Has The UFC Peaked And On The Decline?
There are many reasons why the UFC isn’t as popular now as it was a couple years ago. Here are the top five reasons why it is possible we have already seen the best of the UFC and unless the UFC fixes the problems listed below, we may have already seen the best of what the UFC has to offer.
1. The Reebok Deal
When the UFC signed a six-year $70 million contract in December 2014, many UFC fighters spoke out against the deal. Fans had an idea how bad the deal screwed the fighters out of money, but even the UFC couldn’t predict how poor this deal made them look. When the deal was announced, so was the pay structure.
1-5 Fights in UFC: $2,500
6-10 Fights in UFC: $5,000
11-15 Fights in UFC: $10,000
16-20 Fights in UFC: $15,000
21+ Fights in UFC: $20,000
Title Challengers: $30,000
Fighters can’t wear any of their own sponsors inside the cage, during fight week or at any UFC-related event.
So fighters like Donald Cerrone who are sponsored by Budweiser can’t wear their gear unless it’s on their own time and not doing anything UFC-related.
The signing of the deal caused many fighters to speak up. Former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub was very vocal against Reebok on his podcast The Fighter and the Kid. Schaub claims he was making six-figures in sponsors before the Reebok deal. Schaub had ten fights in the UFC, so he would be due $10,000 in sponsor money for his next fight. Schaub went onto retire, citing low fighter pay and the Reebok deal as some of the reasons.
Fighters speaking out against the deal was only the beginning. When some of their fight contracts with the UFC were over, they left to join other organizations.
Many fans look at Bellator as a place where older UFC fighters go to continue their fight careers. There are also fighters who in the prime of their careers left the UFC because they felt they could make more money in another organization, like Bellator.
Josh Thompson made $5,000 from Reebok his last UFC fight, but claims he made $35,000 in sponsor money in his first fight in Bellator. Ben Henderson got the UFC lightweight belt wrapped around his waist four times, but that wasn’t enough for him to resign with the organization. Henderson received $15,000 from Reebok in his last UFC fight and left for Bellator stating the Reebok deal had a huge impact on why he left the organization.
Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson, Rory MacDonald, Lorenz Larkin, Ryan Bader and Gegard Mousasi all left the UFC for Bellator, and all stated they liked the freedom of sponsors in Bellator, opposed to the UFC.
2. Payment of Fighters
Despite the Reebok deal, there are fighters in the UFC making a lot of money. However, when the card is looked at from top to bottom, it’s clear the fighters on the bottom aren’t getting paid enough.
For example, the highest selling pay-per-view in the history of the UFC was UFC 202. Here are some of the salaries paid out to the fighters who fought on the card, this does not include performance bonuses, PPV money or Reebok money.
The main event fighters made good money that night with Conor McGregor making $3 million and Nate Diaz making $2 million. The co-main event sees a big dip in money spent. Anthony Johnson made $270,000 and Glover Teixeira made $65,000.
Sabah Homasi fought on the main card, a pay-per-view, made $12,000. Who knows what he walked away from after taxes, paying his gym, manager and any travel expenses. He didn’t fight again until December, so he needed to find a way to make that money last over four months. Again, these are the best fighters on the planet, fighting on the biggest stage, putting their bodies through hell for our entertainment and not making nearly enough money to do so.
3. The UFC Being Sold to WME-IMG
In July 2016, the UFC was sold to the Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG for $4 billion. The owners of the UFC, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought the organization in 2000 for $2 million. Needless to say, they left the organization in better shape than when they found it.
Dana White can be controversial at times. He and fighters argue and sometimes one side makes it personal. When the Fertittas were apart of the UFC, fighters could speak to them instead of White to work out certain deals. Fighters often expressed their gratitude for the Fertittas and now, they don’t have anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the organization. But now, fighters are dealing with strictly White, who is never shy to tell the media what he feels about certain fighters, which can hurt branding of both the UFC and the fighters.
The problem with the UFC being sold to an entertainment company is they don’t seem to understand the fight game. They see more belts as more money. The UFC is handing out interim belts when they aren’t necessary. There are occasions in which interim belts make sense, like when the champion is out due to injury for an extended period of time. But now the interim belt is almost looked at as a number-one contender belt. Fans don’t see the fighters with an interim belt around their waist as the real champion and the belts just used as flash for the common fan.
4. Too Many UFC Events
Remember when UFC cards were something fans looked forward to for months? It seems so long ago. Now, there is a fight card nearly every week. The UFC wants to put on as many events as possible to go to different countries around the world, expanding their fan base and giving their over 500 fighters they have signed, plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills inside the octagon. But now it seems too much to fans and many cards get overlooked.
Ten years ago, there were 20 events throughout the year. In 2017, there were nearly double that, with 39 events.
The UFC needs to stack their PPVs from top to bottom and make them more a Super Bowl. Do a world tour with the fighters like they do for many of McGregor’s fights to get the world talking.
With so many fighters missing weight, getting injured which leads to the cancellation of fights, it can really deflate a card fans were looking forward to and they may not tune in.
5. Lack of Superstars
In 2017, McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar all didn’t fight in the UFC. McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather and Rousey and Lesnar both went to the WWE. Jon Jones is having issues with USADA after his lone fight in 2017 and it’s not clear when he’ll fight again. With the sport’s biggest superstar McGregor having legal issues after his arrest in New York, the UFC needs new stars to come out of the shadows and take over. With all those fighters out in 2017, nobody was able to step up to the plate and be “the new McGregor” or “the new Rousey.”
In 2017, the only PPV that was in the top-20 of all-time PPV buys was UFC 217 and that came in at #20. The two fighters making up the main event, Georges St. Pierre and Michael Bisping, are on the tail end of their careers. So it’s not like it was headlined by two up-and-coming superstars.
There are great young champions, but for some reason, they aren’t bringing in fans from outside the MMA world, which is what the UFC needs.
If the UFC can find a new way to sponsor the fighters, pay them fair, go back to making the PPVs a can’t-miss-event and brand their fighters so they can become world-renowned stars, the organization can become bigger than ever.