Top Six Things the UFC and Dana White Can Do To Fix the Over Saturation of MMA

One of the facts that aren’t in dispute in recent MMA history is that Chris Weidman’s utter destruction of Mark Munoz was seen by fewer people than Luke Rockhold’s dominant decision win over Tim Kennedy. For as much as it established Weidman as the next great challenger to Anderson Silva, and it certainly did, it made a Weidman title shot less enviable opponent. No one has earned a title shot so far off the UFC on Fuel TV cards and they’ve done fairly poor in the ratings all things considered. It speaks to the oversaturation of the UFC that cards that get missed the most are Fuel TV cards; they become skip-worthy because of the general lack of talent. Yeah you get a good main event but you don’t get much underneath it; the lack of star power is noticeable and demonstrable.

But the one thing that keeps coming out is that people are complaining that there are too many cards without much of a solution. Hacking down the number of cards is an easy method, of course, but you need to do a number of things as well. The UFC is suffering from just trying to do too many cards, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but with PPV #s down outside of the few big matchups per year there’s going to be a drop off of the sport in the near future. But it’s an easy to fix problem; thus comes a list of how to fix it.

Dana White has long said the UFC and Fox are going to dial things in to make it work the most effective; they don’t live in a bubble and one imagines he hears the “too many cards” argument every day. So things are going to change and it’ll just take time; but until then here some humble suggestions.

Top Six Things the UFC Can Do
To Fix the Over Saturation of MMA

6. Dump Strikeforce … and Replace It With UFC on Showtime

It all depends on their contract with Fox, etc, but Strikeforce needs to be folded. With the contract with Showtime up at the end of 2014 we’re stuck with it for at least another year or so but Strikeforce doesn’t do much to move the needle these days without Ronda Rousey on the card. It gets respectable numbers but the handful of great fighters in the company need to be in the UFC. There’s still a place for MMA on Showtime and using it like how the UFC used Versus for years makes better sense than propping up Strikeforce any longer thereafter.

Showtime is still a valuable resource, and you can build a announce team with Mauro Ranallo in it, but Strikeforce is damaged goods at this point and is holding the UFC back in many ways. UFC on Showtime feels more important and you can have good cards on it; Showtime’s production people can probably give you tips on production and promotion like the Fox Sports people have already given to Zuffa.

5. Get rid of the sheer volume of UFC on Fuel TV cards

If you’re going to put a card on television it needs to be in high definition everywhere at a minimum. Fuel needs to be a place to go for things like international seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” and the usual sort of UFC shows like “Best of Pride,” et al. But if Fuel is going to be a UFC network it needs to be in more homes and in HD; until then you’re just sacrificing cards. If you combined a Fuel card and some UFC on FX or PPV cards and you go from two solid cards to one stacked card. The occasional card is one thing, especially when it comes to international cards, but going to Omaha, NE, for a UFC on Fuel isn’t necessary. Going to Macao, China is more of a Fuel card than an FX or greater card.

Case in point: the Wednesday after UFC 148 was a UFC on Fuel TV card that had a number of great main card fights but had a lot of fluff to it. You could’ve put Munoz vs. Weidman on the PPV and given them significantly more exposure at third from the top than as a main event. It would’ve given you Anderson Silva’s next opponent AND a title defense, which gives you a better picture of the division as well.  That UFC on Fuel was ultimately forgettable except for Weidman/Munoz so why not let it serve you better on a bigger platform.

4. Trim the roster

With fewer cards comes less of a need for a lot of the TUF guys (amongst others) who’ve managed to hang on to a roster spot over the past two years or so. With the launching of a handful of new weight classes, as well, you’re by necessity going to need a bigger roster. But that doesn’t mean carrying a ton of fighters you won’t use or just aren’t quite UFC quality.

The UFC has a ton of guys who have no business being in the UFC, much less getting a sniff of the main card, and with fewer cards comes less space for guys to clog. You have too many guys who had a fight or two on TUF and now are sticking around; time to do some house-cleaning.

At this point you just have too many fighters doing nothing; if someone is a fringe prospect five-six years away from being relevant enough to be in the UFC they’ll develop faster by being on the regional scene, taking fights quickly, as opposed to waiting six months for a UFC fight. The best way to get better at fighting is to fight and the UFC should oblige a number of guys with questionable credentials to be there the opportunity to get better on the regional scene.

