It’s official. The UFC no longer has the quality of product we grew to love. There was a period of time in my life that I ordered virtually every pay per view. Now, I have probably ordered two this year - more to create a social event for friends than for the matches themselves. The problem seems to stem from four areas: Fighters picking their fights, overexpansion, injuries, and the sheer quantity of cards.
Fighters Picking Their Fights
There was a time when fighters would fight anyone the UFC put in front of them - when proving you were the best was the ultimate goal. Now it seems that fighters will only fight when it is convenient for them or only when they can have a full camp. Pardon me, but you are a professional fighter. You get paid to be ready at all times to go to war. What if our military would only defend our country with 12 weeks notice? The UFC has failed to establish a ranking system and has become flippant about contender status. It seems every fight has become a "number one contender bout" only to have that change within a week. By failing to have a rank and file, the UFC has opened up a conundrum in which there is no quantitative way to determine who deserves title shots, which leads to world champion pound for pound greats fighting opponents outside of their weight class in mismatches, while legitimate contenders are in limbo. This is both unfair to the champions who are wasting fights on meaningless opponents and to the contenders who have paid their dues and deserve a title shot. Tournament style competition built this sport and it would bring back some legitimacy to title contention. Every professional sport has a ranking system that determines the playoffs and world championships. The UFC should be no different. There is no way Anderson Silva should be fighting light heavyweights (or welterweights) when Chris Weidman, Mark Munoz, and Michael Bisping are viable, marketable fights within the middleweight division. There is no reason Jon Jones should be fighting middleweights when Dan Henderson, Alexander Gustofsson, and Glover Teixeira are more deserving of title shots given their accomplishments within the light heavyweight division.
The UFC has, up to this point, followed an exemplary business model. Where they went wrong is signing the Fox contract prior to having the roster to support the agreement. Now they are scrambling to build TUFs around the world to build a roster robust enough to meet their contractual demands to Fox. By simply establishing international gateways to the sport FIRST, and then going to Fox, the UFC could have avoided lackluster (or cancelled) cards riddled with injuries. Overexpansion has led to PPV cards that produced dismal numbers and great cards offered for free that few fans were able to enjoy since they were featured on Fuel which is not widely subscribed to. Chris Weidman might have a greater fan base if more fans had been able to see his destruction of Mark Munoz on Fuel a few months back.
Injuries/ Sheer Quantity of Cards
This is perhaps the one area the UFC gets a pass on. They have little control over the injury bug although with a deep enough roster and less events, the organization would have the ability to absorb injuries and still deliver quality cards. Dana White vowed years ago to not become like boxing, featuring undercards of meaningless fights and one main event that the fans want to see - and ironically the UFC is becoming exactly that. It is a shame because I have noticed that once hard core fans are getting lost in the shuffle. I used to have great conversations with friends about upcoming fights and now the dialogue is about which fights have been cancelled and why champions are not fighting contenders in their weight class.
The UFC is taking a turn for the worst and I hope that Zuffa can right the ship before the sport I have grown to love diminishes further than it already has.