ED NOTE: I'm aware this is long, I wrote the damn thing, if you don't want to read it because it's long you are a moron and I don't care if you read it. In fact, I'd prefer if you didn't because you'd probably completely miss my point anyways.
Over the weekend we witnessed the bottom fall out. UFC 177 was a new low for not only Zuffa but MMA as a whole. The causes were plentiful, it's easy to blame this on lack of stars, lack of depth in certain divisions, or over saturation. While all of these things certainly play a part there's so many more issues. I'd like to write about the what brought us to this point, insofar as I see things. First off: the enablers. The sycophants and the people who make excuses for the poor and declining quality of the product.
Kurt Eichenwald wrote a book called Conspiracy of Fools regarding the Enron crisis, I believe there's a movie adapted from it but I haven't seen it. Anyways, his point in the book was that Enron and the people that ran it committed hordes of felonies...however, they could have not committed a single act of crime and they would have still fallen. Why? Well they stopped listening to other people. Ken Lay and the rest of the board surrounded themselves with a bunch of yes men that kept telling them that everything is fine, when in fact it wasn't.
Ignoring complaints doesn't make them go away, pretending like dissenting voices don't exist doesn't mean they don't exist. There is some value in "don't show weakness" or "don't publicly acknowledge problems exist," after all I'm sure the Dallas Cowboys will claim they're very confident in their defense this year. I'm also sure Washington will say they aren't concerned about RG3's knee. Privately, I can assure you they are having a very different conversation.
Ultimately the lack of those private conversations is what causes events like UFC 177. I'm starting to feel that Zuffa has bought into the sycophants in the media and bought into Dana White's (fading) cult of personality. Perhaps they think that all the critics are just "haters" who "aren't real MMA fans."
The reality is the opposite is true. People who aren't MMA fans don't care about MMA, they treat it with the utmost contempt a person can express: callous indifference. A real fan is willing to say something is wrong. You don't see Jerry Jones calling people who question his leadership "fake fans" or say that the media is "out to make a buck" when they question his decision making. Zuffa is essentially operating in a monopoly, there's no competition to point out how to do this better nor is there anyone they have to beat. Healthy criticism of companies like this is good. After all, if you had a booger hanging out of your nose wouldn't you like someone to tell you? Apparently Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta would rather just walk around not knowing it.
Then there's the issue of the much maligned MMA media. I'm not here to call anyone a hack or a shill, but there's plenty of media outlets that will go out of their way to make sure they present the UFC's side of the story no matter how disingenuous, morally, or logically bankrupt the statement is. Why do they do this you ask? Well in some cases the writers simply aren't talented enough to come up with original thought or they're susceptible to subscribing to bumper sticker logic. Others might do it to get into Zuffa's good graces. Zuffa isn't afraid to take away a media member's credential if they don't agree with what they write or they get too harsh on them. In fairness, there's always issues that even the writers that will go out of their way to treat Zuffa's argument as sincere and coherent will find fault with Zuffa. Unfortunately, that issue tends to be steroids. My guess is these writers don't understand how athletic training works, nor do they understand what athletic peak is. Either that or they fall for the simple moral outrage trap that other mainstream sports writers fall into.
On the whole though, Zuffa enjoys a pretty friendly media environment. The big sites have several writers who will all generally fall in line, and the smaller sites who challenge Zuffa are typically marginalized. Furthermore, several writers will go out of their way to point out how biased the "haters" are. Even worse, often times they'll confuse the issue that critics are bringing up. In a recent column at MMA Junkie Danny Downes (who I enjoy) had this to say
If UFC "hacks" can exist in the media, don’t we have to at least consider the possibility that the opposite end of the spectrum is present, too?
On the surface, this looks like a reasonable argument, but it lacks any sort of depth and confuses the issue of a "biased media." The criticism of the "hacks" is that Zuffa operates a harsh media environment where dissenting voices are punished, if you're friendly with Zuffa you get access, credentials, and tips on hot stories. There's little benefit on the other side of the coin. Writing pieces that criticize Dana or Zuffa doesn't pay the rent. The MMA fan base isn't that large, it's not like you're slamming Democrats or Republicans where you have tens of millions of people that feel strongly about both sides.
Then he has this argument:
Don’t some reporters get too caught up with "sticking it to the man," to actually present other viewpoints?
Zuffa's viewpoints get plenty presented. They have a their own website, own reporters, own television talk show as well as several other outlets for news. Press conferences get posted on every website, the media scrums are some of the top traffic getters, and anytime Dana has something to say that typically finds it's way to every MMA site's front page. Classic straw man, they're complaining about something doesn't exist and a classic false equivalency.
Anyways, UFC 177 isn't the first crappy PPV card they've trotted out and it won't be the last. Perhaps it's the weakest on paper in terms of sheer fights that matter, but that's a different topic for a different day. However, their justification for putting out these awful cards is "we ALWAYS deliver" or "never judge a card before it happens," two completely specious arguments but two arguments that many in the media are all too glad to repeat.
After UFC 177 Jeremy Botter wrote an impassioned defense of UFC 177. Link here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2182068-ufc-177-was-low-on-star-power-but-ended-up-being-a-lot-of-fun-anyway \
His thesis was this:
if you like watching fights and do not care if you really know anything at all about the people you're watching in the fights, then you're probably glad you sat down on the couch and plopped down some money for this one.
So, in other words "if you don't know what you're watching or what you're looking at UFC 177 was awesome! His analysis was basically "there was a cool knockout and an awesome choke!" Worse yet, his analysis gets unspeakably lazy with this doozy:
But maybe, and this is a long shot, but just maybe she'd have her own T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao moment.
