The UFC has been around now as the leading mixed martial arts promotion in the world for 24 years now, and over that time it has witnessed the evolution both of the sport and a business model that few others seem capable of replicating. The latest big change was the sale of the company from the Fertitta brothers to talent agency WME-IMG for a whopping $4 billion dollars. Now the UFC has to deal with not only losing the Fertittas at the helm of the business, but a growing number of fighters that saw that four billion figure and realized they’re getting severely underpaid and underappreciated.
Nick and Nate Diaz have complained about the UFC undervaluing them and refusing to even give them comp tickets to UFC events. Unfortunately, it’s easy enough to dismiss them as regular malcontents unwilling to be reasonable. But when Anderson Silva ripped into the organization for failing to provide him with a decent opponent for UFC 212 in Brazil, it starts to become obvious that something is going wrong.
Silva has spent the past year helping the UFC out of tight jams. He stepped into the Octagon on three days notice to face light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 after Jon Jones blew a drug test. He was once again a late addition to UFC 208 in Brooklyn, helping to punch up an otherwise weak looking card. In that fight he took on Derek Brunson, a lesser known fighter on the roster.
Anderson then asked the UFC to fight on their Rio de Janeiro card in June, and the company obliged by placing him against the fast rising Kelvin Gastelum. But USADA drug tests struck again, and Gastelum was removed from the card over a positive reading for marijuana. Days passed and then a week without a replacement opponent. A media day in Brazil was held and Silva ended up facing off against no one for the assembled press. Strange possibilities like Ovince St-Preux at catchweight emerged from the rumor mill. And then Silva freaked out on last week’s episode of The MMA Hour.
“When I signed my last contract, Dana White and Lorenzo [Fertitta] say okay, when Georges St-Pierre is back, you go and fight superfight, you and Georges St-Pierre,” Silva told Ariel Helwani. “I don’t know what happened. Nothing happened. Georges St-Pierre is back to fight and back to fight for the belt. It’s terrible. It don’t make sense. I know it’s a f**king business, but I’m working hard for a long time.”
“I’m working hard for UFC for long time in my life and nothing happened. This is real. This is all real. I’m working for long time in this fucking bullshit job and nothing happened. I give my heart for this sport. I give my leg for this sport. I give my time for my family for this sport … The guys don’t respect my story, don’t respect my legacy. Everything don’t make sense. I don’t believe this. It’s fucking crazy.”
Shortly after that interview, Anderson announced he wouldn’t be fighting at UFC 212, and that’s where we’re at now: with the UFC embroiled in an ugly (and completely unnecessary) fight with one of their greatest champions of all time. And why wouldn’t he be upset? The UFC was more than happy to have him step in and help them out when they needed it. But when he needed a quality opponent for Silva’s homecoming fight at UFC 212, they couldn’t put anything interesting together.
Remember that promotion’s last two choices weren’t all that great, either. Derek Brunson was a left field pick. Kelvin Gastelum is tough as nails but isn’t popular enough to make a fight with Silva must see. At a certain point, one has to wonder why the UFC hasn’t been able to match Anderson up against someone that will make fans sit up and pay attention. They’re squandering his last moments in the cage, opting to treat ‘The Spider’ not as a major star who could be the cornerstone for any major event, but as just another contender in the rankings, to be matched against whichever middleweight happens to be available at the time.
That’s all rather strange considering the promotion’s newfound obsession with building marketable fights that move the needle. Silva even suggested one himself, offering to fight #1 middleweight contender Yoel Romero for dibs on the winner of the GSP vs Bisping fight in the fall. But the UFC turned down the offer, and now we’re stuck wondering if Anderson really is about to walk away from the sport.
We’re assuming the UFC has gotten in touch with Silva to try and smooth things over, but how did we even get here? How did communication between Anderson and the UFC break down to the point where he’s ready to retire over the way they’re handling his career? Putting together exciting match-ups for ‘The Spider’ shouldn’t be that difficult, or this low of a priority.