Since 1993, the UFC has been a company on the rise, especially in the last decade when the company skyrocketed in popularity and public visibility, due in part to the success of The Ultimate Fighter TV show and popular fighters like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones, and Chuck Liddell bringing in huge PPV audiences. Yet like any company, there are downsides to expanding along with all of the benefits. In the last few years since UFC started its partnership with FOX, the company has seen instances of PPVs being outright cancelled, high profile issues with fighters outside the cage, and other issues.
The UFC has done some things to try and combat these issues, but sometimes it is a matter of trying to just wade through the storm in the hopes that a better solution shows up to fix the problem. Many of these problems have been bubbling to the surface over the years, while others are brand new issues that have come from the UFC’s recent expansion. No matter when they started, they are problems that need to be addressed in order for the UFC to survive and continue to grow as the premier organization for MMA fighting. It is not something new for the UFC, but it does seem like there are more issues than ever before, including some that are much more dangerous to growth and survival of the promotion. This list is designed to look at the biggest problems facing the promotion right now, along with how the UFC can curb these problems. Now I am not saying that these problems can be fixed overnight, but they can definitely be slowed down before they get any bigger or to the point where it causes the UFC to bleed out a slow death.
9 Issues Outside the Cage
In the last couple years alone, there has been a seeming increase in public faux pas by UFC fighters or staff. Most recently, commentator Mike Goldberg went on a tirade on Twitter after being fired from being a NFL commentator for FOX. Also, ex-UFC fighters War Machine and Jason “Mayhem” Miller have had serious run-ins with the law, stemming from a vicious attack on an ex-girlfriend and warrants from a domestic dispute with a family member, respectively. The problem here for the UFC lies in the fact that even though the fighters in question haven’t been with the promotion for a while, years in the case of War Machine, they are listed in news articles as former UFC fighters rather than current Bellator fighters or retired fighters. Add this to the fact that current fighters Anthony Johnson and Thiago Silva have been suspended or cut due to an allegation of Johnson punching his girlfriend and Silva being on camera aiming a gun at his wife.
The UFC is taking some of the appropriate steps in handling these situations with suspensions or fines, with the promise of the suspension being lifted after an investigation is completed. Unfortunately, Dana White has put his foot in his mouth from time to time with this issue, once trying to remove the UFC name from the Mayhem situation by stating he was never a UFC fighter because “he never won a fight in the UFC,” despite the fact that he fought for the promotion three times. All that happens in this case is that it comes across as if the UFC is trying to split hairs on a serious issue, just to try and save face rather than address the issue in a rational way.
8 Lack of Title Defenses
The injury bug has led to some titles not being defended for long periods of time. This issue was most apparent with the Bantamweight championship and then-champion Dominick Cruz. Originally set to have a rubber match with rival Urijah Faber, he was injured during training and through various incidents, to the point that he was out of commission for over two years. In that time, Renan Barao was named the interim champion and would go on to defend his title more than Cruz had defended the actual championship. Then in the last few months, we have seen Chris Weidman, Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo all have fights moved due to injuries. The UFC needs to set a timeline for when a champion has to defend or otherwise be stripped of the belt, or they run the risk of having another Cruz situation on their hands.
7 Too Few Established Names
Even though the UFC has a couple hundred fighters under contract, only a fifth of them have any real star power to affect buyrates. These fighters cannot fight all the time, so the UFC has to do its best to make new stars to fill in those spots. The problem here is that in order for a fighter to gain name recognition, they have to beat a lot of good fighters, because a fighter’s reputation is built upon the fighters that he or she beats. So while one fighter is climbing the ranks, they are doing so at the cost of another fighter losing a bit of their steam. While these fighters can still be used on TV cards or Fight Pass cards, the fact of the matter is that PPV buys and TV ratings have gone down and plateaued because fans are overwhelmed by so many watered down events.
6 Weak Ultimate Fighter Lineups
When The Ultimate Fighter debuted a decade ago, it came at a time when the UFC was at a breaking point, and the series paid off with huge dividends, helping the promotion become the biggest MMA organization in the world. Now that we are over twenty-five seasons in, it is apparent that there is not enough talent to fill the cast each year. With the UFC trying its best to scoop up good talent on the regional scene before its competitors or the fact that it is becoming more beneficial to try other outlets to make it big in MMA, the quality of the show has gone downhill in recent years. While recent seasons featuring female fighters have been a fresh air and provide strong, new talent, seasons like the one coached by Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson or the Chinese International season show how shallow the pool has become. With more cast members trying to get noticed through their antics in the TUF house rather than inside the Octagon, maybe it is time to call it a day with the show that helped put the UFC back on the map.
5 Fighters Refusing Fights
This problem has not been as problematic in the past, but it seems to be a growing sentiment. Training partners who refuse to face each other in the Octagon puts UFC brass in a hard spot when it comes to matchmaking, especially near the top of the rankings where contender status and title matches are concerned. Fighters in Greg Jackson’s camp have notoriously refused to fight each other, at least until some left the camp to join other camps or create their own, like in the case of Rashad Evans and the Blackzilians. The most apparent examples right now are with Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, as Cormier moved down to Light Heavyweight since Velasquez was Heavyweight Champion, though it was a fight fans would pay to see. Another is in the Bantamweight division, where T.J. Dillashaw is reigning champion while training partner Urijah Faber is a top five ranked fighter who seems to always be on the cusp of another title fight.
