MMA is currently structured according to the media and entertainment aspect of it, and less so the sporting. There is no ‘MMA League’ like that of the NFL or Premiership, where all the top teams in that respective sport play each other at least once a year. The closest equivalent MMA has is the UFC. The UFC certainly boasts the most stacked and impressive roster out of any MMA promotion, but there are still so many great fighters out there that never get to fight each other.
Strikeforce and Dream have shown willingness to co-promote or let their fighters go to other organisations to fight the best there. Most recently, Shinya Aoki squared off against resident Strikeforce lightweight champ, Gilbert Melendez, in a fight that answered many questions about each fighter’s skillsets. Efforts to make an Eddie Alvarez vs Gilbert Melendez fight happen as well, although Bjorn Rebney and Scott Coker look to be having communication difficulties.
However the UFC has adopted a strict policy of no co-promotion with other promotions. White even refused to let any of his fighters feature in the new ‘EA MMA’ video game. Whether this rule is in place for business interests or simply to protect the legacy and image of the UFC, is open to speculation. And this provides difficulties. Dana White claims that the UFC has all the best fighters in the world, but refuses to let them test themselves against ones from Strikeforce, Dream, Bellator etc. Currently, Strikeforce’s heavyweight division hosts a few fighters that, in mine and a lot of people’s opinions, could do some serious damage in the UFC given the chance. Alas, this chance is a slim one due to the stubbornness on the part of the UFC, which is understandable in some ways. Of course they don’t want to give exposure to a competitor in the same business as them, but the fans all want to see it happen.
I would prefer to see MMA become more sporting orientated than just entertainment. Variety is the spice of life and i love watching the over the top firework display at a Dream event or the buzz surrounding a Mayem Miller techno-fuelled entrance in Strikeforce. However, there are currently so many arguments and questions presented by the existence of so many promotions, each with their own superstars and champions. Debates over who would beat who constantly arise, many of which will never come to fruition given the UFC’s reluctance to work with their competitors.
It is for this reason that I believe MMA should be organised into one super league of sorts. It would not be a promotion, but instead a league comparable to the NFL or Premiership, which have the best teams in that sport playing each other two or three times a year. This MMA League would consist of the top 45 fighters in each division, which would be divided into 3 divisions of 15 fighters for each weight class, based on the quality of the fighters.
To give an example, Heavyweight Division 1 would contain fighters like Velasquez, Fedor, Dos Santos, Lesnar, Carwin and Overeem etc. Division 2 would have fighters that could currently be considered ‘gatekeepers’, veterans of the sport on a downward slope and young up and comers such as: Kongo, Cro Cop, Sylvia, Kharitonov, Schaub etc. Division 3 would be for rookies and guys who usually lose more fights than they win: Madsen, Yvel, Kyle, Struve, A. Emelianenko etc.
At the end of every year, the divisions would be reviewed and repopulated. Fighters who end the year in the top 3 of their division could be promoted up a division, where the pay and publicity would obviously be better. Fighters that finish the year in the bottom 3 of their division would be relegated and moved down a division.
This system would ensure that only the best in the world would fight in division 1 and the champion of that division would be recognised as the best in the world at that weight and the world MMA champ. There would be no feuds between promotions. Fighters would all be under one sanctioned banner, that would be governed by an International Mixed Martial Arts Board (IMMAB). There would also be a Fighters’ Union that would protect the interests of fighters financially and professionally. Currently there is no such union and questions have been raised regarding the treatment given to UFC fighters and their contracts. While no system is perfect, I think that the way the sport is going, people are eventually going to demand to see co-promotion amongst organisations (that will only get bigger) and the UFC. If promotions go to war with each other it will only tear the sport apart and doom MMA to the same fate as has befallen boxing. It’s time for MMA to become more professional and sport-orientated, and put aside the greediness of individual promoters to protect their image and profit.
This may not be a reality in the immediate future, in fact it may never happen and we might simply see the UFC envelop the world of MMA and achieve world domination, or see other promotions come in and take their business and fans through their willingness to co-promote. This is simply what would happen in a dream world for me, where all the best fighters in the world could fight each other, and we would be treated to fights of epic proportions which, as of right now, are being made unavailable by the agenda and business interests of other promotions and mainly the UFC. The fighters want to fight, so let them.