Looking At UFC 300

Tonight, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will reach another milestone in its more than 30-year existence, as the organization will hold UFC 300 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, the fight capital of the world. It’s quite the achievement for the company that was once-banned in most states and had to resort to holding events in obscure locations in Alabama or Colorado in its early days. Without the Fertittas and Dana White, the concept of mixed martial arts wouldn’t have gotten off the group in the United States. After the Zuffa group bought the fledgling organization in 2001, there was a point that the venture was $40 million in debt because of a lack of mainstream distribution. The Ultimate Fighter reality show had an incredible domino effect, and under the TKO banner, the UFC is worth billions of dollars today.

The sale to the Endeavor corporation for $4 billion in 2016 was considered unprecedented, but when the merger with WWE was finalized last year, the MMA side of the equation was valued at more than $12 billion.

So, the journey to UFC 300 is undoubtedly notable. However, given the gravity of the milestone, the fight card lacks the sizzle you’d expect for the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong, the line-up, which has two championship bouts to go along with the ceremonial “BMF” title, has the potential to be an incredible night of action. The substance of the fight card to give the fans their money’s worth is there, but the hype for the event, especially in terms of mainstream buzz isn’t a topic of conversation.

For a comparison, when the company reached UFC 100, Brock Lesnar smashed Frank Mir in the main event, Georges St. Pierre had a dominating title defense, and Dan Henderson landed a highlight reel KO on Micheal Bisping. At UFC 200, Amanda Nunes defeated Miesha Tate to win the Women’s Bantamweight championship, Brock Lesnar fought Mark Hunt, despite the fact that he was under WWE contract, Daniel Cormier defended his title against Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo fought Frankie Edgar, and Cain Velasquez knocked out Travis Browne in the first round.

Alex Pereira/Jamahal Hill, Zhang Weili/Yan Xiaonan, and Justin Gaethje/Max Holloway just doesn’t have the same star power or main steam buzz that you’d expect for something like UFC 300.

The reasons for that are numerous and there are layers to the story, as it wasn’t one decision or situation that led the UFC to have less star power on the roster, but more profit with guaranteed money from the ESPN contract. The simplest answer is that the UFC was offered mega cash to bring its pay-per-view offerings and the vast majority of its fight night cards to the ESPN+ streaming service. In some ways, it became a staple of the streaming platform, as it gave ESPN almost weekly live content, as well as the ability to order the pay-per-views on a monthly basis for subscribers. Granted, you could argue that it’s a difficult sell to ask consumers to pay a subscription fee to be able to pay the hefty $79.99 price tag to order the pay-per-view, but reportedly, most of the buy rates for the events are successful.

In the corporate world, profit is rightfully the priority, and the offer of guaranteed money is rarely going to be declined. It’s an assurance of profit for TKO, and that’s extremely valuable for the stock price on Wall Street.

That being said, the downside of that is the domino effect that is created by the demands of the ESPN contract. When you have almost weekly fight cards, it becomes necessary to expand the roster. Quite frankly, with some many fight cards, it becomes difficult to follow all of them and in the process it becomes more difficult to follow the careers of the countless fighters that compete at those events. Too often, the fighters get lost in the shuffle and become just names on paper.

That is the opposite of The Ultimate Fighter model that worked so well years ago, as it spotlighted specific fighters and introduced them to the audience. When the UFC machine churns out as much content as it does, it becomes more difficult for any particular fighter to truly standout as much as they could’ve in the past when there was a more dedicated focus on marquee events.

The other side of the equation is a little more complicated, but one that was discussed previously so there’s only a few points to make to emphasize the effect that it has on the company today. As we know, UFC brass catered extensively to Conor McGregor to shoehorn him into the top spot in the company. He was given title shots in division that he hadn’t fought in before because management wanted to promote him as a double champion. Conor wisely took the promotional hype from the UFC and made $100 million to fight Floyd Mayweather in boxing. After a two-year hiatus from MMA, he was beat by Khabib Nurmagomedov and the infamous post-fight brawl happened in 2018. He defeated Donald Cerrone before the pandemic and then lost a pair of bouts to Dustin Poirier in 2021, snapping his leg that July. The gruesome injury put him on the shelf for more than two years until he coached a season of the previously mentioned Ultimate Fighter and was scheduled to fight Micheal Chandler in November of last year, but didn’t enter the testing pool to be eligible to compete. Supposedly, McGregor/Chandler is scheduled to happen later this year, but I don’t put any stock in the fight actually happening, given the Irishman’s recent track record of competition.

In a similar fashion, management catered to Jon Jones, who despite arrests, court cases, and failed drug tests, was still given a heavyweight title shot after Francis Ngannou vacated the belt because of a contract dispute. Jones hadn’t fought at heavyweight before, but was granted a title shot and defeated Ciryl Gane to claim the vacant championship. Jones hasn’t fought since March of last year, but recently made headlines after a complaint was filed that he allegedly threatened to kill an agent that went to his home to collect a sample as apart of the drug testing protocol.

When management catered to McGregor and Jones, it halted different divisions and thus the opportunity for other fighters to make a new for themselves.

So, the result of those dynamics, particularly the ESPN contract that brings with it the obligation for so many fight cards, UFC 300 is an event that has the potential for incredible action, but lacks the hype for the general public.

Alex Pereira vs. Jamahal Hill is a narrative that writes itself. Hill was forced to relinquish the Light Heavyweight title after he suffered a ruptured achilles tendon in July of last year, allowing Pereira to claim the belt after he beat Jiří Procházka via TKO in the second round last November. Hill gets a chance to reclaim the title that he never lost, and considering that these competitors are evenly-matched on paper, I’d guess that this will be a very competitive fight. However, given the nature of Hill’s injury and the potential ring rust, I’m going to pick Pereira to retain the championship via decision.

Zhang Weili is one of the best fighters in the UFC today and when she hangs up the gloves, it’s very possible that she will be considered a legend. Yan Xiaonan has shown a well-rounded skill set throughout her UFC tenure without any obvious flaws in her style, as well as the cardio to go the distance At 34, these two are the same age and have similar experience, although Weili has a slight advantage. While this bout is evenly-matched on paper, I have to pick Weili to retain the title, simply because she has competed against better competition during her UFC career.

Justin Gaethje vs. Max Holloway for the ceremonial BMF title might steal the show and be what the event is memorable for. You can forget about fight analysis or trying to dissect what might make the difference in this contest. This will be the fireworks fight on the card, and it was scheduled to be a Rocky/Apollo type brawl. I have no doubt that Gaethje and Holloway will provide an entertaining contest for the audience. I’m going to pick Gaethje to get the victory, but that’s more of a guess than anything else.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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