Pay-per-view numbers are down, the UFC is struggling to find a slew of stars to promote, and interest seems to be waning. Yet, UFC President Dana White was pretty insistent that everything was going just fine.
This business has never been bigger and never been crazier. ... I hear all this [expletive] about the Fight Pass cards, but Americans can't wrap their heads around the fact we're not doing those cards for them. The fights are for the people in those countries. Say what you want about a card, but there is nothing like a live UFC event. We've found that people who go to one of our live events tend to become regular UFC fans. We are looking at a total attendance in these fight cards of 60,000, so those are 60,000 people we're developing into UFC fans.
Fans and analysts have soured a bit on the cards presented on the UFC's online streaming service, Fight Pass. In particular, the most recent UFC Fight Night 43 was particularly bad in terms of the matchups on paper, as the card was headlined by one fighter on a two-fight losing streak and another who was on a three-fight losing streak.
But, as White so eloquently put, the UFC isn't putting on those cards for American fans.
We put the fights on Fight Pass so that the hard core people who might want to watch them have a way to see them. This has nothing to do with us trying to sell those fights to the fans here. If you want to watch them, great, it's 10 bucks a month. We have Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt fighting in Japan coming up. That's going to be an unreal fight. If you want to see it, it's 10 bucks and you can cancel it after a month. If you don't want to see those cards, we don't give a [expletive] because we're not doing the shows for anybody but the countries we're doing them in. We're putting the shows on for the people in these other markets where they can see the shows live in their prime time instead of having to watch at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning.
I believe American fans have grown to understand that the cards aren't meant for us. But then why do we have to pay for them?
UFC pay-per-views are aired for free in a number of countries, whereas we have to shell out our money to watch them here. And now we are asked to pay for events that are not geared toward us.
I understand that the UFC is catering to their international market with these events, but eventually the company needs to circle back to the area that is dropping the most money in its pockets. Eventually (or for some people it's already happened) there will be a point where the paying customer doesn't buy in simply because it's the UFC.
The oversaturation argument can go on for days depending on your stance, and both sides have valid points. Yes, events aren't as stacked as they once were, but on the other hand, fans now have more MMA in their lives than ever before.
But White is 100 percent correct in his statement about the UFC's business never being bigger. Just think of all the TV deals the company has signed. And while the PPV numbers are nowhere near what they used to be, it's clear the promotion is more than just a PPV-driven company.
The UFC has expanded into a ton of new markets and built up some existing ones. Brazil and Canada have become huge markets outside of the United States. Europe is rich with talent, and with new stars like Alexander Gustafsson and Conor McGregor combined with established names like Michael Bisping, the UFC has the name value to develop a solid brand overseas.
Although ONE FC and others have become a staple of Asian MMA since the demise of Pride, the UFC has done its best to revive MMA in Asia with cards in Japan and China.
Let's not forget that UFC could potentially be opening the doors to another major market with the first-ever season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. Anyone who is a boxing fan knows that the combat-sports fans in Mexico will firmly get behind someone they believe in.
Just look at Saul "Canelo" Alvarez as an example.
The UFC is in the midst of a transition phase, attempting to branch out from a purely North American market. While people inside the MMA bubble will continue to praise the sport as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the fact remains it's still considered a niche by most.
By expanding its global audience, the UFC is tapping into a fountain of wealth that was previously unreachable before. Some fans in America may not like where the sport is headed, but there's a ton of revenue on the horizon, and the UFC is quickly packing its bags to set up shop.