So I'm a rabid fan of the UFC, I've been watching these fight events since the beginning in 1993, in fact, just the other day I found a draw full of my old UFC VHS tapes(for anyone under 30, that's what we used before DVD's and streaming). Up until 2013 when we opened our own martial arts academy, I had watched every single fight event the UFC had ever produced, both under Semaphore Entertainment Group and Zuffa. I have consumed hundreds of hours of content, and watched thousands of fights, and consider myself a genuine fan of MMA, so I have been wanting to get a few gripes I have with the current state of the UFC off my chest. A form of Catharsis if you will.
I probably need to qualify that this Top 5 is subjective, and whether you agree or not probably depends on your perspective. If you're a fan you will more than likely agree with my Top 5, if you're a fighter, not so much, if you're the UFC "Hell No".
Before we get started we have a few dishonorable mentions:
The Judging; when are the various regulating bodies going to get it right?
Connor McGreggor; as a fan and a martial artist, I can't stand the way he hypes fights (more on this later).
Dana White; used to be a big fan, now just tired of his never ending press releases which turn out to be false.
Fighters Playing it Safe: I almost had to change it to a Top 6 for this one, there are a lot of perspectives. But at the end of the day, you're in the fight game, so get in the cage and try to take the other guys head off.
Now lets get on with the count down, the Top 5 Things Wrong With the UFC Today:
5. Weight Cuts
This one hits the list at 5 because of it's pure insanity. MMA is dangerous enough without adding the substantial health risks of severe weight cuts. Fighting, 10, 20, 30 pounds below your walk around weight, to try and secure a size advantage in your division, is crazy. To deplete your body and deny it of nutrients and water, just before making huge demands on your bodies resources, through massive exertion, physical duress and fatigue, just doesn't make sense.
What's more, is because most fighters routinely put their bodies through this process, their is no longer a competitive advantage. You have two fighters of basically the same size and weight, torturing themselves to get down to an agreed upon weight limit, just to rehydrate and pack the weight back on before the fight. So when these two gladiators enter the cage, they're both going to have packed 10+ pounds on, and the weight cut is all for nought?
The damage this is doing to their internal organs is just not worth any perceived benefit. People are routinely hospitalized after weigh ins, and in lower tier competition and other combat sports, people are dying in the ring, after their bouts, or in some cases they never make it to the ring after the weigh in.
What can be done to stop this practice? That's easy regulate against the practice, implement out of competition weigh ins to set a base line for fighters, set a weight limit that the fighters can safely cut to within a percentage of their walk around weight. Make people liable for severe weight cuts, fine the trainers, fine the promoters, but do something to eliminate this insanity, and save the fighters from themselves.
This ones an interesting entrant on our list, mostly because I don't really care whether fighters take steroids. Don't get me wrong, I understand Mark Hunt's frustration with having to repeatedly face fighters who are "juiced to the gills". Just take a look at his opponents; Brock Lesnar, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, Junior Dos Santos, Ben Rothwell, all popped for PED's. So yeah he's well within his rights to want to compete on an even playing field, and yes if he is severely injured or killed by a competitor on PED's, is it manslaughter? Maybe?
The reason I am non-plussed by steroid abuse, is probably because as a fan, there are some fighters I just want to see keep fighting. We would have missed out on bouts from Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson and many more... So as a fan I just want to see great fights, and many of these PED abusers have been in amazing fights, Mark Hunt Vs "Big Foot" Silva 1 is a great example. I want to give the old war horses the right to use TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) to extend their careers. And who doesn't want to see Jon Jones go up in weight, and rip through the heavy weight division? It seems like almost all of them are on PED's anyway. I want to see great fights, so how do we protect the clean from the tainted?
How do we create an even playing field? One solution could be to maintain or increase rigorous levels of testing by USADA and if you test positive, you can only compete against other competitors who have tested positive or who are open about their use. Have a second tier of competition where the older fighters, the novelty fights and the steroid abusers can compete, but not for titles, and no ranking. It's a bit left field, but it would be fun.
Aside from the above option, the UFC needs to draw a line in the sand and pick a side. Either you are against PED's and you test everyone (yes you Brock Lesnar) both in and out of competition, or you stop pretending it matters. If it does matter, then you need to ban fighters for life who test positive. This will send a clear message about what is acceptable, and will clean up the sport in no time.
Footnote, I think Mark Hunt will win in court.
3. Too Many Events
This ones a no brainer, and it's all about the quality of the product. There are just too many fight events on, and the quality of both the fighters and the match ups, has been severely diluted. I get it, the UFC is breaking in new territories and needs a lot of local talent to drive local crowds to the venues, but 3-4 events a month is just too much. The casual fan base doesn't know who these fighters are anyway, and the real MMA fans are being over exposed. This leads to them just not caring, and not watching. I remember the days when there was one PPV a month, no other events, and I would be jonesing for that next event. Six of the fights on every card would be absolutely top tier match ups, and the other six would be introducing new talent against well known journeyman. Take a look at this years, New Years event, historically the biggest fight card of the year; Cyborg Vs Holm...Ok, Nurmagomedov Vs Barboza...Ok, Condit Vs Magny...Ok, where is the rest of my fight card? I'm a Kiwi, so stoked to see Dan Hooker get the win, but any other year this would have been a prelim at best. It's a far cry from UFC 100. I know more events, means more opportunities for fighters, but the fan in me, would prefer the number of events per year to be halved, and to actually give a shit about who's fighting on the card.
