The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest MMA organization in the world that showcases some of the best high-level fighters in the world with twelve divisions. Eight in the men’s division and four in the women’s division. When Dana White owned nine percent of the UFC and sold the company to a group of private investors, White stayed on as the president of the UFC.
Ever since making the UFC the top tier fighting organization, the UFC has taken the “Take no prisoners” approach to improve the market for the game by taking the best fighters from other leagues and finding them through the Contender Series. The UFC has even brought on some big sponsorships including Modelo and Monster Energy. Most recently, the UFC named Venum to be the exclusive apparel partner of the sport. DraftKings as its first sportsbook and daily fantasy partner.
UFC COO Lawrence Epstein told ESPN.
“One of the things we do see is more robust data-generation from UFC events that can be used in gaming,…We’re optimistic that in a relative short period of time we’re going to have a lot more in-game, real-time data that’s going to enhance the gaming experience on UFC.”
The deal with Venum will give fighters a $2,000 boost in terms of incentives for title fights Fighters who have competed in 11-15 and 16-20 will get $1,000 more and fighters under that range will get $500 more. Venum’s deal may not be as lucrative as the Reebok deal that was worth $70 million over a six span; however, Venum had more incentives for the athletes and the promotion perspective regarding the fights.
On the other hand, DraftKings signed a five-year 350 million dollar deal to be the first sportsbook and daily fantasy partner of the UFC. This deal will help UFC become a part of mainstream sports people watch which are dominated by the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL.
With all these media deals on ESPN and the sister station, ABC, there are always the questions of whether anyone can compete with the UFC in terms of getting views and do fans prefer high-level competition or high-level entertainment? Is there a big enough market for high-level Entertainment or is it just an occasional event?
BREAKING DOWN SOME OF THE NEXT TIER LEAGUES
Even though Bellator has many great fighters in their league, Bellator does not get the same amount of attention as the UFC. However, it’s important to point out that Bellator has a circular cage when compared to an octagon and emphasizes the walkouts solely for entertainment purposes. The pay-per-view numbers cannot compare to the top PPV buys in the UFC.
For example, UFC 229 Khabib vs McGregor generated 2.4 million buys which were the most buys in any UFC PPV event. UFC 251: Usman vs Masvidal generated 1.3 million buys. Bellator’s highest-selling PPV was Bellator 120 in 2014 where the main card featured King Mo vs Rampage, which ended only generating 100K buys.
Bellator has a lot of former UFC fighters including Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi, Cris Cyborg, Ryan Bader, and many more. This can be good for branding purposes in regards to viewership in the short term.
However, Bellator will most likely never see a current UFC Champion leave the UFC to sign a contract with them. Upcoming Bellator fighter and former collegiate wrestler, Cody Law will most likely be in the UFC in the next two to three years as many make the jump.
The One Championship is another B-tier league that is trying to get some attention in MMA. The league landed a three-year broadcast deal with TNT back in 2018. Former UFC star fighters like Eddie Alverez and Demetrious Johnson have joined the One to continue their MMA careers.
The One Championship is broadcasted on Wednesday every week. One did beat the average viewership when compared to the UFC numbers back in 2019 but the UFC expanded their target demographic by striking an exclusive PPV deal with ESPN and recently showing a few events on ABC this year.
Like Bellator, One Championship has entertaining entrances to the ring like the WWE. Just like the many other professional fighting leagues, One Championship lost a former Welterweight champion, Ben Askren, to the UFC a couple of years ago.
To break everything down, all these different fighting organizations are essentially a farm system for the UFC and are alternatives for former stars who were either cut by the UFC or for fighters who could not handle the high level of competition the UFC has to offer.
BOXING NEW APPROACH TO GET THE FANS ATTENTION
There was a time when boxing was the biggest sport in the fighting industry. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Mayweather, and many other boxers were the biggest names. Boxing was also huge due to the deal with Showtime.
The UFC has taken over because the organization showcases fighters who specialize in boxing, grappling, striking, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and other techniques that make the bouts interesting. The UFC uses a 25-foot octagon rather than the traditional 30-foot octagon which led to more knockouts and quicker finishes. With the numbers being so low, boxing took a new approach by joining forces with Thriller to push for high-level entertainment rather than high-level competition.
MARKET FOR HIGH-LEVEL COMBAT SPORTS
The number of buys that featured Nate Robinson vs Jake Paul and Roy Jones vs Mike Tyson sold more than 1.6 million PPV buys which were priced at $49.49 each and ranks in the top 10 in combat sports. Thriller ended up dishing out well above 50 million dollars for streaming rights, but the numbers exceeded expectations by generating 80 million dollars in revenue.
The Ben Askren vs Jake Paul PPV had around 1.3 million buys. Jake Paul fought arguably one of the worst strikers in UFC history for a boxing match who hasn’t been active since 2019 and who had a partial hip replacement. This card also featured some amateur boxers, some no-name fighters, and some retired fighters.
Thriller emphasized entertainment by putting on a whole concert featuring many well-known music artists. The event also had many Tiktokers, YouTubers, television hosts, and comedians.
Dana White claims that Thriller is lying about the numbers; however, whatever the case may be there is certainly a market for high-level entertainment. It will be interesting to see if Jake Paul and other celebrities will fight skilled MMA fighters like Chris Leben who recently retired from Bare-Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC).