(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)
I hit upon a shocking realization earlier today when I looked at the calendar in my phone: there is no UFC event this weekend. No UFC on Fuel, on FX, or on Fox; no Ultimate Fighter finale, no foray into a new foreign country, no UFC 15whenaretheygoingtostopnumberingthese. My heart stopped and I thought, good Lord, what am I going to do with myself this weekend?
Then I remembered I have something resembling a social life and stand-up comedy performances booked and breathed a sigh of relief. I also remembered, too, that as much as I love this sport, at times I'm burnt out by the sheer volume of fights made available by the world's biggest and most successful MMA promotion. For the first time in ages, I passed on the last UFC pay-per-view. (Judging from reaction I read from everyone to the barely literate MMA fan on Twitter to Dana White himself, I made the right call).
After Sonnen vs. Silva and so many other events in recent weeks, I simply couldn't muster up the enthusiasm and money to spend on a placeholder main event.
And that, I think, is the real problem with the number of events the UFC puts on.
Dana White blames the rash of injuries on overtraining. His theory is that fight camps, which used to have one world class fighter, now consist of numerous world class fighters and that the "iron sharpens iron" mentality is causing these fighters to hurt each other during training. It's not the most out there theory that I've heard and, to an extent, I do think some aspects of training – particularly overtraining – contributes greatly to the problem.
I do think, though, that much of the plague of injuries is simply a numbers game. There are more injuries simply because there are more events, though they seem lately to have crept into the upper portion of the card and especially the main events. Two of the last three pay-per-view main events were changed due to injury, and things got so bad that Brandon Vera
of all people is headlining what was supposed to be an important card coming up next week.
How'd that happen?
It's not that there aren't enough fighters. In 2009, the UFC had 211 fighters listed under contract
and held 19 events. They currently, according to their website, have 361 fighters under contract and of this writing have already held 18 events. They're planning on doing somewhere in the neighborhood of over 30 for the whole year. Without taking weight class distribution into account, it seems that the ratio of fighters to events is relatively consistent.
Perhaps, the problem is that there's a lot of fighters but not a lot of stars
. That's the trouble with having so many fighters under contract: the more guys you have, the easier it is for them to get lost in the shuffle. A fighter has to go above and beyond with self-promotion to get noticed. Some will argue that an impressive performance alone will do that, however with the sheer number of events and the fan mentality of the sport, it's easy for people to forget a guy even on the heels of a vicious knockout win. Chris Weidman is the talk of 185 right now, but before him it was the man he knocked out. Such is the sport we love.
One answer for the UFC's quandary could be women's MMA. If the promotion is serious about doing a higher volume of shows on broadcast and cable that draw an audience, it would benefit greatly from using fighters that are not only competitive but also strong self-promoters. Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman, and others have proven themselves to be incredibly effective self-promoters with press savvy that rivals some of the biggest draws of the UFC and blows many of them out of the water.
Dana White's hesitancy towards women's fighting has been, at least publicly, that he feels the competition level isn't ready for the big stage afforded by being in the UFC. Yet he's just added a flyweight division that has no major draws and little depth. Even the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, pre-established and built with WEC, see a lot of fighters from heavier weight classes having to make the transition to establish and legitimize (in the eyes of the casual fan) those divisions.
The fact is that no division, male or female, is ready for primetime until it's put in primetime. The only way for women's MMA to become strong, like every male weight division the UFC has added over the years, is to have a bigger presence on a larger stage.
The bottom line is that the recent injury plague that befell the UFC and disappointing resulting pay-per-view buyrates indicate the promotion is doing more shows than it has stars. Yet there are women fighters who are already doing the very things and taking the initiative to self-promote that the UFC needs more of its top tier male stars to do.
Moving women's MMA onto the main stage is a win-win for the promotion. They just have to be convinced.
Image: Michael N. Todaro/WireImage/Getty Images