MMA IS CHANGING
I have been a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from the very beginning. In fact I had trained in a number of Martial Arts before Mixed Martial Arts went mainstream. I tried Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, and Kenpo before most people had even heard about the UFC. I was becoming a Mixed Martial Artist without even knowing it.
I never went very far in my training unfortunately. I moved around a lot and was never in one place long enough to advance very far in any one discipline. So when I heard about Mixed Martial Arts competitions I was immediately intrigued. Like most of the early UFC fans I was astonished by the success of Royce Gracie and his family's Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The early days of the UFC were about finding a way to compete against Royce Gracie. The early answer was powerful athletes with a wrestling background. Wrestling is still the best way to negate jiu-jitsu. Of course this was when the UFC had no weight classes.
The next era was triggered by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. It created the standard for 5 weight classes. Heavyweight, Light-Heavyweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, and Lightweight. This meant that fights weren't automatically decided by the much heavier fighter in many cases. This became the tough guy era. Fighters like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, B.J. Penn were the faces of the new UFC. The additional weight classes added a sense of fairness that a wider audience could accept.
The UFC was ready to go mainstream but it needed something or someone to erase the human cockfighting stigma. Enter Georges St. Pierre. GSP was unlike any previous UFC Champion. He wasn't a Thug or typical tough guy. He looked like a Superhero, dressed well, and rarely ever spoke I'll of anyone. He signed huge endorsement deals with companies that weren't associated with Mixed Martial Arts. Until now becoming a UFC fighter was seen as more of a last ditch effort or desperate move by thugs to make a living. GSP changed that way of thinking. Becoming a UFC fighter could be Plan A for young athletes. It was around this time that dedicated MMA gyms began opening across North America.
With very little promotional competition in the United States the UFC became stacked with high level fighters. Working your way to the top was no easy task. Along with GSP that next era produced some amazing Champions like Anderson Silva and Cain Velasquez. This could be seen as the Golden era of the UFC.
The increased interest in the UFC paved the way for the Divisions below Lightweight to be introduced and stars like Demetrious Johnson, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz became household names. This also opened the door for the UFC's biggest superstar since GSP.
The Conor McGregor era triggered a major change for the UFC. His charisma coupled with the explosion of Social Media brought a lot of attention and some huge PPV numbers. So much so that the Fertitta Brothers saw their opportunity to sell the promotion to WME for 4 Billion dollars. This dramatically changed the way the promotion would be run. Big money fights that will generate huge PPV buys became the primary goal.
Which brings us to now. New Title Challengers seem to appear every few months. Their legitimacy as true opponents are suspect to say the least. Take Khamzat Chimaev for example. He has two wins at Middleweight. His most recent win is a slim decision victory over Kamaru Usman who was a Champion at Welterweight but had never fought at Middleweight. Dana White the frontman for the UFC has said that the win over Usman has earned Khamzat Chimaev a Title shot. Of course that isn't what actually earned him the Title shot. Khamzat Chimaev is charismatic and an aggressive entertaining fighter. He also says some outlandish things when the cameras are on him. Very similar to Conor McGregor at the beginning of his UFC career. If he fights Sean Strickland next for the Middleweight Title he will have skipped past everyone in the Middleweight top 10 to get it. Sean O'Malley the current Bantamweight Champion used his popularity on Social Media, and Charisma to essentially skip the line as well on his way to becoming Bantamweight Champion. Now fans of O'Malley will argue that he won the Championship fight against Aljamain Sterling so skipping the line shouldn't matter. I would agree with them but I can't as long as the UFC continues to have a line.
This is the beginning of the Rankless era. Ranks no longer matter. It's fitting that the UFC and WWE have merged. Fights in the two organizations are decided in much the same way. They are campaigned for on the Mic before and after fights, marketed on Social Media, and earned through popularity not necessarily results. Money is one of the key factors but not the only one. Competition from other promotions plays a significant role as well. The UFC needs the most popular fighters to be in the most meaningful fights in order to keep the MMA Community's attention. With competing promotions like the PFL, ONE Championship, and Bellator attracting better fighters and producing legitimate Champions. The UFC needs fighters like Sean O'Malley (3.8 million Insta followers) and Khamzat Chimaev (6.8 million Insta followers) to keep their fans focused on them.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE FANS
Actually fans of Mixed Martial Arts benefit greatly from the way things are now. If you are a fan of a particular fighter there's a possibility you could see them fight for a Championship sooner rather than later in the UFC. If you prefer Tournament style formats then you can tune into PFL or Bellator events.
If Striking is your favourite thing to see them check out ONE Championship's Muay Thai events. There's something for everyone. You just need to look past the rankings. Fighters need to realize that as well. I don't want to hear fighters say things like I'm ready to face someone in the Top 10 or Top 5 anymore. Just pick an opponent and create a story why the two of you should step into the cage. Better yet just find a way to piss off your opponent and the fans will demand to see the two of you fight. Rankings don't matter!
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