Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world.
However, due to recent setbacks in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, MMA’s once rapidly-expanding fanbase could soon lose interest in the sport altogether.
As it stands, there are three main issues plaguing MMA:
1. Repeat fights.
It seems like every weight class suffers from a bottleneck effect, whereby one guy is clogging up the entire division.
For example, Georges St. Pierre has reigned supreme in the welterweight division for the better part of a decade. He’s fought hall-of-famer Matt Hughes three times, Josh Koscheck twice, Matt Serra twice, and BJ Penn twice.
In order to keep fans interested, promoters need to sell new and exciting fights. However, that becomes increasingly difficult with congestion at the top of the heap.
In the middleweight division, we see another bottleneck with Anderson Silva. Although he has fought several opponents (Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, and Chael Sonnen) on multiple occasions, the bigger problem seems to be a lack of suitable contenders. Unlike St. Pierre, Silva has faced many opponents undeserving of a title shot (ie. Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153). This past October, Silva was a 15-1 favourite against Ultimate Fighter veteran Stephan Bonnar. In other words, Stephan Bonnar was hardly a worthy opponent.
When Dan Henderson pulled out of his UFC 151 fight with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Jones was offered a substitute opponent on eight days notice. After declining the replacement fight, Jones was moved to UFC 152 to face a massive underdog in Vitor Belfort. While the fight proved entertaining, it further illustrated a lack of viable opponents in the division.
2. Big name draws beginning to retire.
While there are plenty talented guys coming up, I suspect there will be fewer stars. In short, many of today’s big names developed their reputation while the sport was in its infancy. Therefore, it was significantly easier to establish credibility and command respect after highlight-reel finishes against inferior opponents. Today, as fighters and coaches evolve, there is a greater sense of parity in the sport.
The UFC has a roster of over 200 fighters. To keep those fighters active, the UFC requires plenty of events – many of which are on cable television . Unfortunately, this overexposure may result in the fanbase losing interest. When you also consider the aforementioned congestion atop many of the weight classes, this issue is magnified.
Ultimately, MMA’s growth cannot be supported by lackluster main-events. Therefore, unless something changes, it risks reverting to its past and becoming a sport that solely appeals to hard-core fans.