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Opinion: UFC is standing in the way of its own success

UFC 189 was the most successful card in a long time. So why did they go and ruin it with the three pointless cards that followed?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As Conor McGregor fell to his knees after winning the main event at UFC 189 in Las Vegas, Nevada, two Saturdays ago, the promotion was similarly celebrating along with the new Interim Featherweight Champion. After all, he'd helped draw a record $7.2 million gate and millions of hungry eyes on pay-per-view (PPV) whose appetite for a new superstar cannot be sated.

It wasn't just the McGregor show, however, as Robbie Lawler, Rory MacDonald and the other fighters on UFC 189 all turned in exemplary performances, making the event widely considered one of the best in the promotion's history. It was a night in which nearly everything came together just perfectly, reminding mixed martial arts (MMA) fans once again why they love the sport.

But, as we just wrapped the fourth UFC event in less than seven days since that beautiful show ended, you could forgive fight fans for feeling a little jetlagged. We didn't even get a full day to reflect on UFC 189 before we were forced to endure The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 21 Finale, a card of literally no consequence whatsoever, featuring two fighters in the headliner slot who have no immediate importance to the Welterweight division.

Then just three days later UFC put on a midweek fight card in San Diego, Calif., that more or less completely failed to garner any interest from fans. Not only did it feature a lukewarm line up of third stringers, not only did nine of the 12 fights end in tedious decisions, and not only did the main event display two fighters who are the textbook definition of irrelevant in the Heavyweight division, but they even botched whatever capitalization they might have made on a great finish.

By the time Frank Mir knocked out Todd Duffee just 73 seconds into their bout, every gainfully employed MMA fan in the eastern standard time zone was sawing logs. Those New Yorkers and Chicagoans crazy enough to be up at 1 a.m. on hump day would be too few to be of any viewing consequence for UFC on FOX to have bothered putting on the event at all.

Would it have made sense to start the event earlier so that Frank Mir was knocking out the Duffster during prime time (around 8 p.m.)? Yeah, obviously. But, it would also have made sense to not have the event at all, as even hardcore fight fans struggled to muster up a "meh" in response to three events inside of five days.

Clearly, UFC doesn't care about the hardcore fans, since they must realize they're pissing us off. But, who are they going after? The casuals? Even they would have a hard time keeping up with what's happening given all the events happening all the time with little time to reflect on the consequences.

As comedian Russell Peters said in an interview with MMAFighting.com last year:

"They shouldn't have bought PRIDE and Strikeforce and just eliminated them," said Peters, who has also trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with former UFC fighter Carlos Newton. "They should have kept them and then instead of UFC Fight Night, they could have had PRIDE night or Strikeforce. It gives you some sort of scope and then puts UFC at a higher level. 'These are our lesser ones, here's the big one.' But if you call everything UFC ... somebody was like did you catch the fights last night? I was like, 'What f---ing fights? I didn't know there was fights.'"


A fight that belongs in the minor leagues if I've ever seen one. Photo credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Even UFC fighters are having a hard time keeping up with their own sport. Old school warrior Josh Barnett opined there are too many fighters with "boring fights" and said UFC is "oversaturated." The topic of oversaturation in UFC is nothing new, but as the promotion begins putting on four events in the span of seven days it's getting a big ridiculous:

The issue is that now there are too many fighters and too many stories to tell. The UFC's effort to make the sport into a global entity has saturated the MMA market so much that it's hard to keep track of everything going on.

If veteran MMA watchers like myself find it hard to remember half the guys being featured on UFC Fight Night 72 in Glasgow, the more Peters' statement rings true that getting rid of PRIDE and Strikeforce was a big mistake. I mean, World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and Bellator MMA (and to a lesser extent One FC and Legacy Fighting) take the strain off UFC because they provide a proving ground for elite prospects.

Imagine if Major League Baseball announced they were absorbing all 14 teams in the 'AAA' International League with all their personnel? Would you be able to keep track of 44 teams? Or as Tim Marchman put it in Deadspin:

Imagine if the NBA added 30 expansion teams over the next two years, and then sent out a favored reporter to lecture the public about how true fans should appreciate the diminished quality of play. This sounds impossibly stupid, and yet it's more or less what's happening in one increasingly dim corner of the sports world.

There's still plenty to be excited about in UFC, but the watered-down, oversaturated, repetitive and inconsequential events that come between those exciting moments are really ruining the brand. UFC "Fight Night" was originally designed to provide Spike TV with viewers, while giving UFC a chance to dump its lesser talent somewhere between PPVs.

But, putting minor league fighters like Ildemar Alcantara and Sarah Moras on prime time television can only be turning people off and tuning out of MMA.

★★★

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