The UFC Has Issues, but Quality Isn't One of Them

It's no secret I'm highly critical of many UFC media policies, but I'm not unclear about why the UFC is the unequivocal, respected brand leader in MMA.

No product is without flaws, but after watching Strikeforce on CBS on Saturday I couldn't help but notice a) how utterly difficult it is to promote and sell MMA and b) how effortless the UFC makes the aforementioned challenge appear. Even with a disastrous main event of their own at UFC 112 and what is arguably going to be a money-drain in an inaugural WEC 48 pay-per-view effort, the same lingering issue of quality control hanging over the heads of Strikeforce brass never seem to follow UFC management for half as long.

This isn't to say the UFC's version of MMA is beyond reproach. While the quality of fights are incontestably high, I find much of the atmospherics they promote disagreeable, juvenile or even reactionary. But relative to the competition, that's a step in the right direction.

Strikeforce makes genuine good faith efforts at promoting high-level MMA and on occasion succeed very nicely. Their May 15th show is a likely to be a very strong showing. But what Saturday evidenced was that the brand power of Strikeforce (absent mega stars) to pull in ratings a mainstream television network can comfortably sell to advertisers is thin if nonexistent. That market is arguably not there. There's a reason Strikeforce wants to sell Herschel Walker, Gina Carano and now Fedor Emelianenko: in terms of ratings draws, they are bigger than Strikeforce themselves.

Strikeforce is an excellent fight company, but are logistically limited. Their budget is small, their staff a skeleton crew and their deals with CBS and Showtime could be considered rather restrictive. The UFC, on the other hand, is large in size and makes effective use of flexible resources in meeting challenges. That means while they have a lot of moving parts, that never seems to slow or inhibit operations. In fact, it allows for customization. Their ability to sign Kimbo Slice, use him as a ratings draw for their television show about finding the next big prospect, give him time to improve his skill set while rehabilitating his image is a testament to how nimble the UFC machine actually is. They literally have the capacity to take existing realities and reshape them in a fashion that serves their interests. This allows them to have so many irons in the fire that building momentum becomes a far simpler task. Strikeforce, on the other hand, is at the mercy of so many competing factors that putting together repeated successes means more reliance on luck than factors they control. 

There's also the obvious issue of best practices. I wouldn't rule out a riot happening in a UFC cage (and situations close to Saturday's have happened in the Octagon before), particularly if there are characters of ill repute on premises. But who would suggest the chances of that happening on the UFC's watch are as high? And while the WEC is in a weird space of brand stripping while their first PPV is being promoted by no one on staff, is there any doubt on Sunday morning that issues of quality control won't be on the table when discussing where the WEC is headed?

Criticism of the UFC is not only acceptable, it's downright requisite. UFC management might contend pushback against their brand does them no favors and is unnecessary, but the facts suggest otherwise. Ultimately they are the sources of their own success, but whether it's from the fans or the media or some admixture of both, asking more of the UFC is healthy. Why? Because they have consistently delivered on lofty expectations, particularly when the pressure is high. Their size and scope is as much an asset as their ability to be nimble. That's unique and should be utilized to the fullest extent.

Within the sport there is room for growth. There is room for comment. There is room for change. But there is no room for debate: when it comes to delivering reliable, consistent, high-quality, profitable MMA, the UFC has no peer.

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