The UFC is surely the best mixed martial arts promotion in the world. With the cream of the crop populating almost every division, it makes sense that everyone assumes that they have all of the best fighters. But do they really have a monopoly on the world’s elite?
Absolutely not. You can quit reading here. But I’ll go into why for those who have a few reading minutes to spare.
Ignoring the fact that Demetrious Johnson fights for ONE Championship, the UFC definitely has the best talent at most weights, but it’s more top heavy than other promotions. Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kamaru Usman are all without a doubt, the best in the world in their divisions. But, it’s not the champions or even the top three to five contenders who the UFC is losing its grip on. It’s the great fighters that aren’t champions or immediate contenders.
Bellator is the first example. The UFC has lost a host of household names to their main rival in the American market. Rampage Jackson, Ryan Bader, Cheick Kongo, and Benson Henderson, to name a few. Now, these guys might not ever be champions in the UFC in the future, and some were. Some of them might not even be champions in Bellator (Bader already is one). The UFC is missing out on quality names that put asses in seats.
I don’t want to disrespect fighters here, but we all know that there are some Fight Night cards that make you scratch your head. “Why is HE on the main card?” you ask yourself. It’s the names like Roy Nelson and Josh Barnett that make these cards much more exciting.
Barnett was driven away by an unjust USADA case, Bader by better pay, the UFC is losing these types of names when they shouldn’t be.
We’ve already discussed the UFC losing known names. But, they are slipping when it comes to new names as well, and ONE Championship is the best example of that. Most recently, former UFC star Sage Northcutt was brutally knocked out by Cosmo Alexandre. To the casual fan, he lost to a nobody. Deadspin even published one of the worst received articles about Northcutt losing to a fighter in the “minor leagues” (we won’t link to it, not spreading that negativity here). But that’s not the only case.
As Joe Rogan likes to drone on about, Timofey Nastyuken beat former lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez. Yushin Okami, another former UFC fighter, lost his ONE debut as well. Even Demetrious Johnson struggled a bit in his first fight in ONE.
It’s not just ONE that has the best prospects either. Bellator has Gaston Bolanos, Aaron Pico, and AJ McKee. PFL has Ray Cooper III, Kayla Harrison, and Magomed Magomedkerimov. The list goes on and on. It seems as if the UFC is getting too big and can’t keep an eye on the best up and coming talent anymore.
Why not just buy them?
Well, first of all, that’s a monopoly. A little competition is both legal and good for the fighters and fans. Back in the day the UFC would have just bought these rival promotions, like they did with WEC and Strikeforce. But, that led us to anti-trust suits, as well as the Reebok era of fighting where fighters lost a ton of money.
The UFC also can not afford companies like Bellator and ONE. The closest thing we’ve had to an acquisition was the announced partnership with M-1 in July of last year. With WME-IMG (the company that bought the promotion from Zuffa) having to pay back a $4 billion bill, funds aren’t as fluid as they once were.
One x-factor in this whole situation is the ESPN deal. According to reports, the new pay-per-view deal has the UFC making more money, which might free the promotion up to make some more acquisitions. It will likely be a seven year window for anything like that to happen.
According to MMASucka writer Patrick Auger, “They’d have seven years to get that done given the guaranteed revenue they’d get for that time period.
My guess is they’ll keep trying to come out with new things like the Contender Series and more original content. [They will] try and come up with the next Ultimate Fighter idea that gets them back in the public eye more.”
Other promotions are thinking outside of the box as well. Bellator is doing Grand Prix tournaments that fans are lapping up. RIZIN and Bellator are having cross promotion fights that are uniting fan bases. Even PFL is bringing something new to the table with their regular season and playoff formats. The UFC is stuck in the stone age, metaphorically speaking, with simple #1 contender fights. Adopting more of these outside of the box events would bring more clout to the promotion.
Yes, the UFC has begun to lose its grip on some of the better talent in the world. But it will take a lot more than a few lost prospects to truly put the promotion in any real sort of danger.