Alright, so I'm pretty damn sure somebody at some point has written this exact article in a very similar fashion to how I'm about to. Buuut....seeing how I'm a particularly articulate person, and how Kid Nate's latest piece seemed to be filled with praise for Zuffa and the UFC and yet was essentially another anti-Zuffa deal with thinly-veiled warnings about how Dana is a bad, bad man, I figured it was pretty topical again. More after the jump. I think. This is the first time I've done this!
Kid Nate (and countless others) seem to believe that the best thing for the sport of MMA - that is, for the fighters and the fans - is not a Zuffa monopoly but a number of different promotions showcasing the top fighters in the world. Nate himself is quoted as saying "I think 2 strong competitors at the top is the best for the sport" in the comments section of said article. So essentially, to make the inevitable pro-wrestling comparison, Kid Nate and others who believe the same as him would like a situation akin to the late 90's Monday Night Wars, with two strong companies like the WWF and WCW were back then. Of course, as has been pointed out countless numbers of times, comparing MMA to pro-wrestling is like comparing apples to oranges. Well, maybe tangerines to oranges but you get what I'm saying.
See in the Monday Night Wars, of course it was cool for two competing companies to be pushing one another to put on a better product. After all, look what's happened to the WWF/E since that stage (and look, I don't want a pro-wrestling argument so just ignore the other factors that have damaged WWE since then, please...). But in the world of MMA, it just doesn't work like that. During the Monday Night Wars fans might have been secretly clamouring for a match between Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin. But who would've won such a match? Why, whichever wrestler the promoter decided was going to win. Which is why, essentially, it didn't <i>matter</i> that such a match never took place. It doesn't matter who is seen as the top pro-wrestler in the world because it's a scripted pseudo-sport anyway. An MMA fight like Cain Velasquez vs. Fedor Emelianenko on the other hand, well, if those guys fight then we may well find out who is the best Heavyweight fighter on the planet right now. And of course in the current climate we can't see that fight because Cain is with the UFC and Fedor is with StrikeForce/M-1. And unlike in the wrestling analogy, the UFC can't just have different guys fight Cain and cause the fans to forget all about Cain vs. Fedor. So right away that argument is down the drain.
What about the quality of the product? Kid Nate suggests that given a full monopoly, the likely outcome is that Zuffa will produce weaker cards and a watered-down product, as after all, if they're the only game in town then what choice do MMA fans have but to watch? Again though, this is another fallacy. Since the fall of PRIDE in 2007, which switched the power balance firmly in the way of the UFC, have we seen a fall in the quality of cards? Of course not. Cards such as UFC 76, UFC 84, UFC 100, UFC 117, and other shows have been ludicrously stacked with the best fighting the best. Have there been weaker cards? Of course. The free TV shows come to mind as well as a handful of "numbered" cards - mainly the international ones. The UFC's treatment of overseas fans is another article, however, and the obvious answer is that the UFC still produces a large amount of cards filled with talent. Could they put together better cards? Sure. But it'd mean cutting down the amount of events and cutting the roster down too. Which would be bad for the fans and bad for the fighters. And of course, if a "weak card" is put on PPV, then there's the other option - giving the card a miss altogether. But as any smart MMA fan knows, sometimes a weak card on paper can be one of the most exciting you'll see (and vice versa with a "stacked" card being bad...).
What about the fighters, then? Would they benefit from having strong competing companies? Fighter salaries are, admittedly, the one area in which my argument stumbles a little. It has been pointed out, quite rightfully so, that under a monopoly, the fighters would essentially leave themselves open to being lowballed by a promoter who's more concerned with lining his own pockets than making his fighters rich. But is the salary of a professional MMA fighter <i>that</i> low in the first place? A glance at the UFC 109 salaries shows that Paulo Thiago, a mid-level fighter in the UFC, made $30,000. If we say he fights twice in a year (even though he's done three fights in 2010...) then he's made $60,000, plus sponsorships but minus any expenses he's racked up. That doesn't look like a bad figure to me. My brother, who works as an accountant, makes around the same figure per year. He isn't doing financially badly at all. But, you cry, Paulo Thiago only has a small window of time to make his money in this career! Way less than half the time of my brother, in fact. This is true. But it also leads into my next point.
