Will "UFC" Be the Biggest Sport in 2020? Don't Hold Your Breath

Jason Schielke@jasonschielkeCorrespondent IMay 21, 2010

NEW YORK - MARCH 24:  Dana White, president of the UFC, speaks at a press conference for UFC 111 at Radio City Music Hall on March 24, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

In an article published in the Las Vegas Sun , Dana White stated that “UFC will be the biggest sport in the world by 2020.”  There are no doubts that White and the Fretittas have done more good for the sport than anyone else has, but Dana’s ego must have taken on a form of his own and smacked him stupid for him to make a statement this far fetched.

There are many things that can be done to help the sport maintain and grow its fan base, but the Chiefs have a better chance of winning the Superbowl in the next 10 years than UFC has of becoming the biggest sport in the world.  Why?

5. “UFC”

If I were being a complete smarty-pants, which is generally how I am, this would have been my No. 1 reason.  “UFC” is not a sport; it is a MMA promotional company just like Golden Boy and Top Rank are to boxing.  The only difference is that the UFC is not only a promotional company; it is also its own sanctioning body.  I’ll get in to that more in a little bit.

4. Boxing

First off, I had to choke back tears as I canceled my flight to Vegas and my reservation at the MGM Grand because of the developments, or lack thereof, in the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.  This was supposed to be the defining fight of my generation, and it fell through.  That’s it—boxing is dead.

If I had a dime for every person I’ve heard over the past few years say that boxing is dead, I would be living in the “Big Boy” mansion.  There is, and always will be, a “mega fight” that comes along once or twice a year that renews interest in the sport. 

Pacquaio-Mayweather fell through, but Mayweather-Mosley was made.  The fight did 1.4 million buys.  With talks about the Pacquaio-Mayweather fight going on again, it would be safe to assume that the fight could easily do two million buys.

Now just to clear things up, I am a MMA fan first and a boxing fan second.  With that said, the UFC, or any other organization for that matter, has never came close to drawing a gate, paydays, or pay-per-view numbers (with the exception of UFC 100, which did an estimated 1.7 million buys) anywhere close to the numbers brought in by any big boxing event. 

Mayweather made over $22 million and Mosley made $7 million (not including share of pay-per-view revenue) for their fight a few weeks back, while the top UFC fighters are getting a “disclosed” $250-$500K per fight.  I’m not saying that MMA will never achieve the numbers that boxing can, but I doubt it will happen given MMA’s current business model.  Once again, I will get more into this later.

3. The Price of Pay-Per-View Events

Just the other day, I had a regular customer come into my restaurant and we started talking about MMA.  He was telling me how much he likes the UFC, but then he also brought up about how it’s getting to the point where he really can’t afford to be paying $50 every month to watch the events.

I know he’s not alone.  Being a single parent, it has got to the point where I can’t afford to order every event; I have to pick and choose which events I want to order.  Would it really affect Zuffa’s bottom line if they were to charge a lower amount for events which don’t have any real fights of consequence and charge the normal amount for events with championship fights?

In my opinion, more people would be buying more pay-per-views if cards like the UFC 108 were offered for somewhere around the $30-35 range.  Really, was UFC 108 worth $45 (or $55 if you ordered it in hi-def)?

2. Lack of Cross Promotion

Ok, if you want to see Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvares, please raise your hand.

Now, raise your hand if you want to see Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck again.

That’s what I thought.

The second biggest problem is the UFC’s unwillingness to cross-promote with other organizations.  Now I’m going to play conspiracy theorist on why this is.  Let’s go back to November 2003.  Dana brought Chuck Liddell to Japan to compete in Pride’s Light Heavyweight Grand Prix.  Liddell handled Overeem with no problem.

Then he got the pleasure of facing off against Quinton Jackson.  Liddell looked like he was out of gas half way through the first round, and his corner threw in the towel in the second after Liddell was on the receiving end of what seemed like a thousand body shots from Rampage.  During the fight, all Dana could say is “this isn’t our game plan; this isn’t what we planned for.”

This writer believes this made Dana believe that Liddell’s loss to Rampage made his product look inferior to Pride’s.  This could explain why Fedor is not fighting for the UFC right now. 

The last thing Dana would want to see is Fedor destroying his Heavyweight Champion after Bruce Buffer announced, “The UFC, in association with M-1 Global brings you tonight’s main event.” 

That would make M-1 look like a superior product compared to the UFC, and whatever higher power you believe in knows that Dana doesn’t want any other promotion to seem better than his.

And this brings me to the No. 1 reason why “UFC” won’t be the biggest sport in 2020.

1. Dana White

History has proven that one man cannot conquer the world.  The same applies to Mixed Martial Arts.  Over the past few years, Dana has made it his goal to put any competing organization out of business.  Unfortunately, he has succeeded.  Did he directly put Affliction, Elite XC, and the IFL out of business?  No.

Is he going out of his way to put Strikeforce on life support?  Maybe.

He has set the bar so high that any organization that tries to even come close to competing with his brand stands no chance.  They all had, or are in the process of, hemorrhaging so much cash in an effort to compete with the UFC that they had, or have, little to no chance of survival.

Here’s just a thought for Dana to ponder.  Instead of putting your competition on blast and stealing talent, try giving your competition a chance to flourish.  Let them develop talent and prosper.

Then, if you really want to prove that the “UFC” is going to be the biggest sport, let your best fighters fight the best from around the world.  Open up to cross promotion.  Let the fans see Anderson Silva vs. Hector Lombard.  Let them see Fedor vs. Brock—or Carwin—or Velasquez.

Embrace the concept of unifying titles and let the fights happen that will prove who truly is the best in each weight class. 

Also, all the fights wouldn’t have to be about titles.  Who could say that a fight between Junior dos Santos and Antonio Silva wouldn’t be a fun scrap to watch?

The possibilities are endless.  Once, or if, this happens, paydays, gates, and pay-per-view revenue for MMA would make boxing’s numbers look like chump change.

I believe that Bas Rutten put it best in an interview I conducted with him: “Right now the UFC is the 'main man,' so to say, head and shoulders above everyone else.  StrikeForce is coming up, there will probably come another show, then, hopefully, the other two shows will become huge also. Once that happens and we have (four) great organizations just like in boxing, and if that’s the case, then there will come a time for cross promotion. That’s a couple of years away though, hopefully, (it) could be longer.”

“UFC” will never surpass the popularity levels of the NFL, NBA, MLB, soccer, or NASCAR.  Trying to take a brand that has been in the public eye in America for 17 years and making it the number one “sport” in the world in the next 10 years is nothing but an insane pipe dream.

With a little cooperation from the “main man,” Mixed Martial Arts could become one of the most popular sports in the world.  I just hope that Bas Rutten’s prediction comes true sooner than later.


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