Marco Antico had a very interesting article on his website at MarcoAntico.com about how he feels the future of MMA will go. This is from MarcoAntico.com.
by Marco Antico – 02/19/2006
As an avid follower of mixed martial arts (MMA) I often find myself thinking about how this sport will evolve over time. Some things are anyone’s guess but other things I believe are predictable. One only needs to examine where the true value lies and look at the examples already set forth by other sports and big business. Here’s what I mean:
We live in a capitalistic society which dictates that it is natural for there to be great inequalities among a society’s workforce. The MMA industry is no different. Fighters that sell tickets and pay-per-views (i.e. Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz) will make substantially more money than those that the average fan has never heard of. Yet, with all the recent successes of the sport the fact that most Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters make $10,000 or less per fight is a little shocking.
If these fighters compete 3 times a year they’ll still be around to the poverty line after taxes and fight preparation costs (i.e. trainers, managers etc.). If it weren’t for sponsorships they’d likely be unable to continue their MMA careers.
Why should the UFC pay any more than they have to?
The UFC is a profit and not a charitable organization. Why should they pay anymore than the market dictates? Right now, with no other organization giving these fighters near the amount of exposure as the UFC, they can actually afford to pay these fighters less than other organizations. For example, they offered Chris Brennan five times less his fight purse offered to him by the Gracie Fighting Championship.
Brennan made the uncommon choice and turned the UFC down to which the UFC responded (according to Brennan) by calling him “an idiot”.
The UFC will not pay their fighters more until they’re forced to do so. They will not be forced to raise their purses until they get real competition in the North American market.
The International Fighting League
The International Fighting League (IFL) is the new kid on the block. They have come up with a new concept of having MMA teams compete in a regular season type system, similar to other professional sporting leagues. I believe a lot of things with the IFL are still up in the air but as of right now they have contacted individuals such as Bas Rutten, Pat Miletich, Renzo Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Randy Couture and other very popular MMA personalities to be coaches. They have also contacted fighters such as Duane Ludwig, Urijah Faber, Sam Stout and Krystof Soszynski and promised them a stable salary as opposed to a typical fight contract. Teams will be named after deadly animals such as Anaconda and Viper.
They will have three, three minute rounds with all the traditional UFC rules except for no elbows to the head. They’ve got a tentative deal with ESPN 2 and Fox Sports Net to broadcast a weekly show.
But, MMA isn’t a team sport… Despite their good intentions, the IFL’s concept is seriously flawed. The IFL is banking on the fact that people will watch MMA on free television.
This may be true. But, MMA is not a team sport and trying to make it into one is not giving the fans what they want. Unlike team sports in which there are 11 people on the field at the same time trying to put a ball into a net, in MMA there is only one person in the ring against another trying to knock them out or submit them. Fans are not going to care which group of 5 individuals are better than another selected group of individuals. They’re going to want to see the best competing against the best in the potentially most entertaining fight possible.
The IFL is geared to give the fighters what they want (i.e. a stable source of income and wide exposure to a television audience) but it fails to deliver what the fans want and thus consequently has little chance of succeeding.
Part of the IFL’s marketing ploy is to emphasize the fact that each team has their own style of martial arts and hence intrigue the audience to see which is superior. This may have worked if the year were still 1993 but today everyone cross trains in various disciplines so this concept somewhat no longer applies.
Gracie fighters may be more proficient in grappling than Rutten’s fighters who are better versed in striking. This clash of teams may prove interesting for one episode but it will quickly grow tiresome. Further, often times it actually makes for a more entertaining fight when two excellent strikers do battle or two proficient grapplers square off. By not allowing fighters with similar styles to fight it actually hinders the show’s ability to produce the most exciting match-ups.
It’s the fighters themselves that make people want to tune in. The rest is irrelevant. The team concept will quickly become a sort of distraction and restraint on what people really want to see. The IFL may draw viewers initially, but their inherent concept is flawed and thus there is little chance of it becoming a long term success.
The Art of Match-Making
The UFC always used to strive to make the best possible match-up. Long time ago, Pat Miletich was quoted as saying, “we should enjoy the sport now while it’s pure because once the Don King types get involved things are going to change”. I wonder what Pat’s opinion is now of the sport being “pure”.
With the commercial success of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), the UFC no longer necessarily looks to make the best possible match-up, but instead they now arrange the match-ups which make the most financial sense. Sometimes the two things coincide as is the case with UFC 58: Rich Franklin versus David Loiseau. Unfortunately, other times we must suffer through undeserved title shots such as Nate Quarry versus Rich Franklin (which I hope has given the UFC a well deserved lesson on the dangers of mismatches).
One needs to look no further than UFC 58 to see how the UFC’s match- making has become biased. The reality show stars from The Ultimate Fighter call it “being able to showcase their talents”. A more objective viewpoint would call it favoritism.
Joe Doerksen versus Nathan Marquardt – Doerksen’s most dangerous on the ground. There is arguably no ground fighter currently in the UFC that is better than Marquardt.
Mike Swick versus Steve Vigneault – Vigneault has shown his vulnerability to strikers with fast hands (i.e. Chris Fontaine, Patrick Cote, David Loiseau, Sean Pierson). Swick is best known for his quick hands.
