It’s that time of the year.
In January of 2018, I wrote an article on 10 New Year’s Resolutions for MMA in 2018. Let’s take a look at how they fared. Did these resolutions come true? I’ll answer by yes/no/maybe.
- For another transcendent star to be born in the UFC – This didn’t quite happen. Daniel Cormier became the second champ champ, but the numbers didn’t back up the stardom. Jon Jones returned and did good numbers but was marred by controversy. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Max Holloway had strong years but may never take the leap. No
- For Rizin to do what it does best – I feel like Rizin were a little under the radar in 2018. They’re almost going with the new era Bellator model in having their own stars with sporadic legends fights. They did well, but was it their best? Maybe
- Keep Cris Cyborg busy – Cyborg fought twice in 2018. Losing to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 has set her back as the dominant 145 champion we know her as, but the UFC did a good job of booking her in an intriguing matchup. Yes
- Hope that Bellator make some free agent hauls – Bellator didn’t quite gain a Rory MacDonald or Ryan Bader esque star, but they did tap in to the UK & Irish market with a vengeance. Signing notable names like Aaron Chalmers, Paul Redmond, Peter Queally etc has been a capitalisation on the UFC’s lack of investment in Western Europe. Yes
- For Dana White to stay active as a promoter – 2018 Dana was as active as ever, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be leaving soon. Yes
- For the Light-Heavyweight division to move to 220 – Okay, in hindsight this was a bit of a jump. With the 165 pound division likely the next addition, it’s probably miles away from ever happening. No
- To lessen the ideas of ‘Super fights’ – I’d like to think this was honoured in 2018. We went back to classic title fights that meant something, like Holloway v Ortega, DJ v Cejudo, Whittaker v Romero etc. But the idea is still very much in the minds of many fighters and the UFC – with Dillashaw v Cejudo set for January. No
- To pay the fighters more in sponsorship – Aside from the top fighters maybe getting an extra monster sponsorship payout or that weird protein bar brand, I don’t think this happened. No
- For Conor McGregor to return to the UFC – Thankfully McGregor returned and put up the biggest UFC PPV numbers to date. His UFC 229 battle with Khabib will be long remembered, primarily for the pre-fight antics. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but good to see a return of the biggest star in the company. Yes
- For the Diaz brothers to return, or at least one of them – We thought this was going to happen with Nate Diaz at UFC 230, a fight was all but set with Dustin Poirier for a return of one of 155’s most intriguing characters. Sadly a rift with the UFC and the placement of the fight didn’t bode well with the 209, and it didn’t materialise. As for Nick, your guess is as good as mine. No
So 4/9 resolutions in 2018 came true, with a maybe in-between. Can we do better in 2019? Let’s find out.
2018 New Year’s Resolutions
Resolution 1 – For Jon Jones not to have any issues with USADA or the law in 2019
We saw off the bat of UFC 232 that Jon Jones is a PPV draw. Arguably, the most important star to the UFC outside of Conor McGregor. UFC 232 early PPV estimates suggest Jones vs. Gustaffson drew between 800,000 – 900,000 PPV buys, a monster number in the current PPV era decline.
A common theme with Jon Jones however, is a return to the Octagon and an issue outside of it that leads to his suspension. Whether it’s driving into pregnant ladies, being flagged for drug use or taking performance enhancement drugs. Jones has done it all. If he manages to escape from past grievances, which is very much up in the air, Jones could have a huge 2019. And quite frankly, he needs it.
Resolution 2 – For the Professional Fighting League (PFL) to have a big year
2018 was the first year of the PFL’s branding transformation from World Series of Fighting. The organisation managed to change things up by offering a year-long tournament bracket, and offering $1 million dollars to the winners in each division. On paper, it was a fresh idea that could make them stand out from other promotions.
In practice, the PFL gained momentum too little too late. The New Year’s Eve placement of the finale was a little saturated, and the million dollar winners gained a lot of traction the day after. But maybe better business strategy and a roster with more notable names could boost their stock in 2019. The format is unique and I like it, but it could be improved upon. If they gain a few more stars for each division, they could make waves this year.
Resolution 3 – For the UFC to abstain from dissolving their Flyweight division
As the popular saying goes – “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” This sums up a lot of fight fans sentiments on the imminent departure of men’s 125. Demetrious Johnson was criminally overlooked during his UFC tenure, but without him it seems like the UFC are looking at the UFC Flyweight division as worthless.
This is not the case. A lot rides on Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw coming up next week. If Dillashaw wins, he’ll likely vacate the 125 pound title to forgo the gruesome weight cut again. If Cejudo wins, the UFC may put the breaks on dissolving the division for awhile. I hope the latter happens, regardless of the outcome of the fight. It’s a talented division, the fights are technical, and deserve their place on a card as much as others.
Resolution 4 – For a UFC PPV to eclipse 1 million PPV buys without Conor McGregor
This seemed like a big ask not so long ago, but with Jon Jones almost achieving the feat in 2018, it’s not that far away. If Jones fights Cormier or Lesnar for example, it’s almost guaranteed to push over 1 million. But a part of me would like to see someone else more deserving make the jump.