2. Money Fights & Fight Hype
These two topics are inter connected "Money Fights"; putting on fights that are going to draw the largest event gate, while completely ignoring division ranking, and "Fight Hype", the act of talking your way into a big PPV fight, usually with a title at stake, and over hyping the fight with false bravado.
Lets start with "Money Fights", everyone seems to be talking about wanting the money fights, which as a professional athlete makes sense. But here's my issue; What is the purpose of a championship title, divisions and rankings, if all of these things are ignored in favor of signing fights between people who have either talked their way into a title fight (Chael Sonnen vs Anderson Silva 1, regardless of how close he came to defeating the GOAT), dredging up old rivalries to insulate the champion from the true contenders (Bisping vs Henderson 2), or people who are simply undeserving of a title shot, due to a loosing record, having been retired (GSP), or jumping weight divisions.
My view is, the divisions and ranking are there for a reason, use it. Let the true contenders know what their pathway to the title is and when they have done the work, give the most deserving the shot.
Secondly over hyping fights, or manufacturing rivalries just to get a fight, and then maintaining these faux rivalries throughout the promotion tour. As a martial arts educator, I teach children very early on to respect their opponents, respect the art form, and to conduct themselves in a manner which can bring pride and respect to our academy and to themselves. So to see the Connor McGregor's of the world, bad mouthing everyone, and the Colby Convingtons trying to manufacture animosity to leap frog the rankings to secure a "Money Fight", leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
You think you're tough, do your time, earn your position in the rankings and then let your skills do the talking, and after its all over, shake the hand of your worthy opponent. If kids can learn this, what is wrong with our MMA role models? Every year the UFC edges closer and closer to the WWE, and that's when doubt will start seeping in, is it real? Is it fixed? Stop the blight now, and lets get back to men of honor, fighting for glory, not just a pay cheque.
1. Interim Belts
Number 1 on our list is the use of interim championship belts, to hype fights to the casual viewer who doesn't no any better. These belts and bouts are a complete fraud, used for no other reason than to try and convince casual fans that the bout they are watching has some significance, when in reality they are really just number 1 contender bouts.
There are exceptions to the rule, when Frank Mir, had a motor bike accident and could not compete to defend his title, when Dominic Cruze was out for 2 years after repeated injuries (personally he should have been stripped of the title after a year), but 9 times out of 10 the reason for an interim belt is poor, and no more then hyping a number one contender bout.
The history of interim belts/bouts is littered with champions who are eventually promoted to be undisputed champions, as the previous champions fail to recover from injury and make it back to the octagon, so why call it an interim title, strip the previous champion and have a championship bout for the vacant title. This is a better promotional opportunity as the title is real.
One of the most pointless examples of an interim title is Robert Whittaker's title win over Yoel Romero, this happened just 5 months before Michael Bisping lost the real title to Georges st Pierre, in a "Money Fight". Bisping was present, and ready to fight within a couple of months. The Whittaker vs Romero fight needed to happen, but not for an interim title, the number 1 contender spot. Both Bisping and Whittaker even mocked the interim title in the post fight interviews, the fighters don't want interim titles, they want the real thing.
Currently we have Tony Ferguson holding an interim belt, while Connor McGregor holds up the division? I agree with El Cucuy, "defend or vacate the title". Two champions, when both are physically fit, and capable of competing? Whats worse is during the same Connor McGregor title reign we had McGregor holding up the featherweight division and Jose Aldo vs Frankie Edgar for another interim title? So lets get this straight Connor McGregor is a two division champion, who won an interim title in the featherweight division against Chad Mendes (Mendes had 2 weeks notice and gassed in a fight he was winning) which he has never defended, and the light weight title champion, which he has also never defended over a period of 2 years and six months. Come on UFC, you need to either strip champions who do not defend their titles within the year, and call the interim belt what it really is, either a number 1 contender bout, or a vacant title bout.
As you can see I take issue with Connor McGregor on a number of fronts, "Money Fights", "Fight Hype", "Interim Belts" and maybe he should be number 1 on this list, but at the end of the day, the UFC calls the shots, and he is only in a position to have become such a thorn in their side, because they allowed it to happen.
Should the UFC take steps to sorting some of these issues out, I believe they will have a much better product, and it will be both profitable for their bottom line, create a much better fan experience and improve safety for fighters.
Add comments to let me know if you agree with my TOP 5, or let me know what you would have included.
The writer Scott Coburn is a Taekwon-Do, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai practitioner and founding owner of The Martial Arts Academy NZ.