The UFC has always wanted to be recognized as the 5th major league sport to take place in the United States. They wanted a spot at the table alongside the NFL, MLB, NHL, and the NBA as a legitimate major league sporting competition.
The powers that be at the UFC have done a great job in my opinion of elevating their brand and the sport of mixed martial arts as a whole, especially since the UFC was sold by the Fertitta brothers to Endeavor. With that being said, there is still work to be done.
From Spike TV to FOX and now sitting alongside the other 4 major sports on ESPN, the UFC has made their “mainstream” mark and they are here to stay.
One of the major things that the UFC is missing is a representation of their athletes at the negotiating table. The other 4 major sports leagues all have unions or “players associations” in place so the athletes, you know the people we tune in to watch on game day, have a voice at the table when it comes to revenue sharing, merchandising, medical care, and everything else that goes along with being a professional athlete in a major league sport.
I don’t see a union or players association becoming a thing for the UFC any time soon. Many of tried to implement it, all efforts have failed.
Something else that occurs in all the other sports leagues that doesn’t occur in the UFC is an offseason. Baseball, football, basketball, and hockey all take place over the course of a season, not the entire year. That is not to say that those 4 sports shut everything down completely as the offseason is a very important part of each of those sports. However, there is an offseason where competition is halted allowing the athletes to have ample recovery time, work on improving their skill sets, and for the fans to miss the sport, it creates a hunger for the next season. Something that doesn’t happen in the UFC.
Granted, mixed martial arts fights are not team sports, this is a sport centered around individuals. Since this is a sport centered around an individual person, they’re not fighting all year long. So in a sense, after a fight, a fighter has an offseason of sorts until the next time they step into the octagon.
With downtime between fights, which provides athletes time off, you would think that we would be presented with a product at the highest level every single time the UFC holds an event, but that isn’t true now is it?
The last 2 UFC events that took place in Moscow and Sao Paulo Brazil were for lack of a better term, snoozefests. We should expect this to happen because we are flooded with over 30+ events during the year, and they all can’t be 5-star shows.
There are lulls in the action 2 weeks here, 3 weeks there, but the UFC is a year-round sporting event that commands top dollar from their fan base for tickets to live events, top dollar for pay per view events, and requires people to have a subscription service that they pay for year-round to catch the shows on TV or via streaming through ESPN. For the money that the fan spends, shouldn’t they get a top-notch product every time?
We never truly get a day off from the sport, we never have an opportunity to miss the action or the athletes, that to me isn’t a good thing.
Look at the Professional Fighters League. They may have stumbled across something needed for this sport when they implemented their million-dollar tournament.
The PFL starts their “season” in June and finishes in December. They host numerous events during that 6 month period which are meaningful, exciting, and for the athletes involved if they make it to the end very profitable. Their format creates a buzz. A buzz about a million-dollar payday gets people talking. While they are not on the same level as the UFC today, they have proven over the last 2 years that their formula works, and have done so on the same platform the UFC is on at ESPN.
With the UFC we are left with some watered down cards that don’t deliver the way the promotion wants them to, or we as fans expect them to. We should not be surprised at this.
Imagine trying to put together 35 events. That’s a lot of work. Hotels, plane tickets, medicals, securing venues, commission paperwork, security, and oh yeah, matching up over 450 bouts! It’s not a task that is easy by any stretch of the imagination.
On top of all the responsibility of making these events happen, the promoter has to try and deliver top quality events every week, and that’s an impossibility with all the variables that go into this. The number one variable being athletes getting injured and pulling out, and/or failed drug tests which also cause athletes to be pulled and both scenarios can make or break an event.
With 35 events in a 52 week year that leaves 17 weeks of no events for the UFC. Maybe instead of spreading that 17 week period out over the course of the year maybe it’s time to split that into two 8 week breaks, or “offseasons” if you will.
Could it work? Yes, it can. Would it be easy to do? No, it wouldn’t. It would be a major cultural change for the UFC and for the fan base. However, after the growing pains of implementing two 8 week breaks during the course of a year, the athletes, and the fans would adjust and move forward.
When could these 2 offseasons occur would be a major question that has to be answered? I have 2 times of the year where I think it could work and would make sense.
The 1st break would come at the end of January and would run till the end of March Madness. For those that don’t know March Madness is the annual NCAA basketball tournament that takes over the sports world when it starts. With most of the sports world focused on this billion-dollar event, it would be very easy for the UFC to schedule a break during the tournament and also in that timeframe is the Super Bowl, which we all know is the biggest sporting event in the world. So with the sports fan being occupied with 2 huge sporting events that are already overlapping each other to a degree, this would be a good time for the UFC to take a break.
The other 8-week break could take place starting in the middle of September as baseball season comes to an end with the World Series getting ready to take place, and the NFL, NHL, and NBA all beginning their seasons. It is truly one of the busiest times of the year in the world of sport. With so much going on, this would be another good time for the UFC to take a break.
The cool thing about this would be we could still have 34 events from the UFC. We would still get to enjoy the sport of mixed martial arts as much as we do today. However, these 2 breaks would give the promotion a much-needed chance to catch its breath. It would give the athletes and those that work relentlessly all your along putting these events together with no time off time to plan and live their lives outside of fighting you know like spending time with their families, maybe taking a vacation or specifically for the fighters, planning for a much needed surgical procedure to get themselves healthy for when the season starts up again.
The UFC would also benefit from this because, during the two 8-week breaks, the fans would be clamoring for more. I think it would drive pay per view numbers up as well as ticket sales.
The UFC would be wise in at least considering this option. Look at the NFL. A 16-week regular season followed by 6 weeks of playoffs before the Super Bowl. Then we are left without football from February till September. During that downtime, fans are talking, moves are happening behind the scenes, and when the next season starts it’s always more profitable than the previous season.
If we’ve learned anything about the UFC it’s that they are always trying to figure out how to improve the bottom line. This would be a good way, in my opinion, to do so.
We have become spoiled by the UFC as we expect fights every week. We as human beings can’t miss something that we have all the time. How can we miss and desire something that we have all year long? The buzz about something we have all the time isn’t the same as the excitement we get when we experience something that isn’t available on a regular basis.
With the UFC in particular, when we do have the 2 or 3-week break between events that we have now, in those short breaks people get hungry for it again. When it does come available again, the numbers do go up a little bit. So imagine if we didn’t have fights for 8 weeks at a time, how excited would you be for the return of the UFC?
The old saying says “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. In this instance just like the NFL, absence makes the bottom line get bigger, and for the UFC, that is and has always been the goal.
Christopher James has been in the MMA industry for 15 years, Working as a ring announcer for promotions like the XFC, Island Fights, Combat Night and Fight Nights Global during his career. Chris’ love for the sport and the athletes that partake in it led him to writing and doing face to face interviews with the athletes he admired and respected. Chris isn’t conventional by any stretch of the imagination, he has his own style, and takes pride in not being a “cookie-cutter” member of the media. Unique and sometimes controversial takes are what he brings to the table, forcing folks to think a little differently about the world of MMA. He also has a love for music as he has been a dj for 25 years and his love for music gets brought to the MMA world when he gets his guests to sing on his weekly show Cage Side with Christopher James which can be seen Wednesday nights on FACEBOOK LIVE, and soon via podcast.