Recently Zuffa, the parent company of MMA juggernaut UFC, acquired what is widely considered the No. 2 organization in MMA—Strikeforce.
With the purchase, Zuffa has to create something that every major sport has, but MMA doesn't. Two leagues competing against each other under the same banner and major championship event at the end of it all.
To do this, there would need to be a major restructuring of every contract in both the UFC and Strikeforce, and there would need to be a lot of work to make this happen. Here are the series of events necessary to make something like this happen.
Restructuring of Organizations
This would have to wait until Strikeforce's deal with Showtime is over, which means that this idea will need to wait a few years. But they could come up with a structure similar to other sporting organizations where the UFC is the main organization, and there are two smaller conferences.
They could name these something like World Fighting Conference and International Fighting Conference (or something more aesthetically pleasing). This would mean that they would have two separate conferences within a main organization.
These conferences would only fight within each other much the way football teams face other teams from within their conference, pretty much the same way they do now.
The only difference is that they would have a championship event much the way that other sports leagues do, where you find out the best of the best. This will be explained in more detail later.
Restructuring Fighter Contracts
Before any of this can get done, you need to get the fighters on board. This is easier said than done, but it is something that is necessary if they plan to have something like this work.
Instead of signing fighters to multi-fight deals, they will instead be signed to multi-year deals. Each year, every fighter would be contractually obligated to fight three times barring injury. They will make money on a per fight basis so that the UFC isn't paying fighters to sit on the sidelines.
There would also be competition between the two conferences for fighters when a contract is up. They would be free to fight for whichever conference they want to, and there wouldn't be an issue with having fighters not being able to fight the best because they are in different divisions, as the best would always be fighting each other.
One issue with this proposal is that it puts a lot of emphasis on winning and not on finishes, something that could result in a lot of decisions and point fighting, something the fans don't want to see. One way to combat this is finishing bonuses for every fighter that finishes a fight.
Right now, the UFC offers Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night bonuses, but these only go to a few fighters on a card per night. Adding bonuses for any fighter who finishes will add incentive for lower-level fighters to not only win but to look for the submission or knockout at all times because it will add money to their bank account.
It will also allow fighters who only fight to win and not for a finish to feel it where it hurts the most, in their wallets.
A Network Television Deal
This is something very important if MMA wants to be considered a major sport. It is also something important for a structure like this to work.
Although Spike has done a lot for the UFC, they only reach a very narrow area of the general public. By putting MMA on major network like Fox or CBS, fighting will be available to almost all who choose to watch and will create a much larger viewership.
There would still be pay-per-view events for championship fights, but something that would be great for MMA is to set up bi-weekly events on a network like Fox, NBC or CBS.
The main structure for this would be to have two-championship months. These months could be April, August and December.
In these months, there would be a fight card every week. The first week could be the championship fights for the current UFC roster, which would be on pay-per-view. The next weekend would be the contender fight for the UFC roster which would be on network television.
The next week would have a pay-per-view event with all of the Strikeforce champions defending their title, followed by a contenders card the next weekend on network television.
The reason that a network television deal is necessary is because you still have a lot of fighters who aren't fighting for a championship. These fighters will still be working their way up through the ranks, and they could be fighting within their conference on network television.
They can create a set schedule where you know that there are going to be fights every two weeks or every week to create a regularity among fans. This is something lacking in fighting organizations, as they have fights at random intervals, and it can become difficult to know when their fights are.
This is also a good way to get exposure for younger fighters working their way up, as they can be seen by a major audience on network television.
What about injuries?
Injuries are a big part of MMA, and they keep champions from being able to compete. To combat this, if a champion is unavailable when their fights are scheduled, they will automatically give up their belt and have to earn it back.
This creates more competition and won't slow down the progress of the main season. Although this may keep certain fighters from becoming champion, it is a result of the business, and there are still a lot of great fights available and a lot of high-level fighters available to take their position.
Conference Championship events
As stated earlier, there would be pay-per-view events for all championship fights. To allow for regularity for championship fights, the current conference champion would be fighting against another fighter picked by that league much like happens now.
The next week would be contender week, as stated, where the winner of the fight would fight the champion of that division during the next championship month.
If an injury occurs where a fighter can't work, the conference would either pick a fighter or use a ranking system to decide who is next in line, depending on how they decide to work fight selection.
World Championship Event
This is the main perk of this system. Every major sport has a championship to choose the best team in the world, which is something that having competing leagues doesn't allow.
To create something like this, in December, there would be a huge card that would have the champion from each division from heavyweight to lightweight fight against each other. This would allow for dream matchups that fans rarely get to see.
Here is what a current champion vs. champion event would look like.
HW: Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem
LHW: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Dan Henderson
MW: Anderson Silva vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza
WW: Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
LW: Frankie Edgar vs. Gilbert Melendez
This is an event that would make big money for everybody involved and would give fans something to be very excited about. The fans would be spoiled, and the fight promoters would be buried in the money.
Legitimacy: By having a league where the best fighters are forced to fight each other, there is going to be less of an issue of which league has the best fighters because we will know definitively.
Exposure: By having a network television deal where you get to see some of the best fighters for free and on a channel that is available to the general public.
Great Fights: We have always wondered what would happen if one guy from an organization fought somebody from another organization, with this format, we will finally get to know.
Injury: This might keep some of the best fighters from being able to fight for the championship, but this is something MMA deals with now and something that won't go away under any system.
Please discuss this and add in your thoughts for ways to make a system like this work.
I'm Joe W.