Mark Hominick versus Yves Edwards – Hominick is a phenomenal striker but he’s being pitted against probably the best striker in all of MMA who is bigger and more powerful than him.
Kenny Florian versus Sam Stout – Stout’s only loss was to a good ground fighter, Jay Estrada. Florian is a black belt in jiu-jitsu.
Dear Joe Silva, why not match-up Matt Serra against Kenflo?
Kenny Florian and Mike Swick are former reality show stars and therefore the UFC wants to continue to build them up. Yves Edwards is the uncrowned UFC champion at 155lbs and Nathan Marquardt has been in the main event of a live SPIKE TV show. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the UFC chose to give these fighters preferred match-ups as well.
Sure, the Canadians still have a decent chance at winning. However, I bet that Canada would at least split the series if you rearranged these match-ups accordingly:
Joe Doerksen versus Mike Swick
Steve Vigneault versus Nathan Marquardt
Sam Stout versus Yves Edwards
Mark Hominick versus Kenny Florian
Do you doubt the point I am trying to prove? Allow me to present exhibit A if it pleases the court:
Stars from “The Ultimate Fighter” are a combined 18 wins and only 3 losses when facing non-reality show fighters in the UFC.
The only three losses are Nate Quarry versus Rich Franklin, Josh Koscheck versus Drew Fickett and Melvin Guillard versus Josh Neer. All other 18 times, the TUF stars have been able to overcome their non-reality show adversaries. There is nothing else that can explain this other than biased match-making.
One may say, “Perhaps they’re really just that good”. I would counter that argument by saying, “Do you think that the UFC is incapable of finding fighters of equal caliber to give them more competition?” For example, Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture are barely above .500 in their most recent fights because they’ve been competing against the best. Only champions such as Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, Emelianenko Fedor and Takanori Gomi have such impressive streaks of victory as the TUF stars do. Are TUF stars world class champions such as these fighters? I think not.
With the increased frequency of events on pay-per-view and on free television, the UFC must now increase their stable of fighters and spread out their marquee match-ups. The UFC will look to make one or two best possible match-ups per fight card and likely think two or three steps ahead with the other match-ups on the card.
The Real Threat Lies Within
Many people wondered the purpose of the UFC trying to trademark the term, “Fighting Championship”. This move, along with resigning their marketable personalities, was done by the UFC to protect themselves against potential future competitors. Unfortunately, for the UFC the real threat actually lies from within! The casual fan doesn’t care whether the mat says UFC, ROTR, TKO, WEC, PRIDE, K-1 and so forth. The true value of the UFC’s product lies not in the packaging of their event, but rather in the fighters themselves. It’s the fighters that people will spend money to watch. At the end of the day, it’s the fighters that will hold all the chips and not the UFC.
Who can be credited with selling more pay-per-view buys and tickets?
Nothing is stopping HBO from one day deciding to contact Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell to fight on their first ever MMA pay-per-view. This is the unfortunate paradigm facing the UFC. The bigger they grow the sport, the bigger their fighters will become and the less that they’ll be able to control salaries and loyalty. Their greatest fear will indeed come true: Tito Ortiz will become bigger than the UFC! As will Chuck Liddell, Andrei Arlovski, Rich Franklin and other top fighters with marketable personalities.
UFC versus PRIDE Will Happen, Eventually
Both companies are currently doing very well financially in their respective market places. Neither company likely has it on their radar screen to set up an inter-company competition anytime soon. It may not happen immediately but sooner or later the best of the UFC are going to have to face the best of PRIDE.
Can you imagine the NFL without the Superbowl or the NHL without the Stanley Cup? The only reason the best in MMA do not fight each other right now is because the sport is not yet mainstream enough. When the day comes (and that day may not be far away) that MMA is talked about at the office water cooler, written about in every newspaper and shown on every sports network the pressures to see Fedor Emalianenko versus Andrei Arlovski and Wanderlei Silva versus Chuck Liddell will grow. As explained above, the UFC and PRIDE may not even be the organization which puts forth such fights.
When will we really know who the best in the world is?
If you haven’t already noticed, both companies are already well into their rematch phase as very few “dream fights” have not yet occurred. Some champions such as Fedor Emelianenko and Chuck Liddell have already exhausted all number one challengers in their respective organizations.
As the sport grows, the fans will demand it and the financial incentives will be present to arrange such an event.
The true value in MMA, as is the case in all other professional sports, lies in the athletes. It is the athletes that will dictate how this sport will be run in the future. Promoters will eventually lose their ability to control fighter salaries and loyalty. We fans will continue to get more MMA exposure and we will eventually get to see the match-ups we always wanted. Team concepts and other non-tradtitional presentations of the sport will come and go but the every man for himself concept will always reign supreme.
The real concern to fans is the danger of MMA adopting some of the undesirable traits exhibited by boxing. Will the best fighters only fight once a year against legitimate competition? Will the fighters no longer be accessible to the fans? Will corruption and fight-fixing become a concern? The answers to these questions also lie with the MMA athlete.