UFC: The 8 Biggest Concerns for the UFC Moving Forward
For mixed martial arts to be successful, the UFC has to be successful.
That's been the narrative for the sport ever since its leading American promotion hit the mainstream, and there have been many bumps along the way.
No matter where you look, there's always a battle being fought as the UFC strives to live up to Dana White's claim that the sport will one day be on the same level as football, basketball, hockey and baseball.
Heck, just being equivalent to NASCAR would be a feat.
But what problems does the UFC face going forward?
Plenty, as a matter of fact—and these are the eight biggest concerns facing the promotion in the coming years.
If the UFC can't distance itself from the drug culture that's ensnared so many of its fighters, the promotion will have a lot of headaches in the future.
Actually, it may already be too late.
We've gotten to a point where steroids, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and other PEDs are now commonplace discussions in the MMA world. It's a hot-button issue in the sports media, even to the point where panels frequently discuss the issue on live television.
Even the promotion's own talent laments the impact of drugs on the sport, with some fighters citing higher rates of doping than others. Ninety percent of UFC fighters might not be on drugs, but each positive test exacerbates the problem.
Do you like superfights? Buckle up for 2013's showdown between the UFC and Bellator.
Before the UFC ever left its original home on SPIKE, the relationship soured during their last year together as the Viacom network stuck its mixed martial arts partner in bad time slots, under-promoting the UFC.
In retaliation, the UFC chose not to purchase their video catalog back from SPIKE at the end of 2011, rendering SPIKE contractually unable air any other MMA content like Bellator.
Even if the UFC and Fox are warmly in bed together and reshuffling their MMA content to better network slots, Bellator still lurks in the background, waiting to take over. If the TNA Impact/Bellator combo works, it'll be an interesting, tense ratings battle.
Building Up Stars
Remember how badly the UFC panicked when Georges St-Pierre was injured?
Now that he's back, the company's leaders are breathing a sigh of relief. But they would certainly have a lot less stress if GSP wasn't one of their only cash cows.
As the promotion adds weight classes and a women's division, it is also inviting the problem of how to market new fighters to the masses.
Right now, the UFC only has access to GSP, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen so many times a year. Unless it builds up more stars, pay-per-view buys and TV ratings will continue to be lean.
Fox, Fuel TV and FX Ratings
It's distressing that UFC events on Fox continue to pull bad ratings.
Even if recent events have been marginally better than the paltry "one-fight special" offering from UFC on Fox 1, numbers can't hide the grim truth. Mixed martial arts isn't drawing well—yet.
MMA Payout's Q2 2012 report on the UFC/Fox deal shows diminishing returns across the board, but thankfully some fixes are in the works.
It seems that the UFC has figured out that nothing but title fights will pay off for Fox cards, and its TV partners are shuffling the deck to get programming in front of more people. With any hope, it pays off.
Sinking Pay-Per-View Sales
Eventually, the UFC will move away from the PPV model, but don't hold your breath waiting.
Despite the fact that the golden era of pay-per-view is over for the promotion, the UFC is still aggressively pushing more broadcasts in more countries. At an estimated $100 million in profits per year (via MMA Payout), it's going to be hard for the UFC to give up such a reliable source of income.
But make no mistake, the change will come.
In 2010, the UFC made an estimated $231 million from PPV sales alone, according to MMA Payout and industry reports. Those days are long gone.
Injuries don't affect other sports leagues like they affect the UFC.
When someone on a pro league team goes down with a bum knee, the game goes on the next day. When the UFC loses a headliner a week before a fight card, all hell breaks loose.
Just look at the list of fighters who have been injured in the last year: Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson, Jose Aldo, Shane Carwin, Eric Koch, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brian Stann, Josh Koscheck, Mark Hunt, Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort, Thiago Alves, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Gray Maynard and Dominick Cruz.
And that's just 2012 alone. Geez, guys, would it kill you to take it easy?
Is too much MMA a bad thing?
That depends on whom you ask, but it's possible that the UFC is simply oversaturating the market with too many events. Granted, that isn't solely the UFC's fault.
With more promotions getting Internet streaming and broadcast deals, there's practically something to watch every weekend.
From a reporting perspective, it's hard to keep up with the rising tide. From a viewer and fan perspective, it can be hard to care about a big UFC event when it's the 15th one that year.
Dana White's Health
Can the UFC survive without Dana White at the helm?
We'll most likely find out the answer sooner rather than later, as years of wear and tear have taken a toll on the globetrotting UFC president. White is known for his tireless, demanding work ethic, and his health is always a concern.
To compound the problem, White has also been suffering from Meniere's disease, a rare affliction that causes fits of vertigo and hearing loss (and, at worst, nausea and vomiting).
White tells his fighters to take it easy, but he should follow his own advice after his impending surgery. In time, maybe the UFC can evolve to a place where he isn't needed on the job 365 days a year.