The entire MMA community - fighters and fans alike - have been in an uproar lately about UFC President Dana White's controversial decision to tape the upcoming season of TUF with coaches Chael Sonnen and LHW Champion Jon Jones, with the two set to square off in early 2013. Understandably, LHW contenders and hardcore fans of the sport claim that Sonnen is undeserving because he has never fought at LHW in the UFC and is coming off a TKO loss; the consensus is that Sonnen only "earned" this fight by running his mouth and blasting the champion via Twitter.
For many, however, this isn't just a spark that has lit the fuse: it is the straw that broke the camel's back. This misstep is just one of many in what seems to be a long line of poor decisions by UFC brass lately. I would argue that 2012 has been the worst year for the modern UFC for many reasons.
It has been a year full of injuries and scrapped fights, and while the UFC is not entirely to blame many have pointed to the adoption of guaranteed fighter health insurance as well as making fight cards rely too much on one or two fights as being contributing factors. Speaking of which, the UFC has also been criticized for putting on so many cards that the value of each card is diluted to the point where there haven't been any stacked cards lately. The show's once flagship reality series TUF has been struggling in the ratings department (partially due to a poor decision to air on Friday nights) and fans complain that the model is stale, the contestants are weak, and the "drama" is something they could do without.
My theory on all of this is that Dana White has sold his soul to FOX, not literally of course. Before Dana signed his multi-year deal with FOX, he was a man who truly was passionate about MMA and did everything he could to put on the fights that the fans wanted and put the legitimacy of the show ahead of cheap short-term ratings and freak shows. In that same vein, Dana has always dreamed of the UFC hitting it big and scoring a major network deal.
Dana stayed true to his principles, but once he landed his major deal with FOX everything changed. What had once been an operation completely run by Dana had become a promotion that had the FOX devil playing its hand behind the scenes. The first FOX event was a tremendous disappointment in many ways. Despite the fans' claim that putting all your stock in ONE HW fight that is expected to end in a finish could be a risky move, FOX undoubtedly pressured Dana to put on a HW title fight and promote it like boxing did in the old days, even though it has always been the UFC's model to build a solid 5-fight main card instead of basing its entire event on one fight like boxing does today.
Predictably, the event failed because it ended up having like 55 minutes of talk time and only a few minutes of actual fighting. To add to that, Dana was forced to move TUF to Friday night to accomodate the FX program schedule and this also led to a drop in ratings. Instead of trying to build quality shows, Dana let FOX influence him into whipping out any gimmick he could to make the show draw viewers, from live episodes that disappointed to the current Sonnen-Bones season that has the MMA world in a furor.
Furthermore, the insistence of FOX on building its FX and FUEL channels has led the UFC to put a bunch of weak cards on those channels that traditionally could have been used to build solid all-around cards on PPV. In short, Dana has let the UFC product get diluted in order to please his FOX masters.
Overall, I see the UFC slowly but surely going down the same inevitable route that boxing went. Boxing was a respected sport for a long time, in which the fans got to see the fights that were big and the sport was perceived to be legitimate in the sense that title shots were earned off of merit. Eventually, boxing started striking deals with network television and once it got big the slimy promoters like Don King came in and corrupted the sport into a freak show. Now, boxing puts on crappy cards that basically have one big fight and a few other fights that nobody cares about. Fighters regularly stack records against cans, and getting a title shot is more about politics than merit. While this model is making big money for the few in the know, it has hurt the sport for fans on the whole.
Similarly, the UFC started out respectable and now Dana has sold his soul to the big FOX network. With the big money comes corruption, and we are seeing shows diluted and gimmicks instituted right before our very eyes. I see 2012 not as an abberation for the UFC, but a negative trend. Unfortunately, Dana is locked into his FOX contract for years to come so this is just the beginning.
As a disappointed UFC fan, all I can say is buckle up, sit back, and watch the show as our beloved sport devolves down the same road that boxing went before it