Saturday, 23 July 2011

MMA Prophecies part 1, UFC two team attack


A look into the many possible futures of MMA.
Prophecies translated by Andrew McGuigan.

“The bald headed monster continues to fight across the globe, but cannot be in all places at once, and the world shall weep, impatient for war. A second identical head is grown, and conflict is increased two fold.”

UFC two team attack

Where are we now?

Every year Dana White and Co. reach further abroad to find new countries and venues for UFC shows. Although the frequency of events has increased over the years, the UFC is still a one team show. Joe and Goldie, Buffer and the ring girls- familiar voices, faces and bodies to all fans.

Unfortunately constant global expansion can leave previously romanced countries impatiently waiting for more love and feeling jealousy toward each new conquest.
‘When are they coming back to us?’
‘I thought they said we were getting two shows and a Fight Night this year?’
With Brazil, Sweden, Philippines, China and Japan expected to be colonised by the UFC within the next few years, the problem of events being spread too infrequently across too many territories is only going to get worse.

Take for example the UK UFC event history. There were three UK events in 2007, three in 2008, with two in 2009 and another in Ireland. There was only one UK UFC in 2010, and only one is rumoured so far for 2011. Ireland has done without since 2009, with a rumoured UFC 112 return cancelled when the Abu Dhabi debut went ahead. Could one show per year in each overseas country become the new standard? This pattern is already starting to emerge in Germany, UK and Australia.

A cynical person could think that the UFC’s plan is to roll into every country, get the fans hooked with a few shows before moving on to conquer another country. Perhaps the long term profit comes from instigating TV deals, and encouraging PPV customers, with the live shows serving as bait.

There is no doubt it is a tough balancing act for the UFC, they have to be very careful not to overreach, even as they remain number one.
Producing and advertising for a foreign show is extremely expensive, especially when missing out on American PPV dollars. Overseas cards are often free to view, a consequence of unsocial opposing time-zones, and line-ups that are sometimes percieved by casual fans to have a lack of ‘Star Power.’

Massive growth in the sport of MMA is not just an issue for event hungry fans either.
Dedicated MMA gyms and teams are rising up around the world with increasing numbers of young fighters looking to compete beyond regional shows. When comparing the amount of smaller MMA shows ready for new fighters and the spaces available on the limited UFC ‘big shows,’ we see a wide-based pyramid that is counter-productive to making use of the next generations best fighters.

Is the UFC truly aiming to be a mainstream sport brand installed around the world, or is it limiting itself by being a one show pony?

What will change?

We don’t know exactly how Zuffa’s buyout of Strikeforce will affect MMA in the long term. The UFC of the future will certainly require more than one production team, could the Strikeforce staff be it? A second team could concentrate on putting on regular Fight Night shows, or be dedicated to touring Europe, allowing the current classic team to stay in America or journey abroad for the important fan impressing ‘honey-trap’ shows in new territories.

It is a complicated plan to execute, and certainly not just a case of throwing a new Octagon in a truck with new commentators and camera men and hitting the road. The UFC brand and production values need to be identical so that ticket buying fans do not feel cheated.
Purist fans will initially cry out for Buffer, for Rogan and Goldie, but there are many great existing MMA pundits available for work, as well as fighters who always bring a unique point of view when commentating. How great would it be to hear Bas Rutten, Stephen Quadros or Mauro Ranallo on a UFC show, partnered with Jens Pulver, Kenny Florian etc?

In reality, for the home fans actually attending an event, the main difference would be the presence of Bruce Buffer. The live fan does not get to hear the televised commentary, and ring girls lose a lot of important aesthetic detail when viewed from the cheap seats. Bruce Buffer is of course, an irreplaceable UFC institution, but there are other seasoned masters of ceremony available for additional pro, including Strikeforce’s own Jimmy Lennon Jr, and of course UK MMA legend Ian Freeman.

One secondary benefit will be the need for the recruitment of substantially more ring girls. This will no doubt prompt sparkling debate from men around the world concerning their relative strengths as personable human beings.

Likelihood and timescale

At the present rate of expansion the UFC surely has to consider using multiple touring Octagons and production teams within two years. All of the hard work Dana and the Fertittas have done to bring MMA to new countries and audiences will start to unravel without at least semi-regular events in main cities.

It may not end at two teams either! Countries like Brazil or Japan will obviously benefit from home grown presenters and commentators to avoid language and culture complications. With this team already assembled, and venues waiting nearby, all that are missing are the cage, cameras and production team. Look 20 years into the future and think how much more consolidated the UFC brand will be. It is easy to image every country having its own UFC production team, the ideal staging ground between independent regional MMA, and the big time all-star championship show.

Andrew McGuigan

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