From the The Ultimate Fighter show that started it all (which has now seemingly long overran its course) to inconsistent title shots, it would appear there are various areas the UFC really needs to significantly alter. In the last few months, we hardcore and casual MMA fans have witnessed some drastic turn of events, both possibly good and undeniably bad. In this article, I'd like to explore what areas the UFC should better clarify, outright change, what it has improved, and what it desperately needs to.
Let's start with the "possibly" good, which is the Reebok deal. According to Dana White, the money from the deal with Reebok (worth $70 million) is supposedly to be distributed to the fighters, extra pay contingent on how a fighter is ranked. Apparently the #1-5 guys will get more than then #6-10 and, in turn, this group will get more than the #11-15. Sounds fair right? What we don't know however is the pay scale itself, specifically "What are these fighters in these positions actually going to be compensated?"
In regards to this deal, there are other issues that are looming too, such as if the sponsorship pay for all, or at least some, of these fighters will make up for the prior sponsorship money fighters use to earn and why the UFC would take a deal if it is "supposedly" not receiving any monetary value in return (although partnering with a major brand like Reebok undoubtedly helps the UFC from a marketing standpoint which may attract other companies to invest in the UFC). If the UFC made a deal to provide the fighters with every cent of the $70 million to give them more compensation, why not just increase their salaries overall? In time, that money will vanish, so then what? Go back to the previous payment plans and bonuses? The UFC needs to shed more light on this deal.
Speaking of the elephant in the room, wage/salary or pay, whatever you want to call it, is something that has been discussed for years. The topic, I feel, has become more prominent due to the class action lawsuit the UFC is facing, brought by various ex-UFC fighters. While at the heart of the suit lies the claim that "Zuffa is partaking in anti-business tactics" of which "operate to monopolize the market," salaries are inextricably linked. While not 100% on this, I believe if a business controls the market, what competitors would it have to worry about that could attract its workforce away? One could argue that due to the UFC, without a shred of doubt, being the most dominant and sought-out MMA promotion in the world with a distant second in Bellator, it has little to worry about in losing its fighters to the threat of higher pay over there which leads to it paying its fighters whatever it deems appropriate.
Yes, there is no doubt managers can negotiate better contracts for their fighters, but how much better are we talking? If you are not an "elite level" combatant, a promising prospect, or even employ a fan-friendly style, you will only have so much pull in negotiating a higher pay. Too many times I see respectable warriors get paid a measly $8k to show and $8k to win. With all the expenses involved (such as the training camp, travel, hotel, food, medical, etc.), it is no wonder we hear that some of the people are actually in the red after a fight, regardless of winning or not.
While the previous issues have some concerns that need to be addressed, it seems like the "undeniably bad" as I mentioned earlier that we have witnessed lately has been the drug test failures. At this point, Nick Diaz failing for marijuana elicits a "that's just Nick being Nick" reaction, which isn't exactly wrong. Personally, I don't think weed should be classified as a PED, but that's a debate for another time. However, I never in my trivial and bland existence expected to see the words: Anderson Silva has failed his drug test for anabolic steroids. Not only that, but TWO different ones in the first out-of-competition test and THREE banned substances in the post-fight test (one being the same steroid drostanolone he was already popped for and the other two being some forms of prescription for anti-anxiety, etc.).
I am disappointed to say the least BUT I feel for all that it was initially bitter, there is an aftertaste of sweetness to be had. What I mean is, not only has the increased testing out-of-competition helped to expose those who look to gain an extra advantage, but have also prompted the UFC to make Georges St. Pierre's dreams come to fruition... enacting a plan to increase the drug testing by hiring an agency. In conjunction with various athletic commissions doing testing everywhere, with the UFC helping to bankroll the lot of them, the UFC has taken a monumental step forward in doing its own testing. This isn't just a giant step for fighters but a colossal leap for the sport as well. It's time to clean up the sport.
Sponsorship deals, fighters' pay, and drug testing aside, what I would really like to see is the UFC really touch-up the pieces in house. Firstly, can we please, PLEASE either change the format of TUF or get rid of it altogether? I feel the show has lost its appeal it had from the first few seasons. The idea of a coach vs coach fight at the end of the season and one person from each of the two divisions of competitors getting crowned "The Ultimate Fighter" by the end has been so mind-numbingly, unbearably rehashed that at this point the show is turning more to focusing exclusively on the drama, antics, and shenanigans since the plot line never changes. If I wanted to watch "The Real World" or some show like that, I'd turn on MTV (if there is a day where I ever turn that channel on again, I hope that somebody checks me into a hospital).
What is the point? For years the ratings on the show aren't making the numbers they once did. The viewership is waning, the caliber of fighters getting selected is arguably lower or simply the TUF champions aren't becoming bonafide contenders like the UFC hopes them to be, so at this point why persist? I have a suggestion for it but I will write a separate article detailing a new format (or a few).
Secondly, can the UFC PLEASE make a consistent formula for a title shot! While the criteria to earning one has plenty of variables to consider, at the base level, can't we just agree that if a guy/girl is on a streak which includes beating several top ten fighters (half or two of them being in the top five), can't he/she just get the title shot? That may be a stupid suggestion or an oversimplified one, but what choice do I have? People get promised title shots, who are deserving of them, only to be eclipsed by someone more popular. If anybody has some better suggestions, I'm all eyes. And can someone PLEASE put a halt on the rubber matches or rematches happening immediately!
Thirdly, if there is any consistency to be sorely needed, it would have to be with the rankings. Too many times I see one fighter beating another fighter and taking a ranking (or higher ranking) spot from a guy who has neither lost his last fight or two nor has been inactive. If you are the #13 guy and beat the #12 guy (extending your fight streak to let's say five), how can you logically overtake the #10 guy (who didn't lose his last fight and is active) in the division without having beaten him first? Am I the only one that has a problem with this?
What exactly is the deal with during one period a fighter previously ranked behind another takes over his/her spot only to then be overtaken by the same guy/girl again that was initially ahead of him/her (which re-occurs for WEEKS ON END) without either one of them facing each other? What is it with one fighter, who had just lost to another, being ranked higher than the person he lost to within 1-2 fights afterwards, especially when that other fighter never lost? I think with how large divisions such as Lightweight and Welterweight are, why not extend the ranking limit to twenty spots instead of fifteen? We need some serious revision of this system. Like I said before, if anybody has got some suggestions, I'm still all eyes.
Lastly, with all the eye pokes (some accidental, others who knows), the UFC proposed penalizing a fighter for doing them repeatedly. Unfortunately for the UFC though, that is an issue for the athletic commissions to resolve. However, that doesn't mean that the UFC can't do something about attempting to better prevent the eye pokes. Apparently, while Bjorn Rebney was still the big cheese over at Bellator, he endorsed a new MMA glove, made by Everlast, which added more padding and longer finger sockets to help prevent pokes.
Before Rebney and Bellator parted ways, he offered to "share" the design with the UFC, to which neither Lorenzo nor Dana replied. While Dana and Bjorn never exactly saw eye to eye, that doesn't mean Dana and Scott Coker can't. For the betterment of MMA, maybe the UFC should also endorse the Everlast product, or at the very least, create a new glove with similar technology. Eye pokes have gone from happenstance to expected to happen at this point. Why not make the transition?
If there is anything I missed that you feel the UFC could improve on next, don't be a stranger and tell me below in the comments.