March 23, 2017

UFC: 2017's First Quarter Has Been A Failure

By Adam Martin

The first quarter of 2017 wasn't kind to the UFC.

The promotion's schedule January pay-per-view card had to be cancelled after the promotion could not secure a suitable main event for it, which resulted in lost revenue in the first month of the year. The next pay-per-view, UFC 208, was a bomb at the PPV window, reportedly doing only around 200,000 buys, and the card itself was one of the worst in recent memory. Sadly, what looked like a promising UFC 209 card took a late hit when the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight was cancelled and the Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson fight turned into a stinker. As far as PPVs go, it was a bad three months for the UFC, especially considering how high of a note the promotion finished 2016 on, with three big cards in UFC 205, UFC 206 and UFC 207.

Much of the first quarter of 2017 has been dominated by Conor McGregor talk...but not talk of him fighting in the UFC. Rather, it's been talk about him fighting Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match. Sure, that's great for McGregor and raises his profile, but it's not good for the UFC. The promotion may be able to get some money out of it via co-promotion, but McGregor fighting in boxing and not in MMA is not a good thing for it, and it remains to be seen how much money the UFC could lose this year if it doesn't get McGregor inside the Octagon for at least one fight, if not two. (Remember, he fought three times in 2016, and all three cards did gigantic PPV numbers.)

The UFC has also had a rough time in free agency, losing top-10 talent such as Ryan Bader, Kyoji Horiguchi, Lorenz Larkin, Albert Tumenov, and Nikita Krylov to rival organizations. The UFC was once the home to 95% of the top talent in MMA, but that number has been slipping recently and will continue to slip the promotion refuses to match the contract offers its free agents are getting from other promotions. Sure, it is a great thing to see the fighters getting paid their worth, but generally fans want to see the best fighters fight the best fighters, and after years of dominating the space, it's surprising to see the UFC just letting go of so many talented fighters without a -- ahem -- fight. And speaking of free agency, when was the last time the UFC signed a big-name free agent? It's been a while.

The UFC has also been accused of being more about entertainment than sport, and when you see a guy like Demian Maia, who is on a six-fight win streak, but who is a grappler and not a striker, get passed over for a title shot, you start to see there's some truth to that. Seeing the bad PR the UFC got over the way it handled paying out Ferguson's show money after UFC 209 wasn't a good thing either. While it seems clear the mandate is to cut costs, that's not something the fighters want to hear, and it's not something the fans want to hear either, not when the pay-per-views have been pricey yet not worth the price. Alas, this is the UFC in 2017.

Now, to be fair to the UFC, some things have gone right for it, particularly when it comes to prospect building. Yair Rodriguez' win over BJ Penn at UFC Fight Night 103 was huge for him, and it's going to help legitimize him in the sport. The same can be said of Francis Ngannou, whose win over Andrei Arlovski at UFC on FOX 23 is also a good thing, as is the rise of Kelvin Gastelum, who knocked out Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 106.

And fortunately for the UFC, there's a lot of time to turn things around and have big second, third, and fourth quarters. The return of Georges St-Pierre will be massive for the organization, as will the return of Jon Jones. There's even a chance there could be a Ronda Rousey sighting later this year, as well as a Brock Lesnar return. And of course there's McGregor, should he fight in the Octagon, although that isn't looking promising at this point.

But there's no denying that the first three months of 2017 weren't good for the UFC. The UFC's new owners, WME-IMG, likely were expecting more when they took over the company late last year, and so far they haven't got their money's worth. There's still a lot of time for the company to turn things around in 2017, but whatever way you look at it, the first quarter of 2017 was a failure for the promotion.

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