Does the UFC's Win-Now Culture Hurt Developing Fighters?

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Does the UFC's Win-Now Culture Hurt Developing Fighters?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yes. That's the simple answer.

The UFC is currently not in the business of building fighters, but rather acquiring bona fide stars from other promotions that are already marketable.

With an increasing number of events airing on pay-per-view and the Fox family of channels, it is imperative that the UFC has a fully stocked stable of fighters that can headline these cards.

Not only do the fighters need to be thrilling inside the Octagon, but they also need to be able to properly hype the bout in order to guarantee that fans will tune in. The UFC's livelihood relies on a consistently healthy viewership in the form of pay-per-view buys and higher television ratings

So it's in the promotion's best interest to make fights that the average MMA fan would be willing to plunk down $54.99 to watch even if the matchups sometimes fly in the face of common sense.

And this seemingly arbitrary manner in which fights are made is one of the biggest criticisms people have of the UFC.

The promotion builds fights in a top-down manner where fighters with greater fan appeal will leapfrog those that may have more consecutive wins under their belt, but lack the name recognition.

In February, the UFC implemented a fighter ranking system for each weight class, but even that has not helped in streamlining the way matchups are made.

Nick Diaz still got a fight with GSP even after coming off not only a loss, but also a year-long suspension for a failed drug test.

Gilbert Melendez was granted a title shot against Benson Henderson in his very first fight in the UFC.

And most egregiously, middleweight Chael Sonnen was paired against light heavyweight terminator Jon Jones in a fight where the champ was a massive favorite.

These fights were made under the illusion that they were matchups that fans were clamoring to see even though there were fighters (Johny Hendricks and Alexander Gustafsson) much more deserving of those title shots. 

Now not only is it difficult to get a title shot, but the UFC also doesn't have a real system in place for maturing fighters before they make their Octagon debuts. Instead, the fighters are thrown to the wolves and expected to survive. It is a trial by fire that few escape from unscathed. 

The Ultimate Fighter started out as a way for the UFC to fill its ranks with a new crop of talent, but it has turned into nothing more than an extended commercial for the upcoming bout between the two (often feuding) coaches.

The first season of the show in 2005 was a landmark moment for the UFC that not only gave the average viewer their first taste of mixed martial arts action, but also provided the promotion a viable set of quality up-and-coming prospects.

The epic fight between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin at the first TUF finale was actually one of the main contributing factors to keeping the sport from potentially collapsing in the United States. 

As UFC president Dana White has said "It's the most significant fight in UFC history" (via Ray Hui, MMAFighting.com).

Of the 16 fighters on the original cast, eight have had fairly long and successful careers in the UFC. Most of them, including Josh Koscheck, Nate Quarry, Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian, even eventually earned shots at a championship belt.

And three years after defeating Bonnar via unanimous-decision, Griffin became the first TUF alumnus to capture the UFC light heavyweight strap.

Since then, the talent on the show has greatly decreased, leaving the winners ill-equipped to handle the higher level of competition in the UFC.

Consequently, the vast majority of fighters in the UFC are never able to crack the top 10 or even get a whiff of that elusive title shot. This, coupled with the fact that the UFC is currently cutting fighters with greater regularity, leaves most stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

For every fighter like Jones who can run the gauntlet and emerge as a homegrown talent, there are a hundred others who get ground up by the UFC machine and spit back out onto the regional circuit.

Right now, the UFC may be living high off the hog, but for the promotion to continue growing it is important that it develops its younger fighters to guarantee a successful future.

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