This was the week the UFC's other shoe dropped. Tensions between the roster and the company escalated when Georges St-Pierre proclaimed his free agency, and layoffs at all levels of the promotion underscored the fact change is on the way.
While it will take the long term to truly sort things out, there's plenty to process right now, so let's get right into it.
GSP vs. UFC
@BreadandWater94: What's wrong with the UFC? They should give GSP whatever he's asking for. He's a megastar who will sell. Thoughts?
On the surface, you'd think so, right? After all, the UFC only has so many top-of-the-line drawing cards to go around, fighters whose presence will put a dent into that debt new owners WME-IMG undertook to buy their new $4 billion toy.
But here we are, with St-Pierre, one of the sport's true impact players, declaring himself a free agent and the UFC saying "not so fast," setting the stage for the first big contractual drama of the Big Corporate Cagefighting era.
I'm not going to rehash every little bit of minutiae on what went down this week, since you've read it already (if you need a refresher, Chuck Mindenhall has you covered).
To cut to the heart of the matter: Does either side really want this to play all the way out? If you're the UFC, you've had your business practices questioned by a growing chorus in recent years, and you're already deeply locked into an antitrust lawsuit. Do you really want to take the risk of having the entire foundation of your business upstaged in court?
If you're St-Pierre, time is your biggest enemy. You're 35 years old. You haven't fought in three years. Even the greatest fighters have limited windows. The most famous example of a UFC vs. fighter battle, with Randy Couture, ended up with Couture sitting out 15 months during a time he could have been making big money defending the heavyweight title. Instead, he racked up a giant legal bill and eventually found himself, a couple months shy of his 48th birthday, across the cage from a killer like Lyoto Machida, because Couture needed a paycheck.
St-Pierre is better positioned than others who have tried to take on the UFC. By all accounts he's been smart about his money and has hired a top-notch lawyer. But if the inner competitor in him was satisfied, he wouldn't have been angling for a return in the first place. How much of GSP's time and energy does he want to spend on a court case while his career clock ticks down? St-Pierre might be eager for a legal battle now, but we'll see where this stands if it drags out for a year or two.
In the end, it seems to make sense for the sides to meet somewhere in the middle.
As an aside, of everything we heard this week, the one thing which brought me the most pause was St-Pierre's claim the he was told by the UFC, essentially, that it would cost too much money to reintroduce him to the audience after being gone three years. Now, this could simply be just GSP saying things in the inimitable GSP way, or it could have simply been a throwaway line used somewhere in negotiation.
The revenue difference in a UFC 206 with GSP's return paired with Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson and the current card, which is one injury away from being weak for a Fight Pass event, never mind a PPV, is a figure substantially more than the rumored $10M per fight GSP is asking.
Again, it might have been a misinterpretation of sorts, but if WME-IMG higher-ups literally believe that the costs of reintroducing a superstar whose big return would mean about a half-million PPV buys all on his own is someone is too steep a price tag, then that would reflect very poorly on what type of handle the UFC's new and silent owners have on the product they just bought.
@RuckerYeah: What's up with all the UFC layoffs?
For one thing, the UFC's company-wide layoffs are the signal that, in case there was any remaining doubt, the Zuffa Era is truly over.
There was plenty one could criticize about the way the Fertittas ran their business. But a true passion for their product underscored all else. Accounting department eggheads don't usually keep businesses running when they're $44 million in the red and showing no real signs of a turnaround. But deep-pocketed people who believe in their product do. Had a big faceless corporation owned the UFC in 2004, when losses were piling up before the big turnaround chances are the UFC wouldn't exist right now and MMA would at best still be on the absolute fringe of the sporting world.
WME-IMG didn't spend $4B on the UFC because it's a hobby or a passion. They're a Hollywood bigshot company and have a bottom line. It really sucks for the people who were let go, as those who have been with Zuffa for the past decade-plus have felt like they've been part of a cause, building something from the ground up, and now they see someone else reap the fruits of their labor.
Oh, and, shame on those online who seemed to take joy in people losing their livelihoods. It can happen to you, it can happen to me, it can happen to any of us at any given time. The person gloating over someone's misfortune today could be the person out of a job tomorrow.
