UFC, MMA & Boxing

The WWE-ification of the UFC

Brock Lesnar - UFC
Brock LESNAR / Frank MIR – 02.02.2008 – UFC Heavyweight bout Saturday – Las Vegas NEvada
Photo : Zuma / Icon Sport

There has always been more than a bit of theatre to the UFC. Case in point: why do they fight in an Octagon? It’s because when Rorion Gracie, UFC co-founder, was pondering the idea of how to present a no-holds barred fighting tournament, he spoke with director John Milius. They threw a few ideas around – an alligator-filled moat, a Thunderdome, for goodness’ sake – but settled on a concept that had first been seen in one of Milius’s movies: Conan The Barbarian. That’s right. The UFC arena is that shape because of an 80s fantasy movie starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar. It’s a funny old world. But lately, it seems to me that things have been getting a bit more Randy Savage than usual. Yeaaah, brother.

The WWE and UFC have always been close companions, right from the start. Shootfighters Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, MMA pioneers, made the switch to WWE during the 90s to great success. One of the biggest names in the UFC has managed to keep a massive, pale foot in both camps – Brock Lesnar is the current Universal Champion over there and might soon be fighting Daniel Cormier for the UFC Heavyweight belt. When Rhonda Rousey threw in the towel with the UFC, the WWE were there to turn her into a huge star. WWE will be hosting their first ever all-female PPV in October, largely thanks to Rousey’s fame. And CM Punk… well, let’s not talk about CM Punk. It’s too soon.

That Brock Lesnar is the biggest thing in the UFC and WWE is no surprise. He’s the biggest thing most places he goes, look at him. But amazingly, he seems to be treating both organisations with an equal level of contempt. When Daniel Cormier won the heavyweight title last month, Brock barged his way into the Octagon, cussed a whole lot and generally ruined the mood for everyone. It was reminiscent of UFC 100, a landmark PPV during which Lesnar enjoyed the win of his career over Frank Mir. For his post-fight interview, he started laying into the UFC’s biggest sponsor in a crass tirade. His current persona in the WWE is of a bored, entitled savage, which as I’m sure you’ll agree is not that different. Now you could argue that DC, himself a massive WWE fan, was well aware that Lesnar was about to appear and could not have been happier in that moment. And on the other side, there’s a case to be made that Lesnar is playing his final role in the WWE as a man trying desperately, and failing, to be more unpopular than Roman Reigns. But really… is he that good an actor?

Speaking of heel turns, meet Colby Covington, your interim Welterweight Champion. He styles himself the “super villain” of the UFC. He trash-talks everyone and everything, committing fully to the role. He called Brazilian fans “filthy animals” during his post-fight interview. In Brazil. He posts spoilers for recent films. His latest moustache-twirling wind-up comes in the form of a tweeted photo, taken in the White House with President Donald Trump holding his belt. He probably squeezes his toothpaste from the middle of the tube, the monster. How much of this is real? Is this truly his personality, or is it a calculated move to get in with a particular demographic?

Then there’s that other drama. You know the one. That’s right, the one involving you-know-who. There are some that believe that McGregor has ruined the UFC just by being who he is. That’s unfair to him, it’s not like he, along with achieving domination of the headlines on a scale hitherto unknown to man, has an evil masterplan for bringing down the company as well. The bad behaviour is not helping. His backstage tantrums would not look out of place on an episode of Smackdown. But what he has forced is a change, or at least the appearance of one. Everyone else on the UFC roster has seen what McGregor has done, what he has become, created and earned, and it is absolutely understandable that they want some too.

There are several problems with this. In the majority of cases, they’re nowhere near as good at it as He is. Many of the fighters now talking trash and bigging themselves up just end up looking a bit silly and obvious. Secondly, despite their efforts, no one else is getting what he is getting. The paydays for UFC 227 were reasonably healthy, but nowhere near McGregor’s million dollar neighbourhood. The only exception to this is if you are fighting against McGregor himself.

A day before the McGregor vs Khabib fight was announced, Nate Diaz was back on the scene, booked to fight Dustin Poirer in October. Five seconds after the McGregor vs Khabib fight was announced, Nate Diaz was storming out of the press conference and complaining to the paps that he wasn’t going to fight for the UFC any more. What can be read into that? Well, the first thing to take into consideration is that Nate Diaz is gonna Nate Diaz. Just like his brother, it’s the root of their near universal appeal. There’s very little theatre about the Diaz brothers. This is just how they are, apparently, mercurial, baffling and entirely their own men. But the second thing that must be observed is that Nate Diaz is a millionaire now, a hot property, and it’s because of Mac. The timing of his return to action is suspicious. And the third item is all the backstage gossip. Like for example, that both McGregor and Nate had lawsuits hanging over them. Word is that they ensured that the Diaz issue was dealt with before they settled Conor’s legal issues. The story goes that they did this to get Diaz out of the way and nailed down with a fight against Poirier so that Mac could pick the opponent he wanted and avoid the trilogy fight. Rumour has it that Diaz did not know any of this, and his reaction onstage was genuine.

Maybe the fighters, with perhaps the exception of Covington, aren’t playing a part. Maybe it’s all real, or all fun and games. It gains attention, it gets likes, more buys for the PPV. That, in turn, gets the fighters a better cut. All very reasonable, these guys don’t get paid nearly enough for what they put themselves through. But behind the scenes? Was Lesnar storming the ring planned or not? If upper management actually did the dirty on Nate, why? Was it to build drama all round? In short, are the UFC building wrestling style storylines into real UFC fights?

One last thing to consider. Given the massive disparity in pay for a regular fight and a fight with McGregor, what makes more financial sense to Nate Diaz: put it out of your mind and focus on Dustin Poirier at UFC 230? Or get in shape early, be at weight and ready to rumble for the not-implausible eventuality that Khabib – who has a bit of a history not making it to the main event – pulls out of UFC 229? Look at the numbers, and it doesn’t even need thinking about. And once that is on the table, who else is out there who can take advantage of that situation? Assuming he gets healthy, Max Holloway might be available. Same goes for Tony Ferguson. Poirier, along with Holloway, has faced McGregor before and would be up for a rematch. They will give McGregor the pick of whoever is available, and for us fight fans, it’s win-win-win-win-win. All of them are amazing fights, every single one. But if we are getting to the stage where people would seriously consider sidelining themselves on the off-chance that they get to the main event with the golden goose, something’s gone a bit wrong. And where do we go next? Georges St Pierre has expressed interest in meeting the winner of McGregor/Khabib. Does he deserve a shot purely because he’s a big name? What about the rest of the division? It could be said that the drama is getting out of hand. But given the whole thing almost started with a moat filled with alligators, it may be that this sort of crazy action was what everyone wanted all along. And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.

Do you think the Khabib fight will go ahead? If not, who do you want McGregor to face? Let us know in the comments.