The UFC (and other MMA promotions) are part of a unique industry. MMA is not exactly a sport, nor is it strictly an entertainment business either.
The absence of rules and regulations that govern other sports have given fighters the ability to game the system in a way that would never occur in a legitimate sport. No fighter exemplifies this more than Conor McGregor. In a few short years the Dubliner has gone from a relatively unknown European commodity to UFC featherweight champion and celebrity.
He has not exactly been shy about the money he has made along the way either. Luxurious cars, fancy clothing and proclamations of wealth are practically standard issue in any McGregor interview. While his antics are not exactly universally embraced, they are extremely effective and very impactful on the industry. For years the UFC seemed to be marching towards becoming a legitimate sport. In 2016 it seems to be speeding in the opposite direction. Such is the power of McGregor. Indeed, it seems that everyone wants a piece of the Mac life.
Take Tyron Woodley for example. Just a few weeks ago “The Chosen One” knocked out Robbie Lawler to win the UFC welterweight championship. Immediately following his win, Woodley utterly dismissed the notion that he should fight number one contender Stephen Thompson. To him it seemed irrelevant that Thompson is on a seven-fight win streak.
Instead, Woodley called out for a fight with either Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz. It was decidedly odd. Diaz hasn’t won a fight since 2011 and GSP has been in a state of semi-retirement since 2013. Neither of them are the most logical of contenders for a newly-minted champ to call out. So what’s the deal? The answer is very simple. Money. Money. And some more Money.
Remember, your average joe has 40 plus years to save up enough money for retirement. Fighters do not have the luxury of such an expansive amount of time. Rather, they get around ten to fifteen years if they are really durable and avoid major injuries. But even the very best fighters only make serious money for a few of those years. So it is understandable that Woodley feels pressure to maximise his earnings during his small window. Who can blame him? If McGregor is allowed to designate his opponents, move up weight classes, hold an entire division hostage, and get paid millions of dollars to do it, then why can’t Woodley? He is the champ. Doesn’t he deserve it?
Sadly, McGregor and Woodley are not unique in their cash grab attitude. On July 7th Eddie Alvarez knocked out Rafael dos Anjos to become the new lightweight king. Just like Woodley, Alvarez has openly rejected the idea of fighting the number one contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. Instead, he has decided that he wants to fight the winner of McGregor vs Diaz II. So once again the question is, what’s the deal? Well, not to get redundant, but the answer is once again, Money. Money. And some more Money.
But the McGregor effect does not stop there. Don’t forget the middleweight division. Michael Bisping shocked the world on June 4th when he seized the belt from Luke Rockhold with a first round knockout. Recently Bisping’s first title defence was announced. It is not a rematch with Rockhold. It is not a fight with Chris Weidman or Jacare Souza. Nope, those would make way too much sense.
Instead, he is fighting Dan Henderson. That’s right, Bisping gets to fight a 45-year-old who is ranked number 12 and has only won two of his last five fights. Again, that is decidedly odd… Until you compare it to everything that has been going on in other divisions. Henderson has a bigger name than either Weidman, Rockhold or Souza and he will likely result in a bevy of pay-per-view buys for the middleweight champ. In which case it kind of makes sense that Bisping doesn’t have to fight the number one contender. Why should he if no one else does? So what the heck. Why not add one more illegitimate title contender to the list?
Now not everyone is going to agree with the sentiment that MMA should be regulated like a traditional sport. A lot of fans really enjoy the fact that Henderson gets the opportunity to try and ride off into the sunset with a UFC belt. But regardless of how you feel about it, it is a slippery slope.
Within the last two years the UFC has passed over legitimate title contenders in favour of higher PPV sales in nearly every division. It is rapidly becoming commonplace and is completely and totally unfair to the fighters. Ryan Bader, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Stephen Thompson, Frankie Edgar, Max Holloway, Khabib Nurmagomedov and many others are all suffering because there is now a precedent set that it is more appropriate to chase a piece of the Mac life than to actually defend a UFC title against a worthy opponent.
For their sake, I hope that the sport becomes legitimised and subject to regulations, and that this precedent ends soon.
Jacob Miller, Pundit Arena