Trip down under couldn’t come at a better time for under-fire UFC

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It’s never easy gauging the consensus perception of the UFC, or indeed MMA in general. It’s not as if regular polls are being conducted. However, given the polarizing nature of the sport, between the diehards, casual fans and zealous opponents, opinions – informed or otherwise – tend to be impassioned and visceral.

What cannot be disputed though, is that the opening quarter of this year, on a public relations level at least, has been far from stellar for the UFC.

Tough start to 2015

To date, 2015 has been blighted by a raft of high-profile fighters failing drug tests, including former light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones who has since been indefinitely suspended, after being arrested on a felony charge for an alleged hit-and-run incident, which resulted in a pregnant woman breaking her arm.

Last weekend, when Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao – in the MGM Grand of all places – boxing, perhaps one last time, gave a telling demonstration of the capital-generating disparity between the sports. While the revised UFC apparel deal with Reebok, which will now see fighters compensated based on tenure, has gone over like a fart in a spacesuit. And rightly so.

At this stage, it would be remiss not to clarify that the UFC are by no means completely responsible for this current predicament. Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Hector Lombard all acted of their own freewill, and should be judged as such. And the decision to cut ties with Jones deserves our praise.

The thing is, when you dominate an industry to the point of monopolisation, different rules apply. Even now, many people still fail to distinguish the UFC and MMA as separate entities, and the harsh reality is that, for the vast majority, the actions of anyone involved in the sport will invariably be associated with the UFC.

Ropey Reebok deal

That said, for those of us with a working knowledge of how things really are, this week’s developments in the promotion’s long-term relationship with Reebok, must be solely-attributed to them. While reaction to the revised exclusive apparel partnership between the UFC and the brand has not been one of universal indignation, it’s been generally poor from fighters, pundits and fans alike.

Initially fighters were to be paid per Octagon appearance based on rank in their respective divisions; a provision which was thankfully scrapped given how fickle and subjective MMA rankings are. Now, athletes with 1-5 bouts under the Zuffa banner will be paid €2,500 a fight, with the scale increasing accordingly by the same amount.

Which wouldn’t be so terrible if fighters, as of July when the deal takes effect, were not prohibited from exhibiting any other brands while on UFC duty, though the company itself will maintain all their previous arrangements.

Some fighters, namely Brendan Schaub, have vented their frustration via social media; claiming that their earning capacity has been hugely decimated, though there has been little by the way of a large-scale response. Even though it’s been well established that the majority of the 586 athletes on the UFC’s roster are paid modestly and rely heavily on sponsorship to supplement their earnings.

However, without a union to represent their interests as a collective, it appears they have little recourse. The most unsettling aspect of all this is the ruthless manner in which the UFC have played god with the livelihood of those who make their entire existence possible.

For example, take recent Irish promotional debutants Paul Redmond and Joseph Duffy. Even if the duo were to fight three more times between July and year’s end, the most either could garner in additional revenue is €7,500. Think about it.

Much-needed trip Down Under

So, if the Zuffa brass ever needed to get out of the eye of the storm and take cover, it’s now. Which is why the trip to Australia for Saturday’s UFN 65 in Adelaide, followed by their first venture to the Philippines a week’s hence for UFN 66 in Pasay City, could not come at a better time.

Away from their more familiar stomping grounds, Dana and co. are unlikely to be fielding awkward questions from a media or fan base delighted they’ve finally come to town. They can relax, and then bask in the glow of being loved for merely showing up.

That both cards feature main events with the potential for instant classic status should only serve further diminish the glare.

The show in Adelaide, the UFC’s first in South Australia, will be capped off by a heavyweight showdown between local hero Mark Hunt and Stipe Miocic. Considering the men involved, we’ll either get 25 minutes of bloody-attrition or a devastating KO, so all involved are likely to leave happy.

Pasay City will see two fan favourites, Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber, close out the show and, given what we know about the pair, their featherweight match-up is unlikely to disappoint either.

All going according to plan, the post-show press conferences will provide Dana ample opportunity to grandstand, and tell his adoring public that the UFC never fails to deliver, that they’ve only got the fighters’ interest at heart and, of course, they’ll be back soon.

How ironic it is that, over the next eight days or so, the UFC are dependent on the very same men and women who they have casually deprived of income to repair the self-inflicted damage done to their reputation.