The State of the UFC- How WME-IMG Has Impacted The MMA Landscape
When I first started this blog, my intention was to give as close to equal billing as I could to both WWE and UFC. I love pro wrestling, I also love mixed martial arts. By its nature, I knew I'd end up writing more about WWE- they have several weekly TV shows, whereas UFC broadcast fight cards approximately every two weeks- save for a glorious period last July where we had four cards in the span of a week. What I originally thought would be a 60-40, or maybe even 70-30 split in favour of wrestling has been more like 90-10. I believe a large factor in my minimal amount of MMA writing has been due to the new ownership of the UFC, which I'm going to look at here in some detail. I don't pretend to be some kind of business expert. I've done a bit of bare-bones research, but this is more about my observations as a fan and what changes I've noticed since WME-IMG took over.
WME-IMG are a media conglomerate established in 2013, which functions as a high-powered sports and entertainment talent agency. Some of their notable clients include Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Justin Timberlake, and Oprah. They purchased UFC from Zuffa Inc. in July for the large sum of $4 billion USD. Zuffa, headed by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, along with Dana White, bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2001. They took something that was largely banned on PPV through the 1990s and referred to in the mainstream media as "human cockfighting" and turned into into a regulated sport, with offices and live events all around the world.
WME-IMG co-CEO Ari Emanuel has some history with the UFC. He was a key player in the deal that saw UFC get broadcasted on the FOX family of channels. Also, pre-Reebok, Emanuel helped fighters like Jon Jones land lucrative sponsorship deals with brands like Nike.
So that's what you need to know about WME-IMG. How has it affected the UFC? Let's take a look.
This is a big one for me. In Zuffa days- not too long ago- we knew the main events of PPVs and Fight Nights a good 3 months out, at least. Now, we seem to be waiting til quite late in the day to find out when these big fights are happening. They say "no news is good news", well in this case, no news leads to interest waning and bloggers left with little to write about. UFC looked like they were up shit creek for their New York debut for UFC 205. With less than 6 weeks until the fighters stepped in the Octagon at Madison Square Garden, they booked the champion vs. champion match between McGregor and Alvarez. Georges St Pierre was in negotiations to fight at UFC 206. They couldn't come to an agreement, but GSP was preparing for a fight four weeks out from the Toronto card in the hopes that they could. Most recently, a handful of fights have been announced for UFC 210 in Buffalo, including the main event of Daniel Cormier vs. Rumble Johnson for the light heavyweight championship. UFC 210 is about 2 months away. It's hard to write and get excited about UFC when they're giving you very little to be excited about.
This might piss me off more than the fight announcement thing. It's too late in the night for me to bother looking up statistics, but prior to UFC 189 in 2015, interim title fights were few and far between. Conor McGregor was to headline in a long anticipated fight against Jose Aldo, and with two weeks to go, the injury bug struck Aldo again. Given his prolific history of pulling out of fights, it made sense to create an interim title for Conor and late replacement Chad Mendes. In November 2016, UFC, under WME-IMG ownership, pulled a bullshit move. Unable to secure GSP for a big fight in Toronto against a fighter like Nick Diaz or Michael Bisping, UFC stripped newly crowned double champ McGregor of his featherweight title, announced interim champ Aldo (who beat Edgar at UFC 200 for that belt) as the full champ, and announced another interim title fight between top contenders Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis, in a transparent attempt to make their fight at UFC 206 "main event" worthy. This trend has continued with top lightweight contenders Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson given an interim title fight for UFC 209, with current champ McGregor expected to be out until roughly May-July while he looks after his pregnant long-term girlfriend. It used to be that interim titles were created when a champ was out with injury for 12-18 months, now they're punishing champions who step away for six months. Ridiculous.
One of the most entertaining and newsworthy aspects of following MMA and the associated media was seeing what UFC president Dana White would say next. Since the beginning of the Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, White has displayed an outspoken persona where he would frequently swear, lose his temper, and outright bullshit during interviews. Not very professional. Staying on in his capacity as UFC prez after the WME-IMG takeover, he's still known to BS- he insisted in interviews that Khabib would fight Alvarez at UFC 205, even though most savvy fans realised they were going to pull the Conor rabbit out of the hat, he's been noticeably subdued and more business like in recent months. Much more appropriate, nowhere near as fun.
UFC is in a strange spot going into 2017. When WME-IMG bought UFC, Conor was fighting seemingly every other month, Jon Jones was set to fight Daniel Cormier again, and the world was waiting for the return of Ronda Rousey. It's looking like we're spending the first half of the year Conor-less, Jones is serving a drug-related suspension and generally has his personal life in shambles, and Ronda Rousey might never fight again- and at the very least, took a major hit to her drawing power- with her non-performance against Amanda Nunes at UFC 197. Again, I'm not a businessman by any means, but it seems like some of WME-IMG's practices are hurting the UFC. Not in a "they're going out of business" way, but they're taking some of the fun away, and not giving the fans a lot to get excited about. Conor McGregor has been public in saying that the new owners are yet to meet with him. Fucking madness. UFC's biggest draw, and WME-IMG aren't making sure he's totally satisfied. The man is set for life, he could retire tomorrow if he liked. The company put all their eggs in Rousey's basket for UFC 197 and Nunes smashed those eggs. She went in as champ, received no promotion before the fight, and no big media outlets following her demolition of MMA's golden girl either. The interim title situation, I believe, is rapidly decreasing the prestige of title fights as well, where titles can be taken away from champs on a whim to help sell a PPV. It's concerning, and I hope someone brings these issues to light within the company. However, in the last year, we've lost some prominent long term names in the MMA world. Respected cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran was booted from the UFC, Joe Silva and Mike Goldberg have been phased out following WME-IMG's takeover. Joe Rogan has scaled back his schedule considerably. I love the UFC, I just hope they can start giving us more things to look forward to. I just want to see a big fight!
Until next time, take care,