UFC 168 Results: 10 Burning Questions for the UFC Heading into 2014

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

UFC 168 Results: 10 Burning Questions for the UFC Heading into 2014

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    What will happen to the UFC in 2014? There are a lot of moving parts at work that will impact the answer to that questions.
    What will happen to the UFC in 2014? There are a lot of moving parts at work that will impact the answer to that questions.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    UFC 168 is over and done with. The results are as follows:

    UFC 168 Main Card

    • Chris Weidman def. Anderson Silva, TKO (Round 2, 1:16)
    • Ronda Rousey def. Miesha Tate, Submission (Round 3, 0:58)
    • Travis Browne def. Josh Barnett, Knockout (Round 1, 1:00)
    • Jim Miller def. Fabricio Camoes, Submission (Round 1, 3:42)
    • Dustin Poirier def. Diego Brandao, TKO (Round 1, 4:54)

    Fox Sports 1 Prelims

    • Uriah Hall def. Chris Leben, TKO (Round 1, 5:00)
    • Michael Johnson def. Gleison Tibau, Knockout (Round 2, 1:32)
    • Dennis Siver def. Manny Gamburyan, Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
    • John Howard def. Siyar Bahadurzada, Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Online Prelims

    • William Macario def. Bobby Voelker, Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
    • Robbie Peralta def. Estevan Payan, TKO (Round 3, 0:12)

    Now, we all get to look forward to a new year for our lives and for the fight game.

    There is a lot to talk about for the UFC's future. Fighters are coming and going, Zuffa is entering new territory, and new problems and opportunites are popping up every day.

    So what questions exist as we enter the new year? Find out right here!

Can the UFC Fix Its TV Ratings?

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    The UFC's ratings and buyrates are down across the board in America. Why is that, and can the UFC change it?
    The UFC's ratings and buyrates are down across the board in America. Why is that, and can the UFC change it?Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    The UFC may insist that everything is just fine with Fox and that the UFC's TV presence is as great as ever. The numbers, however, don't lie.

    UFC Fight Night events on Spike TV in 2011 averaged 1.9 million viewers. UFC on FX ratings wildly fluctuated between 975,000 and 1.8 million viewers. UFC on Fox Sports 1 ratings have ranged between 539,000 and 1.7 million but have largely hovered between 700,000 and 800,000 viewers. Numbers have been steadily dropping, and that isn't a good thing for the UFC.

    The question is: Can Zuffa do anything about it?

    While it's easy to blame Fox Sports 1's generally lousy ratings and relatively limited availability, the fact is that fans just don't tune in the way they used to. It could be pure oversaturation (why should fans feel compelled to watch any given event when there's another one on next week?). It could be that America's fascination with MMA is on the decline.

    Either way, UFC brass is going to try and reverse this trend. Will they succeed?

Is the UFC's International Expansion Paying Off?

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    Events in Asia and seasons of TUF around the globe have the UFC possibly spread thin...and possibly set for another boom.
    Events in Asia and seasons of TUF around the globe have the UFC possibly spread thin...and possibly set for another boom.Matt Roberts/Getty Images

    "Oversaturation" was a word that came up in the last slide. The important thing to remember is that while you might be saying "ho-hum" about a card in England or Australia, those events tend to draw strong gate numbers and, generally speaking, are bigger there than here.

    UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Munoz in England, drew a solid $1.5 million gate. While the show drew the worst TV numbers in UFC history by a wide margin stateside, it was still one of the most successful non-pay-per-view cards of the year at the box office. That same phenomenon occurred in Australia with Hunt vs. Silva and in Manitoba, Canada with UFC 161.

    With international events drawing strong numbers locally (with the exception of Zuffa killing the Brazilian market the same way Activision destroyed instrument-based music games) and numerous interesting promotions starting up across Eurasia, the UFC is turning its attention to the entire globe. 

    The first three months of 2014 will see the UFC put on shows in Singapore, China, England and Brazil. Past that, events are planned for Poland, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Turkey. While the UFC hasn't announced anything officially, it is almost certainly going to return to Australia, Japan and Canada at some point in 2014, and that doesn't even mention previously-hinted-at events in Korea, India and Mexico.

    For those keeping count, the UFC is likely to visit 17 countries in 2014 (adding in the good ol' U.S. of A, of course). 

    Which will stick? Which won't? We'll see!

Will the UFC Make a Habit of Putting Together Bad TV Cards?

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    Upcoming Fight Night cards, as well as UFC on Fox events, are substantially weaker than those in 2013.
    Upcoming Fight Night cards, as well as UFC on Fox events, are substantially weaker than those in 2013.USA TODAY Sports

    UFC on Fox 9 may have marked the end of an era for the UFC. The super-stacked card could be the last great event on free TV in America.

