An Attack on Two Fronts: The UFC Problem with ONE and PFL
Sentiment now is shifting from the UFC being the end all, be all for mixed martial arts. While still firmly in control of the MMA market, ONE Championship and PFL are beginning to slowly chip away at the UFC’s stranglehold on the viewers of the sport. More and more often casuals are starting to realize that there are damn good fights and fighters outside the sport’s biggest promotion.
PFL and ONE Championship may not be in cahoots together on their attack at the UFC. But the effect is just the same. ONE Championship is eating up some of the best prospects outside the US market and PFL is signing some of MMA’s most popular names at home in the United States.
An attack on two fronts: Going at the UFC
PFL has had rumors about buying Bellator in the past month. While that’s not substantiated, the rumor went wild as can be with conjecture on super fights like Kayla Harrison vs. Cris Cyborg and Brendan Loughnane vs. Patricio Pitbull. But what buying Bellator would do is infuse PFL with even more talent than they’ve already signed along with some of the best up and coming NCAA wrestlers who have transitioned to MMA (Jordan Oliver anyone?). Combining that with their already growing talent pool of veterans and newcomers and you have legitimate competition to the UFC.
PFL is already on ESPN. The UFC’s contract with the promotion is coming up and it’s unclear if the UFC and ESPN will renew their deal. With the current quality of cards and number of events, restructuring or even parting ways could be in the cards. Less fights = better cards. That would leave PFL the sole MMA promotion on ESPN and could use ESPN’s large viewer base to go head-to-head with the UFC on Saturday nights. Or if Dana White and Endeavor could make a deal where the number of events per year is harming the product and less events are done in the contract, PFL can fill the gap.
With ONE Championship, taking up some key signings in the east has the UFC in a crunch too but they’re not a full MMA promotion. It’s abundantly clear now that ONE Championship won the Demetrious Johnson-Ben Askren trade. But ONE has fighters like Tang Kai, Jarred Brooks, Anatoly Malaykhin, and Christian Lee as their flagship fighters. Roberto Soldic, Reug Reug, and Buchecha are other signings that grab attention.
The Attention Economy
Today, companies are not fighting for just your dollars anymore. Your attention is the priority for companies like Netflix, Disney, Twitter, YouTube, and Tik Tok all want your eyes so they can get that juicy, juicy advertising money. ONE Championship may be losing the signing game to UFC, Bellator, and PFL, but ONE is chipping away at the attention metrics.
After the UFC gets their gate money and their PPV money, the goal is to stay in front of the fans’ eyes to get more engagement and convert to more pay per view sales. They will get advertising dollars the more people watch. That crypto dot com sponsor? Money. P3, the official snack of the UFC? Money.
ONE Championship is grabbing attention from the casual eye by playing social media better than the UFC. I’ve had random people coming up to me asking about Rodtang. I don’t have the same questions about fighters like Leon Edwards and Aljamain Sterling. While Rodtang is just one breakout star for ONE, they are finding more. Takeru, who last fought Tenshin Nasukawa in one of kickboxing’s most successful events, just signed to fight for ONE.
Mikey Musumechi, Buchecha, Tawanchai, Chingiz Allazov, Nieky Holzken, and Stamp Fairtex all have cult followings. ONE is capitalizing on that. Pair this up with PFL signing fighters like Francis N’Gannou and Jake Paul and it’s clear that the UFC isn’t signing the most skilled (or popular in Jake Paul’s case) fighters they could be.
The UFC isn’t close to losing its monopoly on the sport in the next couple years. This is a decades long war. PFL and ONE Championship investors likely know this and need to keep burning the cash they’ve been burning to get their fair market share of the pie. Little by little, these promotions will grow, acquire promotions like Bellator and RIZIN, and become a real threat to the UFC’s rule on the best in the world.
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it.