The UFC since it started as a no holds barred prize fighting competition in the 1990s has undergone many iterations and changes but it seems difficult to define what the current UFC is or for that matter what it is defined by. Certainly in this USADA era of McGregor and to a lesser extent Rousey and Jones but these are not the only things to define the company during this period.
What is the UFC overall at the moment, some may say one of the biggest mixed martial arts organisation in the world promoting exceptional fights and crossing boundaries whereas others would call it pathetic in its pandering to the crossover crowd that has come along with the increased trash talking and antics during this period. To start, the UFC is truly a juggernaut with more divisions and a greater roster than its closest competitors Bellator and WSOF. The UFC also makes more money than these other companies due to more people tuning into their pay per views.
The UFC is also in rude financial health when the fact it was sold for $4 billion dollars to a heavy-weight media organisation is considered. Zuffa and Dana has changed the business massively from its humble roots as a tournament style one-night fighting promotion. There is now a card pretty much every week and the UFC deals in all four corners of globe with cards in Brazil, America, Britain and Australia being the most common venues. In all meanings of the word the UFC is global and constantly growing and finding new markets to tap into.
However this USADA era will also be known for the large number of fight cancellations, the most notable in 2016 being Jon Jones at UFC 200. The stringent drug testing could be said to have ruined cards and left fans feeling cheated that the person they have paid to see is not in the cage slugging it out. Another important thing to note is that many of the legends of the sport now seem weak and vulnerable without the help of testosterone and TRT. Dan Henderson is one example, it is true he has won a title shot but the number of knockouts of the recent years must be doing no good to his chin. Bigfoot Silva is another fighter who has been punished massively over recent years with him being finished viciously. It raises an interesting point on whether the UFC should safeguard these aging fighters by cutting their contracts and being cruel to prevent any major health issues in the long-run. Does that responsibility fall with the UFC is another question that has been debated across Bloody Elbow.
The USADA era has also been marred by high profile incidents which have hurt the UFC. One of these is the suspension and aggression shown towards Ariel Helwani for doing his job as a journalist in releasing the Brock Lesnar. This showed the UFC to still be very controlling and harsh in its treatment towards the people who help support the sport and grow it through its media presence. The Helwani incident showed the UFC bad side and tainted the image it had cultivated in recent years, an organisation with a good deal of professionalism towards the press. A lot of people blame Dana White for this as he was responsible for the issue with Helwani but in his position of CEO his actions casts a negative shadow over the UFC.
Another major thing that has happened during the USADA era was the Reebok deal. This was a deal that was received with much clamour in the community with many worrying for the pay of fighters who were not established PPV headliners. It is sad to say that this problem has not been sorted, it has left to top-grade fighters such as Rory MacDonald leaving the UFC as he was unhappy with the pay and lack of sponsors. The Reebok deal has also caused comedic waves with their misspellings of Anderson Aldo and Giblert Melendez, this was one the funniest moments in the UFC and led to hundreds of memes mocking their actions. But the Reebok deal did help the UFC to sell as it became much more saleable as it had large-scale endorsement built into the business and it is speculated WME will take the UFC to the next level.
A positive note of the USADA era is the level of Chaos that has happened, the true unpredictability in the sport that happens when the playing field is level. Nate Diaz being chosen as a last minute replacement for Conor McGregor and then winning on short notice which broke the invincibility that McGregor has built for himself. It had also led to all of the Cabo Nate Diaz mythology being created among the community in the much the same way as Motivated BJ Penn or Ring Fedor. We also saw large upsets in Michael Bisping knocking out Luke Rockhold and Robbie Lawler winning the welterweight belt off Jonny Hendricks. When you cast your mind back through their careers, it seems unlikely that a perennial contender and a reckless fighter like Lawler would win the ultimate prize.
The UFC has also created huge stars in this period for a new generation of fan, Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey has become the cornerstone of the company. They are the defining stars of this period much like how Anderson Silva and GSP were the defining stars of theirs. These two home-grown UFC talents that have become world famous have proved that the UFC can be a creator and ensure the sustainability of the sport. We can the new stars being created by the UFC with Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt being the next-generation UFC fighter, entertaining and very good ambassadors for the business.
To conclude the UFC is not defined by one thing during this USADA period, it is defined by multiple things, whether it be Ronda's boom or the impossible being achieved by fighters who many thought were never destined to win big. There are many positives during the USADA era but underneath the rosy veneer, issues like fighter pay and the health of fighters still exist within the UFC Machine.
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