The Dollar Remains Matchmaker in Mixed Martial Arts

By: Jesse Gillette

When UFC matchmaker Joe Silva announced that he would no longer work for the UFC, everyone knew that he couldn’t be replaced; no one books fights quite like Joe Silva. In his absence though, will the Ultimate Fighting Championship be able to develop the future stars necessary to remain Pay-Per-View king, or is the business destined to take a hit like professional wrestling did in the early 2000’s?

The answer is that with or without Silva’s presence, main event and co-main event fights will be booked based on draw power. The dollar has without a doubt become the #1 matchmaker in the UFC because of the recent transfer in ownership to WME-IMG – the new owners who want to see their profitable investment in action. If the UFC remains shortsighted though, business will take a hit long term.

So powerful is the dollar that it will force fighters to change fight organizations, force promoters to abandon promises made to fighters, force fighters to starve themselves, force amateurs into their professional debuts too early, and money has started to damage the integrity of MMA as a sport. Should the top ranked fighters compete for championships and the gatekeepers take on newcomers?

A sport would adhere to rankings. The dollar doesn’t agree though. The UFC is a business and sometimes amateurs (CM Punk) or gatekeepers (Urijah Faber) are slotted into positions that disagree with fight logic.

Just how money hungry are the new owners? Well, they already sold out in a way. Twenty-three celebrities have invested in the UFC, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Rob Dyrdek, Adam Levine, Mark Wahlberg, the Williams sisters, and even Cam Newton. Expect many of these names to appear in crossovers with the UFC in the near future.

Even though Conor McGregor has a chance to eclipse Mayweather’s one-year PPV buys record with 1.76 million buys at UFC 205, he can’t be the only fighter the UFC relies on. If McGregor were to suffer a series of losses, an injury, or otherwise leave the organization, Pay-Per-View numbers would plummet and the company’s growth would be thrown into question.

Before the success in 2015 and 2016, there was the worry in 2014 – a year in which PPV buys dropped to the lowest they had been since 2005, where there were 260,000 buys per event on average.

Even Dave Meltzer says nothing is a lock, and although the UFC may have their biggest quarter ever business wise to close 2016, the UFC hasn’t yet announced that their top stars will compete – except for McGregor.

If stars are to stay loyal to the UFC, they must be paid and promoted well – something the UFC hasn’t done for a few household names on their roster. Take for example José Aldo – his disclosed career earnings added together don’t even match the number on McGregor’s last paycheck, the $3,000,000 he earned for his fight at UFC 202 with Nate Diaz. Aldo is so unhappy with how the company has handled his title unification bout with McGregor that he’s willing to fight the UFC in court if he isn’t released from his contract.

Unfortunately for Aldo though, Sean Shelby, Joe Silva and even Dana White don’t book Pay-Per-View main events anymore – the dollar dictated that he wasn’t fit to headline a card against Conor McGregor.

There must be a balance maintained between sport and business to ensure the survival of the UFC in this new era of ownership. The dollar is in control right now.

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