Many UFC fans haven’t been happy in 2012.
Too many events, too many injuries, too much of an expectation from the company that their fans will follow them to the ends of the Earth.
Sure, some are vehemently supporting the aggressive expansion of the promotion. They’ll say that real MMA fans just want more free fights, that fights every weekend – NO WAIT! EVERY NIGHT! – is the perfect world to live in.
And perhaps it is. When the UFC is able to do it properly.
But for a host of reasons they can’t do it properly just yet and they’re losing some fans as a result. They probably wouldn’t admit it, but they’re not stupid enough to be ignorant to it either.
So what can they do to recapture them?
The answer, surprisingly, is before us already. It just needs to go on a little bit longer and the ship will likely be righted be early 2013.
That answer? Less events, more fights that matter, and greater accessibility to them.
Jon Jones quickly became the most loathed man in MMA (a title he was in the running for anyway) when the cancellation of UFC 151 became official a couple of weeks back. He also inadvertently gave straying fans something to cheer about in the process: a UFC 152 worth the money being asked by Zuffa.
Sure his fight with Vitor Belfort is weird matchmaking and not exactly one that people were begging for, but is it not likely to be entertaining?
Jones doesn’t love getting hit, and Belfort loves to hit people.
Jones doesn’t get hit often, and Belfort hits people at his leisure.
Jones is the new breed, Belfort once was.
Add in the inaugural flyweight title bout and a middleweight title eliminator, and you have a card that harkens back to the promotion’s pay-per-view prime of 2008-2011.
A few weeks later Jose Aldo headlines another card in Brazil, UFC 153. Originally it was supposed to be Erik Koch donating his body for that one, but an injury saw Frankie Edgar replace him.
Wait. What? Frankie Edgar? Wasn’t that a fantasy superfight that people clamoured for like eight months ago?
Now you’ve got it. You’ve also got Rampage Jackson against hot prospect Glover Teixeira, Erick Silva and Jon Fitch, and names like Rick Story, Demian Maia, and Phil Davis rounding out the card.
Again, worth the money.
GSP returns to headline UFC 154 in a welterweight title unification bout against Carlos Condit, and only a couple of week after that UFC on FOX 5 will likely provide the greatest night of free MMA that television has ever seen.
Benson Henderson defends lightweight gold against Nate Diaz.
Rory MacDonald finally gets his fight with BJ Penn.
Shogun Rua welcomes Alexander Gustafsson to the top of the 205-pound division.
Brendan Schaub and Lavar Johnson will exchange shots for a few minutes until one (probably Schaub) is out cold.
They’re also using the UFC on FUEL TV event series to expand globally with less relevant, free fights and are only holding one show on FX between now and the end of the year.
That’s a remarkable run for the company. A run that absolutely has to get the attention of fans who have suddenly been reminded how much they love baseball and video games in the time it’s taken the UFC to stumble from the annals of “must-watch” sports action.
What they’ve started to do – less events (though it was only one, and it was purely by circumstance) and a greater focus on smarter matchmaking, as well as more meaningful matchmaking, is how people will come back to them.
Putting big fights on free television – actual big fights, like title fights, instead of a regular free TV headliner with a lame, completely revocable “winner gets a title shot” caveat attached – is going to help as well.
The UFC is adapting to what fans want and what they want has developed from what they’ve come to expect from the promotion, which built its name on guaranteeing an entertaining night of action every time out.
For the first time in a long time, it looks like they’re able to make that claim again. Now that they can, look for them to also claim to be the fastest growing sport in the world again as well.
They’ll have the numbers to prove it.