I typically try to keep this blog focused on myself and the things I’m interested in. I see it as a release valve for the stress in my life, and it serves that function well. I haven’t dipped my toe into news blog territory yet, and I’m not interested in taking that direction. However, I do want to write about something newsworthy in the MMA world that happened yesterday. That thing is the cancellation of the Michael Bisping vs GSP middleweight title fight.
I love the UFC. I’ve been watching it since I was a little kid. My dad found UFC 1 on VHS in 1994 at our local video store, and he was instantly hooked. He was always a big boxing fan, but MMA took it to the next level. I remember him getting UFC payperviews throughout my child hood and pointing a camcorder at the TV to record the fights.
As a kid, I was never very interested in the fights. But when I became a teenager I started to get super interested in MMA, and I found myself emotionally invested in several fighters careers. Anderson Silva is easily my favorite fighter ever, and he’s my pick for greatest fighter of all time. There’s a big debate about the G.O.A.T. right now, but for me it’ll always be Anderson.
All of this is to say that the UFC has been a part of my life pretty much since it’s inception, and I’ve been a faithful follower for probably 15 years or so.
A little background on the UFC: The Fertita brothers bought the UFC in 1997 for several million and sold the company last year for over $4 billion, the largest sport franchise sale in history. In that time, they built the sport practically from the ground up. All the other major sports franchises have had decades to stabilize and mature, but the UFC is practically in it’s infancy in comparison. As such, there have been many growing pains. Fighters have never been fairly compensated compared to professional athletes in other sports. The Reebok deal a few years ago ruffled a lot of feathers as it took away any personal sponsorships (i.e. fighters aren’t able to make as much money). There is no retirement or insurance when a fighter retires like in the NFL, they’re on their own financially and medically.
When the sale hit last year, the fighters realized how underpaid they were. The UFC was worth over $4 billion, but a new fighter in the UFC typically makes $5k/$5k to start. The proportion of UFC revenues going to the athletes was abysmal, especially compared to other professional sports leagues. The current state of the UFC is not good. Fighters are upset with how they’re treated by the organization, and the new owners don’t have the personal touch that the Fertita’s did. Many high level fighters are defecting and heading to the UFC’s primary rival, Bellator.
It is in this environment that GSP announced his return to the UFC. The new UFC owners need to make big money on pay per views, and they are starved for stars. GSP is one of the biggest draws to ever fight in the UFC. He’s a gigantic star in Canada, so GSP coming back to the UFC was viewed as a big win for the UFC. He also came close to meeting Anderson Silva’s record title defenses, and he went out on the top of his career. When he retired in 2013, he was still champion, he’d made millions of dollars, and he left with a superb legacy.
In March, Dana White held a press conference announcing that GSP would be facing Michael Bisping for a title fight. Michael Bisping is the current middleweight title holder. GSP has never fought at middleweight before in the UFC, so already we have a red flag. Add to that the fact that Bisping upset Luke Rockhold for the title in a fight that many expected Rockhold to dominate. Instead of facing a legitimate challenger in his first defence (or giving Rockhold a well deserved rematch), Bisping was given a fight against Dan Henderson. Dan Henderson is a legend of the sport, but he was in his mid 40’s at the time. He was not even close to a title shot, but because the UFC needs to sell payperviews they gave the money fight to Bisping. This upset most of the middleweight division as it is one of the most talent heavy divisions in the UFC today. After that fight, everyone expected Bisping to fight the legitimate number one contender, Yoel Romero. Instead, GSP was announced as getting the title shot over Romero and 3-4 other well deserving middleweights. GSP is a natural welterweight, so not only did this make no sense from a rankings perspective, it also seemed like a strange size mismatch. An undersized middleweight who hasn’t fought in 4 years fighting the champion who appears to be ducking legitimate contenders.
For months, this fight has been in the headlines. There’s been a lot of back and forth between GSP, Bisping, and the UFC. It appears that negotiations have stalled, as Dana White announced yesterday that the fight was called off and Romero would get his well deserved title shot. Whether or not he will follow through or not remains to be seen.
However, the UFC is not the WWE. It should be a meritocracy, where a fighter proves his or her worth in the octagon and the best fighter in the world gets a crack at the champion. Ever since the sale, the UFC has proven that it prefers fights that perform well financially over fights between the actual #1 and #2 guy in the world. It’s troubling, because I love the UFC and I have an emotional connection to their brand. I’ve been watching their shows since I was a little kid. But if I was fighter, I’d be jumping ship to Bellator ASAP. Bellator pays better, they take better care of the fighters, and fighters are allowed their own sponsors. I think the UFC has time to right the ship, but the UFC’s leadership hasn’t shown any sign they’re interested in restoring the their brand to a meritocracy. I could see a world where Bellator is the face of MMA and the UFC is a relic of the past. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I love MMA. I’m going to watch the show that pits the best fighters in the world against each other. If the UFC isn’t the place where that happens, then I’m going wherever those fights happen. It’s a sad thing to say, but the UFC is slipping and they might soon find themselves irrelevant.