I like to start these sorts of pieces out with full disclosure. I am in fact what I like to call a recovering “hardcore” MMA fan. I use this phraseology because I have watched MMA since its inception. I was all in from the beginning as a fan due to the nature of it. You could almost guarantee you’d see a brutal knockout or submission every time an MMA event was airing. Other combat sports were too watered down and just to put it bluntly, boring. Boxing rarely ever had the best fighting the best and the promoters were several shades of sketchy, to say the least. I’ll save you the backstory that nobody cares about detailing how I came to love MMA. Let’s talk about why I’ve come to have a strong disdain for the sport as of late.
Before I go into it I have to run a disclaimer. Do not think you have to remind me that when a fighter gets older, they slow down and become a lesser version of themselves. I’m well aware that most MMA fans truly believe they’re “experts” from the couch on all the intricacies of how the fighters train and the moves they see them perform on their screens. I understand most of what’s called the “hardcore fanbase” at least in their minds think they care about the fighters. The social media outrage about how much fighters get paid along with advocating for fighter safety is at an all-time high.
If I were to tell you with no other context that there’s an event coming up with kids fighting each other, would that pique your interest? Let’s assume all the normal people just said no. What if I told you the kids that were fighting were well trained, would that change your mind? I’ll also assume most normal people just said no again. I would then have to point out that at least 95% of the current MMA fanbase is advocating for just that exact thing on an almost daily basis.
Recently a 17-year-old (Raul Rosas Jr.) boy won a UFC contract and became the youngest fighter to ever sign with the UFC. This did it for me. I absolutely do not support this one bit for many reasons I’m positive the “hardcore” fanbase isn’t taking into consideration. For many years now I’ve been hearing these tired narratives that get repeated like “MMA is a young man’s sport.” I could just refer to the many examples over the years where that statement is completely false. However, I know all the detractors would just want to prove how much they “understand the sport” by saying it’s evolving and the fighters are getting younger by proxy. So to prove my point I’ll have to go a bit deeper.
How much do you really understand about the sport of MMA? Do you think you truly have a full understanding of the business side of things as well? I always hear statements from the MMA media that these fighters “need more adults in the room.” Saying your favorite fighter is so inept they can’t possibly know when to stop fighting is not the compliment you think it is. I fully agree MMA fighters are not getting paid what they deserve. I also know that it’s a volunteer army. I know not one person has a gun to their head while they’re signing contracts. In fact, I think they’re grown adults that can handle their own in every aspect of life. Pretty soon saying “these fighters need more adults in the room” will be a literal statement. This is not conjecture, actual adolescents are now competing in what most people would agree is a brutal unforgiving sport.
Before I really drive my overall point home, I’d like to talk a bit about the business side of MMA. UFC was bought by WME-IMG. William Morris Endeavor is the world’s leading talent agency right there with CAA. I worked in the entertainment business for over two decades. It’s true I never worked in or around MMA but I don’t need that particular experience to speak on the current business model. I worked directly with WME and CAA before, I understand how they operate. In all forms of entertainment, the massive corporations that own the contracts for the talent never like the talent becoming “bigger” than the company that owns the contracts. This couldn’t be more true for the current business model of MMA. Gone are the days of building up talent to make them a household name with a big contract and PPV points attached. Now, these organizations understand that just the brand itself sells enough for them to get the desired profit margin they seek.
If MMA fans truly cared about the fighters the way they say they do, they’d be advocating for fighters to be at least drinking age before getting inside the cage. Fighters like Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Conor McGregor all helped the sport garner enough attention that the people who own the contracts for the current roster no longer need or want fighters getting that famous or influential. The more famous the fighter, the bigger the platform they can get post-fighting career. This means all the dirty little secrets these organizations have may leak out to the press if these former stars feel they were mistreated in any way during their career. This causes too many headaches for the top brass. Constantly having to pay these fighters huge contracts to match their fame levels and then also paying them to be quiet post-career can start to really add up. Quantity over quality has become the new norm. It’s getting harder to recognize the roster of fighters as time goes on. Currently, there are very few household names that actually sign any fight agreements. Instead, the MMA media helps these big-money organizations by forcing nonsensical narratives down the throats of any potential consumer.
Saying it’s a young man’s sport exclusively may seem like the woke “finger on the pulse” thing to say, but it’s a dangerous road to go down. Again, I’m well aware that older fighters slow down and the longer they fight, the more harm can be done to their health long term. Like I said before, I don’t treat grown men with kid gloves. I’ll let them decide when to throw in the towel, until then I’m here to see entertaining fights. I’d much rather see a well-seasoned veteran fighter compete than a no-name younger fighter. This is my preference. I get it. However, my point is still valid. These big organizations are the ones winning when the MMA media can convince hardcore and casual fans that watching children fight is the only acceptable product. Many times agents and managers don’t really help the athletes they represent the way you think they might. Most times these agents and managers are in the pocket of the major organizations because their business doesn’t stop with one or two fighters. They want to be in business generationally. To achieve that goal they find themselves doing the bidding of the organizations rather than the fighters they represent.
It’s simple. Having very young fighters means having naïve fighters. At least that’s what the bigwigs are hoping for when they convince the audience they need to only watch young men and women fight. Bad contracts, managers, agents in the pockets of the organizations, and just a lack of life experience are a recipe for disaster in the entertainment industry. Whether you like it or not MMA is now entertainment. I don’t know about you but watching children fight each other, whether they’re well trained or not, is not “entertainment” to me. There’s a large base of MMA fans from the old days who are in their late 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. If this is you, ask yourself, do I really want to watch only young men and women get undressed and weigh in, then go beat on each other for “my entertainment?” If you answered yes, you’ve been conditioned to be a bonified weirdo. Thanks for reading!
I’ve made my voice heard about this and many other topics to do with MMA to MMA media itself and top organizational brass and this is what I get every time.