It is fair to say that the UFC pay-per-view landscape in 2017 looks lackluster at best. While many of the announced fights are presumed to appeal to the ardent base of UFC fans, they are not likely to register on a mainstream scale. This may be an immediate concern, but it is not one that should cause panic among UFC fans or brass.
This “problem” is largely viewed as a result of the rush of major stars having major fights at the close of 2016. Between UFC 205 in November and UFC 207 on December 31, seven of the UFC’s ten titles (including an interim title) were contested.
Additionally, the UFC’s two current pay-per-view stalwarts (Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey) are seemingly on ice for the foreseeable future.
It is in the rise of Rousey and McGregor that the UFC faithful can look at, and recall that stars are not created overnight.
While Rousey had a degree of stardom upon her entry into the UFC, she did not draw the mythical 1,000,000 pay-per-view buys in a headlining capacity until her stunning defeat to Holly Holm in her seventh UFC fight.
This point is made not to suggest that Rousey was not the star that the UFC machine has made her out to be, but to emphasize that it took valiant work by Rousey and the UFC to turn her into an automatic 1,000,000 buys.
As many have noted in recent months, Rousey was a masterful self-promoter, particularly adept at using the media outside of the MMA bubble to sell her brand and the validity of the UFC. It took work to create the Rousey-meteor, work that could be done with a contemporary UFC fighter.
On the other hand, Conor McGregor drew over 800,000 pay-per-view buys in his first UFC headlining bout. His rise to the top may have been relatively quick, but his stardom was showcased on several non-pay-per-view UFC events.
As silly as it sounds in retrospect, at some point McGregor had to beat Dennis Siver on a UFC Fight Night card before ascending to the top of the UFC’s pay-per-view ecosystem.
McGregor did not come out of the gate demanding fights across divisions and courting retired boxing legends into possible fights; he used the UFC apparatus to transform himself into the biggest star in UFC history.
Unfortunately for the UFC, Rouseys and McGregors do not just grow on trees (see Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt), but these once-in-a-generation talents came to prominence during a time the UFC was in a comparable situation as the present day.
At the start of 2014, the UFC was seemingly facing a similar star void after the departure of Georges St. Pierre, but instead of retreating into the niche section of society that MMA came from, the promotion instead experienced a second (or maybe third) renaissance period.
The current UFC landscape may be the end of the current boom period, or perhaps the promotion is in the middle of an even longer period of prosperity. If the latter is true, it will have to be anchored by a fresh crop of UFC headliners.
For their part, UFC absolutely has work to do in order to ensure that they do not experience a prolonged period in the pay-per-view doldrums, but their current track record with such issues suggests that they will accomplish this goal.
While many aspects of the UFC’s business practices could (and should) be scrutinized, their star-building is a clear area of strength for the company.
Business might be down for a short time, but don’t expect that period to last for a prolonged period of time.
FOWLKES’ TAKE ON NEW STARS
On the subject of moving on from the established core of current UFC stars and transitioning to the next set of headliners, Ben Fowlkes penned an interesting take on the future of the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Division.
Titled “Is the UFC’s Women’s Bantamweight Division set for a return to nicer, bleaker days?” Fowlkes makes the observation that presumed title contender Valentina Shevchenko and current champion Amanda Nunes do not possess the ability to create the verbal animosity to increase intrigue in the division.
Fowlkes’s reasoning is sound, and his concern is valid, but it does prompt the question of whether constantly repeating the formulas of the past is the best path to future success.
Lest we forget that Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, and Conor McGregor all sold fights in different ways.
Does the successor to Ronda Rousey need to be Rousey 2.0?
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