The UFC has been dominant for so long in the world of MMA that we stopped questioning why. Why do most fight fans exclusively watch the UFC when there are so many MMA organizations out there?
Let’s go through with the process of elimination.
Is it because the UFC has the best fighters?
No. The UFC’s never had all the best fighters in the world. This is in stark contrast with some of the other major sports like the NBA, where if you’re a top player, there’s a 99% chance you’re playing in the NBA. Sure, the UFC has the highest % of the best fighters out there, but that doesn’t explain why we don’t tune in to other organizations when top tier fighters compete.
Just to give you a few examples: Demetrious Johnson who is unanimously considered the greatest flyweight of all time (if not the greatest fighter of all time in any weight class), fights in ONE FC; top 5 heavyweight Corey Anderson and top 3 featherweight Patricio Pitbull who hasn’t lost since 2016 and holds a KO win over Top 3 UFC fighter Michael Chandler, are both in Bellator.
Also, fighters who’ve spent most of their time in other organizations also regularly become UFC champions, further proving that the best fighters are often outside of the UFC. Eddie Alvarez, Tyron Woodley, Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, and Cris Cyborg were all successful outside of the UFC before claiming UFC gold, just to name a few fighters.
Is it because the UFC puts on the most exciting fights?
Absolutely not. If this was the case, all of us would have tuned into watch World Series of Fighting (WSOF) when former interim UFC champion Justin Gaethje was consistently putting up fight of the year candidates.
Also, has anyone watched RIZIN? If people watched only the most exciting MMA organization, there would 0 UFC fans and 100% RIZIN fans.Unlike the UFC, RIZIN allows soccer kicks; they put on 1 night tournaments where you get to watch your favorite fighters fight multiple times in a day; they put on spectacles like the best in boxing vs the best in kickboxing like Floyd Mayweather vs Tenshin Nasukawa; they encourage crazy dance performances for fighter walkouts. Not to mention their pay per views (PPVs) cost a third of UFC events, and they put out their PPV fights for free on YouTube 2 days after events take place – the list goes on.
Is it because the UFC puts on the most amount of great fight cards?
Nope not it either. Yes the UFC does put on the most number of high level fight cards per year.
But at least 30% of the time there’s some other organization putting on a better fight card that comparatively no one watches. We could presumably buy the UFC Pay Per View when we like the fight card, and watch Bellator on cable at Chili’s when they put on an amazing show on a weekend with no UFC fights. But in the history of Chili’s they never hosted a “Bellator watch party” because nobody would know what that means.
The reason the UFC continues its dominance over other leagues is because they are the best at weaving a story.
It’s like the WWE. People who watch pro-wrestling know that the performers in front of them aren’t actually the best fighters in the world. In fact they also know that their backstories are completely fabricated. But it’s still incredibly fun to follow the storylines and rivalries, getting behind a performer, and cheering for him or her to win (or even lose).
The UFC uses the same billion dollar playbook as the WWE. See if this sounds familiar: Conor McGregor, Irish superstar who started as a plumber collecting unemployment checks skyrockets to superstardom. Now he gets drunk on whiskey he brewed himself and arrives at the fight arena on a mega-yacht. Khabib Nurmagomedov: Devout Muslim man with a strange afro hat. Became an unstoppable Sambo master by wrestling real bears under the tutelage of his late fathers in the mountains of Dagestan Russia. Jon Jones: Typical Heel who loves cocaine and strippers, cheats on his wife and hits pregnant women with his car. But nobody can beat him and shut him up.
On the other hand does anyone know RIZIN Flyweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi’s fascinating back story? Didn’t think so. Most fight fans don’t even know who he is even though he’s been a top 5 flyweight for the last decade. Horiguchi grew up in rural Japan training under a Karate Master who lives deep in the mountains. Left his long time girlfriend in Japan and moved to the U.S. to pursue his dreams of MMA success despite not speaking a lick of English. Years pass and his Sensei now has cancer and is about to die. Horiguchi goes back to Japan and trains with his Karate Master before his RIZIN title fight. His sensei takes his last dying breath right after witnessing his star pupil win the championship. It’s a story straight out of Cobra Kai.
RIZIN does such a terrible job at marketing their events that even when the combat sports pay per view king Floyd “mother fucking” Mayweather fought for them, not that many people tuned in. If Floyd ever fought in the UFC, I guarantee you UFC President Dana White would make sure it’s the biggest pay day in company history.
RIZIN has been able to survive and gain national success (in Japan) because they’re the only big time promotion with funding in the nation, but they’re certainly leaving a lot on the table.
We tune in to watch UFC fights because the UFC is the best at making us invest in their fighters like we invest in TV show characters.
We don’t care much about athletes’ personal lives in other sports. I’m sure there are many hard core Democrats who celebrated Tom Brady’s Super Bowl wins despite Brady being a huge Donald Trump supporter.
But when it comes to fighting, the storylines are crucial. Perhaps because of its historical roots linked to pro-wrestling, or because it’s more of a human instinct than it is a sport.
So we’re starting a series promoting under-promoted fighters with amazing backstories. MMA organizations aren’t paying us shit to give their fighters more shine, but it’s all good. Hopefully our writing helps these fighters gain at least a little more popularity and money.
Episode 1 on Kyoji Horiguchi
Episode 2 on Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto