I always find myself looking at Mixed Martial Arts and trying to really put my finger on what I find wrong with it. It is a difficult thing to explain to people, because many look at criticism as an outlet for hatred and frustration, as opposed to an attempt to help express your issues with something that you actually care about. That is where I’m at with MMA and where I’ve been for quite a while now. I’ve been a fan of MMA for just about as long as I can remember, as I was lucky enough to be of age when the first few UFC events were happening and have a father whose friends were really into watching fights on PPV.
The concept of the “dream match” between two fighters has seemed to become obsolete with the UFC’s dominance over the market, which some are pleased with, but I see it as troubling for the sport. Part of what has helped the sport grow over the years has been fans’ passion and imagination, which is no longer needed to be a UFC fan. Instead, fans are fed a healthy, yet unsatisfying diet of fights that they are told are the best vs. the best, but never give any fighters a chance to stand out as the best or stoke the imaginative flames like fights in the past have done.
The guise of the best fighting the best has been what has really fueled the past few years of the UFC, the phase in which they’ve bought out all of their competition and monopolized the sport. To many, this is great because there are no longer these lingering questions of who the best is, there is no longer a group of outliers fighting in other organizations, crushing the competition and calling out the big names in the UFC even though it was a longshot for those dream fights to ever happen.
In essence, the concept of the “dream match” is dead, which to some fans is a great thing. You don’t have to dream, the UFC will just make it happen. But what it does is makes the sport more of a homogenous affair. There isn’t much to look forward to or desire, something which clearly is a part of the collective consciousness, as so many fans are clamoring for these interdivisional “super fights” between champions. The UFC “super fight” concept has replaced the dream match up for many, as the market has been dulled down to only one place to turn for fights and a few very small rivals who don’t even appear as a blip on the radar.
People are drawn to things that seem like long shots, stuff that won’t just naturally occur, but instead has to be forced into being. Two fighters not competing in the same place creates this natural buffer, letting them exist in their own environment with their own accomplishments. I’m not even sure that these big fights need to happen, as much as they need to be discussed to keep fans’ imaginations in motion. Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell was a great example of this, as when they were both in their primes this was THE fight to make, without a doubt. Both men wanted it, fans discussed it, argued over it and were passionate about it, then got it many years down the road when the UFC purchased PRIDE.
What it showed us was that these dream fights have a natural half-life, which has a lot to do on the age of the fighters and their relative competition. The fight happened, arguably, five years too late for both men. It was a very entertaining fight regardless, but neither man was at the top of the heap anymore, the division and the sport had begun to pass them by. In a way, both of them retiring before they could ever meet, while a cumbersome ending, would have left the debate on the table of who would win between Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell.
A great example of how this kind of “near miss” benefits a fighter would be with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. For years this was the fight to make in Boxing, as both men were the pound-for-pound greats in the world of Boxing, commanding the biggest paydays and selling the most PPVs for their respective fights. Both men held out and both men remained in the news for years, with talk of the potential fight and just how big it would be. Eventually, Manny Pacquiao’s career began to slow down, even though he was a skilled fighter, he was a product of extreme marketing and promoting. Meanwhile, Floyd’s star has continued to climb, sustained by the potential hype of that fight. When his nemesis eventually lost a few fights, Boxing pundits and fans decried that Boxing had lost its chance, but the numbers seem to speak differently, as Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez did over 2.2 million PPV sales last month.
It is this kind of potential that MMA is losing out on right now due to the dilution of the market and by fans always being fed the best vs. the best, week after week, month after month. No one is having the chance to get built up as a star, no one has a chance to be that outlier that fans can rally around anymore. MMA is simply not like other sports, and a constant diet of the best vs. the best is making the sport that more dull, while all fans want is to use their imaginations and to be able to dream again.