There was no Jon Jones -- suspended again. Conor McGregor had so much money he didn't know what to do with it. The recently returned Georges St-Pierre? Sidelined again. The first real transcendent highlight of the year came in early Juy when Daniel Cormier became a two-division champ by beating Stipe Miocic. Oh, and he said he'd be retiring less than a year later.
On the other hand, 2018 from a pro wrestling news perspective was non-stop from January through September. My personal workload increased, as did our news writing team -- we had to make the move to have extra people on full-time to cover it all. The Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Summerslam -- those are all big events that require non-stop coverage. But now, WWE has made their annual Money in the Bank show a priority. They added The Greatest Royal Rumble and other overseas shows. They've added entire new brands.
Beyond WWE, Ring of Honor's coverage stepped up as they stream virtually everything they do now. IMPACT Wrestling has returned to pay-per-view, and New Japan Pro Wrestling is trying to increase their footprint in North America. We also saw the independent juggernaut show that was All In, and all of the lead-up to that, as well as the integration and re-emergence of the National Wrestling Alliance.
WWE signed major deals with FOX and USA for broadcast rights that helped shoot their stock price into the stratosphere in the wake of declining viewership based on an antiquated system. They also took an obscene (and thus far undisclosed) amount of money from Saudi Arabian government for a series of shows. There always seemed to be something buzzing in pro wrestling.
Outside of the negative reaction to the latest Saudi Arabia show, and the lack of promotion for their first ever women's PPV Evolution, that hasn't been the case since roughly August. Instead, the UFC and boxing re-emerged and combat sports took center stage.
The UFC signed a new broadcast deal with ESPN, and DAZN threw around huge money to both Bellator and Canelo Alvarez. WWE wasn't alone in gaining big dollars for their programming, and you'd better believe all parties involved are looking to increase their profit margins from them.
I can feel the shift.
Conor McGregor came back. He lost, but the buzz following his UFC 229 fight was unlike anything we'd experienced before on the site. Live numbers post-fight at 1 AM Eastern were triple what we normally see after WrestleMania. He didn't go into hiding after his fight, either. He immediately made public appearances and spoke of wanting to square off against legend Anderson Silva -- back after being exonerated by USADA.
That UFC 229 fight made Khabib Nurmagomedov a household name, for better or worse. Before the fight there was excitement, but good luck finding a stranger in your town who knew how to pronounce his name. Now, he has a legion of fans in addition to an already strong hardcore fanbase that he enjoyed prior.
Jon Jones' suspension is up, and just in time for Daniel Cormier to retire. Jones is pitted against Alexander Gustafsson in a re-match of one of the greatest title fights in UFC history, and UFC is hoping to squeeze what juice they have left out of Cormier -- essentially their biggest star for a year between fall 2017 and Summer 2018.
Brock Lesnar has re-entered the United States Anti Doping Association. Regardless of his drug test history or prior ass kickings, a Brock Lesnar fight is good for 700,000 pay-per-view buys on a bad night, and 1 million on a normal night.
Georges St-Pierre and Nate Diaz both left doors open to return to fighting, with Diaz taking an ill-fated fight, and GSP speaking hypothetically of one.
Much of UFC's star power is on the backs of guys who already made their names. There is promise on the horizon, though.
The women are getting a huge shot in the arm. December sees a legit superfight in Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg squaring off with Amanda Nunes. Also, former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko will fight in one of the highest-level women's MMA fights of all time. UFC has a light at the end of a post-Rousey tunnel.
As controversial as he may be, Colby Covington is doing a good job of making himself known. The same with Derrick Lewis and Tyron Woodley. A Henry Cejudo-Demetrious Johnson trilogy seems a no brainer. The cupboards aren't empty.
Have I even mentioned boxing yet? After a long delay, GGG and Canelo Alvarez had another close fight, and fans were begging for more. PBC invested heavily in Manny Pacquiao, who has teased a second fight with PPV monster Floyd Mayweather. There are a wealth of names bubbling under, ready to explode into the mainstream, and we're seeing more loaded boxing cards now than in recent years.
How about that heavyweight division? Tyson Fury came back at the right time, with Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua laying claim to a spot he believes he owns. The more healthy, heavyweight stars boxing has, the better sell boxing is. Right now, boxing is a good sell.
By my own admission, I didn't see this coming. I was all too happy to have put a lot of my eggs in the pro wrestling basket. What looked like a sure-fire dark age for combat sports has emerged, and taken center stage.