This was something that has really come to light with the events of the previous week involving Jon Jones and UFC 151 having to be canceled. The cancellation was the first for a UFC show in eleven years, but it really spoke to the issue of oversaturation of UFC in MMA due to the fact that one fight having to be called off forced an entire show to be canceled. And when you consider that the Koscheck/Ellenberger fight already had to be switched around due to an injury to Koscheck, the card had nothing left other than Jones/Hendo as far as marketability. Whether or not you believe the show needed to be canceled is up to you, but it definitely had to be pulled from pay-per-view because there was nothing left on the card that could draw people to pay $45.
Ever since UFC's rise began in 2005, they've been running more and more shows each year. Not only running more shows, but UFC cards are now televised on FX, Fuel TV, Fox for the network broadcasts, and pay-per-view, not to mention The Ultimate Fighter going live. Naturally, this is part of the promotion's expansion. The problem that has only recently began to really make itself visible is that the combination of fighters fighting less times per year than in the previous era and a promotion running more shows every year creates the need for more fighters. But if you have so many fighters on the roster and so few of them are becoming legitimate stars drawing big PPV buy numbers and paid attendance numbers, you have a problem.
The problem is that with so many fighters, so many shows, so much to keep track of, it has become harder to create marginal stars, and have instead had to rely on creating a few major stars and relying on them to provide the big paydays. And what I mean by marginal stars are the guys who are able to draw fair to good numbers on pay-per-view as well as bring people to pay-per-views or televised shows they're fighting on, even if it isn't in the main-event. A lot of the marginal stars in MMA today are stars from yesteryear that were draws in Japan or big draws when they first came to UFC. But if the sport is to move forward, they need to be able to fill cards up with fighters that people find compelling or are getting behind. I understand completely that this is a sport and you can't predict how every single fighter is going to be received by the public, but maybe that means there are too many fighters on the roster.
It may sound weird since this is a real sport and everything, but it is not only possible, but UFC may be demonstrating it right now that there is such a thing as having too many fighters on your roster. Other than the major stars, is there really a difference between the amount of air time the marginal stars and everyone else gets in UFC? The marginal stars certainly get hyped more than those below them, but because UFC tries to get as many different fighters on T.V. as possible, I don't think there really is. UFC has their fighters that draw big PPV buy numbers, but they don't have guys (even the marginal stars) who can help the televised numbers rise to a greater level or the network broadcasts get out of a ratings hole or draw by themselves on a PPV card that is without one of those big stars or a few marginal stars.
And to clarify something: it's not a matter of there not being dominant fighters in UFC. A person can become a draw or a star for putting on great & entertaining fights consistently while possessing the “fighting spirit” that people look for in a fighter just as easily as they could by simply winning every fight, sometimes more easily.
Even more than the great majority of fighters not having the “It Factor” that creates stars instantly, the fact that UFC is the only game in town when it comes to MMA is a major factor in them oversaturating the MMA market.
This is the key difference between MMA and basically every other sport, including boxing: there has to be an alternative. With boxing, there technically is an alternative because there are so many different promoters. This is something that has helped create stars in boxing over the years, and even though there needs to be less promoters in boxing, there can't be only one.
With every team sport, the difference is in the title: it is a TEAM sport, not an individual sport the way combat sports are. In team sports, the team's performance as a group can be manipulated as an additional boost to create a star out of the most popular athletes in the sport. That is not to diminish the singular achievements of the greats in football, basketball, baseball, etc., but the fact that fans everywhere constantly use championships (or lack thereof) to justify how great a certain player was shows that my point is true; championships are completely TEAM achievements as no one man wins a championship over another team, they can play a major role, but they don't do it by themselves.
The other thing that these sports have that MMA doesn't is the added benefit of athletes who are already stars by the time they turn pro thanks to collegiate (amateur) competition. Thanks to the exposure and (many times) hyperbole that this lower level of competition gives these athletes, they are already stars by the time they go pro. Some of these athletes don't pan out and eventually fizzle out in star value, but even that doesn't matter because all of these sports have another thing in common that makes absolutely sure that they won't die as respective sports: a revolving door of star talent.
If you look at all of those sports, every era has always had a healthy amount of talents that wow people and draw people to the arenas and stadiums, some more so than others and some eras more than others, but there's always been talent in these sports that can be sold to people and that people pay to see. Combat sports don't have such a revolving door because, once again, it's solely about the individual capturing the public's imagination and then the promotional machine of the promotion that fighter is involved with comes into play.
In MMA, there has to be a real alternative, there simply has to be. If not from outside of the Zuffa umbrella, then they need to get off their collective asses and actually attempt to turn Strikeforce into something more than it currently is. Otherwise, the sport is going to turn into what boxing has turned into: a sport with a few major stars, no marginal stars, and every other fighter involved having no real shot at becoming a star and living fight to fight, paycheck to paycheck.
But maybe this was something that was building and nobody was paying attention. I know I wasn't. And I should have been. I admit this because for years I have written about how it was necessary for UFC to have kept Pride open, by any means or any cost necessary, for the greater good of the sport in many ways. It would've helped prevent the issue of oversaturation that now should be a real issue with UFC. Making a real go of it with Strikeforce from the moment they bought them would've helped. But maybe Bellator will make something of a smash when they finally start up on Spike next year. It would be a good thing for the sport if they do.
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