A fighter’s career is not a long career. There is a small window of opportunity in which fighters are able to earn as much money as they can, whilst hopefully sustaining as little damage as possible. To be a fighter however, is to acknowledge the risks associated with intense training and dangers of competition. It is these risks and dangers which currently have the UFC caught between a rock and a hard place.
The UFC have scheduled an unprecedented 49 events for 2014. To service these events the UFC need fighters. Whilst they are going into international marketplaces and localising their product in terms of presentation and talent, they also need their superstars to shine and maintain fans’ excitement in a time when the sport of MMA has never been more saturated with content.
When Georges St Pierre (GSP) stepped away from the sport at the end of last year, the MMA community were only too aware of the challenge this would present for the UFC. GSP was the biggest pay-per-view draw by far. There was a silver lining however, in that is was widely thought that GSP would inevitably return to the sport and company he so loves. In the past few weeks, rumours have been circulating that GSP was already becoming bored with life outside of the Octagon, and he was even pressuring UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to enforce the drug policy changes that he saw as a necessity for his return. Any excitement generated was put to bed on Friday after news broke of an ACL tear GSP had sustained in training, his second ACL tear. The likely rehabilitation time is at least 12 months and probably more. GSP is out.
The metaphorical jaw of the MMA universe dropped in December when Anderson Silva snapped his leg after Chris Weidman checked his leg kick. Whilst there has been video footage of Anderson training again and rumours of him wanting a return to the UFC, it is safe to assume he will not be active in 2014 whilst his leg regains strength. Anderson Silva is out.
Chris Weidman himself has now had to pull out of his title defence against Lyoto Machida due to a reported minor knee injury that requires surgery. Weidman is out.
Cain Velasquez is the UFC’s Heavyweight Champion and an enormous draw for fans due to his relentless and exciting fighting style. Most importantly to the UFC, Cain is their key to the door of the Mexican fan base. Looking to debut an event in Mexico, UFC President Dana White has said “We won’t go without Cain”. After his last victory against Junior Dos Santos however, Cain needed shoulder surgery. He has been sidelined now for several months and is aiming for a November return. For now though, Cain Velasquez is out.
Anthony Pettis won the UFC Lightweight Championship las August, though injured his knee in the build up to the fight and underwent surgery in the aftermath. He is scheduled to coach the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality show against challenger Gilbert Melendez, with a view to have a title defence against Melendez in December. That will be almost a year and a half absence for the champ. For now, Pettis remains out.
How about the UFC’s most recently crowned champion, Welterweight, Johny Hendricks? yep, unfortunately, during his training for his title fight, he tore a bicep. After surgery, he will now likely be out of any contact training for at least twomonths and then likely a further three or four before the UFC can schedule a title defence. Hendricks is out.
Dominick Cruz was the Bantamweight champion. In 2012 he tore his ACL and pulled out of a fight with Urijah Faber. Whilst numerous comebacks had been scheduled and cancelled due to issue after issue, the UFC were finally forced into crowning a new champion this year in Renan Barao, after he defeated Faber in a rematch of their 2012 bout where Barao had filled in for Cruz. Cruz, one of the most talented fighters in the UFC has now not fought in the Octagon in almost two and a half years. He is out.
The UFC underwent a similar year to this in 2012, but last year they skated by relatively unscathed and had their greatest year to date. There are still champions in circulation, but not many. With these champions fighting twice or threetimes a year, I believe the UFC are about the face their biggest challenge yet by having to generate exciting, interesting fights for the fans and service all 49 global events.
It is time for new stars to rise. They must, or the UFC risk entering the global marketplace with their Fight Pass platform and international operations in place, yet without their biggest stars. Dana White correctly states that there were doubts when Chuck Liddell, Randy Coture and Titio Ortiz left, but the UFC prospered in their absence. The difference is we are now worried about champions in their prime.
Injuries are part and parcel of the fight game, yet the timing of this lull could hardly be worse. I do not doubt the company that has defied all odds throughout it’s short existence thus far. I do, however, look forward to seeing how they overcome this obstacle; one of their biggest to date.
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