The UFC deserves all the credit for the success of mixed martial arts. Two decades ago, things were bleak as MMA was illegal in several states in the U.S., and the authorities preferred to keep it that way. The sport was facing major difficulties during its early days; with Arizona Senator John McCain nicknaming it “human cockfighting” in 1996, and making it his personal agenda to stop it from airing.
However, the UFC has struggled over the years and has convinced former opponents like McCain to fall in love with the game. In fact, the UFC has been described as the fastest-growing sports enterprise in the world. The sport has transformed into one of the biggest sports brands that attracts millions of viewers who idolize the fist-wielding champions of the Octagon.
Today, UFC ranks itself as the world’s most valuable sports franchise; a major success when you consider that Dana White and the Fertitta brothers acquired the company for a meager $2 million back in 2001.
What White and the Fertitta brothers got back then was an old cage and the brand UFC, but they have turned the sport into a global monopoly, owing most of the success to White’s promotional genius, at least according to hardcore MMA fans.
The UFC has overtaken WWE and boxing on Pay Per View box office, and this is mostly because the UFC has managed to create star fighters and fierce rivalries; accompanied by remarkable athleticism. The sport is a mashup of extraordinary skills that leaves the fans entertained all year through.
What do you expect from a full contact combat sport that combines Muay Thai, judo, catch wrestling, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, kickboxing, and amateur wrestling?
UFC’s popularity and visibility specifically skyrocketed around 2005, mostly owing to the success of The Ultimate Fighter TV show, an American reality TV series and MMA competition produced by Fox.
However, the fact that the sport has come a long way does not mean there are no skeletons in the closet. There have been allegations that the UFC is facing a number of challenges: pay-per-view has experienced a significant decline, and some of UFC’s biggest stars, like Brock Lesnar, returned to pro wrestling after several losses. In addition, there have also been speculations of high-profile rivalries within fighters outside of the Octagon.
While the sport has grown internationally, some of its facts are unsettling, and the UFC has been left wading through the storm hoping that solutions pop up. Some of these facts have been there from the beginning while others are new and have resulted from UFC’s recent expansion.
Here are 15 unsettling facts about the UFC:
15. THE AUTHORITARIAN UFC-REEBOK DEAL IS UNFAIR AND RESTRICTIVE
Reebok became the official sponsor and sole provider of apparel for the UFC on July 6, 2015, though the announcement was made on December 2, 2014. Under the agreement, Reebok was required to pay $70 million to the UFC over a period of six years, and in return, every fighter is required to wear a Reebok labeled attire during all the fight activities and during the fight itself.
UFC owners argued that having a single sponsor would put them on the right path in competing with other major leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, but it seems the loss of individual sponsors is taking its toll on the UFC. In fact, it has already damaged relations with most fighters. This has seen UFC’s competitor, Bellator MMA, moving in fast and signing up former UFC employees like Chael Sonnen, Benson Henderson, Matt Mitrione, and Rory MacDonald. The Reebok deal has sent away business minded fighters because it forces them to align themselves with a company they cannot relate with.
The whole idea of sponsorship in UFC is to enable MMA fighters to play to their personas while taking hold of their financial future. Before Reebok, fighters would wear different logos and get paid. They would deepen their pockets further using social media because the packages were that flexible. But all this ended when Reebok came into the picture.
Controversies emerged after the Reebok deal, and some employees claimed they were fired for speaking their minds. The deal has been severely criticized on social media platforms like Twitter with most fans claiming the deal was unfair and restrictive.
14. HEAD TRAUMA IS COMMON
For a UFC fighter, the reality is that there is likely going to be a trip to the hospital for a broken nose or a cut. Unfortunately, the diagnosis can sometimes be complicated and very costly. But head injuries are the most common.
When a fighter is concussed, chances are such a player may experience some form of problem with his or her personal health. When Ronda Rousey was knocked out by Holly Holm and White came out to say that there was nothing wrong with Ronda, it was a clear indication that the UFC does not acknowledge the seriousness of brain injuries.
In fact, it was only after Joe Rogan brought up the issue that people took it seriously.
One of the most notable cases of a severe head injury resulting from a combat sport can be referenced back to Trinidadian-Canadian heavyweight Gary Goodridge. In an interview, Gary reveals the challenges of living with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and how he has thought of commuting suicide on several occasions. It is heartbreaking.
UFC is not very old, but if the sport continues, we should expect to hear more of such cases in the future, especially after most of the fighters turn into senior citizens. It is only then that people will realize the adverse effects of MMA on the brain.
