There have been almost 200 Ultimate Fighting Championships but 196 may have been the most memorable, with two gigantic upsets that will certainly shake up the UFC establishment, even more so than the last one and therein lies the problem. The UFC may be a victim of the very things that made it the fastest growing sport in America. Firstly, the diversity of fighting styles keeps the competition interesting if not unpredictable. Secondly, it appears there is an ever growing pool of participants meaning there is always someone both male and female waiting in the wings to become the next flag bearing star. It’s the UFC’s best asset and conversely, its worst enemy as just when they get a champion that starts to gain a substantial following around the world they lose and the UFC has to start building a new statue again.
In some sports like the NFL it’s ideal to keep shuffling the deck, new participants in the Super Bowl are great for ratings and more importantly to keep the perspective fan bases enthusiastic about their chances of reaching the summit the next year. However UFC, like boxing, needs a perpetual champion. It needs someone on the mountain top that you either love or hate, and much like boxing UFC has just lost both of theirs on the men’s and women’s side in one night. With Floyd Mayweather was champion boxing could bank on a 50 million dollar fight every time out, and that’s on the low end. If you took a poll you find it more divided than a Republican primary, almost a 50-50 split between fans that either wanted to pay for the fight to see him lose vs. those who wanted to see him stay undefeated. But the fact is that they all PAID and paid every time. In individual sports it pays to have a “bad man” at the top, from Muhamad to Tyson to Floyd and I know I’m missing some in between, but as a promoter or a fan, you need those guys on that wall.
The overwhelming problem for UFC is by definition mixed martial arts is going to display various fighting styles, each with its own positivesand negatives, and it may be a trite adage, but it has never been more apropos than when referring to this sport that “styles make fights” and it’s just a matter of time before oil and water mix and the champion faces a style that is totally unsuitable for his/her strengths and they go down. It is common place, in fact almost expected, for a boxer to roll into a big money championship fight undefeated. In UFC it’s almost impossible. I mean just look at the UFC casualty list over the past few months. Ronda Rousey, Paige VanZant, Sage Northcutt, and the latest and loudest thump came Saturday from Connor McGregor. The flag bearers of the sport have fallen faster than if they were carrying the flag and leading the charge in the revolutionary war. As a fan of the sport part of its appeal is the incessant fear that one slip, a lack of concentration for second, or miscalculation and any fighter could end up on his back unconscious. Nowhere else can fortunes (and real fortunes) turn so quickly. That’s what makes it great but also makes you wonder how any champion can be so brash as McGregor and Rousey have been despite their success when it seemed like it was just a matter of when rather than if they would go down some day. In fact, they hype machine was questioning if Rousey should be in the conversation for the best pound-per-pound fighter in US history just prior to her knockout loss. I guess that settles that.
For UFC after they lost Anderson Silva they had a Godsend in Ronda Rousey. Firstly, it is what it is, and as a woman she was already polarizing with many not wanting the spokesperson of such a “masculine” sport to be a woman. Then she started winning, and in dominant fashion, AND had attitude to back it up. Wow, sounds like Floyd in a dress. Except she didn’t wear dresses much, and that also added to her unfavorable side as there was also much speculation about her gender preference. For good measure throw in a war of words with the afore mentioned undefeated champion Floyd Mayweather and you’ve got a recipe for the first female top draw in history. She had done for UFC what supporters of women’s boxing hoped Lela Ali would do for that sport. Then Rousey was knocked out cold by Holly Holm who was next in line to carry the flag for the UFC women. Obviously tough, not as brash, in fact down right humble and more likeable, Holm was being touted as the “next big thing” and the UFC just wanted time to build up the hype machine so they could schedule the big draw rematch. Unfortunately Holm lost sight of the ball, and here concentration late in the fight and an attack that normally wouldn’t work did and Holm was submissioned out by little known Miesha Tate in what was widely believed to be her last title shot. Missed Payday for Dana White. Also enter Connor McGregor, as brash as Floyd, about the same size, but not the African American villain but the Irish prince looking like he was carved out of granite and more of guy you would expect to see at a dive pub rather than a nightclub. He was perfect for the majority of UFC followers. Saturday his reign came to a crashing end at the hands of fighter that, once again, was a bad style match because of his size and reach, as punches that normally disposed of McGregor’s smaller opponents didn’t take Nate Diaz out then Mac just ran out of gas in the later rounds and lost via submission. It was the first million-dollar purse a UFC fighter had seen and ironically it came in a loss. Unfortunately, the nature of the beast is that this will not be the last time we see this for the UFC.