The UFC will obviously survive whatever it’s currently going through.
Amidst aftermath from a mega $4 billion sale, contract fallouts with former promotional stars like Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo, ongoing uncertainty with prominent names like Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar, money-hungry fighters who are beginning to understand their worth and the expectation to still go out and put on a great show, UFC has experienced unusually turbulent waters over the past few months. With proper leaders in place, despite the massive job cuts the promotion has seen worldwide, UFC has been able to keep its head above the choppy waves.
But at some point, as Bellator MMA expands its stock with key signings of prominent mixed martial arts names likes Chael Sonnen and Rory MacDonald, as well as the undervalued World Series of Fighting strapping in for three title fights in New York City at the end of the year, UFC must do what it does best and separate from the promotional pack yet again. UFC will not be able to right the ship in the eyes of the media and fans by bickering over a GSP contract or rapidly overhauling an organization following the purchase by an entertainment juggernaut.
Instead, the premier MMA promotion in the world will have to do what it does best and put the best fights on display for the mainstream masses.
Luckily for UFC, superstars Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey are both eyeing returns to the Octagon before 2016’s close. As the two biggest stars in MMA today, and possibly of all-time, “Notorious” and “Rowdy” can make people forget about anything when they step inside of the cage. Whether McGregor and Rousey are equipped to win their next Octagon appearances or not, it is their ability to freeze moments in time with their star power alone that makes this newly developed UFC soap opera manageable.
Since McGregor’s rematch victory over Nate Diaz at UFC 202, the promotion hasn’t had a dynamic pay-per-view (PPV) card to remind fans of the power it possesses. While it was entertaining to see CM Punk enter the Octagon with zero professional experience and get a hole stomped in him quicker than Stone Cold Steve Austin playing whack-a-mole, UFC 203 offered nothing beyond a Stipe Miocic UFC heavyweight title defense (albeit a great knockout performance). As for UFC 204, which marked the final fight for MMA legend Dan Henderson, that card showcased the inevitable demise of an aged Vitor Belfort more than anything. Lackluster Fight Night cards filled the schedule the rest of the way.
Even before that, an injury to Chris Weidman shook up his UFC 199 rematch with Luke Rockhold, which ended in a complete overhaul of the UFC middleweight division when Bisping stepped in on short notice and slumped Rockhold to win the belt. Not to mention UFC 200, which flopped in its own right with the removal of McGregor from the card and both Jones and Lesnar popping under United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) watch. UFC 201 didn’t too well either, seeing as it was pinned between UFC 200 and 202 and saw one of the promotion’s most marketable champions, Robbie Lawler, get knocked out cold in two minutes.
As you can see, UFC needs to produce fireworks inside of the cage quickly to regain some of its pizzazz lost over the few months. Whether it has been sub-par PPV events, crippling USADA results or unsettling arguments with bona fide superstars like GSP and Aldo, UFC needs to reaffirm the MMA hoards that all is golden. That’s why McGregor and Rousey’s returns over the next few months are so important.
For McGregor, who has become the biggest selling (hence the word) name in the sport today, cashing in on an opportunity to become the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold two titles will be enough to put the promotion back on the pedestal. The Irish featherweight king will lock horns with current UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on Nov. 12 in New York City.
With a massive card at his fingertips, including two others title fights, McGregor will be given even a bigger stage to take over before the year comes to a close. His participation in these events are obviously key from a financial standpoint, but they help satisfy the fans, who are always looking to witness superfights involving history-making potential.
As for Rousey, her long-awaited comeback to the Octagon will come to fruition at UFC 207 on Dec. 30. The former UFC women’s bantamweight queen will make her return opposite current divisional champion Amanda Nunes, who has the striking and proven ground game to throw “Rowdy” for a loop on arrival. While Rousey doesn’t necessarily do the same type of PPV numbers as McGregor does, she is undoubtedly the bigger star (hence the word) in the game today.
With a nation of women behind her and countless entertainment icons waiting to witness her every move, Rousey is able to make fight fans forget about the nonsense more than anyone. Add in the fact that she’ll be fighting for the first time coming off her loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, and you have a concoction capable of blasting UFC into an even more distant atmosphere.
Whether McGregor and Rousey win or lose doesn’t really matter. It is their presence inside of the Octagon that will take UFC 205 and UFC 207 to new MMA heights. It’s ironic that both of their immediate fighting futures are somewhat up in the air — with McGregor set to take time off after UFC 205 and Rousey most likely one more loss away from retirement — because they’ll have the power of making everything right within the growing UFC circle.
Memorable performances by McGregor and Rousey will not only make WME-IMG feel like it got a good deal, but it would help UFC save face as its most important year ever winds down.