MMA has been called the fastest growing sport in the world by many. Ticket sales and global appeal are at an all time high. However, popularity and growth can be like mountains. Once you get to the top, it's easier to fall.
With that being said, what are some things that could stunt the growth of MMA? No sport or promotion is perfect, even the one on the top.
So let's look into some issues that could lead to stalling the growth of the world's fastest growing sport.
There's no denying that the UFC is the face of Mixed Martial Arts. They're the largest, most powerful brand and they have brought great exposure to the sport.
The problem is, right now Zuffa is the only real game in town. Bellator is a nice alternative, but even their most talented guys are getting sifted through by the big boys.
With that comes the harsh reality that UFC is only really competing against itself. When Strikeforce was gaining momentum with its great heavyweight division and top-10 fighters in Nick Diaz, Dan Henderson and Gilbert Melendez to name a few, UFC bought them out, eliminating the competition
It seems to be great that all of the best fighters are finally settling in under one big Zuffa umbrella. However, one can't help but wonder if they will become complacent with their place in the MMA world and lose motivation to push the sport to the highest levels.
It's hard to compete against yourself and look towards being even better when your best competition is inferior at best. With that being said, let's hope that UFC is more like the NFL than WWE in terms of how it handles being the only true game in town.
Because, if not, viewership will begin to decline.
"If you're not cheating you're not trying."
Well, there's plenty of effort on some guys' part that can lead to a tainted reputation of the sport of MMA. As an organization, Zuffa should be dedicated to ridding the sport of PEDs by subjecting the fighters under their umbrella to randomized testing.
Zuffa can truly be a trailblazer in this sport by taking a stand and being totally against PEDs. By standing pat and only allowing the athletic commissions to police their fighters, it shows a lack of effort on Zuffa's part to getting PEDs out of the sport.
By stepping up the testing in UFC and Strikeforce, Zuffa can make the sport as clean as possible as well as cleaning up the public image of MMA.
All it would take is more money out of Zuffa's pocket. It's well worth it and they're talking about it, but will they do it? That remains to be seen.
If not, the mainstream viewer may look at MMA like most do pro wrestling: A bunch of roided up athletes fighting for our entertainment.
Oh yes, the F-word. The one thing that can cheat fans out of seeing the fights we want to see. Take Anderson Silva and Jon Jones for example. When asked about a potential super fight with Jones, Silva told Esportes.r7.com (via BloodyElbow.com):
No chance, [Jon Jones] is in a different weight class, we are friends and we won’t fight each other.
There's one potential super fight down the drain. It shows the mentality of some fighters that friendship comes before what the fans want. As fans, we want to see the best vs the best. We don't care who's friends or not.
What made Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones so appealing at first was because these guys did train against each other and it was such a rarity to see that it captivated a lot of casual fans and sparked a nice feud between the two.
Even when Lyoto Machida was king of the light heavyweight division in 2009, he was asked about a potential match between him and his Black House teammate, and he told RedeTV (via Fighters Only):
[Anderson Silva and I] won’t fight because we’re friends. We hang out, go to dinner and do many things together.
What's interesting about this is the fact that Machida once faced his own brother, Chinzo, in a karate tournament in 1998 and left a permanent scar on Chinzo's cheek that remains today. However, he refuses to face his "friend" in the octagon.
The sport is supposed to be about imposing your will on someone and going out on your shield. If you're a fighter that is known for stand up and another guy is just better than you, then fight your game. No shame in losing to the better man. We all fall at some point.
Defensive game-planning is looking to take that away.
More guys than not nowadays fight "safe" in order to win. Even Carlos Condit, who was nicknamed "The Natural Born Killer," decided to deviate from who he was in order to get, what many people are calling, a cheap victory over Nick Diaz. Clay Guida attempted to do the same, circling and sparsely throwing out a jab or two in a fight that he ultimately lost.
What's worse is that these are two of the most exciting and active fighters in the sport, and they succumbed to circling away from their opponent as a tactic of choice. How would it look when there's a huge fight on TV and all you see is one guy running away from the other?
Casual fans will begin to turn away and never look again.
When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce, the only game in town that mattered and wasn't Zuffa owned was Bellator. So now, in order to truly make it in MMA, your only real choice is to get into the UFC.
However, when you get there, you've got to stay there right? Because what other alternative is there?
Looking at it that way, it's almost obvious why now, all of a sudden, we see guys using a fighting style that's built around not losing instead of winning. They fight a more "boring" style than the guys who've actually been in UFC just trying to hold on.
The old school MMA mantra of "at any cost" has all but died. In Brazil and Japan, the fans and fighters care far more about the quality of match than whether you win or lose. There are guys over there that have losing records but bring it in every fight and are respected because of it. After all this is the entertainment business. Winning is, and should always be, first, but putting on a show and truly showcasing your skills should be a close second.
Can you have too much of a good thing? Absolutely.
2009 will ultimately go down as the year of UFC 100, the greatest PPV-selling event in MMA history. That year there were 20 UFC events.
Then in 2010 the number of events went up to 24. 2011 saw its UFC event total end at 27, and we're currently on schedule to have 28 fights in 2012.
With that being said, the big UFC on FOX deal gives us more free fights as we have UFC not only on FOX but FX and FUEL TV as well. Unfortunately, where the problem comes is that the quality of fight cards has died down. There are only so many good main event-level fighters that compete anywhere from once a year (Anderson Silva) to four times (Jon Jones).
With the UFC, Strikeforce and adding even more pieces to their puzzle, the quality of fight cards have dipped substantially. More fighters means that you have less matchups of top-10 caliber fighters and more fights with either mismatches or fights between much lower ranked fighters. Compile that with the injury bug that's recently bitten UFC's recent cards and you have a serious problem on your hands.
Personally, I believe that UFC should scale back the number of events to stack the cards more. After all, fans do want their money's worth. By thinning out the fight cards and offering mostly one-fight fight cards, fans tend to pick and choose and you don't fully maximize your profits.