Modern MMA could not survive without the UFC. That's not opinion—that's fact.
Don't believe the MMA hipsters who tell you that MMA could flourish without the promotion. Such fools are misguided by ideological baggage and blinded by their hatred of all things UFC.
Zuffa—a company lead by Station Casinos owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertita, and their friend Dana White—purchased the UFC in 2001 and took it from a fringe, borderline-illegal, nearly bankrupt organization to a sports powerhouse that has a deal with FOX.
The sport of MMA, itself, grew as a result of the UFC's success.
One might think that, if the UFC were to disappear, the sport could still survive because the seeds for MMA's growth have been planted across the world by the UFC; the UFC expanded existing markets for MMA and created new ones where there weren't any.
This lead to the rise of regional promotions—such as Sharkfights, Legacy Fighting Championship, Ring of Combat in the US, BAMMA in the UK, MFC in Canada, Jungle Fight in Brazil, Superior Challenge in Sweden and many, many more—as well as larger promotions that some believed could contend with the UFC.
EliteXC was one such promotion, they even beat the UFC to a network deal, landing a contract with CBS in 2008. Despite this accolade, the promotion failed. Strikeforce in the US and DREAM in Japan were two other would-be claimants to the UFC's throne.
However, Strikeforce was ultimately bought by Zuffa and turned into an abysmal, barely-functional monstrosity of a promotion. DREAM, too, failed, declaring that they were shutting down this past June.
If the UFC disappeared tomorrow, could MMA maintain its current level of popularity?
The amount of potential competitors to the UFC that have failed have been so numerous that once UFC president Dana White posted a photograph of a tombstone with the failed promotions on it.
Bellator Fighting Championships—a promotion that emphasizes tournaments and how their title shots are earned rather than arbitrarily given—is the last "major" American promotion that has escaped demise and, in fact, grown.
Bellator was purchased by Viacom in late 2011 and will begin airing events on the UFC's old long-time TV home, Spike TV.
Amidst malaise over the UFC's numbers in 2012, it has become posh for fans to deride the promotion and to claim that Bellator's eventual arrival on Spike will lead them to the promised land of all upstart MMA promotion—becoming bigger than the UFC and crushing it worse than the NFL's reputation was crushed this past Monday.
So, if the UFC were to be brought to its knees and destroyed, could MMA survive?
It could survive but it could not thrive. That is, it could not exist in the same capacity it exists today. The sport would lose ground and ultimately be set back years.
MMA has grown to the point that the name of the sport is at least recognized whereas in years past people only knew "UFC." Even Chris Collinsworth mentioned MMA earlier this week. This seems trivial but a decade ago something like that wouldn't have happened.
Thus, if the UFC vanished, the sport would definitely go on. It just would not enjoy the same level of popularity.
The XFCs, Legacy FCs, and ROCs of the world would always be followed by hardcore fans and would still serve as feeder leagues for the world's main promotion which, in the absence of the UFC, would be Bellator. But Bellator, itself, would be niche compared to the size and following of the UFC—Bellator's shoulders could not bear the weight of the MMA world.
Naysayers diss the UFC's numbers, (Dana White himself recently blew up at a press conference over an article in the Toronto Sun was critical of the UFC's perceived lack of success) but Bellator hasn't impressed much in that department either.
This is where the same people say that UFC programming on Spike TV has produced better numbers than UFC program on FUEL and FX.
That's true but there are other factors at work. The Ultimate Fighter was, for the most part, a stronger show back in the Spike TV days and it was aired on a more favorable night. Eventually, the Spike and the UFC became synonymous.
The average viewer still hasn't gotten the memo, apparently, that and The Ultimate Fighter is in grave need of either a complete overhaul or the Old Yeller treatment.
Furthermore, did these critics not deduce that the UFC's success on Spike was also because of the UFC's name value? At the time, the UFC was the sport; hardly anyone knew what "MMA" was.
More people might know now, but that doesn't mean Bellator will automatically enjoy prolonged success on Spike.
Remember Slamball? It was a big thing for five minutes then it fell off the face of the earth. After all, what did "Slamball" really mean to people?
Just so, what does "Bellator" really mean to people? At best, it means "minor-league UFC." Despite the feeble hopes and dreams of anti-Zuffa hardcore fans, there's nothing guaranteeing that Bellator won't have the same fate as Slamball.
Thus, in this parallel world where the UFC fails, MMA cannot grow and cannot stay at its current level of popularity. It does not regress to the dark ages but it doesn't have the appeal to garner a major network deal either.
Do not think of the UFC as a large redwood that absorbs all sunlight, preventing other saplings from growing. Instead, think of it as the roots and trunk of a vast, global MMA tree, with each promotion being a branch on that tree.
Small promotions do not succeed in spite of the UFC they succeed because of the UFC.
They would still have life if the UFC were to depart this world, but their existence would be a withered, pathetic one compared to now.
The fate of MMA is linked with the fate of the UFC, not Bellator, not OneFC. All who deny this are blinded either by nostalgia or their own foolishness.