Opinion: A Month To Forget In MMA
By Jesse Heitz
September has definitely been a month to forget, particularly if you’re a member of Zuffa’s leadership. Injuries have decimated several of the cards of its subsidiaries, the UFC and Strikeforce, to such a degree that each has had to cancel an event. This has undoubtedly been a month that has blackened both eyes of Zuffa.
For the UFC, the month of September was rough right from the get go. UFC 151, which had been slated to take place on September 1st, was cancelled a week before the card was to get underway. The story is well-documented, with Dan Henderson falling out due to a knee injury, Lyoto Machida declining to fill the void, and Jon Jones opting not to take on the second viable replacement in Chael Sonnen. This marked the first time that the UFC under Dana White had been forced to cancel an event altogether
Next there were problems with UFC 152. The main event was intended to feature a highly anticipated bout between B.J. Penn and Rory MacDonald. The plans had to be altered when MacDonald withdrew from the card due to a cut received from training. The UFC quickly plugged the gap with a bout between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort. Despite losing the original main event, the show was able to go on.
Next up was Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Healy, which was set to take place on September 29. Broadcast partner Showtime opted to cancel the event when featured fighter Gilbert Melendez was forced to withdraw on short notice due to an injury.
For Zuffa, there was a glimmer of hope that their nightmare was on the verge of coming to an end with October 13’s UFC 153. Again, injury struck, sidelining yet another main event fighter, in Jose Aldo’s opponent, Erik Koch. Frankie Edgar was brought in to replace Koch in the featherweight championship bout against Aldo, but then Aldo himself sustained an injury and was forced to withdraw from the card. Additionally, “Rampage” Jackson and Alan Belcher were also scratched from the card due to injuries. So far, the UFC has kept the card alive by creating a new, but lackluster, main event between Anderson Silva and Stephan Bonner.
Strikeforce was then struck again, this time when it’s November 3 Strikeforce: Cormier vs. Mir card was thrown into chaos when Frank Mir was forced to withdraw due to injury. As of now, the card is still planned to take place, however, a suitable replacement for Frank Mir has yet to be announced.
The cancellation of UFC 151 alone is said to have cost the UFC somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million. One can only guess how much the cancellation of Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Healy will end up costing. Of the cards that have been or will be saved—albeit in a highly shaken up state, one can assume that their revenue figures will be significantly lower than what was projected for their original incarnations.
The issue becomes, what kind of fallout can we expect from this unprecedented string of event cancellations and lineup reshuffles?
It’s not unfathomable to think that a loss of viewership or public interest might befall the Zuffa brands. To make up for the hit to the Zuffa pocketbook that this string of events has caused, could we see a decrease in promotion for future cards in the short-term? Could there be fallout from Showtime, or its parent company CBS Corporation, that jeopardizes Strikeforce’s TV deal? Could we possibly see a depletion of talent as fighters are forced to move elsewhere in search of consistency? I would imagine that these are all questions that we’ll get answers to in the coming months.
Perhaps one of the most pertinent questions to ponder is if Zuffa, through both the UFC and Strikeforce, has spread itself too thin by offering a multitude of events each year. This month and some change has proven that Zuffa’s over-committed roster is unable to pick up the slack when injuries sideline key fighters, thereby throwing entire events into peril.
At the outset, fall 2012 looked to be a particularly promising season for Zuffa-based MMA, but it has instead turned into a complete disaster. As a fan it’s been particularly frustrating, so I can only imagine the feelings of the fighters that were willing and able to compete, as well as Zuffa accountants who have seen the company’s bottom line shift toward the red.