A lot of eyes will be on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s next fight regardless of who it will be against. It may be unlikely, but with the right draw and co-main event he could do big numbers next time around. GSP could return and do big numbers, again with the right promotion and fight, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. With Conor’s future uncertain, the UFC need to go gung-ho about creating other starts in 2019.
Resolution 5 – For Bellator to finally get a UK & Irish TV deal in 2019
This may be more centered for fans at home, but hear me out on this. How Bellator have managed to put on fight cards in the UK and Ireland but play them out on tape delay thus far is beyond me. With the internet, fight fans can access live results and in turn interest wains on watching the real thing on delay. It’s marketing/business/common sense 101.
Now that they have gained a plethora of UK & Irish talent, it’s time for Bellator to capitalise on the recent signings. They could make a huge leap towards being a clear rival to the UFC if they are putting on big fight cards overseas here and showing it on TV as well. Irish fans in particular have felt neglected by the UFC’s lack of activity and quality promotion in the country. It’s a clear gap in the market, and with McGregor’s stardom at an all-time high the interest in MMA is here. But only for so long.
Resolution 6 – To avoid making Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov 2
Sorry fight fans. This might offend a majority, but I’m sticking with my guns in saying this would be bad for the sport. When you look at the pros and cons:
Pros – Big PPV numbers
Cons – McGregor’s star power and intrigue value takes another blow with a likely loss
155 contenders like Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and possibly Max Holloway are held up for most of the year, again
Tensions between the fight camp create more negative press headlines
I could go on and on. It’s time to explore other options, and besides, I think McGregor needs a tune up fight for the first time in his career. Not to be thrown to the wolves right out of the bat. Maybe this fight makes sense in the future, but not right now. Ideally, not in 2019.
Resolution 7 – For Bare Knuckle Boxing to remain a thing
Last night I watched a VICE documentary on Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship’s first event. It was a success. With home grown talent, MMA vets and the unique production, it made sense to have Bare Knuckle boxing a thing in 2018. I might be in the minority, but from reading studies the impact is lessened without gloves. It might appear visually more brutal, but promotions like Bare Knuckle FC are carrying it out with the care it needs.
If anything, it provides out of favor MMA and Boxing vets with an avenue to make money late in to their careers. There is a level of intrigue from combat sports fans too. A portion of the MMA audience for example, is not kind to the grappling element of MMA. Whatever carving Bare Knuckle boxing can create in the market, I believe it belongs somewhere in 2019.
Resolution 8 – For Daniel Cormier to retire
Some of my resolutions may be unpopular to most, and unlikely to more, but 2019 should be Daniel Cormier’s last year fighting. More often than not, MMA vets will rather go out on their shield with 3/4 fight losing streaks than hang it up when they should have. With one more fight, DC is in the late prime of his career and it’s perfect timing for him to hang up his boots.
Some fans will argue that they have to see Jones/Cormier 3 given the USADA implications that marred their last meeting. Others will argue that Cormier is at his biggest drawing position to date and can make big money by being active in 2019. He has proven enough inside the Octagon, and I personally don’t think he has anything to gain by fighting Jones a third time. Do Lesnar vs. DC or DC vs. Miocic 2 and call it quits.
Resolution 9 – For the UFC to reduce their fight cards
This may come out of left field, and probably won’t happen anytime soon, but it’s something the UFC should really look into. Fight fans are worn out not only with the regularity of fight cards recently but the amount of fighting they consume each card. With the old Fox format, sitting through 12 fights was a painful venture and took out the enjoyment of an event.
If they could do anything in 2019, it would be reduce the amount of fights per night from 12 to 8/10. Casual fight fans aren’t going to sit through 8 preliminary bouts on a weekly basis. The UFC have a huge roster of fighters, but with other promotions making waves they can afford to reduce their size. The finished product has become diluted and even the most hardcore of MMA fans are calling for a change.
Resolution 10 – For one of the Diaz Brothers, Georges St Pierre or Brock Lesnar to return in 2019
Okay, business wise alone one of these moves makes sense. But as an observer of fights and the traction it gets, most names within the promotion have a limited ceiling in intriguing fight fans of any stature. That can change. Throw in a Nick Diaz, or a Brock Lesnar in a main event and the traction on that card will multiply to great effect.
It’s not simply just seeing these draws in action, which would quieten the rumour mills and confusion surrounding these fighters. There is a trickle down effect for fighters on these cards. I’ve noticed casual fight fans mention names that have appeared on McGregor cards in the past that I’d be surprised they’d know. It’s good for business, and good for the fighters below them.
That sums up my New Year’s Resolutions for MMA in 2019. I hope you enjoyed reading the article. We are getting back in the swing of things for the year over at Atlantic Sports Press and are excited to hit the ground running soon. Subscribe to our podcast over on iTunes or any app store to hear American Sports covered from an Irish perspective.