It’s Starting To Feel Like The UFC Sold Its Soul

It’s Starting To Feel Like The UFC Sold Its Soul
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The devil in this particular equation? “Legitimacy.”

Today news broke that the UFC parted ways with one of their most recognisable figures. Not a fighter, not a commentator, not even a referee — but rather, a cutman by the name of Jacob “Stitch” Duran. Cutmen play a massively important role in the octagon: they tend to injuries between rounds, stitch fighters back together mid-fight. They help keep fighters safe.

Duran was one of the best in the business, and easily the most beloved with his gentle demeanour and signature vest. If you’ve ever watched a UFC card, you’ve probably seen his face for at least a minute or two. He’d been helping out at UFC events for 14 years, and the UFC cut him like an overgrown hangnail. Why? Because he dared voice his honest opinion about where the UFC’s new deal with Reebok — a deal which stipulates that Reebok is now the only sponsor whose apparel can appear in the octagon — left him. He’s making less money now, he said, as are a large number of fighters. Previously UFC fighters (and cut-folk like Duran) made a significant portion of their income from sponsors, so this is a pretty big shock to the system. The only obvious winners in this deal? Reebok and the UFC.

Duran’s words weren’t even particularly inflammatory. He explained that he was concerned about his family and his future, that he might have to seek additional work on the side. But that was enough, apparently, and a day later the UFC canned him without a second thought.

It's Starting To Feel Like The UFC Sold Its Soul

That’s hardly the only recent bit of UFC news that’s left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The road to “legitimacy” — the UFC’s dogged attempt at following in the footsteps of other major sporting leagues like the NBA, MLB, and NFL — has been fraught with ugly bumps. New Reebok-brand fighter uniforms — an attempt at standardising the general look of UFC fighters ala professional sports teams — have been criticised to hell and back, but they don’t look to be changing any time soon.

I understand the desire to look professional, and lord knows some fighters used to look tacky as hell. But MMA is a sport built on the backs (and rippling tree trunk shoulders) of individuals. It might sound strange, but fighters like Mirko Cro Cop and Chuck Liddell were fucking iconic, in part, because of their octagon apparel. Cro Cop’s Croatian flag, Chuck “The Ice Man” Liddell’s ice-blue trunks. Those things were part of the package, parcel with their ineffable brand of badassery.

It's Starting To Feel Like The UFC Sold Its Soul

Now everybody just kinda looks the same. Oh, and most of them get paid a lot less too. I’m talking tens of thousands of dollars less per fight. In a sport where a surprising amount of money goes toward paying for training, medical expenses, and other termite-like fees, that’s no good. It makes lower-profile UFC competitors like Bellator look more attractive to young up-and-coming fighters. I’m not saying there isn’t a good version of this Reebok deal, a compromise waiting somewhere in the ether. I’m just saying this isn’t it.

Meanwhile, the UFC is putting on more events than ever. These days, there’s a fight card almost every week. There are so many fighters — only a fraction of them actually good or noteworthy — that even people like me struggle to keep up. I mean, the sheer fucking volume of it all. UFC 100-whatever. UFC Fight Night Vitamin B12. UFC In A Box On Fox With Goddamn Green Eggs And Ham. BIG NUMBERS. ANGRY MEN GRIMACING ON POSTERS.

But what are the stakes? Who are the people involved? Sometimes, it’s tough to tell. Sometimes, there are hardly any stakes at all. Non-marquee events often feel like filler, flab, dangling strands of fat obscuring that sweet six pack you keep telling yourself you could have if only you weren’t spending all your time keeping up with these damn UFC events.

Here’s the recent Reebok fight kit reveal, which is just… painful to watch.

Now, let’s be real here: the UFC has always been a business. They have always wanted to put their #brand in front of as many #eyeballs as possible and make as much #money as they #can. That’s understandable. But lately it’s felt like they have lost sight of their soul. Or rather, they have forgotten what their soul is made up of: the fighters, the individuals. Fighting is not a team sport. It lives and dies on singular entities far more than team sports, where people can be traded without a whole team (necessarily) losing its identity or legacy. MMA fighters are not disposable or interchangeable.

