The UFC Problem Is Like Oxygen - It's Everywhere
As Yushin Okami dove in for half-guard against Ovince St. Preux, you could be forgiven in thinking that, like St. Preux, you were being sucked into a trap. For me, it recalled a moment only two weeks ago when I was on the phone with a friend of mine in preparation for a trip to catch UFC 215 in Edmonton. We bantered about the Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, boxing vs MMA, and found ourselves sucked down the rabbit hole. At some point in the conversation, I arrived at a point in my mind it seemed all-too-reasonable to say, "All things considered, I feel like we forget how good a job the UFC does at putting on great events."
That was the trap. In the depths of UFC 215 days later, somewhere between rounds three and five of Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko's dance-off headliner, I caught myself on an entirely contradictory rant. In less than a week, I found my mind going from one delighted by the UFC product to one frustrated by it.
It feels like that is the state of the UFC product these days. One moment is an incredible high, the next a sobering low.
Problem: their Heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, isn’t scheduled for a fight because he (rightfully) wants more money. What's worse is he's almost a non-entity from a promotional standpoint. The Heavyweight champ of the world has always been the baddest man on the planet. Somehow, when it's Brock Lesanr, the world seems to know this. But when it's the superior Miocic, no one does.
Problem: their (now former) Light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones (see: GOAT ever) is mired in possibly a career-crushing PED controversy, thus staining the belt at the top of an already thin as paper division (so thin, the next contender in line, Volkan 'Ivan Ooz' Oezdemir has three victories in the UFC). Worse yet, Jones carries two crushing wins over the only legitimate heir to the belt, Daniel Cormier, a man who be all intents and purposes is the greatest Light heavyweight not named Jones. Cormier's losses to Jones have essentially buried him from a sporting standpoint. Jones' PED nightmare means the man who should be standing on that grave is nowhere to be found. Cormier, despite all his accomplishment's otherwise, has next to no credibility for the immediate future to hold up the division in Jones’ absence.
Problem: the Middleweight champion, Michael Bisping, is someone few people think is a legitimate champion and is set to fight a swelled-up, returning Georges St. Pierre in a fight no one really wants. Worse yet, Bisping says he may just retire after the fight (although that could be a good thing). But if he does so after beating GSP? Does the belt go to Robert Whitaker, the man most consider the best in the division but, oh yea, he's out with a torn-up knee until spring of 2018! Does the belt go to Luke Rockhold, the man Bisping beat for the strap, but someone nobody seems to like much? Maybe. But Rockhold may actually just jump up to LHW because why the hell not, there's no one there (see: paragraph above).
Problem: the Welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley, has a lackluster style. What's worse, he is completely disliked. What's worse worse, according to the champ, he may be disliked because people are racists! When it comes to defending his belt, Woodley doesn’t want to fight the former champion, Robbie Lawler, cause he hasn’t ‘earned it’. Worse^3, the only man to beat Woodley, Rory MacDonald, is in Bellator because the UFC skimped on paying him. Quatro-worse, almost all the top 20-ranked WW's are 30 or older, making this the geriatric division.
Positive: the Lightweight champion is named McGregor!
Problem: McGregor hasn't fought there. The next possible contenders are Kevin Lee and Tony Ferguson, but neither one of these men has been given the kind of push that would make a McGregor match up financially enticing enough for the Irishman to bite. Worse yet, other best fighter in that division, Khabib Nurmagamedov, can’t be trusted to accept/make/show up for a fight and has fought only nobodies in the last two years. That makes the top four guys all in some quagmire or another at the top of the deepest, most competitive division in the sport. Have you ever stood in a line for food 30 people deep and the clown at the front hasn't even decided what to order when they get to the register? Yea, this is like that.
Problem: their Featherwight champion, Max Holloway, has no fight lined up and we haven’t heard a peep about who he could fight, why he should fight that anonymous person, or anything vaguely resembling hype. His logical next fight, Frankie Edgar, has been out of the headlines since May and his most recent fight was a surgical destruction of an overmatched prospect (who we haven’t heard much of since, either), a fight that did nothing for either man. Worse yet, when McGregor was tearing through this division, it was finally getting the getting of recognition it deserved for how deep and competitive it is. Now, we just hear news that Jose Aldo wants to go box.
Problem: the Women's Featherweight champion, Cyborg Justino, has no one to fight. Not because she's beaten everyone but because there is almost literally no one in her weight class. You see many 150-pound, muscled-up ladies walking around your town? You don't because it's like being in the 1%. They're like unicorns.
Problem: Bantamweight has a bad back (Cody Garbrandt), and/or wants to fight at Flyweight without having ever fought there (TJ Dillashaw), and/or is taking a long break to become one of the best commentators in the sport (Dominick Cruz). Somewhere in there, a belt floats around undefended since December of 2016.
Positive: the champ is defending said belt in November!
Problem: The Women’s Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, recently had a boring fight, has lost all her steam from toppling the great Ronda Rousey, has lacked great promotion since winning the belt, has has her credibility in question by the head of the company, and...you get the idea.
Problem: Flyweight has no one you’ve ever heard of except Demetrious Johnson and the President of the company likes to crush him to the fanbase.
Positive: their Women’s Straweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, is an all-time great.
Problem: she has an all-time lack of competition.
Positive: everyone in her division keeps on getting better!
Problem: but the division is cursed.
Like poor Okami, the UFC finds itself stuck in a tough spot of its own making. It dove in on money fights while refusing to dish that cash on some of it's best fighters. So how does the UFC recover?Don't ask me. I'm like you. Just leave me the frogurt until it gets better.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster