In 2013, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. In a strange twist, the events of the 20th year could determine the long-term viability of the company.
It has long been my thought that the UFC was its own worst enemy and only they could bring about their demise. Next year, the UFC will be faced with three critical decisions that could impact its foothold on the MMA world and its wish to be spoken in the same breath as more mainstream sports.
Fans love talking about dream contests. It’s part of what makes sports exciting. Endless conversation and debate is what keeps a sport relevant during lulls in action or the offseason. Could Tyson defeat Ali? Could the 1999 St. Louis Rams—dubbed “The Greatest Show of Turf”—defeat the 1985 Chicago Bears?
Since the Ali-like return to the ring of UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154, the conversation surrounding a superfight with UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has gone up exponentially.
If the discussion wasn’t about Silva vs. GSP, it was Silva vs. UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. While the revenue that would be generated from a fight of this magnitude would be record-breaking and I would love to see it, how would it affect the UFC long-term?
I believe superfights would set a bad precedent. Given Silva and GSP’s requests for 50 percent of the UFC and a $50 million payday, respectively, neither appears completely serious about making this happen. The risks just aren’t worth it.
You risk one or both of your champions suffering injury in a fight with no importance other than the “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” factor. Next, you stall the divisions and marquee fighters who could give a serious contention to the title.
It won’t stop there. Someone will throw out the idea of “Could this fighter in the “X” division beat this fighter in the “Y” division." In the world of Twitter, Facebook and yes even our very own Bleacher Report, any topic can grow legs.
Next thing you know, we’ll have Rampage Jackson vs. Johnny Hendricks just because they’re knockout artists or Lyoto Machida vs. Cung Le because of their more traditional martial arts backgrounds.
Talk of fantasy fights and dream matchups should be left where they make most sense, between friends in bars and mancaves across America.
UFC prez Dana White has long stated that he built the UFC’s success by not imitating the repeated mistakes made by professional boxing. One of the most glaring over the years is boxing’s abuse of the word “champion."
Now, the UFC has started down the slippery road of creating interim titles to a point where even the fighters are calling for them. Personally, I’m not sure how much pride can be taken in the idea of being the “Interim” Champ, but that’s a story for another time.
The whole purpose of the interim champion is for the division’s top-ranked fighter to act and defend as champion in the event that the current champion cannot defend his title for an extended period of time.
The key to that is that they must “act” as champion. That means that you must defend the title until the champion returns. Where does this idea of sitting out of action for a year come from? Essentially, you are ducking fighters out of fear of losing a phantom belt and a chance to get the real one.
Carlos Condit sat on the shelf for nine months, refusing to fight anyone but GSP. Renan Barao has been out of action since July, and now who knows when UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz will return from injury.
Now Michael Bisping is pushing for an interim title. How can anyone be a champion of any type without being willing to defend themselves as such? All it does it belittle and water down the prestige that comes with calling yourself a champion.
With Anderson Silva discussing taking some time off and the ongoing injury issues with Dominick Cruz, Dana White will need to clarify on the record when an interim title should be deemed necessary.
In my opinion, unless the champion is expected to be completely inactive from all fighting and training for a minimum of nine months, it serves no purpose.
The Ultimate Fighter
It’s no secret that the ratings for The Ultimate Fighter have struggled in recent years. In a last-ditch effort to save the sinking ship, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones will be coaching alongside UFC middleweight/light heavyweight/mouthpiece Chael Sonnen.
After the debacle that was UFC 151, Chael Sonnen essentially talked his way into a title fight in a division in which he has not competed in since 2005.
Does Chael Sonnen sell tickets? Yes. Could Chael Sonnen make great television? Yes. If this experiment fails, what’s next for TUF? In addition, TUF is moving to Tuesday nights on FX.
It’s likely that another season of sub-par ratings for the UFC would put Dana White to a very critical choice of whether to continue the show. Even after the experiment of changing to the live format, viewership is still not what it once was.
If TUF 17 fails, will there be an 18?
Follow Walt J as he comes to you on his blog “Live From AREA 49″ with his rants on the world of sports from the fan perspective.. Whether it’s picks against the spread, fantasy football tips, or sheer frustration with your team, AREA 49 has a place for you. Follow him on Facebook, and on Twitter @area49sports.