If the public dispute between the UFC and Georges St-Pierre (GSP) is in actuality a corporate tussle between WME-IMG and CAA or the battleground of Under Armour and Reebok, the future of the sport may be in peril.
Publicly, UFC president Dana White maintains that St-Pierre is not fighting anytime soon because St-Pierre no longer has the “fire” that it takes to compete in the UFC. GSP, meanwhile, claims that he is now a “free agent” due to the promotion’s inability to schedule a fight for him.
With a mediocre UFC 206 card emanating from Toronto, Ontario, Canada just around the corner, it is absolutely perplexing that GSP is not involved in an event that could be a part of the greatest pay-per-view trifecta in UFC history.
In dissecting this conundrum, respected MMA and Boxing writer Kevin Iole of Yahoo hinted at the unlikely but possible idea that this feud is actually between cooperate entities.
Currently, GPS is sponsored by Under Armour, while the UFC has an exclusive partnership with Reebok. Additionally, GSP is represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the primary competitor of UFC parent company WME-IMG.
GSP established both of these business relationships prior to the UFC’s respective deals.
If there is any merit to these outside companies controlling UFC booking, the future of MMA as a whole may face uncharted struggles.
In one sense, GSP is the last major player who could realistically return to The Octagon from, as Ben Fowlkes of MMAJunkie.com puts it, “the old UFC” prior to Reebok and WME-IMG entering into the picture, but the impact of these types of dealings can influence the next generation of UFC fighters.
To use an imperfect but fitting analogy, the MMA world can look to the current state of youth basketball in America where apparel companies are the dark figure that are always looming over collegiate recruiting.
If it is to be believed that company allegiances can influence college choices, what is to stop companies associated with the UFC from influencing the earnings and sponsorships of fighters prior to entering into the UFC?
While the UFC’s partnership with Reebok has effectively ended the importance of independent sponsorships for UFC fighters, these types of deals are still important for fighters outside of the UFC realm.
If prospects are reticent about finding sponsorships with entities that are in competition with the UFC’s partners, the reach of the UFC’s monopoly of MMA will only increase to areas where they should have no official bearing.
Similarly, agency rivalries like WME-IMG and CAA have to potential to hold up major fights in the same way that promotional battles prevent mega boxing bouts.
Consider GSP’s treatment as a client of CAA in contrast to that of Ronda Rousey, a WME-IMG client.
Rousey was afforded time off, granted an immediate title fight, and has been universally praised by Dana White in the same interviews where he decides to take jabs at GSP.
It may be a foolish question, but it is worth pondering if Rousey and the UFC having symbiotic business interests plays some role in the UFC’s booking of the transcendent star.
These theories run the risk of turning conspiratorial, but in this current era of unpredictability, misleading fight announcements, bi-monthly “Supper-cards,” layoffs, and public fighter dissent, it’s inevitable and justiable that mystifying booking decisions will be subject to a level of scrutiny that the UFC has rarely experienced.
BREEN FINDS DIAMOND IN ROUGH WEEK
In the past week WME-IMG has become the biggest villain in the sport, in part because of the aforementioned GSP situation, and part due to the wave of fighter and office layoffs that swept the UFC over the past week.
These layoffs are a harsh reminder of the realities of corporate culture, and further illustrate the now very real prospect that the landscape of the UFC will be drastically different in 2017.
As a counterbrace to the grim nature of these proceedings, Jordan Breen of Sherdog.com presented a thought provoking argument about the upside of this unfortunate transition.
At the crux of Breen’s argument is the premise that these changes will lead to the reduction of UFC events, and as a result make those cards much stronger.
Breen quips: “In the last three years, the sheer volume of UFC cards has become a pervasive theme and talking point, constantly recurring and implicitly working its way into almost any MMA conversation.”
The oversaturation argument occurs so often because, quite frankly, it is absolutely true.
This argument is especially timely because we are currently in a stretch where the UFC will be dormant for 27 days.
In many ways this is a refreshing change of pace, and helps build anticipation to UFC 205.
Breen makes several arguments on the sometimes sad state of Fight Night cards on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass. While this is absolutely true, the point is also currently relevant to every UFC pay-per-view event sandwiched between massive spectacles.
UFC 201 suffered from being the valley between the peaks of UFC 200 and UFC 202; a GSP-less UFC 206 will suffer the same fate as the low points between the historic UFC 205 and Ronda Rousey’s return at UFC 207.
No matter how perfectly the UFC tries to book their cards, it is impossible to guarantee a destination event every month.
A total reduction of events would intuitively strengthen the remaining events, while possibly passively fill other promotions such as Bellator MMA and World Series of Fighting signing fringe UFC fighters.
All of this is assuming that the “New UFC” does as good of a job promoting their product as the “Old UFC” did over the past 10 years.
THE MAKING OF MACKENZIE AND THE UNIQUE STORYTELLING OF MMA
Shaun Al-Shatti of MMAFighting.com recently penned an interesting article chronicling the rise of Legacy FC’s Mackenzie Dern.
Dern’s journey growing up as a ju-jitsu obsessed adolescent, rise to champion, transition to MMA, and her current balancing act of ju-jitsu and MMA is covered extensively.
Pieces like this highlight a very unique biographical element to in women’s MMA.
With a sport that is in even further infancy than the male iteration, female fighters can be a throwback to early singular disciplinary era of MMA.
If Dern’s career takes off, she could potentially join the ranks of Ronda Rousey (An Olympic judo medalist) or Holly Holm (A championship boxer) as accomplished female combat sports practitioners who have parlayed their success into gold in the UFC.
The interest from both the MMA community and mainstream sports media that Olympians Kala Harrison and Helen Maroulis received over the summer indicates that the public is scouting female fighters from places other than local MMA shows.
Every discipline has interesting narratives within themselves; those narratives are sparse on the male side and will only have a limited shelf-life on the female side, as the sport continues to grow.
Now is the time to read and write these stories.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S “MEDIA & BUSINESS” COLUMN: Navigating the Ronda Rousey media narratives – Is she a villain now? Will this be her last fight? Will she ever be the same?
(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)