I know. It’s kind of ridiculous to spend the first few hours of a decade anticipating what the first few hours of the next one will look like. Sure, the sport is in completely different universes of sustainability, popularity, financial success and mainstream exposure than it was ten years ago, but trying to predict what will be going on in 2020 is pretty silly. I mean, we don’t even know how the re-invasion of Iraq is going to be affected by the nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Think I’m kidding? Go back to 2000 and become a fan of both geopolitics and mixed martial arts, then tell me what will be going on in 2010. Things can change, is what I’m getting at.
Of course, the beginning of the last decade (which, and I don’t care if the first guy to deduce when Jesus was born was too fucking stupid to know what zero was, began in 2000, not 2001) was pretty damn momentous for MMA. The New Jersey Athletic Control Board established the Unified Rules in 2000, MMA wasn’t regulated in Nevada until 2001 (geopolitics had a similarly significant event happen in September of that year) and the post-SEG regime yet yet to put on an event. Ten years ago, if someone had told you that 2009 would see UFC 100 selling over 1.6 million pay per view’s, you’d have dismissed them right after them mentioning that a black guy had just become President because George W. Bush had fucked up for eight years (‘Seriously,’ you’d say, ‘the fucker from Texas?’) – so forgive me for not immediately dismissing Dana White’s latest comments to the Las Vegas Sun:
People were saying I was a lunatic 10 years ago, but this thing is going to be the biggest sport in the world. The stuff we’re working on right now on so many levels is mindboggling.
The reason I say that is, think about this. Right now in the United States, there is nothing bigger than the NFL. It is huge. But the NFL has been spending billions of dollars trying to break into other countries and it’s not working. You know why? Because these people in other countries don’t care about American football. They didn’t grow up playing it and they’re not invested in American teams.
I take two guys and put them in an octagon and they can use any martial art they want — that transcends all culture barriers. Right now we are on some form of television in over 175 countries. We’re all human beings and we all get fighting.
The UFC will be on network television by 2020, but we’re not going to go out and do a stupid deal because we don’t need them. We built this thing without help from anybody and that’s why the UFC has been able to flourish even in these hard times.
I get accused of being a Dana White partisan (I look forward to seeing all the creative euphemisms for ‘partisan’ in the comments section), but frankly, it’s this kind of long view that has led us from where we were to where we are. I got into the sport after the WFA/WEC purchases and before the PRIDE one, and I’ll be damned if I’m not glad that it was in such great shape when I found it. I don’t know how I’d feel about things if I had come upon the landscape that many of you did, but I can guarantee that I would have still rooted for all of the world’s top talent to be under the same umbrella. We’re tantalizingly close today, and I believe that more than anything else is responsible for MMA’s ascendancy. As to the concerns that are routinely making the rounds today:
1. The massive, unending, crazy, unprecedented, unbelievable crop of injuries plaguing the UFC’s upper echelon is akin to a fallow field: though barren now, the next harvest is going to be insane. They’re already working on Alves/Fitch II, Lesnar’s status should become more clear next week, and just about every fight that we missed will still happen at some point this year. That’s the thing about an insanely deep roster and the ‘we’re in the fight making business’ ethos – things tend to work themselves out.
2. The metrics on Strikeforce work something like this: perhaps 30-40% of UFC viewers will tune in to a Strikeforce card, but it’s 90% the other way. Strikeforce has made big strides in the last year, but while they’re banking on Alistair Overeem’s word and urine for survival, the UFC is working on the gap between today and world domination. One ship is clearly preferable to the other, and with Gomi’s signing, Fedor and Misaki are the only champions at the time of PRIDE’s demise not to come to the big show (hat tip to Rodriguez for pointing that out). Fedor will end this decade with either a UFC record or a perpetual cloud of questions.
3. I don’t see a WEC in 2020. Well, maybe I do, but not in it’s current hybrid form. Either it’s a promotion with meaningful titles or it’s a farm/feeder league that also puts on entertaining local bouts and exists solely on free TV. The latter seems much more likely to me than the former, and the sooner the 145/135ers are on PPV and making money, the better.
4. EliteXC was the last promotion that people seriously considered a potential UFC-buster (most sober observers knew Affliction was dead from the get-go, and even the haters merely enjoyed them as a thumb in Dana’s eye), and their vaunted network TV deal absolutely sank them. No, buying up regional promotions like they were crack rocks and letting it all ride on Kimbo weren’t harmless, but having it all happen on CBS according to CBS’s wishes made recovery impossible. The UFC has always made self-sufficiency paramount, and for right now, being on a network is a luxury as opposed to a necessity (without EXC’s assets, Strikeforce could have never pulled the Fedor signing). This won’t last forever, however – within the next couple of years, Dana and company may need to pull the trigger on a deal they wouldn’t today. Striking while the iron is hot will become more important than the result, but we’re not there yet.
All in all, I largely agree with the UFC’s plans for further remaking the MMA landscape. Shocking, ain’t it?