UFC endures tough week
While UFC remains the No. 1 domestic MMA brand in the U.S., last week's announcement by Randy Couture that he is resigning from the promotion wasn't the only bad news for Dana White. A couple of other domestic and foreign competitors made moves that only compounded the shock of Couture's departure.
EliteXC signs Diaz and Slice
Last week, EliteXC -- a promotion I consider the No. 2 domestic MMA league in this country -- made two significant signings. The league re-signed Nick Diaz to a long-term contract, and it also signed Internet phenomenon and former street fighter Kimbo Slice to a deal. These signings are significant because former UFC bad boy Diaz is a very familiar fighter to MMA fans. Slice, on the other hand, is new to MMA (with only one MMA fight -- a victory over Ray Mercer back in June -- under his belt) but has legions of fans who have watched his numerous streetfights on YouTube.
M-1 signs Fedor and Arona
Fedor Emelianenko is widely regarded as the top heavyweight in the world. While he is an unfamiliar commodity to the casual MMA fan in America, he is very well-known elsewhere, especially in his home country of Russia and to the worldwide fans of PRIDE. After an attempt by Dana White to sign Emelianenko to UFC failed, the Russian chose to sign with M-1, a previously Russian-owned promotion that is now reportedly backed by an American investor with global MMA aspirations.
M-1 followed that signing up with another signing of PRIDE star Ricardo Arona, as reported over the weekend by "Vale Tudo News" and translated by mma-europe.net.
While neither fighter is a big name in the U.S., if MMA is viewed as a global sport, the signings are certainly big ones for M-1.
IFL to hold first-ever live MMA event on network TV
As if the rival signings mentioned above weren't enough to worry about for UFC, the only major domestic team league, IFL, will be holding the first-ever live MMA event on network TV. On November 3, MyNetworkTV will be televising one hour of IFL's first-ever individual World Grand Prix semifinals.
So, what does all this mean?
A commonly-held belief is that MMA is in its infancy as a sport. Think of it much like football before the AFL-NFL merger. While UFC is clearly the dominant brand right now, there is no reason to think this has to be the case in 10 years. Just as easily as PRIDE has become a memory, the same could happen to UFC. All it takes is a series of unfortunate events to trigger a downward spiral. Of course, let's also be real. The sky is certainly not falling any time soon.
However, here are some questions to consider as the sport continues to grow leaps and bounds and attracts new fans who don't associate MMA with UFC as strongly as older fans. What if the numerous fans who followed Slice's exploits on the Internet follow him to EliteXC and make that promotion their MMA destination? What if EliteXC continues to aggressively pursue co-promotions and figures out a way to co-promote a Fedor fight and thus brings international MMA fans under its cooperative tent? What if a casual fan sits down to a night of TV-surfing on November 3 and lands on MyNetworkTV and falls in love with IFL's product?
Some of the answers to these questions won't bode well for UFC. So, while the promotion has enjoyed unrivaled success in the last couple of years, there are still reasons for White to be on guard. Couture's decision to leave at the height of his popularity shows just how fragile things can be, even for the sport's top dog. But, if you were paying attention last week, you realize that this wasn't White's only reason for concern.