What Is the UFC Heading into 2018?

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2018

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 29:  UFC president Dana White hosts the UFC 220 press conference inside T-Mobile Arena on December 29, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It's all over. 2017, that is.

Or, as a jettisoned former face of the UFC might say: It. Is. Allllllllllllllllllllllllllll. OVER!

It was not exactly a banner year for the promotion, and despite what Dana White brazenly claimed as it came to a close, it's probably one the MMA leader is happy to see finished.

When the best work you do is to abstractly connect to your biggest star's boxing debut, it's hard to imagine feeling differently.

But now, with UFC 219 having come and gone and taught some lessons most already knew—Cris Cyborg is very good, Khabib Nurmagomedov is very good, you might not know 40 percent of the fighters on a pay-per-view card these days—the attention turns to the future.

And with that turning of focus, one major question arises: What is the UFC as we enter 2018?

In light of the brand's position, nobody can give a good and honest answer.

Is it a fight promotion where the best fight the best?

Maybe, but considering Conor McGregor is holding a division hostage by not defending his title and Georges St-Pierre hurled a monkey wrench into one by jumping the queue for a title fight and then abandoning it immediately, it's hardly guaranteed. Plenty of the best fighters in the world were passed over for money fights this past year; plenty more will be in the next.

So, is it a fight promotion where fights just happen for the sake of the money they'll generate, merit be damned?

Also maybe, but there are still plenty of worthy champions out there hustling against the next top contender every time out. They deserve respect and acknowledgment in this odd, new climate, even if they don't always get it.

Is it a media company?

One might have thought so until TV rights negotiations started and things went south. The gaping void of its over-the-top Fight Pass subscription service isn't helping any, either. Originally sold as the future of fight viewing, the internet-only offering has devolved into an uninspired source of live events, if an adequate library of old fights. The UFC appears to be more a company with unrealized media interests and aspirations than anything else at this point.

How about a boxing promoter?

If you believe logos you see on Dana White's T-shirts, it certainly is, but that's about as close as it is to overseeing two pugilists in the ring right now. The likes of Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya—you know, actual boxing promoters—are even getting tired of hearing about it, and nothing pains boxing folk like taking the time to acknowledge MMA.

The whole thing is just a big, weird mess. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to any of this but rather a bunch of decisions being made and things happening, with no structure to any of it.

Under the guidance of the Fertitta brothers, there was a plan. And sure, it was often the type of grandiose scheming better suited to a Bond villain (who seriously targets a goal of "world f--king domination" in any context, ever?), but the results were good enough that such claims were accepted as part of the fun.

Could the UFC conquer Europe and Asia? Could it really ever become bigger than soccer on a global level? Was there a limit to the world's appetite for mixed martial arts?

People mostly knew the answers, but they were along for the ride.

It was enjoyable to watch a sport evolve from grassroots to a multibillion-dollar commodity, and the entertainment and accessibility that came along with the product made the journey satisfying.

Today, could the average fan even tell you where the last event took place? Or what number it was? Or who headlined?

Probably not.

The modern UFC is rudderless, adrift in the sporting seas and taking on water thanks to a typhoon of pointless events filled with unknown fighters, worthless interim titles and the hottest new "chalk"-colored Reebok fight kits.

It spent 2016 working to please everyone—and boy did it ever please in 2016, with classics like McGregor vs. Nate Diaz (twice), Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey returning and the promotion finally breaking into New York—and then spent 2017 working to please absolutely nobody.

So what is the UFC heading into 2018?

Confused and confusing, compromised and confounding. Badly in need of someone or something to save it.

For the first time in years—probably ever, in fact—it is lost and there is no evidence it holds the key to finding itself.

"New year, new me," the saying goes.

New year, new UFC might apply as well. Whatever that means.

     

Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder.

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