Over the past few years, the UFC has been under scrutiny due to decisions they’ve made in just about every aspect of the business. Of course, everybody else are experts from these respective fields. Both burdened and privileged with the task of making mixed martial arts a mainstream sport, the UFC has two very clear objectives needed to make this a real thing. Firstly, the sport must take care of it’s fighters. It is fair to argue that any sport where the athletes are not making a good deal of money and being taken care of in other aspects is not mainstream according to modern society. Secondly, they must entertain the fans to a level where the major media outlets have no choice but to cover it. Whether or not the UFC has already reached this level with ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and other news sources publishing content every day is something some may argue. As a matter of fact, it’s something I guarantee that fans will argue as they seem to voice their discontent at just about anything these days. Somehow, the once happy, fight-loving fans have become a culture of complainers who have to doubt each decision that the front office of the world’s largest MMA promotion makes. However, if one truly wants to play the blame game, fans should look no further than themselves. Afterall, they are the ones making the decisions.
The event formerly known as UFC 151 produced undoubtedly the largest fan uproar in the history of mixed martial arts. The finger pointing spun around faster than a twister wheel at a gymnast’s birthday party. Fingers were pointed at Jon Jones, Greg Jackson, Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, eventually Lyoto Machida and hey, while we’re at it, let’s blame Steven Seagal too. While fans gripped on message boards, Twitter and Facebook, many, myself included, felt that our complaints were falling on deaf ears. After all, how often do large sports organizations, let alone combat sports, listen to the common man? However, it only took a few short weeks for the effects of the internet riot to be seen.
With the UFC losing both Jose Aldo and Quinton Jackson in the same day, and as a result losing both the main event and co-main event to UFC 153, the Zuffa heads responded the way that the masses asked on the previous occasion of such trouble. Rather than scratching another card, Dana and the gang did absolutely anything that they could to save it. They called their big guns, their go-tos and a couple of old friends and finally made a match. Pairing pound-for-pound kingpin Anderson Silva with long time fan favorite Stephan Bonnar was an intriguing and fan-friendly, even if not necessarily evenly matched choice. So, of course, the masses must have flooded to those same boards to thank Dana for saving the event and the undercard fighters who would have lost their fights. They must have flooded to their cable box to buy the event in gratitude right? No, instead the message boards again wreaked with complaints about the brass setting unfair fights that have no relevance to a title picture and will not further Silva’s legacy an inch. These are, indeed, the same people who asked why Jon Jones would turn down a fight with Chael Sonnen. Although this may just seem like a small instance of the MMA community acting naive to their influence on things, it is but the latest in a long line of issues that they’ve helped deliver the verdict on.
In January of 2012, Outside the Lines, a ESPN produced weekly show, put together a piece on the apparent low pay scale of the UFC. Several fighters were quoted in the show, although no names were used in efforts to protect the fighters from being unfairly prosecuted by their employer. This hour-long segment introduced even the most casual fan to the basic idea of the income that the UFC supplies their employees with. Although Dana White tried to remind the viewing public that this does not include bonuses, both announced and unannounced, fans once again worked themselves into a frenzy, even going as far to claim that this is the biggest issue keeping MMA from being a mainstream sport. Once again, despite the majority’s expectations of their complaints, the UFC listened and took action in short time.
The biggest change that the UFC made in regards to the Outside the Lines report was the increase of cards. Beginning with additional Fox cards and soon following up with a handful on FX and FuelTV the UFC began holding fights at nearly a weekly rate. As this trend continued, my excitement level rose, because who doesn’t enjoy more fights and plus, this was a greater chance for the little guy to get on more cards. More cards means more fights, more fights means more paychecks. I slowly fell into shock as my enthusiasm was not matched as the internet warriors held picket signs and screamed out against watered down cards and channels that their cable service didn’t provide, simultaneous I might add. “Surely, this can’t be”, I thought to myself. It was and continued to be even in the second line of defense against this report.
Although admittedly before the report came out, the UFC’s relatively new insurance policy was put in place to do exactly what the drones of groaning requests asked for; help for the little man. In May of 2011, the Zuffa, UFC’s parent company, activated an insurance policy for fighters who get injured training for a bout. It allows them to still get paid and to receive medical treatment. Fighters raved about it starting with Cub Swanson who became the first person to benefit from it. Fans reacted similarly at first, seeing that it would be something that takes care of the fighters that put their bodies on the line for the entertainment of the public. Yet, once again, the fickle fan turned on something that they once pushed and, after passing, praised. Now, it is the constant target of every injury that forces a fighter off the card. With the recent string of injuries, it’s seen more bashing than Cabbage Correira’s head. After the focus had shifted off Jones, than off Dana, and one more trip to Jones, the insurance policy was on the firing range. While it seems ludicrous that people would be upset at something that takes care of the athletes that they idolize, that’s exactly what happened.
Does it stop at flip flopping on matters such as undercard fighters? Does it end with the chastising of the people who are just trying to give the fans what they want? Of course not, I could write pages upon pages more about fans getting bent out of shape about things they asked for; the coaches of the ultimate fighter tying up titles for too long vs. the irrelevant coaches match up, or the lack of talent on TUF vs cancelling open tryouts in favor of invite only. Now, I’m not saying that I agree with every choice that the management makes. I far from agree with every choice that Dana makes, but I absolutely get where each decision comes from. They listen to the fans and weigh the options and what they think the fans want and they do this all while fans throw fruit from the galleries. Fans have always made the statement that they want the fighters to have that “gladiator spirit”; the gusto that drives fighters to go out and finish every time. I have to ask though, when did we as fans lose our gladiator fanhood? When did we stop being the people at the colosseum who cheered for sport and enjoyed the victories? When did we become so entitled that we think we have the rights to make the decisions for the business? And most importantly, why don’t we all realize that we are making the decisions? Dana is just doing it for us.