The UFC has never denied that they have modeled their business on the WWE. They use regular cable television programming to drive pay-per-view sales which is the major revenue source. And most importantly, they position company exec Dana White (Vince McMahon) as the front man for the organization to ensure that no one star becomes bigger than the promotion.
The WWE learned that lesson the hard way when Hulk Hogan became bigger than the promotion in the late 1980s. The UFC has worked very hard to prevent that from happening. Unfortunately it appears their brand is weakening. Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer (subscription only) talks about the terrible ratings for UFC on Versus 3 and what it means for the UFC brand (emphasis mine):
So when it comes to viewers, (ratings for UFC on Versus 3 were) down 31% from the what had been the company's all-time low for a live show, even behind the 2/26 prelims on Ion that had no advertising behind it (the rating was significantly lower on 2/26 because Ion is available in far more homes than Versus).
No matter how you may want to try and spin that UFC number, it's very bad. The show was barely higher than the final WEC show (0.62 and 615,000 viewers) on the station in December. And when the Stanley Cup finals this year were on Versus, they still averaged more than 3 million viewers per game.
The undercard didn't have strong name value, but most TV undercards don't, so the issue is UFC fans picking and choosing and skipping even what would be considered average quality television events even if they are free.
I think it's more a continuation of a pattern which has been going on since last summer. Because of so many events, most UFC fans have become fans of big stars and big matches, and no longer of the UFC brand itself. Just the brand name alone is not worth what it was to getting people to watch a show, even from one year ago.
The UFC's strategy of expansion -- both internationally and onto more cable channels -- has led to them watering down their product and damaging their brand. They have trained fans that not every UFC is a must-see event.
That makes them ever-more dependent on their biggest stars to drive the growth of the company. Stars like Georges St. Pierre recognize this and are beginning to make moves to get a larger share of the pie.
BE alumnus Michael Rome analyzed the pre-negotiation maneuvers of GSP heading into the fight at SBNation:
All told, a Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva super fight will probably gross over $60 million in revenue in a single night. Will the UFC's biggest star, Georges St. Pierre, be able to cash in?
Fans have predictably misunderstood St. Pierre's attitude regarding a potential move to 185. They believe he is "scared" or unsure about moving up. In reality, he is playing it cool in order to get the best deal possible. Who can blame him? He is the key player in the biggest fight in UFC history, he deserves a big piece of the pie.
A move to Middleweight is a huge career risk for St. Pierre. He stated that if he does move up in weight, he will put on enough muscle that moving back to 170 will no longer be an option. What happens if he loses? In order to justify his contract, he would probably be matched up against another big star in the Middleweight division. If he comes off a loss to Silva and gets matched up with the likes of Chael Sonnen or Yushin Okami, he'd be fighting wrestlers that have nearly 15 pounds on him. A loss to either one of them would mean one of the fastest falls from grace in UFC history. It is conceivable that in a period of nine months, he could end up across the table from UFC executives listening to them explain why his performance no longer justifies the millions of dollars he makes.
Georges St. Pierre is currently dominating the welterweight division and making millions of dollars in the process. He will likely be able to do that for years to come. It makes absolutely no sense for him to move up in weight unless there is a massive financial reward waiting for him.
If the UFC is going to continue to grow at anything like it's growth rate from 2005-2010, they need to build stars and book mega-fights. St. Pierre knows they need him to fight Anderson Silva more than he needs that fight. That's called leverage and GSP has it.
If you thought that M-1 Global made Strikeforce and Showtime give it up to sign Fedor Emelianenko, you ain't seen nothing yet. The UFC has established and maintains a completely dominant relationship with 99% of its fighters, but as it becomes dependent on mega-fights to keep the growth going, that top 1% of fighters will inevitably begin to get the upper hand on the promotion.