The UFC deserves all the credit in the world for what they've accomplished in building the sport of mixed martial arts. When the current owners (A company named Zuffa) took over in 2001, things were bleak and the UFC was in a really bad position. The future of the UFC, and ultimately the entire sport, was up in the air. MMA was illegal in many states, and politicians were actively campaigning to keep it that way.
John McCain was a huge opponent of MMA in the early days and famously dubbed the sport as "human cockfighting", but thanks to the tireless efforts of the UFC, even McCain is now a fan of MMA and has posed for photos with #1 ranked UFC fighter Jon Jones.
Needless to say, the sport has come a long way, but that doesn't mean there aren't some skeletons in the closet.
13 The Dark Age
The earliest UFC events, before it was taken over by Zuffa, were marketed like some kind of barbaric death match where only one man would leave the Octagon alive. They had to do whatever they could to get attention, even if it was negative attention. Things have come a long way from the time period that fans refer to as "the dark age", but there's still a long way to go. It hasn't all been rainbows and lollipops since 2001.
12 Class Action Lawsuits
There are multiple class action lawsuits against the UFC involving former fighters. They allege that the UFC operates in a way that is monopolistic and uses that to their advantage in how they treat their fighters.
11 The Powder Man
10 Domestic Violence
The fighting doesn't always stay in the cage. Jon Koppenhaver (better known as "War Machine") is the most well-known example.he was arrested for beating his ex-girlfriend Christy Mack within an inch of her life. Unfortunately, War Machine is far from being the only instance of this in MMA. Joe Son competed at an early UFC event, and he's serving life in prison for torture and murder. Other fighters have been accused of domestic violence as well, including title-contender Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Ronda Rousey's boyfriend Travis Browne.
9 Head Trauma
It doesn't take a genius to know that getting hit in the head repeatedly for years is not going to end well for most people.
Fighters know that this is just part of the game, they know what they're signing up for. They're willing to risk a tough future if it means living the glorious life of a prize fighter right now. It's believed that most of this trauma happens in training camps, where fighters spar very hard to prepare for their fights. Fighters can get concussed or even knocked out cold in training, get up, and keep going. At least during the actual fights, it's over as soon as they're knocked out.
8 Fighter Pay
Many former (and active) fighters have said publicly that they aren't being paid fairly by the UFC. Some of the former UFC fighters have gotten together to form a class-action lawsuit, but when it comes to active fighters they're generally pretty careful about going against the company line because the UFC has control of their careers and futures.
When you see recognizable UFC fighters on cards that air on Fox, or on Pay Per View events that fetch hundreds of thousands of viewers paying $60 each, it's kind of surprising to hear that some of these fighters are barely scraping by. When you factor in all of the expenses for a full-time fighter to go through training camp, to pay their manager, to pay their coaches and gym fees, travel expenses, nutritionists, and the myriad of other expenses, some fighters are actually losing money. It's an investment in their futures. If they can climb the ranks, there's a lot of money to be earned. But most fighters don't make it to the top, the vast majority never even make it into the UFC to try to earn a shot at breaking even.
None the less, the UFC is still the biggest promotion that reaches the most fans, has the ability to build the biggest stars, and pays their fighters relatively well compared to other MMA organizations. The problem is that these are professional athletes at the top of their sport, which just so happens to be very dangerous and violent, and we're having the conversation about how some of them can't even break even.
7 The Reebok Deal
After years of rumors of some type of uniform deal and the UFC denying them up and down, it was finally announced that Reebok was going to become the main clothing sponsor of the UFC and that fighters would no longer be able to have their own sponsors on their clothes.
6 Freakshow Fights
On one hand, we have the UFC justifying things like the Reebok deal by saying that it makes the sport more professional and more legitimate, and puts them up there with the major professional sports leagues like the NBA, NFL and MLB.
On the other hand, they've signed former professional wrestler CM Punk to a contract to fight in the UFC even though he has zero mixed martial arts fights and only a year or two of actual fight training. Granted, he's done some jiu-jitsu, but for a fighter to enter the UFC with no real experience is like if you or I picked up a basketball for the first time and were playing in the NBA a few months later.
Everybody gets what is happening, this is just a way to get attention because all of Punk's fans are going to want to see how he does in the UFC, and everyone who dislikes him is also going to want to see the outcome.
The UFC's biggest competitor is a promotion called Bellator, which is owned by Viacom. Still, the UFC has a huge lead on them. You would think that if Viacom wanted to, they could just throw a huge pile of cash at MMA and become the biggest players in the sport, but in reality martial arts is just a small niche for the multi-billion dollar empire.
None the less, Viacom has been making some big plays lately. They hired Scott Coker to run the show, who is the man that built Strikeforce (before selling it to the UFC). Coker had a non-compete clause with the UFC after he sold Strikeforce to them, but as soon as it expired it was a no-brainer for Bellator to have him at the helm. Scott Coker knows how to put on fights that people want to watch, even if they aren't the best matchups on paper (Or in reality). Case in point is the recent Kimbo Slice vs Dada 5000 fight. There's absolutely no way that either of those guys should be co-headlining a professional martial arts show, especially not on national television with millions of viewers, but it happened! The main event on the same card was Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie, two men who fought against each other at the very first UFC ever.
Juice. The sauce. You're naive if you believe that any professional sports are completely clean, but the UFC has actually been doing a pretty good job of drug testing lately. They are a lot more thorough than a lot of sports, but it hasn't always been that way.
3 Angry Jonny
Jon Jones has an image problem, and the biggest issue is that he can't seem to decide who he wants to be. Sometimes, Jon puts on his soft-spoken voice and uploads pictures of himself volunteering with kids, other times he's partying, doing cocaine, and getting into car accidents that result in community service that has him volunteering with those kids. Allegedly, Jon Jones wanted to walk out to his own song, but the UFC pushed him to use the 1995 Poe song "Angry Johnny", playing up the darker side of Jon Jones' reputation.
Jon Jones is undeniably the best fighter in the UFC, maybe ever. But his actions outside of the Octagon have really hurt his career inside the cage. Even when you're a professional cage fighter it's a bad look to crash into a pregnant woman's car, break her arm, flee the scene, return moments later to grab a bag full of money and who knows what else from your glovebox, then to flee the same accident a second time.
2 The Pride Deal
The UFC paid millions upon millions of dollars to purchase PRIDE, a competing MMA promotion from Japan. The UFC wanted to merge PRIDE under their own banner, so the real value to this deal was the archives of video footage from past events along with the current fighter contracts.
1 Incompetent Officials
You know you've got some incompetent referees and judges when the company's biggest mantra is "Never leave it in the hands of the judges." The UFC can't choose who they hire as referees or judges anytime they're putting on a show in a city that has an athletic commission. Most of the big shows are in Vegas, and it's the Nevada State Athletic Commission that assigns judges and referees.
There are some brilliant officials in MMA, and there are some complete bums. The problem is that you don't need any experience to be a judge or a referee. MMA is a complex sport, there's a lot going on that you won't necessarily understand if you don't know what you're looking at. Referees have stopped fights prematurely when the losing fighter wasn't even in danger, but having refs with fight experience can mitigate that kind of thing. Fighters are putting their lives on the line, and the ref's number one job is to keep fighters safe but that requires a certain level of competency.
All in all, it's better to see a fight stopped prematurely than to see a fight stopped late when one guy is clearly out of it. When a fighter's career can be determined based on which ref or judges they were assigned on a given night, it's time to figure out a better way.
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