    UFC on Fox 10 represents a huge drop-off in terms of quality between network TV events, with four title-relevant bouts being replaced by four "fun" fights. Similarly, the upcoming Fox Sports 1 event—headlined by Luke Rockhold vs. Costa Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35lacks the intrigue and importance of cards headlined by Glover Teixeira vs. Ryan Bader, Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz.

    So why is that?

    As I discussed previously, this could be the UFC nursing something of a hangover from putting on so many cards in such a short period of time. Over the last four months, the promotion has aired 15 cards, averaging one card for every 10.2 days.

    Every single champion on the roster (save the long-injured Dominick Cruz) fought during that stretch. Non-champions who could feasibly headline cards such as Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Urijah Faber and Nate Diaz have all fought at least once (Sonnen and Faber fought twice).

    It could be that the UFC simply doesn't have anybody left to fight. It could also be that it is testing the waters on weakening its TV cards in order to further strengthen its pay-per-view events.

    Time will tell, but this is one of the most important questions that fans should be asking about the UFC in 2014.

What Will Happen to Buyrates Without GSP?

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    The UFC is going to lose money without GSP, but will some of those buys start to shift toward other fighters instead?
    The UFC is going to lose money without GSP, but will some of those buys start to shift toward other fighters instead?Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    The UFC is going to lose money with Georges St-Pierre's departure. That fact can be deflected or dressed up, but that doesn't make it less of a fact.

    Since 2009, St-Pierre has averaged more than 800,000 buys, according to estimates (not including UFC 100, which was headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir 2). Since 2012, the rest of the UFC averaged less than half that, and even that number is artificially inflated by huge fights like Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans and Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 2.

    The question is whether the extra buys that GSP generated will simply disappear, or if the longtime welterweight champ's fans will gravitate toward other stars. And if so, who?

    Your guess on this is as good as mine.

Who Will Fill the UFC's 2014 Main Event Void?

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    Many of the UFC's champions are out of commission for a good part of 2014. Who will get elevated to main event status on pay-per-view?
    Many of the UFC's champions are out of commission for a good part of 2014. Who will get elevated to main event status on pay-per-view?Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Anthony Pettis is out until next summer because of a knee injury. Georges St-Pierre is gone. Cain Velasquez is likely out for an entire year due to a shoulder injury.

    In 2013, 12 of the UFC's 13 pay-per-view events and all four UFC on Fox cards were headlined by championship bouts. That's a lot of cards with, quite frankly, nobody to fill them.

    So who will the UFC use to plug those holes in 2014?

    Early indication is that it will primarily turn to former champions. UFC on Fox 10 is headlined by former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson vs. former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson. UFC 170 is headlined by UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans vs. Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier. 

    That covers the bases through March. What will the UFC do after that, though?

    Will Jon Jones get called upon in the same way he did in 2011 and 2012, when he defended his belt four times in less than 12 months? Will Ronda Rousey fight three times within a calendar year for the first time since taking the Strikeforce belt? Will the winner of Robbie Lawler vs. Johny Hendricks end up being a workhorse?

Are Fans Ready to Warm Up to the Little Guys?

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    Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber represent three potential stars for the UFC.
    Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber represent three potential stars for the UFC.Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Pop quiz, kiddos: Who is the longest reigning champion in the UFC right now? If you guessed anybody over 145 pounds, you're wrong. With Georges St-Pierre gone and Anderson Silva taking the first steps toward rebuilding his legacy, the lower weight classes have become the go-to place to find dominant fighters in MMA.

    Jose Aldo, Demetrious Johnson and Renan Barao are all wearing UFC gold and have been looking unstoppable of late. Past them, fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson and TJ Grant have all demonstrated themselves to be special.

    Will the fans take notice?

    It's impossible to tell at this point, but this writer is of the persuasion that fans aren't completely closed off to the sub-170-pound weight classes (BJ Penn, remember, drew some serious buys as the lightweight champion). It's also becoming increasingly hard for people to ignore Johnson, following a stellar 2013 that saw him display champion-caliber grit against John Dodson, top-tier grappling chops against John Moraga and legitimate knockout power against Joseph Benavidez.

    We'll just have to see if the UFC decides to start showing the fans that they should take the bantamweight and flyweight divisions seriously.

How Will the UFC Handle a Title Fight with the TRT-Fueled Vitor Belfort?

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    Vitor Belfort is bigger and better than ever all thanks to the UFC's lenience on his TRT use.
    Vitor Belfort is bigger and better than ever all thanks to the UFC's lenience on his TRT use.Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    There was a time, albeit a brief one, where Dana White was one of the many people who believed that TRT was an abusable, unnecessary treatment that had no place in modern MMA. Money, though, is always the loudest voice with the UFC, and Vitor Belfort is a cash cow. 

    Ever since he knocked out Michael Bisping, the Brazilian has been one of the biggest draws in MMA. That has made White and UFC brass more than willing to look the other way on the 36-year-old's newly chiseled physique, keep him away from the American commissions that will make him fight clean (more or less) and throw temper tantrums at respected media members when they notice something's amiss. It's hard not to declare that the UFC is irrevocably sacrificing its credibility as a serious athletic competition to set up one big fight.

