UFC 217 is finally here with very limited fanfare to follow it. It has been terribly promoted by everyone involved, even the fighters. It's almost as though WME has no fucking idea what they're doing with this company. There's something I've had in my mind for a while now, an idea that has started to pick up steam lately as the reality of the situation begins to dawn on people: the over-promotion of Conor McGregor has severely damaged the brand of the UFC and reputation of the sport of a whole.
Before anyone ever knew who Conor and Ronda Rousey were, the PPV King of MMA was UFC 217's headliner Georges St-Pierre. He wasn't a dynamic personality, he wasn't a trash talker spewing myriad lines of bullshit. He wasn't even particularly exciting to watch all of the time. He was just a highly talented and intelligent fighter whose excellence created an aura and star quality organically.
As long as the product remains first and foremost about competition, you will always have a steady stream of that sort of attraction. It's treated as a real sport and the fact someone has developed into an elite fighter is the most important factor; everything else is just an added bonus.
It ain't that anymore. Some people want to tie Ronda Rousey's over-promotion to the decline of the UFC. I don't think that was it. More often than not, she was booked as a supporting act for Chris Weidman. The last two PPV's she headlined as the champion the notoriety she built as a female novelty allowed the UFC to enter new markets. The current problems in the Women's Bantamweight division stem from a lack of depth and a lack of fights being booked.
As an aside I think the UFC should definitely fold up the Women's Featherweight division and consider doing away with Bantamweight. Most, if not all of the more popular Bantamweights could make 125lbs anyway. The two big stars who made those divisions seem like relevant women's divisions in Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey are gone now. Honestly, I even think they were the only reason people were ever interested in Cyborg, whose record I find unappreciatedly padded.
The beginning of the end really started when Conor McGregor was granted an immediate rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 200. People look back on that (UFC 202 as it eventually became) and think landmark event, they think Fight of the Year. I think of it as a circus freak show that severely damaged the integrity of the matchmaking.
The failure to book a title defense for McGregor despite a catalogue of eligible challengers left the Featherweight division in limbo. Scrambling to create Interim title bouts when the Champion was fit and healthy and ready to defend rendered all Interim belt meaningless. Gifting McGregor an undeserved Lightweight title shot on a one fight win streak so he could make fake history compromised the integrity of the competition and the significance of winning a championship.
Allowing McGregor to box Floyd Mayweather Jr marked the apex of the short term gain they experienced. It made one man definitively bigger than the sport. While Dana White's question "What makes one a star" is well taken, there is a way to handle them. Promoting him at the expense of everyone else involved with the company changed the expectations of the consumers.
Three of the last three PPV cards have turned in atrocious numbers. UFC 213, 215 and 216 between them failed to cracked 400,000 buys. The casual fan catered to by McGregor does not care if it's not a superfight. If the participants don't act like lunatics at the press conference, it's not worth talking about for them. Great fighters who don't talk trash are disregarded as unmarketable. What's the point of putting them in big fights?
I don't expect this card to do as well as the UFC is hoping. It didn't help that Dana White has spent years lambasting GSP's state of mind. As it stands, we are on the lookout for McGregor vs Ferguson to headline the year end show at UFC 219 which will help them end 2017 on a high. 2018 will be a very important year for the future of the UFC. The next TV deal they sign will be very telling. My feeling is that FOX aligns well with their brand, or at least what they ought to be aiming for. they should not under any circumstances sign with the dying yet still somehow reputable ESPN. We'll see where they go from here.
Picks after the jump.