As a result, all UFC cards are not created equal. Just because you slap the UFC name on card full of no-name fighters, that doesn’t mean you’ve put together something worth watching (this goes double for cards hosted in places that aren’t the US, Canada, or Brazil, where the company seems to think “lip service” is a good business policy). If neophytes tune into that and think, “Wait, this is all UFC is? This is what the fuss is about?” it’s doubtful that they will tune back in at a later date.

The UFC’s jam-packed schedule already made it hard enough for individuals to stand out. And if that’s the way the UFC wants to go, sure, fine, do that. Proliferate. Dial back quality, dial up quantity. But don’t create a clothing/sponsorship/business model that obscures fighters even more. The UFC wouldn’t be where it is today without the stars who made it what it is. Reward those people. Create a structure that facilitates the growth of more of them. But instead, the UFC is actively hurting their own ability to nurture more stars. They’re burying them, smothering them, snuffing them out. I mean, try to think of current UFC fighters everybody knows about. There’s Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, and… ? (I guess also Jon Jones, but he recently disappeared in a fog of drugs, crime, and who knows what else.)

It's Starting To Feel Like The UFC Sold Its Soul

I know it might seem like I’m complaining about too much of a good thing, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make. What I’m saying is, when the UFC prioritises the UFC brand name and business over all else, everybody suffers. Fans, fighters, cutmen, and eventually — ultimately — even the UFC itself. Because all these things I’ve talked about? They have a cumulative effect. A single cutman might not seem like a big deal, but when it’s a single beloved cutman who rocks at his job and has been with the company for 14 years, it becomes telling. Telling of intention, ambition, and direction. Telling of a slow degradation of personality and principles in favour of nebulous “legitimacy” — of jumping through hoops other sports have set up instead of forging their own path.

It tells employees something, too: don’t stick your neck out, or you might lose your head. Don’t stand out, don’t speak up. That’s not a message you want to send in an organisation where your two biggest stars got a lot of their notoriety by being big talkers. Admittedly, I can’t think of a fighter who’s gotten the axe for talking about Reebok yet, but make no mistake: by cutting Duran today, the UFC — whether on purpose or not — sent a message: quit fucking talking about this… or else. That right there? That’s called a precedent.

It feels like the UFC is looking past the past and the present, letting themselves be blinded by a brighter future — one they seem to think is a foregone conclusion. The organisation has taken precedence over the individual. The UFC has diluted itself, become less than the sum of its parts. That’s dangerous. And yet, they seem determined to keep running in this direction, everyone (except Reebok) be damned. All I can say is, I hope it’s worth it. I hope those new shoes are damn comfortable.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @vahn16.


      • Barely. And where it is entirely unrelated to gaming, there is usually a pretty obvious financial arrangement.

      • True.. but at the very least there was some connection to either gaming/technology on the articles… ok except maybe the comics ones =P

        Sports on the other hand (outside of FIFA, MADDEN, NBA Jam and the like =P)… completely off field for Kotaku

        Guess their trying to “diversify” their readers some more? Not that it’s much of an issue just gonna go browse and run as w/ all topics that I don’t feel like reading =P

        • Diversify? I doubt it. Just appeal out the gamers already on here who have an interest in sports and other things. Like me.

    • I say the same about the Game of Thrones discussions. When you’re getting more clicks/comments than the gaming articles you can see why they would branch off gaming a bit.

        • In that argument one could say that this article along with others relates to the UFC game and what directly happens in that.

        • lol not really.

          But hey if that’s the excuse you want to go with, you could say the same about this article and UFC games.

          • Again, its a tenuous straw to grasp. The UFC games barely sell and barely change, and there is only one series. I know of 3 completely different GoT games that deal with the lore in very different ways.

            By your logic, we should have constant NFL, NBA, NHL and NASCAR articles also. No one wants that.

    • Because Kotaku is not a gaming site so much as its a pop culture site, gaming is a big part of it but alot of us also like UFC, thats why theirs also posts about anime, art and many other things non gaming related.

      • Got a source for that “a lot of us like UFC”? The art is from game artists. And there is a long history of gaming and anime sharing a fan base. I don’t see that with UFC.

          • Except by that logic we should have articles on anything even remotely referenced in a game. That way madness lies.

        • Ask how many people watch UFC on the Talk Amongst Yourselves section, each UFC article usually comes from different authors be it Nathan Greyson, Mark Serrels etc.
          Not to mention the connection through both the UFC games and alot of fighter’s loving video games too.

