The Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC) is the number one promotion for MMA in the world, and has acted as the pioneer for the sport into the mainstream media and into people’s homes. While martial arts and similar forms such as Vale Tudo have been around for a while, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that the sport has truly erupted into the phenomenon it has become.
Being at the forefront of a growing and budding sport however, comes at a cost. While the UFC is the face of MMA to many, this creates a call of duty for the promotion to answer.
As if it weren’t already overused, the phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility” is fitting to this matter. The UFC is a juggernaut; continuing growth even through hard economic times for other industries. Because there is confusion of viewing MMA and UFC as one in the same term, the UFC must make sure they are representing MMA well with the UFC brand.
While highly, and sometimes disrespectfully incorrect, the UFC sometimes carries the mental perception of what MMA is as a whole. This is why some will mistakenly say that someone is “training UFC”. For most people reading this, you will know this is not correct, but the UFC does need to recognize this association and conduct itself as such.
The way the UFC has conducted its business has been effective and highly successful, but they must avoid any plateau they may face.
The issue that has been gaining momentum is the legitimacy of the competitive nature in the UFC. Ideally, and in most other sports, either a tournament or playoffs help determine who is ranked where. It goes off of statistical data, but is a different dynamic than MMA since there are hundreds of individual “teams” to be ranked.
Fans this year of the UFC and MMA have truly experienced the sour taste of unfairness with some of the decisions from the UFC brass. The most recent example was Chael Sonnen getting a title shot against Jon Jones. With Dan Henderson waiting in the wings and not getting any younger, many fighters and fans feel this is not good for the sport and hurts the image.
The UFC has built success off of setting up fights that are exciting, but also tend to incorporate undefined rankings. This is why most of the time the matchmaking done by Joe Silva is not questioned harshly. However, when a fight is made that seems more business than fair, it stirs up controversy.
With so many fighters on its roster and payroll, it may be the next step of growth for the UFC to define its own ranking system. Magazines, websites, and a plethora of other media outlets have ranking systems, but the UFC does not have any of their own.
The UFC wants to continue growing, and Dana White has expressed his views toward making it the biggest sport in the world (and that it IS a sport); but in order to do that, the integrity of the sport must be kept intact. Venturing into the pro wrestling-esque way of conducting business could be extremely hurtful to the sport.
Competition has driven human beings since the dawn of time, and fairness is the underlying principle of it. This is why when steroid use or any performance-enhancing drug is used, the athlete who was using them is scrutinized and penalized. With the UFC brass making the decisions at the end of the day for who gets opportunities or not, the sport is not represented well.
If the UFC were to devote a group of their workforce to create and maintain a ranking system, this would help the problem. It would not solve it, but it would give fans a definitive list of who is next in line. The problem after that is the criteria of what helps you rise or jump over others. It would become much more about statistical data, rather than fan demand or financial gain. On the other hand, with this system, Jon Fitch would have had a title shot a while ago, but not many complained about it because he wasn’t exciting to watch.
In order to keep competition fair and alive in the UFC, the UFC must conduct itself as a SPORT, and less like a business. Whether the UFC brass will take that approach is yet to be seen, and maybe the next people to take the helm will take it in a whole different direction.
Fan opinions vary greatly and it is a nice the UFC values the input, but in order for the UFC to keep its credibility, they need to evolve once more. Especially with other promotions keeping the tournament format like Bellator, the UFC must keep in mind more than just the bottom line.