This Saturday, the UFC returns with another free show live on Fox, bolstering its still burgeoning fan base.
Longtime followers of mixed martial arts and the UFC, before its huge crossover appeal began, are now are now surrounded by new fans who know more about Ronda Rousey than they do about Kazushi Sakuraba.
So with this weekend’s main event offering of Rashad Evans vs. Glover Teixeira and the co-main event of Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson 2, it is no wonder that a normal PPV card like this is now relegated to pining for new customers via free distribution.
MMA is starting to have its first public sifting out of its veterans. Either they must win the new audience, or be forced out of the UFC and to Bellator, if they're even wanted by them.
In the past, if you saw an big MMA card featuring two former Light Heavyweight champions, and a three-division champion all in the main and co-main event, your natural reaction might be to ask: how much for the pay-per-view?
However, in the new over-saturated market of mixed martial arts, that doesn’t even warrant a PPV nod. It actually is now a calling card for free TV with the credentials of the athletes being used to rally a new fan base that has been jaded with a growing plethora of combat options.
Case in point, former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Rashad Evans takes on former Light Heavyweight contender, Glover Teixeira in the main event. Evans won The Ultimate Fighter season 2 as the smallest Heavyweight in the competition. Before that he was a Junior College National Wrestling Champion (2000) for Niagara County Community College going 13-0 to win the coveted UFC Light Heavyweight championship from Forest Griffin, winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 1.
This was all when the UFC Light Heavyweight division was the draw for not only the UFC but for all of MMA. Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson, to name a few, grew the brand and the sport exponentially.
Evans' fight against Jackson helped the base of the sport expand domestically and internationally, yet a string of losses after losing his title shot against then champion Jon Jones, and a string of injuries rendered him lost in the shuffle.
Henderson is the most decorated athlete still in the Octagon, yet his greatness is now relegated to a co-main slot on network television. Unlike boxing’s Premier Boxing Champions platform which grows a bevy of unknown champions to today’s casual fight fan, UFC had dominated by securing all the top talents like Henderson, and forcing interest to the fight game’s marquee gradient for success: pay-per-view.
However, with the overabundance of MMA programming from the UFC and its digital subscription model, UFC Fight Pass, which houses a library of obscure current and past fight promotions, along with competition from Viacom owned Bellator MMA, mixed martial arts veterans are now at their turning point.
MMA has to face the fact that it might have risen so quickly that it is indeed cannibalizing itself, and the main victims will be its veterans.
Free-agency has now entered the cage with notable fighters from the UFC now having the ability to take their show over to Bellator, forcing matchmakers to up their purse offerings across the promotional line.
But with Bellator still reeling from bad events like Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 and Royce Gracie’s embarrassing vintage showcase over a pathetic Ken Shamrock, the grass truly isn’t greener anywhere.
Only time will tell if the proliferation of MMA will grow the sport the way boxing has benefited recently.
However, MMA needs to figure out how to properly keep the buzz for its biggest former stars, or else risk their forced retirement due to the perceived sideshow and circus pasturing of its greats.