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MMA: Divided Or Unified Sport
The Wamma site invites it's readers to submit articles to put on the site's front page and this is actually a good read.
MMA: Divided or Unified Sport?
By: Panama Rosado
Here’s a challenging question. If you could choose the path where MMA is going, would you:
a) Keep it as it is, with a UFC-led MMA universe and every other organization is a feeder system to the UFC? (Look, I understand that the UFC can’t help that they’re #1 and that presently MMA can’t keep up with them but read on.)
b) An undivided, free flowing MMA community, where the best fighters can fight each other regardless of promotional affiliation, even if it means co-promotion? Promotions can still do their shows and have championships but at some point inter-league showdowns will be necessary.
I personally choose option B and I’ll explain but first let me say this, I love the UFC. I’ve watched the UFC since their inception in 1993. I watch most of the UFC PPV’s at the bar with my friends, and watch their shows on ****e TV. Without the UFC, there would be no MMA here in the United States. I respect the UFC as a pioneer of this sport. They’ve blazed trails and are continuing to be at the forefront as far as legalizations and sanctioning.
Although the UFC is the #1 Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the world today, it wasn’t always so. There was a time not long ago, even as short in time as 2007, PRIDE was the mega giant and premier MMA organization in the world. In those days, you would see fighters and champions from different promotions entering the PRIDE ring to test themselves against the best of the best. PRIDE was an open arms organization. For example, if you watch PRIDE Shockwave 2004, not only was then UFC Light Heavyweight champion Randy Couture a presenter of flowers to both Wanderlei Silva and Mark Hunt in their battle, but he was also a guest commentator with Bas Rutten and Mauro Renallo. In 2003, the UFC sent Chuck Liddell to participate in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand prix tournament in what became a true UFC vs. PRIDE showdown. PRIDE even played the UFC anthem during Chuck’s entrances in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the Grand prix which I believe was a show of respect to the UFC, and UFC president Dana White was a guest commentator then as well. Even though, it was a battle of promotions, it was healthy and welcomed competition. When do you see this in the UFC?
Fast forward to the present, PRIDE is no more and the UFC has been # 1 for two or three years, depending on who tells the story. Promotions like the IFL and EliteXC rose and fell quickly by the wayside. Counter programming tactics are in store for any organization that may have the opportunity to have a broad audience whether it’s on national television or Pay Per View courtesy of the UFC. At some point their “Crush all enemies” way of business is going to be the bottle neck for this sport as a whole. You have to remember, the UFC represents Mixed Martial Arts. It’s not the other way around. Granted, there are no other organizations that could challenge the UFC the way PRIDE did at this moment, so therefore the UFC sits atop of the MMA mountain alone.
What’s it going to take to skyrocket MMA to the next level? Competition, collaboration, and exposure. Organizations themselves need to stay afloat and acquire major television deals, and raise the level of marketing. McDonald’s has Burger King, Subway has Quizno’s; NBC, CBS, and ABC have ratings wars all the time. The Lakers had the Celtics, The Yankees have the Red Sox, and on and on. Competition is what drives these businesses and keeps them sharp.
Collaboration on the other hand is necessary in order to put on the best fights. In boxing, there are co-promotions all the time. Don King, Top Rank, and Golden Boy all host their own events but many times in order to put on the highest level fights you have to pit your best against their best. The Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao fight was a co-promotion and look at what kind of PPV numbers that event made. In the music industry, you have duets all of the time from artists from different record labels and their songs hit the top of the charts. Hip hop artists do this all of the time and they make hits and money hand over fist. Does anybody remember in baseball, when the American League didn’t meet the National League until the World Series? Now you see interleague games throughout the season all the time.
Exposure is perhaps the most important factor for Mixed Martial Arts to become main stream. Strikeforce just acquired the best platform with their new television deals with Showtime and CBS to become the “Alternative” to the UFC ruled MMA world. Strikeforce doesn’t have to become a direct competitor but they can be a home to fighters who don’t want to get locked tight into an exclusive contract without flexibility. Something tells me that if Strikeforce succeeds that it won’t be long before they find themselves in the UFC’s cross hairs. They can possibly change the entire landscape of this great sport because Strikeforce has more flexibility with their contracts plus they co-promote and are willing to cooperate in fighter exchange programs. Without television, this sport will not flourish. If Affliction plans to stay in the game they are going to need to use their Trump card (literally) to land a TV deal or De La Hoya’s HBO connection. That’s the only way they are going to build stars.
HDNet is laying some serious ground work towards bringing MMA to the masses, but the only issue is that HDNet is only available to homes that have HD packages with cable and satellite companies. If only HDNet were available on regular cable so that everyone can watch the countless MMA programming they are broadcasting. I can’t wait to see the day when “MMA Live” is actually on ESPN, and not just on Espn.com, and MMA results and coverage shown on the sport’s television giant. My question to ESPN is what sport is more major throughout the world? Ping pong, strong man competitions, table tennis or MMA?
Ambassadors of the sport such as Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, and Georges St. Pierre could be key players in changing the landscape of MMA because they are dignified champions who are recognized the world around. Their achievements and personas transcend the sport itself, even the UFC. MMA needs more fighters like this to capture the attention of the mass media and most importantly the fans like you and I, and create new fans. Remember, fighters make the organizations. Imagine if Anderson Silva, GSP, or Rampage left the UFC to fight for Strikeforce. Fans are going to follow these fighters to watch them fight and these fighters will bring legitimacy and notoriety to whichever organizations they sign with.
This is one suggestion that I would love to see occur in MMA in the future.
Does anybody ever recall the MMAWeekly’s article in 2006 entitled, “PRIDE BOSS: My fighters will devour UFC Fighters,”?
In this article, the former PRIDE president Nobuyuki Sakakibara outlined his plan to dethrone the UFC in a battle he called the “MMA Superbowl”, where he was going to host the event in a stadium and have the PRIDE ring and the UFC’s Octagon in the same arena and fighters would alternate fight surfaces each round so that fighters had no excuse. Even at the PRIDE/UFC buyout press conference this idea was referenced to but never came to pass because the UFC had other plans in store for PRIDE where they extinguished their long time rival and bled most of their top fighters and kept them for themselves.
I think that this idea could come to life in an even grander scale if it were done not only between two organizations but include MMA as a whole. For example: WAMMA can host an MMA World Grandprix, hosted every year by a chosen organization to crown WAMMA champions or tournament champions. If champions from other organizations enter this tournament, their organizational belts will not be on the line and they will return as champion to their respective promotion. One year it may be held in a cage, another a ring, depending on the host organization.
If the UFC does not want to participate with other organizations who have top ranked fighters and let their fighters fight each other, then let the other organizations form an alliance of some sort to where if the fights make sense then why not. If WAMMA was to host a universal Grand Prix tournament that could be televised across the globe (perhaps ESPN) and have representatives from different organizations that could help unify the sport as a whole. The UFC will be reluctant but will have to change at some point in time when top fighters leave their organization to pursue their quest to truly fight the best when they hear of other great fighters outside the UFC. Once the sport of Mixed Martial Arts can hold their own weight, only then will the UFC believe and participate. Mixed Martial Arts needs DREAM, Sengoku, Affliction, Strikeforce to stay afloat as major promotions, and the smaller events to work as feeder systems. MMA needs to rise above the division of organizations and become the sport that I know it can be.
What are you thoughts?