Full Contact Fighter’s “The Daily Takedown:” Topsy-Turvy 2012 for UFC, but Company Poised for Huge 2013
By Joshua Molina
The UFC’s incredible popularity surge slowed this year, but the company remained atop the mixed martial world. Still, despite the ups and downs of 2012, the UFC appears poised for a huge year in 2013.
Six years after the UFC emerged as a pop culture phenomenon and fastest-growing sport in the world, the company experienced its first year of slow-down, or business turbulence.
Injuries, the retirement and fading skills of some of UFC’s most well-known stars, and perhaps an oversaturation of free MMA on television, delivered a significant blow to the company in 2012.
The UFC’s low point came in the form of UFC 151, the Pay Per View that never happened, after UFC President Dana White and Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones battled publicly over the main event.
White humiliated Jones after Jones at the advice of his manager Greg Jackson advised Jones to turn down a last-minute fight with Chael Sonnen.
White framed the refusal as Jones being unwilling to step up and fight, telling the media “you’re either a fighter or you’re not,” implying that Jones was afraid of fighting Sonnen. White then canceled the entire show and booked Jones to fight Lyoto Machida at UFC 152 a few weeks later.
Stunningly, Machida never agreed to the fight, forcing White to pull the aging Vitor Belfort into the main event.
In a display of how much power White, as president and partial owner of the company, White blasted Jones, Machida and a litany of other fighters who supposedly didn’t want to fight Jones on eight days notice.
The issue arose after Dan Henderson pulled out of the fight because of a knee injury. White, knowingly or not, buried Jones, one of the sport’s top three fighters, and elevated Sonnen, who was painted as a brave, valiant warrior willing to step in and fight a star on short notice, only to have Jones turn down the fight.
Sonnen, who just two months prior lost to Anderson Silva by second round TKO, emerged as a star once again. But the White/Jones flare-up caused significant public relations damage to both parties. Jones’ popularity dropped and fighters’ opinion of White for publicly blasting one of his top stars took a blow.
To top it off, Jones nearly got tapped out to Belfort, a fighter who should have no chance of beating Jones. Although Jones won later by submission, Belfort exposed perhaps a flaw in Jones, game – that he may be susceptible to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu armbar.
The UFC 151 disaster, coupled with a decline in Fox ratings, suggested for the first time that perhaps there is a ceiling to the UFC’s popularity. But the UFC erased that thinking in early December with an awesome Lightweight Title match featuring champion Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz, and a returning BJ Penn fighting rising star Rory MacDonald on the undercard.
The ratings for the UFC on Fox show on Dec. 3 were up 80 percent from the previous Fox event, showing that UFC’s popularity on the network is still strong. After a drop in Pay Per View buys for many of the shows in 2012, Georges St-Pierre returned to deliver 750,000 buys on Pay Per View.
The UFC also saw the retirement of Tito Ortiz, one of the sport’s iconic figures. Ortiz has not been competitive for years, but his departure from the sport was symbolic of the changing of the guard in the sport.
The biggest names and faces of the UFC during its explosion are all but gone from the sport. Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, two guys who put the UFC on the map on television after they waged an incredible battle at the finale of the first UFC Ultimate Fighter show in 2006, are at the end of their careers.
Bonnar retired amid a cloud of controversy after he was badly beaten by Anderson Silva – and then failed a drug test. Griffin is banged up, is no longer a title contender, and has few fights left.
Yet, 2013 has the potential to be one of the biggest years in UFC’s history. The company now promotes women’s MMA, and now has former Strikeforce superstar Ronda Rousey under contract. Rousey, and Olympic Bronze Medalist, is arguably the most popular fighter in the sport.
If she keeps winning, her potential as a mainstream star is unlimited. Jones will also fight Sonnen in April – a fight that Jones had to take after seeing the public backlash from his initial refusal.
Sonnen is the best talker in the business and will likely single-handedly talk the fight with Jones into the biggest fight in UFC history.
GSP is also scheduled to fight Nick Diaz, a fight that will approach 1 million buys on Pay Per View. Looming in the second half of the year is the possibility of a mega-fight between Jones and GSP or, more likely, Jones and Anderson Silva.
The winner of the Dec. 29 Heavyweight Championship fight between champ Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez will defend against Alistair Overeem, in a fight that will also draw huge Pay Per View numbers.
The addition of Strikeforce superstars Luke Rockhold, Gilbert Melendez, Gegard Mousasi and Daniel Cormier will also mean more big fights in the UFC in 2013.