        • Source: Every other Kotaku article that is not about gaming where some people come in to cry “wah-wah not a gaming article on Kotaku” and is immediately shot down by those of us chirping in with…Because Kotaku is not a gaming site so much as its a pop culture site, gaming is a big part of it but alot of us also like UFC, thats why theirs also posts about anime, art and many other things non gaming related.

          If you are not interested, don’t click and read the article, why come in to post and ruin other’s enjoyment of the site?
          Does every article on your favorite sites have to be ones you like every time?

      • I love UFC. But if I want to read about it, I go to an MMA site.

        Kotaku (or at least the Aus site) very specifically says that it’s a site about gaming and gaming culture. Nathan’s articles are well written and interesting, but they do not fit that categorisation. No matter how many UFC games there are, you can’t talk about the UFC in general and claim that it’s gaming related.

        And it really is sad that these articles are longer and better than anything gaming related that comes from the US site.

        • So don’t fucking read it. An article about UFC on this site is not here in place of an article you want to read about gaming.

    • Haha yeah gaming nerds don’t like physical activity at all, all they do is walk out of their parents basement to get Doritos.

      • When the average word count of a UFC article is generally a 1000x more than the current 1 line and a link and/or gif/youtube articles for games then….. yeah it is.

        • When the average UFC article post count is nothing in comparison to the amount of gaming/pop culture/etc posts then….. no it doesn’t.

          • Do you honestly consider “reblogs” and multiple articles on the same topic rehashed by different writers on Kotaku adding weight to article numbers?

  • You’re only just realising ufc sold out now? Been going down the is path for years. Stopped watching it religiously years ago. Only tune in occasionally these days and its less and less now that I barely recognise most of the fighters. Over saturation has killed the sport for even the most die hard fans.

    • No. Because you’ve generalised and simplified something down to an ignorant representation which doesn’t accurately represent the product at hand. It amazes me how people assume inherent knowledge with absolute certainty when they hold a momentously prejudiced perspective that survives due to the dismissal of other perspectives and a resentment for displaying empathy and holistic consideration over receiving it.

    • I heard such and such said something bout yo momma and people want to give you money to knock them the fuck out

  • Generic fighters that all seem the same? WWE did it first, during the entire PG era 😉

    Becomes a stale product and no one cares anymore.

  • It’s funny to hear all of this yet I’m still wondering why I rarely ever actually SEE a UFC event advertised anywhere? I’ve got FOXTEL with the sports packages, never see a commercial. WWE events are advertised on many channels, UFC events aren’t advertised anywhere. I don’t even see sports bars advertising the big UFC fights anytime in the last 5 years (last time I saw bars showing fights was during the Ortiz, Lindell, JSP & Silva era).

    UFC is meant to be the great sport, yet their advertising is virtually non-existent. Pretty weird IMO

    • Back when Fuel TV existed I saw plenty of promotion, but not anymore. Maybe they have ads on Fox sports but I only ever go to them when I already know an event is on.

      Come to think of it I didn’t even see any Mendes v McGregor ads which is crazy.

      I really miss Fuel TV 🙁

  • Hey man, I’m a huge gamer. I don’t like anime but I love sports and I like the ufc. This article appeals to me. I disagree with your statement. I would say there are far more gamers out there who also enjoy sports than do anime. I’m 33 so this Is not a new thing. We probably just roll in different social circles. but we exist, in great numbers my friend.

  • To anyone saying this is an off-tangent post too far apart from gaming culture:

    “At Kotaku Australia, we’re carefully trying to build a reputation for creating the strongest, most engaging content surrounding games and gaming culture.

    We cover the Australian gaming industry with a team of award-winning local journalists, and localise the best posts from the US, making sure to eliminate what’s irrelevant for Aussies. If you want to access the US site, you can go to

    Our coverage is sorted into eight main categories – PC, Xbox, PlayStation, News, Nintendo, Mobile, Retro, and In Real Life.

    All stories are tagged so they’re easy to browse and locate.”

    This article is an IRL.

    The only thing I’m truly concerned with is they don’t express any concern with anime in their about page, which is for a website named Kotaku, yet clearly post about anime all the time 🙂

    Otaku (おたく/オタク ?) is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly the anime and manga fandom. Its contemporary usage originated with Akio Nakamori’s 1983 essay in Manga Burikko.

    Let that sink in.

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