On a week in which PFL arguably put on a better and more accessible event than the UFC, what does it take for competing MMA organizations to steal some of the spotlight from the industry leader? Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.
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Downes: The Professional Fighters League (PFL) had the second event of its inaugural season this past Thursday, and it had a little bit of everything.
Former Olympic judoka Kayla Harrison made her MMA debut and won via first round armbar. Brian Foster landed spin kicks and a flush flying knee to finish Ramsey Nijem in the co-main event of the evening. The MMA gods even threw in some good ol’ fashioned chaos, with Robert Watley earning a TKO victory by groin kick.
Over at the UFC, you got up at 2:30 in the morning to watch UFC Fight Night 132 on UFC Fight Pass. The fights were fine, but nothing outside the main event, in which Leon Edwards[/autotag outlasted [autotag]Donald Cerrone in the five-round main event, seemed terribly relevant. By most objective measures, PFL had the superior product this week. Does that matter, or is it just a coincidence?
Fowlkes: It’s a good question, and one I’ve found myself asking before. We’ve seen instances where, on a weekend in which the UFC and Bellator go head to head, the industry leader is not the one that ends up putting on the better show. We saw it again here, when a promotion that’s arguably third place or lower delivers a better, more relevant, easier-to-watch event than the UFC.
Then again, that event represented the PFL giving us its best stuff while UFC Singapore was basically a throwaway event for the UFC, targeted to a certain market and intended to accomplish specific overseas goals. I think it’s pretty clear that in the UFC hierarchy, a Southeast Asian UFC Fight Pass event in the middle of the night is the absolute lowest tier there is.
So fine, the PFL’s best is better than the UFC’s worst. I imagine Dana White would probably be able to live with that. But still every UFC event gets treated by both fans and media like it matters more than anything else going on at the time. The brand name still carries that kind of pull.
Is that a problem for all these other promotions? Is there anything they can do about it? Because I look at Bellator these days, and I see lots of good fighters and interesting matchups. That seems like the kind of thing that should help Bellator President Scott Coker and his crew chip away at the UFC’s market dominance, especially when so many of these UFC Fight Night events are tough to sit through and often with relatively little payoff.
So why doesn’t it feel like anyone is really gaining ground on the UFC?
Downes: There’s a definite chicken-or-the-egg conundrum when it comes to other MMA organizations. They don’t receive the same amount of coverage that even lower-tier UFC events do because fans don’t have the same amount of interest. But maybe fans don’t have the same level of interest because they aren’t covered as much.
I also attribute a lot of UFC dominance to inertia. Bellator has been the most consistent competitor, but it didn’t host its first event until 2009. The first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” was in 2005. A lot of fans have come and gone in the last decade, but the UFC was able to gain a foothold at the right time.
There’s that running joke of some anonymous bro out there claiming that he “trains UFC,” but the attitude is persistent. MMA is much more understood these days, but the UFC is the flag bearer. There are better sandwich cookies than Oreo out there, but the people at Nabisco have a brand recognition that no amount of taste testing can beat.
As for how to counteract that inertia, this is one of those situations in which you can actually help. If you cover the events and fighters more, then it would stand to reason that people would care more.
At the same time, I wonder if the event fatigue a lot of fans seems to have makes the current environment much less hospitable to non-UFC entities. I also wonder if the UFC’s move to ESPN will be a net positive for the entire sport. If it’s only in the UFC business instead of the MMA business, the potential gains could be much less.
How do you see the Bellators and PFLs of the world gaining a larger market share? Is putting together strong, solid fight cards all it takes? Maybe Bellator should use all that Viacom money and sign Brock Lesnar. Are there steps these organizations can take, or do they have to wait for the UFC to relinquish the top spot (if that’s even possible)?
Fowlkes: I don’t think the media should be in the business of picking winners or losers, trying to help one organization or checking the dominance of another. We have to exercise some editorial judgment when deciding how much time and how many resources to devote to coverage, and some of that is always going to be determined by what people are clicking on.
But I do think there’s room for everyone to reevaluate what matters and what doesn’t. The sheer number of UFC events, plus the proliferation of stuff like the Dana White’s Contender Series fights, it spreads the UFC talent thin enough that at some point it’s reasonable to make serious editorial distinctions between these events.
If you’re a beat writer covering the Mets, you don’t treat all the games played by the team’s minor league affiliates as if they’re up there with the big show just because there’s some brand association and talent crossover.
The thing is, though, at this point the brand is primarily what the UFC is selling. It’s what ESPN is paying for, certainly. It’s what convinces lots of fans to watch fighters who they wouldn’t care about if they were in any other promotion (see, for example, just about everybody on the prelims in Singapore).
There are precious few names that sell pay-per-views or drive ratings all on their own right now. The power of the brand does the rest of the work. If I’m Bellator or PFL right now, I’d tell myself that the best I can do is chip away, stay consistent, refrain from breaking the bank with talent acquisitions – and then hope the UFC makes the mistake of taking its power for granted.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Trading Shots: Did PFL outdo the UFC this week? More importantly, how much would it matter?