Don’t call it a comeback…
Because it isn’t one. This is merely a guest column! It’s been eight months since I departed the Bloody Elbow staff and thus eight months away from UFC commitments, which has provided me some much-needed perspective on life outside this industry.
A couple of weeks ago Luke Thomas asked on Twitter how much fans are satisfied with the current UFC product. Results were mixed, to put it kindly. Maybe I’m in the minority as far as not minding live events at the Apex facility.
Financially, the UFC is doing great
Anyway, let me preface this by saying that the UFC is financially as strong and stable as can be. They have ESPN’s financial backing on pay-per-views. The UFC’s 2022 was its best financial year ever, and that’s without Conor McGregor or Jon Jones competing. Fighter revenue share has actually lowered, aka Endeavor is enjoying even more of the fruits of its labor’s labor. There is no doubt that the UFC’s business successes are superb and thus any “UFC is dying” takes are baseless.
This is also the least I’ve watched live UFC cards since becoming a fan of the sport well over 15 years ago.
Before I was brought on as a Bloody Elbow columnist in 2012 I’d watch every UFC show, including those dreaded West Coast tape delays where I had to stay off BE and other outlets for three hours. I still watch every pay-per-view main card, but I have skipped out on live viewings of nearly all Fight Night shows even when I’ve had the free time to watch. I know I’m not the only ex-MMA writer who falls in this bucket; some have quit the sport entirely.
Watching the UFC is more expensive than ever
Call me a casual or a jaded fight fan or whatever you want, but my desire to watch entire UFC cards on a near weekly basis is all but gone. There is no other major sport or sports league that demands more of your year-round attention to live competition. We are talking roughly 40 events lasting anywhere from 5-8 hours, and that’s been the standard for nine years and counting.
If the UFC has made constant content a fixture for almost a decade, what makes this particular era feel different? Well for starters there’s never been a more expensive time to be a fight fan. If you live in the United States want to legally watch every card, you need a $9.99/month ESPN+ subscription in addition to $80 for each pay-per-view event.
You’d feel jaded too if you thought you weren’t getting the stand-and-bang for your buck. But the other key aspect to me is the evolving overall quality of the roster. I am not talking about the champions, top contenders, or perennial action fighters, most of whom are still appointment viewing to me; it’s the revolving door of fringe and non-contenders that have changed the equation.
We’ve reached a point in time where the UFC has such an overwhelming, unassailable market share dominance that their well-oiled machine can afford to let go of quality, ranked fighters–in the case of Francis Ngannou, the literal best heavyweight in the world–to other promotions. PFL, Bellator, ONE, etc. all have a significant number of high-level fighters…
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