It should not take a genius to understand that getting hit repeatedly in the head for a long time is likely to cause a brain damage. But fighters know this, yet they prefer to risk their futures if it means becoming a prized fighter and living a glorious life.
In fact, research claims that most of the trauma takes place in training camps where fighters are required to go out of their way to prepare for fights. Occasionally, fighters will get knocked out or get concussed, but they have to get up and keep going.
13. FIGHTERS USE STEROIDS
The techniques and energy required to engage in a UFC fight are immense, and audiences are naïve to think that the fighters are ‘clean’ all the time. The UFC has been doing a commendable job in curbing the use of steroids, but there are still allegations of drug use among fighters.
In fact, there have been instances where the UFC has been accused of allowing fights even after the participants have failed drug tests. One such fight was between Vitor Belfort and Jon Jones. It is believed that the UFC knew Belfort had failed a drug test but ‘buried’ the results and allowed the fight to go on.
Jones nearly lost his arm in the fight and was later disappointed with the UFC. Who knows how many failed drug tests UFC covers up? They could be hundreds or more. The reality is that the UFC hates calling off fights.
Rousimar Palhares was busted in 2013 after his TKO loss to Hector Lombard. Palhares tested positive for elevated testosterone. Another fighter, Chael Sonnen was busted in 2010 after his submission loss to Anderson Silva. Sonnen tested positive for a Performance-Enhancing Drug, initially dubbed a “natural steroid.” He received a $2,500 fine and a year of suspension from the CSAC (California State Athletic Commission).
Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem was busted in 2012 during a random drug test. He had a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio of 14:1 and his request to be licensed to compete was denied. American Nate Marquardt was busted in 2011 after failing his pre-fight medicals. He tested positive for elevated testosterone and was immediately fired by the UFC.
12. IT IS A BARBARIC SPORT THAT IS STILL ILLEGAL IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES
Before the UFC was taken over by Zuffa, the sport was marketed as a deathmatch where two fighters were expected to battle until there was only one survivor. It was considered a barbaric sport and UFC could do almost anything to get attention.
Even though things have changed since the “dark age” of UFC, the sport still involves vigorous fighting and high levels of adrenaline. The fighters’ lives are still at risk during matches, and most of the players have huge egos that make the sport even more dangerous.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is still considered brutal in some circles and is banned in several countries, but UFC has gone ahead and used it as a money-making ‘machine.’ How else can you describe a sport where the objective is to kick and punch an opponent until he is senseless?
João Carvalho died of a brain injury sustained in a fight, and his demise highlighted the brutality of this so-called sport. Evidence from various medical associations confirms that repeated blows to the head, experienced by most MMA fighters, can result in permanent brain injury.
Participating in MMA is simply putting oneself to a lifetime risk of disability or even death, but when UFC markets its matches, none of this is mentioned. Instead, the society has sat back and allowed audiences to pay money to watch brutal acts of violence all in the name of entertainment.
11. FIGHTER PAY IS UNEQUITABLE AND UNSATISFACTORY
Reports claim that UFC fighters only receive a small portion of the income generated from fights. This is regardless of the fact that it is the participants who risk paying the ultimate price.
A good number of active and former fighters have revealed publicly that their pay is unfair, but every time this issue arises, White always comes to the UFC’s rescue. In fact, some former fighters formed a class-action lawsuit to sue the UFC. However, active fighters have kept their complaints secretive because the UFC ‘controls their careers and futures.’
With the amount of money that UFC makes, it’s surprising that its fighters can complain about pay. That is not forgetting that they encounter numerous expenses including manager fees, gym fees, travel expenses, nutritionist fees, and expenses for the training camp.
This kind of investment requires that a fighter is well compensated, but a good number of fighters continue to swim through debt. It is true that plenty of money can be made when a fighter rises to the top ranks, but most fighters do not make it to the top. Worse, the sport is violent and dangerous, meaning it can result in a myriad of other medical expenses.
Though the UFC has continuously tried to improve its payouts, especially for those in top ranks, the sport continues to be criticized. Maybe it’s White and the other bosses who pocket most of the earnings.
10. FREAK SHOW FIGHTS
Think about the skills required for one to be considered an MMA fighter: wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, judo, taekwondo, and karate. UFC is no child’s play and requires consistent effort in skill building.
