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UFC Dominance Can Be a Bad Thing

June 5, 2012 All MMA News, Blogs  Comments 

While the death of DREAM may not bother too many MMA fans, it is certainly of concern to the total MMA landscape. DREAM was a minor league promotion, keeping afloat based upon talent sharing agreements and run by Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG). FEG was also the previous owner who ran the K-1 Kickboxing promotion into the ground. DREAM had some of the most recognizable talent passing through their doors in Alistair Overeem, Eddie Alvarez, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Shinya Aoki amongst others. DREAM stood as the major Japanese based MMA promotion. UFC 144 held in Japan seemingly was not enough to reignite the MMA scene.

With SEG seemingly killing everything they touch, themselves made from former PRIDE executives which after a great run failed as a promotion, another televised promotion bites the dust. Televised promotions with large audiences are rare; a young unknown fighter coming through the ranks would see any televised fight as an invaluable tool for promotion and sponsorship deals. Not every fighter can reach the UFC although most aspire to. With the decline of Strikeforce cards, Strikeforce contracted fighters are staying on the shelf longer. Strikeforce as a destination for fighters is looking less desirable as time goes on, with Bellator Fighting Championships now taking the mantle from the former as the world second tier promotion. It seems as though once Zuffa has fulfilled Strikeforce’s contractual obligations to Showtime, Strikeforce will be disbanded. Frankly the most interesting division in Strikeforce is ruled by Ronda Rousey, which would certainly not have been the case eighteen months ago. I mean no disrespect to Gilbert Melendez however after Josh Thompson, there is no opponent currently contracted to Strikeforce that I would buy a Pay Per View to watch him fight. There is a long list of exciting matchups however unless they come to him from the UFC, they won’t happen.

MMA is unique compared to most sports in how it is run by private organisations with their own stars, business models and goals rather than a national or international regulatory body. As such, these organisations act in their best interests and in direct competition of others, capitalism at its best. As the old saying goes, steel sharpens steel and this rings true in business in all aspects. Healthy competition means better wages for negotiating fighters, better conditions and more opportunities for those coming through the system. I know it is not MMA related but when WWE bought out its main rivals WCW and ECW, it left them in a position of total dominance. Good for the company, not good for the talent. You had to play ball or it was a long drop into obscurity. WWE and WCW had their battle, the UFC faced off against PRIDE FC. It seems the only company left for the UFC to compete with on a larger scale is Bellator. There are other solid promotions such as Legacy Fighting Championship and Tachi Palace but neither are nor will be in a position to challenge the UFC.

DREAM had a novel idea in talent sharing between promotions which is a difficult thing to achieve. If the face of your organisation gets crushed in a one sided affair by a competing promotion’s poster boy, it’s a hard sell for their next fight. Add in the chance of a serious injury to your contracted fighter which may rule him out of PPV action for some time, it is a big risk. Few fighters have elected to stay out of the UFC when the opportunity presents itself and stay in lower organisations, Fedor Emelianenko being the most notable. This being the case, while widening options for fighters under these organisations and having fewer fighters under their own rosters the perception remains the talent being shared is second tier. Few would argue the talent pool for Fedor was deep or a fair reflection of Heavyweight talent post PRIDE FC. Fedor will continue being criticised for fighting some of the talent he did rather than stepping into the world’s premiere MMA promotion. It’s a stigma that will follow MMA fighters: what you do outside the UFC is nice but until you fight with the UFC you are not really proven.

The rise of Bellator Fighting Championships and their own reality show commencing on Spike TV in 2013, it gives them genuine competition to be wary of. While the UFC outlasted Donald Trump backed Affliction, they are dealing with a different beast. Bellator has an established name and business model, one in which title shots have a defined process. Owned by entertainment giant Viacom, who own UFC’s former broadcasting partner Spike, they have the programming experience and the money to become a serious threat in a short period of time. The prize for a Bellator tournament win is currently a hundred thousand dollars and a title shot. I would not be surprised if that prize money greatly increases in the near future in order to attract and retain talent. It will certainly be interesting once more details of the Bellator reality show come to light and how it will differ from the UFC’s now aging Ultimate Fighter.

I for one am looking forward to the competition. With two major networks promoting the sport, it is a win for the spread of MMA. I see more opportunities for young fighters coming into the sport trying to make a living. I see a viable alternative promotion for Rampage Jackson to fight for, if they would have him. Both promotions are going to be looking to put together great cards to top each other. The UFC will have the upper hand in this because the tournament format can be so restricting. I’m looking for Dana White to come out swinging as usual and seeing the UFC expanding into new markets to build brand loyalty. The next two years in MMA are going to be as exciting as any that have come before it. As fans, we can really only win.

By Alex Durward

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