One of the first MMA shows I ever covered was B.J. Penn vs. Renzo Gracie at Aloha Stadium. The Ultimate Fighter had yet to blow up on SPIKE TV, the sport was still underground, and somehow, 12,000 people attended the fight that lasted past midnight.
I remember thinking to myself that night that this sport could become as big as boxing. 12,000 people at a K-1 card in Aloha Stadium that most people I knew my age (I was 22 at the time) didn’t know anything about? Imagine what it’d do once it was all over television. Imagine what it’d do when people grew a connection through the media to these fighters and became huge fans. Imagine when it became mainstream? Ever since that day, I thought MMA would become boxing for the next generation.
As big as it has gotten, I still felt like it could grow more. I thought people would sit at home on Saturday nights, see big fights for free on network TV, and become hooked. PPV numbers would continue to grow. Top-level fighters would start making seven, maybe even eight figures, like the great boxers do.
Saturday night I was prepared to write something up as soon as StrikeForce was over. I stayed away from all forms of media to make sure I didn’t know the outcomes when it began six hours after the fact on tape delay in Hawaii. I was excited to see Hendo and Shields. I was excited to see the alternative to a UFC organization that I’ve really soured on in recent months. I was excited to see Mousasi, a guy I’ve really become a fan of.
I can’t begin to explain how depressed I was when 10:30 p.m. rolled around. I witnessed three 25-minute decision fights that I’ve got on DVR in case I can’t fall asleep tonight. I saw another ugly, post-fight brawl involving some of the most classless fighters the sport has ever seen. I saw supposed champions like Mousasi, legends like Dan Henderson, mock the sport by showing up completely unprepared to fight. Both guys looked ready to pass out from exhaustion after 5 minutes of fighting..even though they still had FOUR ROUNDS to go.
I sat back, thought about it for awhile, and for the first time in my life, I came to the realization that this is going to be as big as MMA gets.
Scott Coker has a world of problems at StrikeForce. You have classless fighters like Nick Diaz representing your company as a champion when you can’t trust a single things he does. You have top draws like Dan Henderson and Gegard Mousasi not even bothering to get in shape for headlining fights. You have a champion in Jake Shields waiting to bolt to the UFC, and your biggest star, Fedor Emelianenko, is represented by a company (M-1 Global) that has no interest in helping your organization grow.
The UFC is run by Dana White, a man that has become so stubborn in his ways that it’s starting to show up in his product. Ask him about why fighters are making so little compared to the total revenue the company brings in and he gives you the generic, ‘oh don’t worry, they’re well taken care of’ answer without providing any specifics. Ask him about the horrible judging decisions that are becoming more frequent and he’ll say, ‘well don’t let it go to the judges.’ Great answers that do nothing to address the problems, which seems to be the way he wants it.
Recently, he’s come out and ripped on Penn’s new book, saying most of it is untrue, then admits he hasn’t read it. On twitter, he’s been caught telling people to F*** off. PPV numbers have evened out, live crowds aren’t getting any bigger, and it seems like the UFC has reached a plateau.
This is the guy that’s going to continually stay ahead of the game and take MMA to unparalleled heights? He’s brought the sport where it is today, but in the last 12 months, I continue to see his stubbornness get in the way of great things. Am I wrong about this?
I could go on, but my point is this. Maybe it’s just been a bad run of cards. Maybe it’s just a run of poor matchmaking. But I have a lot of casual fans that I was with watching both UFC 112 two weeks ago and StrikeForce on Saturday night, and none of them came away excited to ever watch an MMA fight again.
Suddenly, a rematch between Shogun and Machida doesn’t interest me. If Fedor decides to come out from wherever he’s hiding and fight again, it doesn’t excite me right now. Why should I trust Dan Henderson, Gegard Mousasi, heck, even B.J. Penn, to show up in shape and prepared to be the very best they can be? And don’t even get me started on Anderson Silva.
I’ve lost my faith in mixed martial arts after Saturday night. I’m tired of wasting 3 hours watching ho-hum fights and spending 55 bucks for UFC PPV’s that have fights like Hughes/Gracie, Silva/Maia and St-Pierre/Hardy that I’m constantly grilled by the UFC as being great matchups.
What’s it going to take to snap MMA out of this funk? Or have we already seen the best it’s ever going to get?