I would argue that UFC has become a company driven by superstars, and of late that is something that seems to have gone away from them. But, with the past week’s news it seems that tide is turning.
Conor McGregor has become one of if not the biggest current name inside the Octagon. Conor is extremely talented, and his appearances to fight draw buys, but he comes with his own set of headaches now that he has reached the level he has.
He now is in a position where he demands top paydays – even famously asking for ownership stake in UFC. Then there’s the ever-rumored fight between him and Floyd Mayweather that people seem to think will happen and will keep him from MMA. And of course, he and his girlfriend are awaiting the arrival of their first child. So, UFC won’t be hearing from him for a while.
One could argue that Ronda Rousey got severely exposed at UFC 207. She suffered a crushing 48-second defeat to Amanda Nunes at that event, which came over a year after her second round knockout loss to Holly Holm in Australia. She now lacks the allure she once had when she seemed unbeatable. Dana White himself has admitted that Rousey may never set foot in an Octagon again as a result.
UFC builds events and calendars around big names, and for a while now there haven’t been any. No Rousey. No Jon Jones, who is serving a suspension for performance enhancing drugs. No McGregor. And even Brock Lesnar, who comes with his own set of crossover pro wrestling fans, has retired. This is where the return of Georges St. Pierre and the clearing of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino are such big announcements.
The women’s featherweight division is Cyborg’s to have – it’s why UFC made the division. She is considered one of the best women’s fighters in the world, but to this point she was dealing with a positive drug test result. This past week, USADA cleared her of the violation and granted her a therapeutic use exemption for the medication that popped the positive result.
After the dull fight that was Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie, UFC has to be breathing a sigh of relief. Cyborg will be the draw of the women’s featherweight division and to have her on the sidelines for a year because of drug-related issues would dampen an already fledgling division. Now there are possibilities and fights to book going forward that people will want to see – if only to watch Cyborg fight.
Then there’s Georges St. Pierre. Until UFC 193, he was a part of the card at UFC 129 that drew the largest UFC crowd in history at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. St. Pierre is an icon and a skilled fighter that has only lost twice (Matt Hughes and Matt Serra). He won 12 straight fights before stepping away in 2013. They don’t come much bigger than GSP when it comes to the MMA game. No matter where it is he returns on the calendar, eyes will be on that fight.
UFC also has a number of directions they could go with booking him in a return fight. They could book him against current middleweight champion Michael Bisping. It was Bisping who teased his return and said that a deal between him and GSP was nearly done.
There’s also the possibility of GSP returning to the top of the welterweight division. Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson go at it next month for the welterweight title, and GSP could get the winner. He relinquished the title after defeating Johny Hendricks, so it would open the door for him to regain a title he never lost.
There’s always the non-championship route as well. The Diaz brothers – Nate and Nick – are only interested in big money fights, and GSP could provide that motivation. And if you really want to look at a big money fight, look no further than Conor McGregor. St. Pierre has said before that he would consider cutting to 155 lbs to make what could be the biggest UFC fight in history.
With the return of Jon Jones early this summer as well, it looks like the second half of UFC’s year has definitely received a shot of much needed star power. In turn, it should help WME-IMG feel a little better about their $4.2 billion investment as pay per view buys and ticket sales nudge back in an upward direction.