The State of MMA Today
A rare MMA event-free weekend, at least for the two big promotions. For the hard core fans that just want to see cage fights there are two events that you can stream live on Saturday. The first is Glory 46 (Kickboxing): The Super Fight series live from China starting at 5am CDT, it will stream live on UFC Fight Pass and the main event will also be live on ESPN3 at 9am. This will not be the last time you hear the term “super fight” in this article, as I will break down what that term has come to mean today. The second event will be Cage Warriors: 87 (MMA) live from Newport Whales starting at 3pm CDT and is also available on UFC Fight Pass.
The main event of Glory will be Rico Verhoeven vs Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Look for Bigfoot to come out trying to shut Rico’s lights out quickly, but the young Dutch kickboxer presents numerous problems. I won’t give a prediction for this fight, but I do expect it to end via KO/TKO sooner rather than later. The main event of Cage Warriors 87 will be Lewis Long vs Roberto Soldić. I don’t know much about either, so I won’t comment on that at all. So, with the big 2 promotions taking the weekend off, I figure this might be a good time to talk about the “State of MMA” today. This will include a brief history of MMA, where the sport is today, and where it might be going in the future. The idea of this article will be to give the casual fan, or even the less than casual fan a better understanding of why MMA is currently the fastest growing sport in the world today, how we got to where we are today, and where the sport is going in the future.
OK, so let’s start with one idea. When the UFC (I will use the term UFC here, because technically the term MMA did not exist, more on that later) started, the whole idea behind it was to find out who was the BADDEST MAN ON A GIVEN NIGHT. If you are a newer fan and you have never seen the early UFC’s you might want to try to get your hands on one and check it out. The first several UFC’s were an 8 man bracketed tournament that took place in one night. Quite simply, if you won you moved on, if you lost you were out and the one who won three fights was declared the “Ultimate Fighter” and I like to say the BADDEST MAN ON THE PLANET ON THAT NIGHT. Obviously from what we know today about CTE and head trauma, the idea of fighting numerous times in one night would never fly today, but it used to happen and it was fun to watch.
This was very fascination to people for many reasons. First, you have to remember that this was a different time, the term “Mixed Martial Arts” was not even invented yet. People came in from different disciplines and there were always debates on which style was the best. Today, MMA has become a sport, and if you want to compete you better have knowledge of all aspects of the sport, or you will not last long.
So, the tournament style had problems and was abandoned for single fights and a little bit later on weight divisions were added. Then the UFC/MMA was about finding out who was the BADDEST MAN (LATER WOMAN) AT A GIVEN WEIGHT ON A GIVEN NIGHT. The belt system was in place with the champion holding a belt and a process of challenger rankings began to get established, the idea being someone would earn the number one challenger position and then get awarded with the next chance at a title fight. This system was never perfect, there were often debates about who should be the number one challenger, but overall the structure worked well.
At this point, let me go back and address this idea of a “super fight” that I said I would return to earlier. So, what the hell is a “super fight”. As I stated the belt system with the champion and list of challengers worked well, and fighters had a good idea of where they were in the pecking order, and who they would have to beat to advance in the rankings, so fights would be made that would determine where you were in the pecking order to get to the champion. But sometimes there were fights that people might want to see that would have no effect on rankings or getting to the belt. Up until recently, we rarely got to see those fights for whatever reasons I will not get into, because that could take up more than another articles worth.
Enter Conor McGregor into the UFC going on a run in the 145lb division until he finally got his first belt after he KO’s Jose Aldo in 13 seconds. The idea was that he was to move up to 155lb for his next fight and fight then champion Rafael Dos Anjos. Historically, this was never done and there are good reasons for it. The rest of the 145lb division was forced to just sit and wait while there is a long list of fighters in that division who were worthy of a title shot. But Dana White and the UFC allowed Conor to do this, for various reasons (again, a whole other topic). However, RDA was forced to pull out of the fight and Nate Diaz replaced him in the main event. This made a lot of since because Nate (and brother Nick) were pioneers that followed the warrior code of “fight anyone anywhere” and didn’t care about belts or titles. I believe that this will be remembered as the beginning of the full on “entertainment industry” era of the UFC and in MMA in general. We now had a main event that was not for a belt and even moved up to 170lbs where Robbie Lawler was champion at the time, and headlining the biggest show in the history of the sport.
That is where the MMA is today, we still have a belted system, but more super fights are made and the people are getting the fights they want to see. Not only in the UFC, Bellator has put on more super fights, and more fights that could be labeled “spectacles” for sure. We just saw the biggest spectacle where one man who had never boxed a professional fight in his life, got to take on the man many consider to be the best to have ever done it. This makes a lot of people mad, the “purists” of the sport mainly. I for one, do not mind it at all. The sooner we admit that the sport has changed, I believe the better off we will be. The UFC is a little over 20 years old and has changed so significantly you could only expect that it will continue to do so. You will hear the terms “entertainment industry”, “money grab” and “spectacle” thrown out a lot most of the time with a negative connotation to them. I contend that the sooner we admit that is where the sport is and accept it the better off we will be.
What is wrong with being an “entertainment industry” if it gets the viewer the fights we want to see? That is not to say that the belts and the rankings are not important, there needs to be a clear cut way to establish who gets to fight for a belt. It seems the UFC’s answer right now is to award an “interim belt” every chance they get. And while this gets annoying, I’ll not complain about it, as long as the interim belt, means you get the next shot at the champion. I am fine with it because it is really the same thing as number one challenger. The terms “money grab” and “spectacle” are also thrown around a lot. The May/Mac boxing match was labeled both by almost everyone, yet it still got everyone’s money right? So, obviously that is a fight that everyone wanted to see.
In summary, The UFC and MMA used to be about finding out who was the BADDEST MAN/WOMAN AT A GIVEN WEIGHT ON A GIVEN NIGHT but we now have more of an entertainment type super fight structure that often gives us fights with no title implications at all.
So there we are, that is the state of MMA today with some of my mindless rants mixed in. In the future I see this trend continuing, and I think it is good for the sport. If there is a good fight out there and people will spend their money to see it even if there are no belt implications involved, why not make that fight? I realize that I’m probably in the minority in that opinion, but that’s where I am. Alright, next weekend we have a Bellator Friday night, and a free UFC Fight night on Saturday. I will break those fights down for you right here next week!