Forgetting of course, that TJ Dillashaw was a finalist on TUF, lost to John Dodson (a legitimate top 30 PFP fighter) in a fight that was arguably stopped early and lost a split decision to Rafael Assuncao in Brazil. He's also been wrestling his whole life, he trains at a top camp, he's been improving his whole career, and he showed marked improvement throughout his career under Ludwig. Correia, on the other hand, recently started MMA and is currently a blue belt in BJJ and a purple belt in Kung Fu. Not to mention she stuffed Baszler's arm bar/triangle attempt while basically employing only the figure four block defense...I'm guessing Ronda Rousey has a few ways to get past that. You can clearly see the parallels between her and TJ Dillashaw.
Anyways, back to the meat of his argument "if you don't know what you're watching, this was awesome!" He even closed with this:
But there were still some engaging fights, and if that's the kind of thing you're into, you didn't go wrong when you decided to order UFC 177
Frankly this is an entirely specious argument and falls apart under any sort of scrutiny. If all you want is a nifty choke or a knock out, why do you need to pay for MMA? Last week the Henderson/Khabilov card had that, I'm sure Friday's Foxwoods card will have that in spades. What's more, if that's all you want you can get that elsewhere. Bellator has that, WSOF has that, RFA has that, Titan has that, Cage Warriors has that, ONE FC has that, Shooto has that, your local fights have that. If all you want is fun fights, you don't need the UFC. You certainly don't need to ever pay for MMA, just hop on YouTube and search for choke outs and knockouts, you'll get plenty. If you don't care about quality or knowing who these guys are...then the UFC is basically useless to you. I like the UFC because it is the best place to watch highly skilled exchanges between talented and trained athletes in a sport that I find entertaining, UFC 177 featured zero of that.
Furthermore, if they all "might be good" then you should buy all every MMA product exercising no judgement. If you're saying "it might be good" you're acknowledging the possibility that it might suck, so conversely they all might suck, so you shouldn't watch MMA period. Complete bullshit. The telling part of this is that no one said this about UFC 178 was when Jones and Cormier were the headliners. There wasn't any "you don't know if this will be good or not, three grand for a ticket is pretty pricey man...I'd hold off," that never happens.
(ed note: Mr. Botter has written a fairly pleasant piece about Bellator today, it's good, and he has criticized Zuffa about a few things)
This sort of argument would lead directly to Zuffa's extinction if it were to be believed, and followed. What if Mr. Botter were to watch RFA, WSOF, Bellator or some other promotions? Presumably, he'd walk away with the same conclusion. They have dudes that will walk into knock outs, make crappy grappling decisions, demonstrate disastrous fight IQ, and piss poor striking defense. This isn't helping Zuffa or MMA, allowing them to lower the standards helps no one. It kills their brand when they're featuring substandard fights with people no one has heard of and expecting people to pay.
What's worse is he uses the "star power" narrative as opposed to "good fighters," which is what he really means. He uses "star power" because that makes it sound like these guys are really good, we just haven't heard of them. The reality is, that most MMA fans have likely seen a card with some of these guys on them it's just that they failed to impress. Luke Rockhold isn't a star, Jacare isn't a star, Chris Weidman isn't a star, Johnny Hendricks isn't a star, Robbie Lawler isn't a star, Gilbert Melendez isn't a star. These are good fighters that MMA fans take notice of because they're good fighters. MMA's star power is basically this: Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey. If you want to stretch the definition of "star" perhaps Anthony Pettis, maybe Urijah Faber, maybe Miesha Tate and maybe I was too hard on Chris Weidman. That's it. Go to a random bar on a Wednesday night and offer 60 bucks to anyone who can name 10 current MMA fighters, chances are you'll keep your sixty bucks. This was a pay per view card that featured exactly one top 100 PFP fighter, which is ridiculous.
Botter isn't alone, though. Dana White was retweeting fans and responding to people that said good things about the card, Lorenzo Fertitta does the same about Fight Pass, and UFC's main feed did pretty much the same thing. There's other fans that buy into this logic. Most people don't, though. If you complain there's plenty of defenders that say "have you ran a successful MMA promotion" or "look at where MMA was when Zuffa acquired it." Of course, Zuffa has done great things for the sport. However, the fans that say these things are sorely uneducated about business history and even the history of the sport. It's common knowledge in business is the man that leads your people out of the desert isn't exactly the man to lead them to the promised land. Art Davie and Campbell McLearen got MMA pretty damn far themselves, they weren't the guys to take it to the next level. Bjorn Rebney did wonderful things for Bellator, he lived the American dream: he started a business and got him and his investors a big payday. He wasn't the man to take Bellator to the next level. Dana White and Zuffa started out with MMA having an existent base: they didn't find Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, or Randy Couture, SEG did. SEG was the ones to get the unified rules, weight classes, and regulation in some states contrary to the story that Zuffa prefers to sell.
The common refrain is "you don't like it don't watch!" Well, judging by the empirical returns of this they do. What Zuffa fails to understand is that the UFC is kind of like Game of Thrones, you really can't miss an episode and still follow the product. You miss too many and eventually it's not even worth it to try and catch up. Every card, even the crappiest of the crappy, has some sort of meaningful fight for a division. You missed the Macao card, well you didn't see Tyron Woodley come back after a deflating loss. Skipped last week's Tulsa card, you missed big doings in the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight division. You're not going to build popular stars if you're constantly telling people not to watch. Acting otherwise does people no favors.