Enough Is Enough: How the UFC Can Make It Easier to Be a Fan Again
Fueled by executive perfection and monetary persuasion, the UFC has launched itself to the forefront of the global mixed martial arts scene.
From tactically signing the very best free agents available to forming legendary television relationships with gigantic networks like FOX, the UFC has done what has needed to be done over the years to solidify perennial growth.
But through all of its efforts and expansive explorations, the promotional juggernaut is now the proud owner of a somewhat diluted product.
Whether it has been an overzealous tendency to host countless yearly events or an inability to market potential superstars outside of their respective markets, the UFC has often made it difficult for current fans, prospective followers and outside haters to catch on.
Here are four changes the company can put into motion in order to sustain interest and future dominance.
4. No More Interim Belts
I know it's easy to sit behind a computer screen and curse the idea of interim titles, but isn't it time to rid ourselves of these fake championships?
It just isn't the same when an interim title is on the line. It doesn't hold as much prestige or glory as the real thing.
Now I understand that injuries come into play and the UFC needs to keep the belt moving, but all you're doing when you invent interim titles is crowning a bona fide No. 1 contender.
Current bantamweight champion Renan Barao is the perfect example to this ill-advised notion of being able to market and sell interim champions.
Before former divisional kingpin Dominick Cruz relinquished his title after more DL time than Mark Prior (for all you baseball fanatics), the promotion tried to fool us all by giving the young Brazilian a title to call his own.
But through all of his dominance and Octagon perfection, Barao was always coming up short. Because at the end of the day, Cruz still held the real belt. It wasn't until the word interim was removed from Barao's title that people recognized him for the stud he is today.
The point here is that interim titles have begun to diminish the iconic reputation and appeal of world championships. Their only understandable use is to allow the UFC to continue to promote main events with belts on the line, but it's actually more harmful than helpful.
3. Legitimate Ranking System
Actually having a number attached to a fighter's name in order to rank him amongst his peers is arguably the best invention of all time.
The UFC and its media members have benefited nicely from this fairly new system. In turn, it has allowed journalists and fans to pay closer attention to divisional matchups and how they might affect the overall title picture.
But somewhere along the line the UFC has slowly skidded off track in a way most people would consider blind favoritism.
Top-ranked contenders, such as No. 3 ranked bantamweight Raphael Assuncao, have fallen victim to a system that doesn't necessarily reward the numbers. Instead, the UFC has oddly sifted through these rankings in order to put on the best available fight.
Now I realize that's all well and good because who doesn't want to see great fights, but when you do it in a fashion that is borderline insulting to a guy who not only deserves a shot at the title, but one who recently beat the guy who is now getting his own shot (T.J. Dillashaw), it raises cause for concern.
Why have a ranking system in place if you aren't going to abide by it? Why promote divisional rankings and title pictures if a well-deserving contender can get skipped at the drop of a hat?
Is Dillashaw a more appealing matchup on paper for champion Renan Barao than Assuncao is? Most likely, yes.
But in no way should that dictate the decisions made by the higher-ups when figuring out who deserves the next shot at gold. These failures within the UFC's ranking system have been showing their ugly faces more often than not.
Guys like Alexander Gustafsson are fed divisional lambs on the heels of one borderline loss, while quick-wit microphone slayers like Chael Sonnen still get huge fights not indicative of their actual divisional worth.
In order for the UFC to truly capitalize on a system with epic potential, it needs to start taking the actual rankings into consideration. Obviously each matchup is case-by-case, but it's important to feed the plant you're trying to grow.
2. Broader Marketing for Superstar Fighters
Like Apple needs new programs or Hugh Hefner needs new bunnies, the UFC needs superstars.
It's just the natural order of things. Old ones ship out, like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, while new ones ship in, like Johny Hendricks and Chris Weidman.
But as fluid as the UFC has been in ending one era and moving onto the next, it's failed to promote certain names that ultimately hold unfathomable potential.
Champions like Jose Aldo and Demetrious Johnson have not received the global recognition and selling worth that their skill and in-cage excellence would have you believe.
For Aldo, this stems from the UFC really only showcasing his premier title defenses on a Brazilian stage. It's most certainly understandable considering Aldo could sell out any arena in his home country in a matter of hours, but that doesn't make up for lost time on a broader market.
Aldo is so proficient and unstoppable inside the cage that it seems almost nonsensical to not promote this guy outside of Brazil every possible chance you have. By doing so, the UFC can help build his label and overall market globally, not just south of the border.
For Johnson, the UFC has to take his career to the next level. He's still young enough, vastly skilled and highly likable. If the UFC really wants to cash in on "Mighty Mouse" and mold him into one of the sport's greatest champions, it needs to pull him off of the FOX cards and let him head line at least two pay-per-views a year.
Then and only then will Johnson be able to attract the most hardcore fight fans out there, which is still the most difficult group of UFC followers to please.
1. Revamped Fight Cards
Less events means less fighters on the UFC roster. No kidding.
But what that means for the loyal followers scavenging the television channels and online streams on a weekly basis is that fight cards will finally start to fall back to earth.
For years, the UFC has been building this empire fueled by evolving divisions and growing fight cards. The promotion has seen its bank account reach monumental levels, but in turn it has created this almost repetitive mid-level product comparable to Season 4 of The Walking Dead.
In other words, the UFC's expanding roster has ruined its most heralded promotional aspect—fantastic fight cards.
No longer are there just a few handfuls of fight cards per year. Instead, the UFC is flirting with dozens upon dozens of events stretching from Macau, China, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Guys like Dong Hyun Kim and John Hathaway are now headlining events when they would have been lucky enough to make the prelims just a few years ago.
It's something that would make the forefathers of this unbreakable sport turn over in their respective graves. It's something that is making the UFC look like more of a money-hungry corporation than an MMA promotion.
With all of that said, it's difficult to turn back now. The UFC is under so many contract obligations and television deals that it's almost impossible to go back in time and create a smaller sample size when it comes to yearly action.
So, there needs to be a more direct solution to the problem at hand. I know this may sound silly or financially irresponsible, but why not create a minor league system.
Every other major sports outlet has one set up, and it would only allow the UFC to further gauge the talent and potential that each and every fighter possesses.
It would not only continue its expansion and further promote the sport on a more local market, but it would allow the promotion to once again stack pay-per-view cards to the brim when they make their monthly visit.
Obviously this is just wishful thinking, but it's nice to ponder the idea of getting back to fortified fight cards littered with top contenders, top draws and top dogs.
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