When UFC 1 took place on a cold November night back in 1993 from McNichols Arena in Denver, Colorado, it ignited the beginning of the world’s foremost mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, fueled by the concept of the best fighting the best to call themselves champion.
It may have been extremely rough around the edges in those ‘dark’ days where the sport having few rules and regulation had it on the precipice of doom, but the opposite is very much true today. After the Fertitta brothers along with Dana White purchased the UFC for a paltry sum and turned it into a legitimately regulated competition watched on pay-per-view the world over, the UFC exploded into a global brand that put shows on nearly every weekend.
When its popularity peaked in 2016 on the heels of the Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz rivalry, the Fertitta brothers saw an opportunity to cash in, and cash in they did. Selling the UFC to Hollywood talent giant WME-IMG (now Endeavor) for a then-record $4.2 billion, one of the biggest franchise sales in sports (of any kind) history was complete. But all was not rosy. This year has seen the advent of some truly horrific pay-per-view and television ratings, with UFC 213, UFC 215, and UFC 216 ranking as three of the lowest-watched PPVs ever, while December’s TUF 26 Finale was the least-watched UFC live event of all-time.
So while it was undoubtedly rough around the edges in its infancy, the UFC is dealing with a whole different set of problems heading into 2018, and many would argue that the UFC owners don’t exactly know what they’re doing. A growing sense is that the Hollywood agency is now trying to book the more mainstream, over-the-top spectacle fights rather than those that clearly have a more legitimate meaning based on meritocracy.
It’s lead to a steady stream of criticism that the UFC is becoming more like pro-wrestling and their WWE counterpart, obviously not the most endearing of words from fight fans. The argument, unfortunately, cannot be totally denied. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:
5.) Titles Mean Next To Nothing:
Endeavor has to be commended for finally getting the middleweight division moving in the right direction by booking Robert Whittaker vs. Luke Rockhold for UFC 221, but there is one weight class that is an absolute mess in the UFC.
It’s obviously Conor McGregor’s held-hostage lightweight division, where “The Notorious” fought once and won the belt way back at UFC 205 in November 2016 before leaving to box – and lose – to Floyd Mayweather for the entirety of 2017. McGregor made the record-setting payday he was always looking for and can’t be blamed for doing it, but the fact remains the 155-pound landscape, which is still one of the most talented in MMA, has no clarity whatsoever at the current moment.
An interim belt was given to Tony Ferguson at October’s UFC 216, but without a path to a unification bout with McGregor, he opted to have elbow surgery, leaving not one but two champions on the sidelines with no real news about a return. Take into account the middleweight situation as well, where Michael Bisping was allowed to avoid the top 10 contenders by facing a retiring No. 14 Dan Henderson and an unretiring Georges St-Pierre, who had never even fought in the division. St-Pierre won and vacated the belt hardly a month later.
Interim titles are also created around much more frequently, making them seem more like the WWE titles that are handed over and won back on a never-ending cycle.
Because of these occurrences, UFC titles seem like little more than gold belts to be flaunted after a win rather than symbols of true MMA supremacy to be defended with pride.