Cutting back on cards
@MMA_and_Beer 24h: Does it make sense for WME-IMG to reduce the # of PPVs a year (& build bigger cards) so that it isn't faced w/another UFC 206?
I don't know that they'll necessarily lower the number of pay-per-view events, since those are the big money makers, but rumors of a reduced overall schedule -- down to about 30 or so for 2017 -- abound, as well as rumors of the long-overdue ditching of The Ultimate Fighter.
And, while, again, you have to be sympathetic to the fighters who would lose their jobs in such a downsizing, in the long run, it might not be the worst thing, even for those let go.
I don't know about you, but back in 2006, if I was watching a UFC card, I knew just about every fighter from top to bottom and their back stories. Nowadays, as I slog through another 573-hour FS1 card, I occasionally find myself thinking "who is this guy, again?" If I get paid to follow the sport and catch myself thinking this, I can't even imagine what it's like for a casual fan trying to keep up.
Cutting back on the number of events on the schedule will bolster the remaining ones. Cutting back on the roster will give some young talent who are spinning their wheels a chance to get back out there and continue to grow without getting caught up in the big machine. This is a potential change which has been a long time coming.
December fight cards
@DaGr814life23: Why does Sacramento always get crap? Card so far is weak. Like Main Event but not ME status.
Ehh, I don't know if I agree with your take on December's UFC on FOX 22 at Sacramento's new Golden1 Center, which is headlined by Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson. I get where you're coming from in terms of main event star power, considering it comes in the middle of a run in which other places are getting headliners like Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez, Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson, and Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey.
But if you can get past that and look at the evening's lineup, there are a whole lot of fights that look to be fun, Including the main event, which has the potential to be a barnburner. You've also got Urijah Faber fulfilling his long-stated wish to fight in his new hometown arena; Alan Jouban vs. Mike Perry should be a fireworks display, and you and I both know that Sage Northcutt vs. Mickey Gall is going to be a memorable spectacle.
And hey ... Sacramento was where GSP won his first UFC welterweight title; where Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia had their legendary brawl; where Faber had some of the the most memorable WEC nights ever against Mike Brown, Jose Aldo, and Jens Pulver, and where Anderson Silva had his first official middleweight title defense. Yeah, UFC 177 in SacTown was a legendary suckfest, but your fair city had your share of memorable moments, too.
@LeeHarrisonUK: Is the Pickett v Faber fight the final curtain for at least one of them?
More so for Pickett than Faber. Faber, in his recent fights, has looked like a guy whose time has finally passed as one of the elite guys. But there are still matchups for him which make sense in a "fun fight" sort of way. Pickett, I don't mean to be unkind, but by and large he just hasn't look like someone who belongs on the roster anymore. His two-minute loss to Iuri Alcantara at UFC 204 was his fourth defeat in his past five, and fifth in his past seven, spread out over two weight classes. Faber can simply get by with a win here; Pickett needs a complete change of momentum.
@ManniMata89: If one of DC/Rumble got injured before 206, would it be downgraded to a FS1 event given how bad the card is?
Don't get me wrong, I actually like the UFC 206 main event rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson, which is the last intriguing high-caliber matchup left in the division while Jon Jones is out (and Jones knows it).
Go beyond that, and yeah ... I like the fight between Zack Makovsky and John Moraga, which is currently in the co-main slot, and the bout between John Makdessi and Lando Vannata looks fun, but that's not a lineup that screams out for you to hit that buy button on your PPV service.
The UFC's plan was to go out with a bang at the end of 2016, with UFC 205 in New York, UFC 206 in Toronto, and UFC 207 in Las Vegas. The first and last cards on that list are delivering in a huge way. For Toronto, it sure seems GSP's return was going to be the big draw, with DC vs. Rumble making for a killer one-two combo. But it didn't work out that way. Now, if you're a fan being asked to buy three $60 PPVs in the span of six weeks, during holiday season no less, one of those cards is easily skippable.
And yes, to answer your question, if for some reason Cormier or Johnson has to withdraw from the fight, then UFC 206 becomes the new UFC 196. Umm ... you know, the version which became a Fight Night when Cain Velasquez pulled out, not the one with the first Conor-Diaz fight. Confusing? Maybe. But hey, that would be better than it being the next UFC 151.