But the UFC has continuously made the mistake of signing professional sportsmen and women from other fields who lack martial arts skills. For example, the UFC once signed professional wrestler CM Punk even though he did not have any martial arts fighting skills. He may have had some Jiu-Jitsu skills, but it was a dangerous move.
The gain to UFC was that Punk brought in large audiences who were eager to see how he would perform, including haters who were keenly watching the outcome.
Fans also witnessed the quick defeat of boxing legend James Toney by Randy Couture. We could easily say that the almost every fight in the first few years of UFC’s existence were freak show fights. Most fighters were seemingly unaware of what to do and what to expect.
UFC has tried its best to eliminate freak show fights, but the kind of action that we see in the octagon sometimes casts doubt on whether UFC is serious about phasing out freak show fights.
When Randy Couture destroyed James Toney at UFC 118, it was an ugly scene for boxing lovers. When Couture pinned him to the ground, Toney had no idea what to do or how to defend himself. Both fans and UFC officials knew this was a serious mismatch, but the fight went on anyway. Toney had never participated in MMA, yet he was going against one of UFC’s best fighters. It was clear that the UFC, and White, had no intention of promoting the fight based on ability, it was just a gimmick.
Another noteworthy fight was between backyard brawler Kimbo Slice and Matt Mitrione where Kimbo lost.
9. FIGHTING OUTSIDE THE CAGE
On August 8, 2014, Christy Mack suffered a dreadful attack in the hands of her former lover and MMA fighter, Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver, commonly referred to as War Machine. Following the attack, Mack managed to escape to a hospital with shattered teeth, a broken nose, and a lacerated liver. War Machine had even cut her hair using a kitchen knife before sexually assaulted her.
HBO later released a segment dubbed “Real Sports” that went into detail on the attack; even releasing graphic photos and descriptions of the incident.
The intention of “Real Sports” was to emphasize the need for the UFC to establish stronger policies against domestic abuse. The series was also persuading the UFC to raise its standards when signing up fighters, especially those who have past records of assault.
Mack is not the only one who has suffered in the hands of an MMA fighter. Figures from “Real Sports” indicate that the rate of domestic abuse cases among MMA fighters is threefold when compared recorded cases from professional football. HBO’s research shows that the number of domestic violence cases reported among highly-ranked MMA competitors is extremely high and wanting. It seems that UFC fighters like violence and are temperamental.
Thiago Silva was apprehended in February 2014 for a number of charges, one of which was putting a gun inside his wife’s mouth. Middleweight fighter, Kyacey Uscola, received a 10-year sentence for attacking the woman who had bore his child. The attack left the woman with a few broken ribs and a wounded lung.
South Korean-born, Joseph Hyungmin Son, also known as Joe Son, is serving life in prison for murder. Other fighters who have also been accused of domestic violence include Travis Browne and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
What is more disturbing is that some fighters with convictions have made a return to the ring.
Some experts believe that head trauma can result in anger issues. Australian Jesse-Rose Clark also revealed how she had been experiencing anger issues with her Aussie MMA fighter, Julian Wallace. Apparently, Wallace had kicked her in the head before putting her in a Muay Thai clinch and elbowing her face repeatedly. The reason: she had made the wrong order for dinner.
8. INTERNATIONAL MAFIA TROUBLES
Dana White has in the past revealed how he was driven out of Boston by criminals who wanted payments from his gym. The leader of the gang in question was none other than Whitey Bulger who was arrested on June 22, 2011.
Dana White has in the past opened up about the problems facing the UFC as it tries to expand into foreign markets and one of them is corruption and organized crime. One example is Japan’s Yakuza mafia, which is allegedly responsible for the fall of PRIDE FC. UFC has also had trouble entering Mexico because of corruption and organized crime, and what is known as “The Mexican initiative.”
UFC had made plans with Pride to have Japanese shows, but unfortunately, the plan could not go through because mafias were in control of the region. There have been several mentions of organized crime in places like Macao and Japan, and this has significantly hindered the growth of UFC. There have also been allegations that UFC cannot penetrate India because of corruption.
7. JUDGING IS INCONSISTENT
One of the most debated and controversial issues in UFC is the judging. The scorecards have remained confusing to both experienced fighters and their fans, and the truth is that the judgment is not always perfect.
Judges are expected to watch out for Octagon control, effective aggressiveness, clean strikes, and effective grappling. Then there is the “10-Point Must System.” Clearly, there is plenty that a judge is required to take in and judges are faced with the hard task of remembering and interpreting a lot.