4 Fighter Pay
While I believe that fighter pay could be improved upon, I also understand that if you want to be paid more, you need to prove it inside the cage. There have been many vocal opponents to the UFC’s paying methods as of late, including Tim Kennedy and Jose Aldo.
People look to boxing when talking about how MMA fighters are unfairly paid, but what many do not realize is that the pay can be worse for boxers. A starting UFC fighter will usually be paid $8,000 to show and another $8,000 if they win. From there, they can build upon what they are being paid as they continue to win, which can include receiving a percentage of the gate or buyrate. As Jonathan Snowden wrote in his article about the UFC contract, the only thing holding a fighter back from making more money is them losing. Yet, if the UFC wants to win over critics they can release an established guideline for fighter pay, detailing how fighters at different parts of their careers are compensated and how they can reach that next brass ring. The thing is not everyone gets paid like a Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, and even fighters like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, who are making millions, are nowhere near the ballpark those two are. Boxing has been around for decades and has built its financial layout, while MMA is still in its infancy as far as sports go, but expect to see pay growth with the business.
3 Meaningless Ranking System
Just recently the UFC instituted a top ten ranking system, which has since grown to a top fifteen. It gives viewers something to look at and understand where a guy fits into the overall title picture. Unfortunately, the ranking system is similar to the college football rankings, meaning that they hold water like a colander. Fighters can bounce around all over the place, with some fighters still being ranked below guys they just beat (i.e. Stipe Miocic after he beat Roy Nelson), while other fighters remain ranked despite not fighting for eighteen months (Dominick Cruz). Another issue is fighters receiving title shots despite not being the number one ranked fighter. Now sometimes the fighter wins the match, as T.J. Dillashaw did, but others get slaughtered by the champion, as in the case of Chris Cariaso. The UFC needs to tighten up its ranking system, which it has over the past couple months, by having inactive fighters like T.J. Grant and Nate Diaz removed from rankings along with Dominick Cruz and Anderson Silva who were nursing injuries.
2 The Injury Bug
A couple years back, the UFC instituted a insurance program wherein fighters who got injured leading up to a fight could receive some payment for their training, since they would be unable to receive their payment for the fight. Unfortunately, this has led to fans seeing a steep increase in fights either being changed or cancelled outright. It has gotten to the point that it is a miracle if a card does not have at least two fights changed before the event happens. A recent example was UFC 177, where the main event between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barao was changed the day before the fight after Barao fell down trying to cut weight, leading to debuting prelim fighter Joe Soto moving up to fight for the title. This in turn cancelled his fight with Anthony Birchak, and then on the same card, the fight between Scott Jorgensen and Henry Cejudo was cancelled after Cejudo also had issues with cutting weight, effectively cancelling three fights in the twenty-four hours before the event.
Some critics and fans have claimed that fighters are taking a quick way out of fighting and still getting paid by claiming they cannot fight after receiving injuries that they might be able to let heal in time for the fight or work through. One way to combat this would be to make the benefit of claiming injury a lot less than what it is now. This happened in a way with Barao and Henry Cejudo, as they were not paid for UFC 177 due to them dropping out so suddenly.
2. Dana White
He has been the torch bearer for the UFC for years now and for good reason, because Dana White can sell fights. Fans embraced his in-your-face style and how he was not shy about sharing his feelings with fans and the media alike. Unfortunately, his bit has gotten a bit more abrasive over the years and at times, unreliable. It seems in an effort to sell certain fighters to the public, he tends to now overstep the line between selling a fighter and outright making stuff up. From saying that Conor McGregor is a bigger draw than established PPV kings Georges St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar, despite Conor having yet to headline a PPV, or saying Ronda Rousey is the biggest UFC star ever, but constantly having her fight in the co-main event. This kind of over exaggeration causes the same fans and media that loved Dana, to instead turn on him and take what he says less seriously, which in turn causes them to take the overall product less seriously.
1 Lack of Strong Cards
When the UFC started, they would hold tournaments maybe once every few months, yet after the popularity boom from The Ultimate Fighter, the number of cards per year has exploded to previously unimaginable heights. This year alone there are almost enough events to have one every week of the year. The UFC has even gotten braggadocios in having two events happen on the same day, multiple times this year. Unfortunately, this has led to many events not featuring a lot of name brand fighters with star power. Recently, UFC 171 was cancelled after Featherweight king Jose Aldo was injured and there was not enough star power to keep the card intact. More famously was the debacle known as UFC 151 where Dan Henderson was injured before his fight with Jon Jones, who then refused to fight the replacement challenger Chael Sonnen, leading to a very public spat with Dana White who blamed Jones’ selfishness for the cancellation of the card.