Let’s imagine a future hockey world where the following scenario faces us;
It is the year 2025, and the NHL is winding down it’s season. The regular season is long over and the standings have been decided. The 16 teams that made the playoffs have all played off in the last month and a half and the final two teams remain. The Edmonton Oilers, led by the NHL’s biggest star Connor McDavid are the Western Conference champions and they will host the start of the Stanley Cup Finals in just a few days. The Oilers are the sweetheart of the league and because of McDavid, attract crowds in the street, pack arenas in every city and provide ratings and revenue the NHL has never seen before.
In the Eastern Conference sits the Columbus Blue Jackets who just finished an extremely tough series with the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner led Toronto Maple Leafs where they narrowly defeated them in seven action packed games. The Blue Jackets are not a team filled with many big names or league stars but they have just given their heart and soul to get to this dream final. They are the undisputed better team.
The new National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman Jr. is recently in place and has been blown away by the record setting ratings and revenue that both the Oilers and Leafs have been able to draw throughout this past season. The owners and board of governors don’t want to pass up this chance to cash in on the one-time dream final between McDavid and his team and Matthews and his team.
They announce that while they acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and hard work done by the Blue Jackets, they are not really a league “needle mover” and so the league has decided that in the best interests of business and revenue, the Maple Leafs will indeed be in the finals against the Oilers and not the Blue Jackets. Sorry, it’s just business in today’s day and age.
Would you accept this and champion it as just the way the sport is going? Would you question it and yell and scream, knowing that the future integrity of the league was at stake?
Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the new UFC.
Yes, technically this is an odd comparison because the UFC is “sport” and “entertainment” combined into one. Many separate the UFC from the other major sports by saying it is not just a sport it is entertainment too. That is very true but, in theory, the scenario made up above is not far off from what is happening to fighters in today’s UFC.
The past year has been filled with questionable title shots and interim titles never seen in the “old” days of the UFC. I consider the old days of the UFC the Georges St-Pierre era and pre-Ronda Rousey and pre-Conor McGregor. It’s the new era of the UFC now where veteran fighters are heckled by drunken fans at press conferences, new champions don’t defend titles and interim belts are being handed out like glow sticks at a Taylor Swift concert. None of this matters, say the powers-that-be, as long as the numbers and the revenue for the next pay-per-view soar higher than the last one.
Last week, former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre announced his return to the Octagon and at first, it seemed it may be a call to restore order in the new world era of the UFC. Surely GSP would take a tune-up fight to get his feet under him before challenging for the welterweight title that he never relinquished before he left on hiatus in 2013. He knows the importance of the MMA pecking order, of walking before you run, a concept totally lost on Phil Brooks (CM Punk) when he stepped into the UFC last fall without as much as one fight under his belt.
Nope. Wishful thinking. GSP has his own motives and agenda for coming back and he wants to make history and so another scenario like the one above has been created. GSP will jump the queue on at least two middleweight fighters who have been spilling blood, sweat and tears in the three years that he has been away. Ronald Jacare Souza is 7-1 in the UFC middleweight division since GSP left and has paid his dues and then some. Yoel Romero is 8-0 in that time and already beat Souza for a title shot back in December 2015. Neither man has had a fight for the UFC title because they don’t “move the needle,” just like the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The new UFC is going the way of boxing in the late 80’s and early 90’s where the promoters of the sport teamed up with the biggest star fighters and carried out one simple mandate; to make money above all else. In an article by quora.com on why boxing has lost it’s popularity in America, Keith Henning wrote;
“Promoters are worried about PPV numbers, and protecting their cash cows, but making great fights isn’t part of their calculation. Fighters are going a year or more between fights just to sit on that belt. Its shameful really.”
Sound familiar? UFC president Dana White has said for years that the downfall of boxing motivated him to create a fight promotion where the fans get to see the best fights between the best fighters at a given time. It was what I loved about the UFC the most. UFC fans were not held hostage by promoters, prima-donnas or pay-per-view quotas.
Boxing abandoned that credo in the 1990’s for stars, fame and money.
The UFC has also abandoned that credo, and is going the way of boxing.
RIP to the UFC as we know and love it.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a freelance journalist who has covered mixed martial arts and the UFC for various outlets for 12+ years. Outlets include: Bleacher Report, Sportsnet, MMACanada and CKSN.