In 2001, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the struggling UFC organization for just $2 million, and alongside President Dana White they successfully built it into a powerhouse that 15 years later would lead to the largest franchise sale in sporting history.
In July of 2016, talent agency WME-IMG purchased the company for a staggering $4.2 billion, and a month later officially took the reigns, ushering in a new era for MMA’s leading organization.
At the time UFC was at an all-time high and the new owners couldn’t have picked a better week to take charge, with UFC 202: McGregor vs. Diaz II delivering a record 1.65 million pay-per-view buys that same weekend.
With that in mind, it’s remarkable to think that less than a year later the UFC is now in the midst of a slump, with fans and fighters alike having become increasingly disgruntled under the new regime, while the stats tell their own story: just 800,000 PPVs sold in the first quarter of 2017, compared to almost 2.5 million in 2015 and 2.2 million in 2016.
In this article we’ll look at the reasons for this troubling decline, highlighting eight key missteps by the UFC since the new owners took charge.
Ronda Rousey’s Comeback Fight
Ronda Rousey had a huge role to play in the UFC’s rise in popularity over the past few years, but by the time WME-IMG took the reigns, Rousey’s hype train had been derailed by a devastating KO loss to Holly Holm.
Rousey’s striking deficiencies had been painfully apparent that night, while psychologically it was clear that she’d also been exposed as she suddenly vanished from the limelight afterwards and admitted later that she’d considered suicide.
With that in mind, the smart move would have been to hand Rousey a tune-up fight for her return a year later.
There was going to be a huge level of interest in her comeback no matter who she fought, so why not give her an opportunity to earn a confidence-boosting win that could lead to higher stakes match-ups the following year?
Instead the UFC made a critical strategic error by throwing Rousey straight back into a title shot with newly crowned champion, Amanda Nunes, a superior striker and ruthless finisher riding high on a wave of confidence.
On paper it was a terrible match-up for Rousey, and in reality it proved to be even worse as Nunes took just 48 seconds to dismantle her by TKO.
That humiliating loss has cost the UFC dearly as it appears to have convinced the superstar to bring her career to a premature conclusion.