I'm not a fighter. However, I am a pretty decent swimmer. Some of my friends are a lot better than me and have represented Great Britain on the international stage. Did they make any money for this? Hell no. These guys put as much training time in per week as the best fighters in the world, and don't see a penny for it. So why do they do it? Because they want to be the best in the world in their sport. Same reason as anyone gets into a sport in a serious way. If you're in a sport for the money rather than the glory, then you're in for the wrong reasons. The money is just a bonus. If a professional fighter feels he can't make a living from the money he's getting, then why not just stop? Become an accountant, or a construction worker if you're not that smart. But if you want to be the best in the world then you have to sacrifice things to a certain extent. And I hardly think not making millions upon millions of dollars ala Floyd Mayweather and making six or five-figure sums per fight instead is a huge sacrifice.
But now we come back to the idea of being the best in the world, which leads me back into the problems rendered by the current promotional system and why a UFC monopoly would be better for the fighter. The UFC roster only has so many spots available due to the amount of shows the company promotes. This means, naturally, that fighters on losing streaks will be forced off the roster and will have to win fights outside of the UFC in order to make it back in. In 2010, Welterweight prospect Ben Saunders was one of those fighters forced off the roster. Now, logic would dictate that Ben wants to do two things with his fighting career. He wants to make money to support himself and his family and he wants to become the best fighter in the world. And outside of the UFC that essentially leaves him between a rock and a hard place. The best fighters in the world are in the UFC and so it's logical that Ben would want to make his way back onto their roster to fight them. But the best way to make the most money would be to sign with Bellator or StrikeForce, two companies attempting to position themselves as "competitors" to the UFC. In an ideal world, the best way for Ben to get back into the UFC and to make as much money as he could on the way would be to sign with StrikeForce, smash his knees into the faces of Tyron Woodley, Paul Daley and Nick Diaz and then waltz back into the UFC, hopefully with an even more lucrative deal than he left with. But this isn't an ideal world.
See, if Ben Saunders signs with StrikeForce then he's likely tied up with them for a long time. They don't want to lose any "name" fighters or any good prospects to Zuffa because that'd damage their own goal of competing with the UFC. If Ben were to go with Bellator, who may pay him even more than StrikeForce would, he's in an even tighter situation as, as we've all seen with the Jonathan Brookins and Dave Herman incidents, it's very hard to get out of a Bellator contract if you wish to. So if Ben wants to fight the best fighters in the world, and the only way to do that is in the UFC, he must take a much more hazardous path and only fight for smaller, regional promotions. Thus far Ben's done alright for himself, beating Elijah Harshbarger on a World Extreme Fighting card. But other fighters in the same boat have not been so lucky - Keith Jardine for instance found himself on the awful Nemesis Fighting card and didn't even get paid for his troubles. Suddenly, having the majority of the best fighters in the UFC with two smaller promotions attempting to muscle in on their dominance doesn't look as good for the fighter at all, does it?
Does it have to be this way? Of course not. One of the lesser-talked about signings by Zuffa in 2009 was Antonio McKee. The most notable thing about this signing for most fans was that McKee's record is packed full of fights going the distance and he isn't that exciting to watch. For me though the biggest deal about this signing was that McKee is actually the reigning MFC Lightweight Champion. So where was his "champion's clause" tying him to the MFC until he loses and preventing him from joining the UFC to fight the best in the world? Say what you will about Mark Pavelich, the MFC promoter, but evidently the guy doesn't have ideas above his station in terms of possibly competing with the UFC. In fact, countless numbers of fighters (Jason MacDonald, Yves Edwards, etc) have found themselves in the MFC between UFC contracts. Every MFC card is filled with former UFC fighters. And yet there was no issue with McKee joining the UFC. Why can't Bellator do the same? What makes them so different?
Look, I'm not calling for the death of all the smaller promotions. That'd be very silly and counterproductive for the sport. What I'm calling for are less Bellators and more MFCs. What I'd like to see are a myriad of smaller promotions that can act as places for fighters to build their record pre-UFC and for fighters on their way out of the UFC to rebuild themselves and continue to make a solid income. Promoters, for want of a better term, need to learn to know their role. There isn't room for them to compete with the UFC and by attempting to, all they're doing is splintering the talent base of the sport and making it more difficult and frustrating for the fan, while not really making it all that better for the fighter.
I'm sure people will call me a Zuffa/UFC/Dana White nuthugger for this article. Don't get me wrong. I like the way Dana operates but if for some odd reason, Dana's top fifty fighters decided to split and sign with another promoter, then in an instant I'd be behind that promotion like I am behind the UFC. It isn't promotional bias. It's a fan wanting to see the best fighting the best at a consistent rate. The only time I wouldn't want to see a monopoly is if that promotion was Japanese based, as any sane fan can see that the unprofessionalism of Japanese promotions breeds more trouble that it's worth.
At the end of the day, if you're a real MMA fan you want to see the best fighting the best. And right now the best chance to see that is a UFC monopoly. Is it that hard to understand?