The UFC, New Fan Interest, Old Fan Burnout and the Honeymoon Period

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

I think that we are all aware of a concept called the Honeymoon Period. If not, the Honeymoon Period is that period in any relationship where you can’t get enough of each other, where everything feels fresh, new, invigorating. In a physical relationship with another person that usually means, you know, physical contact — as much as humanly possible, whenever, wherever — but it wears off. I think that most of us have been through that at one point in our lives, hopefully. Been through the thrill of a new relationship and just wanting to be around that person non-stop, only for time to wear on and for it to become different, normal, forcing you to look for new ways to make things interesting again. It isn’t that the attraction isn’t there, it is that you can no longer put life on hold for this relationship, it has to fit within your life.

Yesterday the UFC ran about thirteen hours of programming, which was just brutal in so many ways. What was more interesting was that it was two smaller, less-enticing shows. This wasn’t a top notch Fight Night event followed by a numbered PPV or a Fox show, this was a Fight Pass card in Germany followed by a TUF Finale in Brazil. If you were to measure the offerings from UFC yesterday you’d probably be seeing two of their very worst events back-to-back, with them offering the bare minimum to fans as incentive.

Were there good fights? Yes, but over the span of thirteen hours you’d expect there to at least be a few hits among the misses just due to the sheer numbers alone, so it really wasn’t a tremendous feat or anything. Even the most ardent UFC supporter was feeling worn out midway through the TUF Brazil 3 Finale event, with the two TUF Brazil final matches feeling like needles being jammed into the viewers eyes. The argument will always be that a day like Saturday was for only the “hardcore fans,” but as Dana White is quick to point out, the UFC only caters to hardcore fans, he doesn’t care about the rest.

The problem with that logic is that the definition for a hardcore fan is fluid and changes from day-to-day. I saw a lot of younger, newer fans that were still genuinely excited by the prospect of thirteen hours of UFC action, even if it wasn’t two of the greatest events ever presented. It was fights! It was the UFC! The UFC was giving them a full day’s worth of programming and it was mostly free! These fans are still in that Honeymoon Period. Good for them.

The juxtaposition was a lot of the older fans who have been around the block a few more times, even those that aren’t suffering from the severe burnout that most of us are, they were even at a loss for defending the fights and the pacing. Most were talking about how painful the day was and how they were not looking forward to the next few times that the UFC had scheduled similar events (a few more times this year alone). It wasn’t due to them disliking the UFC or anything, it was just that for a lot of us, that Honeymoon Period ended a long time ago and are facing an entity in the UFC that refuses to evolve or even change a little bit. It doesn’t fit into our lives.

Nearly every form of entertainment tries to adjust itself over the span of many years, knowing that they have a lot of fans who have been around for a while and that showing them the same thing, week-after-week, can be tiring. The only thing that the UFC has really changed in the past ten years has been the opening; no more Gladiator intro and instead they made a new one. Everything else, from the lighting to the music during the intros and over the graphics are the same. Everything. I mean it. Dana White and Joe Rogan still shout at each other at the end of the prelims while Baba O’Riley plays in the arena to let fans know that the main card is starting. We don’t even bother joking about “LOUD NOISES” anymore because we’ve done it so often.

The UFC still presents nu-metal-laden programming and while most of the fighters that were around when we all started watching aren’t fighting anymore, everything else is still exactly the same. The UFC is still pushing the aesthetic of Linkin Park in a world where Linkin Park is no longer relevant, making it surprising that a company like the UFC remains relevant with their tired mode of thinking and presentation. Zuffa’s UFC is a relic from the early 2000’s.

The UFC has always been good at winning over new fans with their attitude, their programming and how the company presents itself as “fuck you, we don’t care what you think.” Most of us look at the UFC right now and sigh, but for a newer fan it has to feel cool, just like it felt those many years ago for most of us (mid-90’s for me! I’m getting old.). The problem seems to be that the UFC doesn’t know how to keep things fresh. The UFC is fantastic during that Honeymoon Period, then shows no desire to change anything up to keep fans happy. Yesterday’s marathon of live UFC was either great for those in their Honeymoon Period, or a complete waste of a day for most of us who aren’t in that period of overlooking flaws and putting our lives on hold.

The UFC hasn’t hit the gym, bought any nice new clothes, said anything nice or done anything out of the ordinary and surprised many of us in years. We still watch, we still hold on hoping that things can change, thinking, “well, maybe it’s me, maybe I’ve just changed and it’s my fault” while the UFC is about as appealing as watching laundry tumble through a front-loading dryer at the laundrymat. Hell, even the “TUF n00bs” are starting to get burned out. This is where we are at right now and this is why UFC’s ratings and PPV buys aren’t going up but slowly decreasing over time; they might attract new fans, but they aren’t retaining the old ones.

It has been an abusive relationship, too, for many fans. Dana White is quick to brush off criticism by claiming that those criticizing the UFC aren’t “real fans.” So, you know, the people who obsessively talked about the UFC for years, those that bought PPVs and invited friends over to watch it, those that dragged friends to live events, which sometimes meant buying their ticket, those fans. Those are the people who aren’t real fans in the eyes of the UFC and Dana White. Those people who helped their growth throughout the years, those people who helped create new fans while the UFC remained unchanged throughout the years. Those are the people that the UFC has pushed away and cast aside, while breeding a new generation of fans to do the same exact thing to.

So what happens when their Honeymoon is over? How does the UFC fit into a fan’s life when it monopolizes weekends three out of four times a month and claims that you aren’t a “real fan” if you aren’t into every single fight?