3. Don’t do multiple PPV’s within weeks of another

MMA and any sort of PPV-centered business get bigger by giving people a taste. It’s a lot like illicit drugs; the first hit is always free to get you hooked and then the next one you have to pay for. Giving people good fighters on FX and Fox, then asking them to pay to see the big stars, is a necessity. You don’t ask people to pay for crack the first time; you need them hooked so they can pay for their next fix. Horrible metaphor aside PPV business is the same way; getting people a look but not the full show works the best. Kind of like how they show girls at a strip club on a flyer but not all the girls and not completely naked; you have to pay the $20 at the door for that.

If you’re given a flyer and the entire roster of girls is on it, and they’re all naked, you won’t have as much a desire to go into the club. And there’s a reason why there aren’t 10 strip clubs next door to one another in most places, either, as peddling flesh and peddling fighting share a ton of similarities.

You can’t ask people to either blindly buy every single PPV or pick and choose because the numbers show they’ll do the latter.

Asking people to pay for a handful of PPV’s, some without a lot of star power, in a row without much between is essentially asking people to either spend on faith or pick ones to ignore for the ones with a better looking card. You have multiple outlets now; why not do FX cards with a top lightweight fight, then a Fox card with a big fight and then a PPV featuring one of your big draws? Building up to PPV is something the UFC needs to do better.

2. Use older stars to build new ones

The one thing everyone forgets when discussing the drawing power of Anderson Silva is that it wasn’t always so. Early cards he fought on in the UFC had other draws put on the undercard like BJ Penn, amongst others, to help bring in people to see him in the main. Especially in the lighter weights you need guys with names and drawing power underneath; a title alone just won’t do it. Jose Aldo, amongst others, is among the handful of lighter weight fighters just waiting to become stars and by all rights should be much bigger in name than they are. When Aldo wrecked Chad Mendes in Brazil it was one of those epic moments when he ran out of the cage into the crowd, carried back in to announce the win.

Imagine how much bigger it would’ve been if more people had actually seen it.

It’s why the UFC on Fox 5 card is going to be bigger with the undercard it has than with Henderson vs. Diaz outright; BJ Penn still has name value and can get eyeballs. People may not necessarily want to pay to see him in a big fight but they’ll watch him on a Fox card. If Rory MacDonald beats him on that card, and does so badly, you’ve just created a new star. Now people will go “When does Rory fight next … I’ll pay to see that” … and they will.

Big names that are on their way out need to take on younger talent, as well, instead of endless fights with one another taking up space. Someone like Stephan Bonner has name value, but not drawing value, and thus can be useful. If he doesn’t want anything (like he’s said in the past) but big fights then tell him to retire; people care about the fighters that helped fuel the UFC’s rush into the limelight. They can still get an audience, even if it’s on television and not PPV, and thus it’s time to let them go out to the younger names. Shogun Rua vs. Rampage 2 is a nice fight to set up but it does nothing for your future; Rampage vs. Teixeira and Rua vs. Gustafsson do.

The other factor is that big names that don’t necessarily pack a house, but can get people in a living room, need to be on the co-main and feature fights for fighters with less drawing power. It’s like being a great boxer who can’t draw on his own but is good enough to be the co-main fight on a Floyd Mayweather card; yeah you’re not THE event but more people will watch you fight and potentially become fans.

1. Three Deep up Top on Every Card

With less cards come more talent-stacked cards; during the days of five PPV’s a year cards felt more important (and look insanely better in retrospect) because there were more names to them. You can’t quite have that anymore but you need to have three fights at the top that deserve to be there on every card. Case in point: on the UFC 151 card with Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson has Dennis Siver in the co-main. Yeah it’s Jon Jones/Dan Henderson, which sells the card, but it’s a boxing card for the most part. You’re paying for the main but nothing much more; it’s all or nothing and if either fighter gets hurt between now and then the card is going to be a big steaming shit-sandwich in terms of revenue production.

It’s why every card ought to have three good, relevant fights in the upper crust. Your feature fight (3rd from the top) needs to be someone recognizable. When you look at a card from top to bottom the top six guys on it need to be people you want to see interviewed. I like Dennis Siver as a fighter, and he seems like a decent guy, but no one cares about the buildup to his fight beside Dennis and maybe his opponent.

A pre-fight presser should be the top three fights and someone from the undercard that could be interesting; at the UFC on Fox in Chicago it was Mike Russow and his opponent because Russow’s a Chicago cop. Dennis Siver shouldn’t be on a press conference podium unless he’s challenging for a title a year from now or they’re in Europe; anything else and he’s way too high on the card.

Siver vs. Eddie Yagin is a nice fight but not a main card fight, much less a co-main event, in any aspect. If it means less cards than it’s not a bad thing; you shouldn’t need to stretch to call something a main card fight.

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