Part of what makes entertainment compelling — be it fictional or based upon fact — is telling a story that draws in the viewer and forces them to have an emotional reaction. This is the main job of a novelist, filmmaker, artist, musician and yes, even athletes. Sure, for an athlete this might not be their main concern, but for those that can transcend just their actions and their given sport it is what helps to take them to that next level.
The UFC became a breakaway success for this exact reason; they had some stars that they built up and showcased, which made for compelling entertainment and made fans feel like they needed to tune in. Fighters like Tito Ortiz, Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and BJ Penn were sold as larger-than-life heroes, modern day gladiators that were risking life and limb by stepping into the cage to fight. Then, as is prone to happen in sports, they all began to age and one by one they either fell off into obscurity or retired, leaving the UFC to build up new champions and draws.
Like an act of god, former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar fell into their laps and created the biggest Zuffa-era freakshow that was able to draw in fans. It was like a scene from King Kong where everyone was oohing and ahhing at the giant man with his 4XL gloves that Joe Rogan kept reminding us of. Even the shot that he landed on Heath Herring was comical in nature, sending Herring into a backward roll while Lesnar charged across the cage like an angry bull. It was this kind of entertainment that transcended the sport and helped to draw in fans, with the “Brock Lesnar Effect” rubbing off on a few fighters, including UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.
The thing is, like with most freakshows, they don’t last forever. We’ve seen this before with Bob Sapp and Kimbo Slice, these guys make a huge splash in the beginning and then tend to taper off before just fizzling out. Left in the wake of Brock Lesnar are a slew of UFC Champions that have tried hard to establish themselves but have not been able to repeat the past glories, guys like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. Both men have been on top of their respective divisions for years now, but what’s clear after the last six months is that those eras are both over and done with.
Without GSP or Anderson Silva we are left with prima donnas like Jon Jones who has yet to make a positive impact with most fans and then a revolving door in most other divisions of fighters who most fans simply aren’t familiar enough with to really care about. The UFC has a bunch of platforms to promote these fighters but it feels like they’ve been scrambling for years trying to make any piece fit into the puzzle in an attempt to strike gold yet again without a proper build.
I don’t have a problem with Chris Weidman, as he is a fine fighter, but something about the way that he got to his fight against Anderson Silva was hollow. He was thrust into the spotlight and with one punch was able to topple one of the UFC’s few remaining draws only for most people to have to sit back and realize that they know very little about Chris Weidman and have very little reason to be emotionally invested in his journey or championship reign. It doesn’t help that historically in divisions that had a strong champion for a while we’ve seen the belt hot potatoed from one fighter to the next until the next dominant champion comes along.
Georges St-Pierre’s possible retirement marks the end of an era for the UFC with it looking like nothing but dark days ahead in their already turbulent waters of Fox Sports 1 and dwindling PPV buys.