The point system gets criticized though the UFC has been unable to come up with a substitute.
There have been numerous instances where the scores did not add up or fights where judges turn in different scorecards. The other guess is that there may be some bad judges out there. We can argue that sometimes officials aren’t updated about the new rules, or they just chose to be considerate in their judging process. When you assign a UFC bout to a judge who is trained as a boxing judge, you do not expect the judgment to be right. Sadly, this is the kind of behavior that is commonly practiced in UFC tournaments.
Most experts claim there exists no unified training and recruitment program, or sometimes the problem may be that judges do not have the knowledge to evaluate the outcome of a UFC fight accurately.
Referees have stopped fights prematurely while some have prolonged dangerous fights and have put the lives of fighters at risk.
Sean Sherk’s win over Evan Dunham received a hostile reaction from UFC fans because it looked like Dunham had won the match. Other controversial rulings were between Matt Hamill and Michael Bisping; and Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson.
6. SUCCESS IS BASED ON PERSONALITY MORE THAN SKILLS
When you are in the people punching business, being great at hitting people is the key to success, but you must also know how to make people want to see you punch your opponents. A UFC fighter is an entertainer who must figure out a way of convincing millions of strangers to pay for tickets, and unfortunately, sometimes a fighter with a great personality, or one with millions of followers on Twitter, may get away with this, even with mediocre skills in the octagon.
A number of skilled and respectful fighters have often been overlooked while those with weak skills and poor records have been praised because that is just how the UFC works. A fighter like Chael Sonnen has been receiving numerous title shots because he has a funny personality and is an expert in trash talking. On the other hand, a skilled fighter like Chris Weidman has had to beg for a title shot.
It seems like in the UFC; you gain more popularity if you can talk trash in press conferences, on social media, and during fight interviews. It doesn’t matter whether you have the skills to back up your potty mouth. Occasionally, fighters have used social media to challenge opponents, to insult haters, and to trash-talk anyone crossing their path. This is an excellent way to rise in the ranks. In fact, this is how some fighter have risen above their pay grades.
5. THE INJURY BUG
Injuries can bring fear because they are capable of ending a fighter’s career. In most cases, UFC fights sometimes have to be delayed or canceled because of this threat.
Unfortunately, fighters experience injuries all the time: busted knee, ruptured ear, fractured finger, or broken ribs. Such injuries interfere with the plans of UFC matchmakers and often lead to millions in lost revenue.
Meek was forced to withdraw from his fight against Nordine Taleb owing to an injury. Welterweights Max “Pain” Griffin was also compelled to pull out of a fight due to an injury ending his to-be fight with Sérgio Moraes. Featherweight Godofredo “Pepey” Castro also called off a fight with Kyle Bochniak because of a nose injury. Other fighters who have pulled out of fights include Shinsho Anzai, Joaquim Silva, Renato Carneiro, and Branon Thatch.
Today, the UFC witnesses an increase in fights that are canceled or changed. In fact, it is normal to have at least two fighters change a card before the actual event. Some experts claim that fighters are finding it easier to avoid fights by claiming they have injuries. Whether this is true or not, injuries are bad for UFC.
4. FIGHTERS DECLINING TO COMBAT OTHER FIGHTERS
On June 19, 2017, UFC announced that it had stripped Dutch fighter Germaine de Randamie of her women’s featherweight belt. UFC had taken this action because Randamie had declined to fight Cris “Cyborg” Santos. This means that Brazilian Santos will have to fight for the featherweight belt with the current Invicta FC Featherweight Champion, Megan Anderson, on July 29, 2017.
UFC further stated that the belt was being taken away because of Randamie’s “unwillingness” to fight Santos. Initially, Randamie had requested for more time to recover from an injury; then she later speculated that Santos had a history of drug usage and did not deserve a ‘shot.’
UFC insists that fighters must accept fights with top contenders irrespective of weight classes. This is UFC’s way of maintaining the integrity of the sport. However, the trend of declining fights continues to grow and poses a challenge for the competition.
Just recently, John Dodson openly expressed his frustrations claiming that no one wanted to fight him. He went ahead to challenge fighters to step into the Octagon as that is the only fair way of judging fighters, according to him. He further accused Raphael Assuncao of passing up on him three times. Dodson was disappointed that he went ahead to try and find a ‘dancing partner’ outside bantamweight.
