A few months back I wrote a column highlighting the sale of the UFC from Zuffa and the Fertitta family to Hollywood super talent agency WME-IMG. I cautioned in the article written prior to UFC 200 that changes would be coming to the product, and time will tell how it all plays out regarding the future and popularity of the UFC. After only 3 months we are starting to see massive effects of the sale in the company’s day to day operations, public perception, and fighter happiness. Spoiler Alert! It’s not good. I will present 5 issues that are currently negatively affecting the UFC both its current state as well as the future of the company. Those who were afraid of a sale changing the culture and overall good momentum of the company and the sport might have been onto something.
1. Significant Layoffs
Only 3 months after the WME-IMG company purchased the UFC from the Fertittas for 4 BILLION dollars, they are laying off approximately 10-15% of their 400 person operating staff per various reports (not including fighters). This leads me to believe WME-IMG took over and realized they paid too much/future projections weren’t looking good, and immediately cut costs. You could also argue the new company is moving their own people into positions, but the amount of employees gone has to have morale at an all time low. The most disturbing loss is Vice President of Talent Operations and match maker Joe Silva, credited as co-mastermind with White in the UFC’s rise. Silva has been the main match maker for UFC going back prior to Zuffa purchasing the company. This will have a huge effect on the product presented and the overall quality of fight cards.
2. Conor McGregor is a Problem
I know he is the major draw for the UFC, but his price and ego is becoming too much for Dana White and the UFC to control for much longer. Plus, they seem to be using him quite a bit in absence of other stars. Another loss at UFC 205, or one in the next year would be a cause of great concern for the company. He seems to have a shelf life, and is a great self promoter who will make big money in entertainment outside the UFC if they have another one of their disagreements.
3. GSP Gone?
With the purchase of the UFC, you would think WME-IMG would be desperate for more big time draws, with George St. Pierre being a gigantic fan favorite and arguably in the top 5 of UFC fighters of all time. GSP was negotiating for a return to the company after going into a semi-retirement after 2014. Now it seems those negotiations have broken down, with GSP claiming he is a free agent. There are conflicting stories about whether or not he is under contract, so it’s possible you could see him in Bellator.
4. TV and Event issues
If I was the UFC, I would be concerned with the NFL’s drop in ratings. I am sure part of the pitch to the new ownership group was the large TV rights UFC is banking on when their TV deal is up with Fox in 2018. ESPN and other competition to Fox may not be willing to drive the price up to what the UFC projected. People are cutting the cord and sports TV ratings are down. They also have an issue with too many events a year. I would not be surprised to see the company have to scale back events, not because of lack of money, but lack of interest in lower TV ratings and attendance.
5. Dana White Uncertainty
He’s the reason the UFC has reached the heights where they are today, but he also can be a detriment when he lets personal grudges and ego get in the way of business. His current feud with Jose Aldo is bizarre, and brings into question fighters trusting White to keep a balance between the best interests of the company along with properly compensating fighters. Any promoter will have to make tough choices and promises that sometimes need to be broken, yet White’s personality makes difficult situations with fighters worse. With the changes in the UFC structure, from the Fertittas and Silva exiting, I wouldn’t be shocked to see White gone from the UFC within 2 years. I know he signed a new contract, but he has enough FU money to exit if he clashes with management or gets too much heat for his unique management style from WME-IMG.
Fighting to the Future
On the surface, the UFC product hasn’t changed one bit since WME-IMG took over operations a few months ago. Yet appearances can be deceiving, as much has changed behind the scenes with more to come. Has the UFC stacked 2016 and left 2017 with a lack of good matchups and available star fighters? The company still has some exciting events planned, with UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden being a huge win for the company being able to get into New York State and MSG. Ronda Rousey’s return was announced for UFC 207 in Las Vegas December 30th against current bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. The UFC needs Rousey to win in order to solidify another huge main event attraction along with McGregor. 2016 was the most intriguing year for the UFC since they hit it big with the Ultimate Fighter TV show in 2005. The sale of the company to WME-IMG will have an impact on the type of product presented. The big question is when will the loyal fan base notice something has changed?