    Either way, the middleweight title fight between Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman is going to happen. The question is where and when.

    Will the UFC try to make a stadium show of the event in Brazil? Will it even bother trying to put the bout together in the United States? If so, will it try and bring it to a lenient state like Texas (and possibly, finally, get into Cowboys Stadium), or will it stay at the usual place, the MGM Grand Garden Arena?

    Will the American commissions force the UFC into keeping an even playing field, or will dollar signs pop up in their eyes the way they did for the Nevada Boxing Commission for Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto?

Will Competition Continue Causing Trouble for the UFC?

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    Bellator is one of the many promotions causing trouble for the UFC.
    Bellator is one of the many promotions causing trouble for the UFC.Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Don't get me wrong here. The UFC is still the Superman of MMA. Every other promotion in the world ranges from Plastic Man to The Dove.

    That said, those other promotions have started to become something of a nuisance for the UFC.

    Promotions like One FC and IGF continue scooping up potentially interesting fighters like Shinya Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes. Fear of the growing profile of international promotions like KSW, BAMMA and M-1 are likely major factors in the UFC's European expansion. Bellator continues drawing TV ratings comparable to the UFC.

    I discussed this at length earlier this year, and the conditions between June and today aren't substantially different. It's a mixed blessing, but it's still a break from the "do whatever they want to whomever they want" norm for the UFC.

    While the UFC remains comfortably atop MMA, will that perch be somewhat less lofty within a year's time? We'll have to see.

Will the UFC Continue Being Fox Sports 1's Bread and Butter?

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    The UFC has been Fox Sports 1's backbone so far. Will that continue into 2014?
    The UFC has been Fox Sports 1's backbone so far. Will that continue into 2014?Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    If you read my "Burning Questions" articles a few months ago, you likely noticed that for a long stretch I discussed Fox Sports 1's ratings and how that related to the UFC. 

    Fight Opinion summed up the opportunity this presented well:

    0.0 ratings for some programming is absurd. Regis Philbin’s new show, opposite Around the Horn on ESPN, is drawing 29,000 viewers. That is not a typo. When you have programming drawing less than 50,000 viewers, you are in trouble. Misery loves company and FS1 has plenty of it right now. And that misery is giving UFC a hell of a lot more leverage at the bargaining table for future projects.

    Dana White has preached about wanting weekly fight cards. If the trend is your friend, Dana White’s wish for weekly UFC shows could happen sooner rather than later. That’s a link to an article I wrote last week about how UFC is in great position to capitalize on FS1’s weakened position. FS1 needs UFC so badly. Without UFC on Fuel/FS2, a significant portion of FS2 programming draws less than 1,000 viewers.

    Unfortunately for the UFC, Fight Night ratings dipped hard and then the mainstream sports showed back up in the fall, reminding us what Americans actually like to watch—football.

    Oklahoma vs. Baylor drew 2.11 million viewers. By comparison, UFC Fight Night 32 (headlined by Dan Henderson vs. Vitor Belfort) drew 722,000 or 34 percent of what that mildly interesting NCAA game generated.

    While constant UFC programming has been a moderately effective buoy for Fox Sports 1 thus far, the network's goals have always been set much higher than where MMA can take it. Its eyes are set on contracts like Monday Night Football, the U.S. Open, the Olympic Games and other events that will consistently draw seven-figure viewership numbers.

    Granted, most of the rights to major sporting events are locked up until 2020 or later. MMA, though, isn't the biggest sport in the world, and that's what Fox is looking for.

    Unless things change profoundly, and they almost certainly won't, the UFC's days with Fox are numbered. The question is when the UFC will start feeling it.

Will Jon Jones' Star Continue to Rise?

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    There was a time when the most prestigious drink to have its logo appear in the Octagon was Mickey's Malt Liquor. The best-known athletic clothing brand? Probably TapouT.

    Even as the UFC grew, it proved difficult for individual fighters to become a brand unto themselves. Before 2012, the only fighters to do so were Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. Even as champions and all-time greats, however, they were viewed as some hard-to-explain middle ground between "fighter" and "scary-looking dude." 

    "Athlete," though? Not quite. A LeBron James or Tiger Woods in the making? Don't be silly.

    Then, along came Jon Jones. A young, articulate, charismatic, physically gifted champion who demonstrated himself to be above the rest of the pack in a way rarely seen in MMA. That earned him mainstream attention in a way never seen before, represented in groundbreaking endorsements with Nike and Gatorade. 

    Alongside those big accomplishments are small ones like being ranked among Askmen's most influential men of 2013 and a spot on the cover of EA Sports UFC.

    Still, the Jon Jones brand has plenty of room to grow. How much bigger will it get in 2014?