This problem seems to be growing, and when training partners refuse to face each other, the UFC is confronted with the difficulty of matchmaking. Fighters in Greg Jackson’s camp have outrightly declined to fight each other, at least until an opponent changes camp.
3. DANA WHITE IS MOSTLY A PAIN IN THE ASS
UFC president, Dana White, has been able to sell fights for the longest time, but most of the time, he has been rude, inconsiderate, foul-mouthed, and mostly a pain in the ass.
White has been ‘generous’ when sharing his feelings with fighters, fans, and the media. He uses the F-word uncontrollably and occasionally launches attacks on anyone who tries to cross the path of the UFC. In all honesty, White has overstepped the line a couple of times, especially when he makes stuff up.
At one point, he claimed that Ronda Rousey is the biggest star in UFC and that Conor McGregor is the PPV ‘king.’ It is these kinds of exaggerations that have landed him into confrontations with UFC fans and members of the media. It has also resulted in people taking him less seriously and viewing the entire UFC as a joke.
Dana White must be one of the most foul-mouthed bosses on the planet. During his tenure, he has gone through major wars and given MMA fans some of the best action outside of the cage.
White was extremely maddened when Daley sucker-punched Koscheck after the bell. He immediately fired Daley after the event, openly stating that he did not give a F****. The American businessman has also publicly called Josh Gross an idiot after Gross reportedly accused him of setting up the fight card between BJ Penn, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and Georges St-Pierre.
But that is not all; White has berated The Ultimate Fighter 10 winner Roy Nelson after he made claims that Slice had received special treatments.
He has had a long-standing rivalry with Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko and his management team. According to White, Fedor’s team is hard to work with. In a conference in 2009, White expressed his anger claiming that Fedor’s management team was coming up with unrealistic S****** because the fighter did not want to fight the best in the world.
White has often gone on a verbal tirade against players, fans, and MMA websites. He has had major feuds with Tito Ortiz, Bob Arum, Loretta Hunt, and Ken Shamrock among others. When he is mad, he uses any platform to vent his anger, including social media.
2. UFC BASED ITSELF ON A WWE BUSINESS MODEL
This has always been a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that UFC uses a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) business model to make money.
Most MMA fans hate to link UFC with WWE. They find it difficult to accept that UFC’s success is mainly attributed to Vince McMahon’s wrestling model. In fact, the only difference is that what happens in a UFC cage is real while what goes on in a WWE ring is fake.
Otherwise, the personal feuds to sell fights, the weekly TV shows, and the pay per view format were all learned from WWE. White has even admitted this openly claiming that he looked up to McMahon and copied the UFC business model from him.
Around 2005, when UFC was still in its infancy, Spike TV approached McMahon and asked if he was okay with a UFC show following a Raw show. At the time, UFC was not a threat, and McMahon did not see a reason to decline the request. However, it seems Raw fans discovered that UFC had enjoyable conflicts and stuck around longer to watch UFC fights. This is how UFC’s PPV skyrocketed while WWE’s dropped.
Part owner of the UFC, Lorenzo Fertitta, also admitted that UFC owes most of its success to the WWE. UFC took advantage of boxing’s decline and adapted a bit of WWE’s razzle-dazzle. In other words, UFC is just the old-fashioned WWE done right.
1. TRAINING IS A NIGHTMARE AND IS EXPENSIVE
There have been speculations that fighters get head traumas in their training camps. It is at training camps that fighters get knocked out and receive concussions, but they have to get up and keep going because they cannot afford to cancel a fight.
Anyone dreaming of UFC stardom should embrace its intensive training process. This is where it all starts.
A typical training camp can go on for eight weeks and will mostly involve taking opponents who are bigger than you for seven hours a day. In fact, most fighters consider the real match to be more relaxing compared to the training sessions.
You need to work on a number of things simultaneously: improve technical skills, lift weights, perform cardiovascular exercises, increase strength while also building your strategy, and endurance. There isn’t a sport that matches these requirements in training before a match.
On top of the vigorous training and the risks it poses, most gyms charge on the higher side for membership. And you have to dig deeper into your pockets if you are looking for a private trainer; not forgetting the expensive equipment that you will need.
That is not all; before you set foot inside a cage, a doctor must confirm that you are in great shape. That means making more payments because you do not want your first fight to end badly. Let’s just stop at that and forget about healthy organic foods, supplements, and therapy, all of which you need to consider.
Of course, you can take shortcuts because, after all, shortcuts are sometimes the best way to achieving your life dreams. But you have to think about the consequences.
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