An Editorial by Mitch Gobetz, MMAWeekly.com
Is Mixed Martial Arts Now a Fighter’s Market?
With the emergence of all of the MMA surrounding us, one might ask, “Is this the golden era for fighters in mixed martial arts in North America?” This sport has gone from being almost extinct about four to five years ago, to being the fastest growing sport in the United States. Now that MMA can be seen by a nationwide audience on free TV the sport is changing in front of our eyes. No longer are the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride the only organizations that fighters aspire to be in. The fighters now have options and many of those options come with bigger paychecks than those offered in the UFC or Pride.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been the face of MMA in North America and many people think that the UFC is synonymous with mixed martial arts and to some extent, it is. The UFC has done a phenomenal job promoting their brand and now many people refer to MMA as “ultimate fighting”, just as tissues are referred to as Kleenex. However, there are many organizations popping up that hope to compete with the UFC.
With the popularity of MMA growing, other promotions have tried to get their hand in the pie. Some organizations such as the WFA failed, however other promotions such as the International Fight League (IFL) and Strikeforce have had some success with fighters like Frank Shamrock, Paul Buentello, Mark Kerr and Jens Pulver competing for them. Pride has now entered the US market and hopes to be a force. Their first show in Las Vegas drew pretty well considering that Pride is mostly known by the hardcore fans in the United States. With the high level of talent that Pride has under their payroll, they will be very hard to ignore if their marketing is done correctly. Showtime and Pro Elite have struck a deal and has the backing of notable boxing promoter Gary Shaw. The Showtime deal could also prove to be pivotal for MMA because it will be the first mixed martial arts contest shown on a premium cable station, although it sounds as if the Zuffa-owned WEC will soon be on HBO. Zuffa also owns the UFC. Gary Shaw has a reputation for putting on blockbuster boxing fights and making the fighters a lot of money. The Showtime deal seems like the right direction for MMA to go into because they have indicated that they are going to be promoting the fighters and not the brand.
Fighters now have the opportunity to make better money than they could have only two years ago. The UFC is no longer the only means to financial gain as a fighter. Fighters are starting to branch out and explore other opportunities. The days of where the biggest paydays came only from the UFC in the United States are behind us. While fighters like Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell get paid in the high six and maybe even seven figures, the vast majority of fighters do not even come close to that kind of payday. Fighters like Matt Lindland, Eddie Alvarez and Jake Shields have decided to control their own destiny and they choose not to fight in the top two promotions in mixed martial arts, opting out for a higher payday by other organizations such as the IFL and BodogFight. It’s becoming a point where the fighters are a bigger commodity than the brand.
Why is this essential? Simple. As fighters become the most valuable asset, it will eventually force the promoters to work together in forming some of the marquee match-ups that many die hard fans have been clamoring to see. There will come a point where the card might read “Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva”, because that’s what the fans want to see. Most fans are not buying the card because it says UFC 66. They are buying the card because of Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell. When we see the promoters working together, it will be a true sign of a new era in MMA, and therefore a new ranking system can be implemented. When will this happen? Only time will tell, but I would say sooner rather than later.