It’s time for a little bit of real talk: at present, it’s an awful time to be a fan of the UFC. That’s not fun to hear, and unless you’re a born hater it’s not really the much fun to say about something many would profess to love.
But it’s reality.
Right now, here in 2012, being a UFC fan just isn’t a pleasant experience.
Too many cards with too many names and too many guys suffering too many injuries have left the promotion basically barren of anything interesting. More or less, in every way that things can go wrong—be they within control of Dana White and his front office, or beyond it—to this point in 2012, they have gone wrong.
In the midst of a new deal with the Fox family of networks, one that was said to be revolutionary, fights that would have fleshed out remarkable pay-per-view depth are now headlining forgettable cards all over the place. Nearly every week it seems a new event is happening, one that wasn’t really marketed all that well and just sort of sprung up out of nowhere.
These events will often be headlined by a fight that would have opened a traditional piece of purchased programming, or maybe even been on free TV as part of a prelim special. Given that such fights now headline, the fights beneath them are generally a dog’s breakfast of scrappy unknowns and TUF alumni gone wrong, and they’re happening so often it’s hard to keep track of who’s fighting who, when they’re fighting, and where it’s happening.
When not cluttering up television with a demanded number of fights that the promotion simply can’t meet, they’re still heading to pay-per-view with cards that, for the most part, look appealing on paper. Appealing until two-thirds of the guys fighting go down with injuries, and you’re left with meaningless catchweight fights between zombified veterans to try and pry $50 a pop from the hands of your fans.
Such is the yin and yang of the current problem in the UFC.
On the one hand, they signed the deal with Fox and have no one to blame but themselves for being spread too thin. They straight up do not have the depth of talent required to put on regular shows across three networks, but they’re trying to do it anyway.
On the other, there’s absolutely nothing they can do about the number of guys getting injured. The promotion put insurance in place for all of its fighters in 2011, and the result has been fewer guys getting in the cage with nagging injuries (or even severe ones) because they know they’re covered.
It’s unfortunate when you look through the summer and see some of the best cards becoming some of the worst due to guys dropping out, but it’s hard to complain when the company is doing so much to protect its athletes in ways they’ve never been protected before.
The fact is that the UFC is in a bad position, and it’s that combination of their own doing and the forces beyond their control that have landed them here.
If they weren’t on the hook for an absurd amount of live programming between Fox, FX, and Fuel TV—to say nothing of the monthly (or more) pay-per-view offerings—they wouldn’t be feeling the crunch of injuries so badly. Less free shows would mean more able bodies ready to jump in and take a fight to make it credible when someone goes down hurt.
Honestly, the Glover Teixeira incident notwithstanding, does the UFC really think anyone ever wanted to see Shogun Rua fight Brandon Vera? Is that a fight for a national mainstream audience? Is it a fight for anywhere?
The answer is no.
But there was no one else, so a guy who was essentially brought back from the dead just in time to almost lose to Elliott Marshall now gets a main event that’s arguably as prestigious as a pay-per-view slot.
Not that it matters now because the ink is long dry on the deal that got them here, but the UFC badly needs to take a step back from all this programming and identify some sort of consistency in their approach.
Limiting things to one pay-per-view a month, one Fox show per quarter, six FX shows a year, and only prelims on Fuel TV would be a reasonable place to start in my estimation. I’m not a TV executive though, and I’ve been told I’m an idiot more than once in my time on this earth, so what seems sensible to me might not click with everyone.
At the end of the day however, there has to be a better way than how the UFC is doing things right now. In the long run sure, this deal will probably pan out, more talent will be available, and everyone will look back on 2012 as nothing more than an unpleasant but necessary year in the growth of MMA.
Today, though? Today, the UFC is spread too thin, the combination of things they can control and things they can’t having conspired to absolutely bury them in negativity. And more than anyone it’s the fans that are suffering.