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The UFC is improving, but let’s not get crazy

Luke Thomas has an interesting article over on Sherdog that talks up some of the positive improvements the UFC has shown. I think a lot of the points he makes though are exceptions rather than the rule:

Fighters like Jon Jones, fighting Jake O’Brien on the UFC 100 undercard, demonstrate there are now directly employed methods and best practices to grooming budding talent. Jones may not prefer to fight when no one on television can see him, but the practice of putting him there against a suitable opponent that offers the right kind of test at this moment in his career is a practice borne from experience and now much more widely used.

Jordan Breen already wrote the quintessential article on what a shit job the UFC does of nurturing and developing it’s talent. Every once in a while we see a Huerta or (arguably) Jones that gets a fair kick at the can but for the most part the UFC is a meat grinder who’s talent usually emerges from fights they were basically booked to lose.

The center of the system, the UFC, has also determined and used novel ways of mining and promoting the next generation of talent with its vast resources. Fighters like Mac Danzig and Michael Bisping — seasons six and three winners of “The Ultimate Fighter,” respectively — as well as Stephan Bonnar are living proof of the efficacy of the organized, systemic efforts the UFC has developed to find new talent. Through a process of recruiting, testing, culling and promoting along with staggered but organized timing and media campaigns, “The Ultimate Fighter” is a perfect example of the emergent order Zuffa has helped create.

TUF is good at creating ‘stars’, but most of the guys coming off the show have way more name recognition than talent. And looking at how the UFC promotes TUF guys over most other guys gives you some interesting perspective into how little they do for the guys who come into the organization from outside reality television.

The sport (and more approximately the UFC in this case) has also become much better at discovering and poaching talent from abroad. Five of the 10 main card competitors at UFC 100 are originally from other countries. Globalization with its shrinking of distances both physically and culturally has played a role as well. Korean and Korean-Japanese fighters Dong Hyun Kim and Yoshihiro Akiyama, exceptionally valuable commodities for more local promotions, are finding greener pastures elsewhere.

How about we ask the large majority of Asian fighters how the greener pastures of the UFC worked out for them. Akihiro Gono spent his entire UFC career broke and in prelim fights. I’d name out a bunch of other Japanese fighters who appeared and disappeared from the UFC in the blink of an eye but I’m a lazy lazy man.

As for the rest of the international scene, there’s a ton of amazing international talent out there that the UFC could poach but they are literally unwilling to pay for them. So instead of guys like Joachim Hansen and Gegard Mousassi we get fat Denis Stojnic and David Bielkheden. Urijah Faber recently commented that he wants to be treated like an asset instead of an expense. I’d say the UFC books it’s international talent like it’s an expense, and the budget is fucking pathetic considering the amount of money the company is pocketing off every event.

Keep in mind that I’m not writing this rebuttal in my standard “Luke Thomas is an idiot for writing this” way, because overall his assessment that the UFC is improving is right. But I just wanted to point out that they’re nowhere near as good as they could be in a lot of areas. And that’s not in a theoretical hokey pokey someday in the future things could different kind of way. These problems – an over-reliance on TUF for marketing new talent, barely giving it’s non-TUF newbs any visibility whatsoever, and cheaping out on international talent are all the result of sketchy UFC policy that could easily be changed.