Does the UFC need a minor league?

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With this past weekends UFC on FOX 22, a lot of people are talking about the need for a minor league system in the UFC.

Does the UFC need a minor league?

Two of the UFC’s top prospects (at least promoted as such) lost in the event in Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant. It should be noted however that grouping VanZant with Northcutt is a bit unfair as she was and has been facing highly-regarded opposition.

Northcutt on the other hand has faced minimal competition with mixed results. Northcutt, who is just 20 signed with the UFC last year and had a lot of hype.

The fact of the matter is he’s just not ready for the UFC. The grappling skills just aren’t there yet and he’s been exploited by this throughout his short career. There’s also questions regarding his striking defense.

The defense to this is that he’s only 20. That’s completely fair, he certainly has time to grow. But maybe it shouldn’t be in the UFC.

This is not to pick on Sage (whom is subject to a lot of unjust harassment,) but he just shouldn’t be in the UFC yet; And he’s not alone.

A lot of fighter’s in the UFC just don’t seem to be of great quality, and there are so many of them. There are almost 550 fighters on the UFC roster, and it’s perfectly fair to say 10% of them should be cut.

The UFC is the NFL of MMA, it’s held to a higher standard than other organizations.

Being a UFC fighter should be of the highest of accomplishments in MMA. Unfortunately it’s just not. There’s a lot of bad fighters in the UFC.
So why does the UFC hang on to really green talent?
Well, the UFC puts on in the ballpark of 45 events a year. On average, there’s about 11 events per card. There’s roughly 1,000 fight per year in the UFC.
With so many events, on top of injuries and inactivity they like to carry a big roster. There’s 10 divisions in the UFC, 11 starting next year. The UFC wants to carry all the top fighters in those divisions.

Other organizations exist in MMA as well, so the UFC doesn’t have all the top talent. Once you get out of the top 30 in MMA divisional rankings, we obviously see lesser talent.

That’s one source of why we see a lot of lesser quality fighters.

The other is that there is a lot of prospects the UFC signs hoping to find their next star talent. It can be really hit or miss since MMA doesn’t have a strong amateur system in place.

In Boxing, you can tell when a quality talent has been signed. Top Rank Promotions signed Vasyl Lomanchenko in 2013. He was a two-time gold medalist with two world champion gold medals. He’s now one of the top fighters in the world, and people knew he would be. Amateur boxing is very organized and it really shows who the top prospects are.

In MMA, it’s a lot harder to tell if a fighter will be really good or not. There are so many facets of MMA that it becomes challenging to predict who will adapt the best.

Take for instance Bellator signing Ed Ruth last year. Ruth was a dominant collegiate wrestler, and while in MMA that’s been a strong indication that he’ll be a good fighter, it’s just not reliable.

Ruth could be a great wrestler in MMA, but what if like a lot of wrestlers in MMA he doesn’t pick up well in the striking department? The same logic applies to a BJJ star, Karate black belt, or Muay Thai champion.

And if you don’t have any of them credentials, it becomes even more challenging to assess prospects.

The UFC signed Dashon Johnson in 2015. He was 9-0 when they signed him with professional boxing experience. This sounds like a great prospect to have.

Unfortunately he just wasn’t a good fighter, like at all. He went 0-2 with submission losses and was cut after fighting a Boxing bout under contract.

So, why doesn’t the UFC invest in a minor league?

This is a great question. We know there are a lot of poor quality fighters in the UFC, and we know there are some prospects who just aren’t quite ready for the big show. Why not?

There are two big problems with why the UFC probably isn’t interested.

The first is they already have a minor league system.

Their minor league system is…well, every other MMA promotion.

Think about it, how many UFC fighter’s are actually home grown talent. There are no fighters on the UFC roster that fought their entire career in the UFC, it’s very rare.

Every fighter in the UFC has come from a smaller organization.
  • Conor McGregor was signed after winning championships in Cage Warriors.
  • Jon Jones was signed after fighting in Battle Cage Xtreme.
  • Stipe Miocic was signed out of the MMAFS.

The second reason why we likely haven’t seen the UFC minor leagues is because it can be very expensive and time-consuming.

The UFC already runs 45 shows a year (which is a lot,) committing time and fighters to another promotion would be difficult.

When the UFC name isn’t attatched to a promotion, it seems to lessen the event.

Also when a star fighter isn’t attatched to an event, it will struggle to sell tickets.

It’s the same problem with minor league sports as a whole. The Reading Phightins aren’t the same product as the New York Yankees, thus ticket sales are drastically different.

In MMA, it’s even tougher. MMA promotions really struggle to make money. Look at the WSOF‘s financial issues for instance…and they have some UFC level talent.

If the UFC decides to come up with an amateur promotion, would it be able to sell tickets? Would fans watch?

Lets say the UFC comes up with the UFCML and headlines a show with Sage Northcutt fighting Dashon Johnson. Wonderful! That will certainly sell tickets.

But here’s the problem; not all prospects are as popular as Northcutt. This is likely why a minor league system would be financially tough to make happen.

When you have new owners who just committed $4.2 billion to the business, it’s tough to see them taking a big risk like that right away.

A minor league system is certainly something the UFC should consider, it’s a big investment for the future.

As of right now however, its probably a risk the UFC is unwilling to take.


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