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The Great Divide: Is the UFC’s packed events schedule too much, just right or not enough?

The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.

In the wake of 12 consecutive weeks of UFC events, Alexander K. Lee and Mike Chiappetta discuss the age-old topic: How much is too much? Is there such a thing as too many shows? Have we hit a saturation point? And if so, what can be done about it?


Lee: In the words of famed American poet Busta Rhymes: “Gimme Some More.”

When the UFC’s 2019 schedule wraps up on Dec. 21 with what promises to be a thrilling headliner between Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, it will have put together 42 shows in 15 different countries this year. I’ve crunched the numbers and come to the conclusion that is a lot of shows; however, after crunching even more numbers (I’m Beautiful Mind-ing it over here), I can tell you that it’s not only not too many shows, it is not enough.

The more the merrier, I say!

Now, there is no question that the overall quality of the average card has dropped since the halcyon days of waiting three months between major events and worse, most fight nights rarely bring about that elusive sense of anticipation that was a major part of the boom of mainstream MMA. Back then, even a random Spike TV show headlined by Diego Sanchez elicited at least a tingle from Joe or Jane Fightfan.

But we knew that this would be the cost of rapid expansion for a form of entertainment that some would argue was never meant to be inclusive in the first place. With more regulation, more exposure, more hands in the cookie jar, MMA was destined to lose what made it “pure,” for lack of a better term. Dana White and company’s goal was never to just turn enough of a profit to keep MMA alive for the hardcores, it was and is world domination.

That means keeping a major league schedule and having a product available to viewers nearly year-round, something not even the big four North American sports can offer. And therein lies the key point that a lot of fans are missing: You don’t have to watch every UFC event.

Yes, in a perfect world, we’d be getting 40-plus events of all-killer, no-filler, and someday the talent pool will hopefully grow and evolve to the point where such a thing is possible for the UFC. Until that time comes though, one only need to be more judicious with their viewing habits. You’re not required to watch every NBA or NHL game, and definitely not every MLB game unless you’re a complete whack-a-doodle like Jose Youngs. The NFL does the best job of making its weekly matchups a major event, even then I imagine your casual fan doesn’t watch more than half of the regular season. Because why would you? There are only so many hours in a day.

The UFC is not for the hardcores anymore, even if the organization can still claim to have the vast majority of the world’s best fighters and is thus capable of consistently hitting peaks that other promotions strive to reach once or twice a year, if that. And those peaks, whether we’re talking on a visceral or emotional level are not diminished by the valleys.

Not to sound too much like White himself, but if you don’t like it, don’t watch it, dummy.

Nobody is holding a gun to your head demanding that you watch seven hours of regional fighters and Contender Series rejects battling it out in some obscure corner of middle-America (and if someone is, that is an awfully specific and weird demand). The beauty of the modern product is that you have the option to do so.

While we might roll our eyes at the increasingly obscure fight announcements that zip across our news feeds, it behooves the UFC to keep shoveling content down our gullets. Even as the buzz of oh-my-goodness-cagefighting died down long ago, the promotion’s coffers continue to grow with every TV deal and partnership it signs, which means the demand for more (if not better) events will only increase.

So my advice is to buckle up and accept that the days of every Fight Night or pay-per-view being a hallowed, sacred event are long gone and that weekly shows featuring a seemingly endless lineup of talented, but indiscriminate athletes are here to stay. Use your discretion, keep that controller handy, and save that money for the handful of events a year that you just can’t miss.

And my advice for the UFC is to keep ‘em comin’.


Chiappetta: Like you, Alex, I once made the argument that there is no such thing as too much MMA. That if there is an audience for it, the event is justified. But in time, I’ve watched and observed and acknowledged the obvious. That there is a point of diminishing returns, and that we’ve long passed it.

More is not always better. More is just more.

While your position that fans have the discretion to watch à la carte is valid, it misses the larger point that MMA is meant to be watched in a through line, that fighters need arcs and events require narratives to truly thrive. When the schedule is overwhelmed by volume to the point that fighters and results get jumbled together, the ability to differentiate the meaningless from the meaningful is compromised.

I, too, crunched the numbers and discovered that over the last 12 weeks, the UFC has hosted 147 fights. That’s 294 fighters with personal stories, hopes and ambitions, here and gone with little differentiation.

Every fan certainly remembers the Jorge Masvidal-Nate Diaz BMF fight and that Israel Adesanya completed his ascent of the UFC middleweight division during that time, but what else about those rapid-fire events stands out?

What do you remember about Kai Kara-France’s eighth straight win? Can you name the massive underdog who upset Michel Pereira on short notice? Who was the surging heavyweight who recently knocked out Andrei Arlovski?

If you can’t answer these questions without a Google search, you’re not alone. Few have the time or the bandwidth to watch all these events, let alone remember them with any clarity. There are too many disposable heroes.

While you compare the viewer’s choice to that of the four major sports, it’s not the same thing. Aside from the NFL, professional sports are mostly regional. Fans are focused on a local team during a season that occurs in a contained, defined time frame. Either the team is good, bad or somewhere in the middle. There are clear standings that shape the playoff race, and there are reams of statistics that delineate each league’s top teams and athletes. It is a simple path to follow, and in many cases, due to location proximity, you are surrounded by the story.

By contrast, MMA is a never-ending tangle of ambiguity with no geographic advantages and undefined paths to the top. How many consecutive wins necessitates a title shot? Why did Andrea Lee suddenly drop two slots in the rankings this week despite last fighting in early September? Why is Raulian Paiva ranked despite being 0-2 in the UFC? There are no good answers.

In team sports, every game is intrinsically part of something greater — a season. That season weaves its own story as it goes, with teams either leading or chasing in a race to the playoffs, and ultimately, the championship. But MMA does not have this luxury. Every fight night is its own event; every player pursues individual objectives. And every event, the UFC must attempt to build a new audience from scratch. This can work fantastically with unique personalities like Masvidal and Diaz; it is a much more difficult proposition with regular Joes like Jared Cannonier and Jack Hermansson. There are only so many narratives you can sell before it all starts feeling routine.

While I acknowledge these issues do not affect the basic watchability of any random broadcast you happen to tune into, they do reduce the product—and by extension the fighters—to little more than a trivial and passive diversion for much of the audience, and that’s a problem.

There was a time when the vast majority of fights on any given card had real stakes, but these days, we only rarely know what fighters are fighting for. The suffocating pace of the schedule is mostly to blame. With events coming and going, there is precious little time to either reflect on what has just happened or to anticipate what is to come. We are forced to simply try to keep up with the conveyor belt of fights constantly being delivered to us.

If you are a diehard, devoted UFC fanatic, this is all great. The UFC schedule is fast and constant, and your next fix is always a few days away. But the number of people who have 6+ hours to devote to fighting every Saturday night from now until the end of time, well, that’s a pretty small group of people, and with entertainment options constantly expanding, it’s more likely to shrink than grow.

Turns out, Alex is taking his cue from the wrong Busta Rhymes song. In his breakout performance on A Tribe Called Quest’s legendary “Scenario”—a jam that, by the way, would make a banging walkout track—Busta raps, “the rhythm is in sync, the rhymes are on time.” Sports are like music in that timing is everything. The right notes at the right moment are beautiful, while too many eventually become noise.


Is the UFC schedule too much, just right or not enough?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Too much
    (489 votes)
  • 34%
    Just right
    (309 votes)
  • 11%
    Not enough
    (99 votes)
897 votes total Vote Now

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