Top 10 Storylines of UFC in 2016 - by the UG

  • MMA Fighting staff put together a top 10 list of the biggest stories of 2016:

    10. The rise of Nate Diaz
    9. UFC 200 fiasco
    8. Rousey’s absence
    7. Weight-cutting reform
    6. Free agency
    5. Fighter unrest
    4. MMA legalized in New York
    3. USADA’s impact
    2. Conor McGregor changing the game
    1. UFC sold for $4 billion


    10. The rise of Nate Diaz


    On June 23, 2007, Nate Diaz won The Ultimate Fighter 5, which came with a six-figure contract. However, the contract was for multiple fights, and could take years to hit $100,000. He was 22 years old.


    On April 20, 2013, Diaz fought Josh Thompson, and lost, earning a disclosed purse of just $15,000. There was undoubtedly a locker room bonus, but he wasn’t getting rich. When you lose in the UFC, your contracted pay stays the same. Next fight was a win over Gray Maynard. Diaz’s contract paid him $30,000.


    Then the UFC signed his Cesar Gracie teammate Gil Melendez after a bidding war with Bellator. Gil’s contract guaranteed 75% of his fights would be on PPV, with a threshhold lower than any fighter in league history. El Nino’s show money his very first fight was $175,000. Melendez won only one of his five fights since, a decision over Diego Sanchez.


    Diaz apparently learned what his teammate was making, and asked to be released from contract. At one point he was even pulled from the UFC rankings.


    Diaz finally fought again, vs. Rafael Dos Anjos. His contracted income had now escalated to $20,000 to show and $20,000 to win. Diaz lost, and was fined 20% of his purse for missing weight, so made $16,000. That was his only fight in 2014. He was 29 years old.


    The next year Diaz beat Michael Johnson in a Fight of the Night, making him 20+20+50. $90,000 seems like a lot of money, but it was his only fight in 2015, and you have to back out management and trainer percentages, taxes, other training expenses, and more.


    He was now 30. His older brother Nick lamented every getting him into fighting.



    Then Nate was on a boat in Cabo, doing a tequila shot, when he got a phone call. Do you want to fight Conor McGregor at UFC 196, a week from Saturday?

    Nate did, and won, and UFC president Dana White said he made over $2,000,000 for what was then reportedly the biggest PPV in league history. Diaz’s team negotiated hard for the rematch at UFC 202, which too was one of the biggest PPVs ever. Diaz lost a controversial majority decision, but reportedly made much more than $2,000,000.

    So in 2015, Diaz grossed $90,000. In 2016, he grossed over $5,000,000.

    9. UFC 200 fiasco

    The event was designed to be the largest in UFC history, capped by Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor 2. Then McGregor refused to fulfil his contracted media duties, and was pulled. Then interim light heavyweight champion Jon Jones vs. champion Daniel Cormier was the main event, until with days left Jones was pulled from the card, after failing a test because of a tainted bootleg sexual performance enhancing drug. He was replaced by Anderson Silva, himself coming of a drug suspension, and surgery, in a non title affair. The big fight was Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt, but shortly afterwards Lesnar too failed a test, that had been given before the fight, but the results took too long to come back. The main event ended up being won by an unknown outside the hardcore fanbase – Amanda Nunes – who has yet to receive a media push from the company.

    8. Rousey’s absence or Where’s Rousey?

    Former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey received more media attention than any three figures in MMA history combined. In 2015, she was #3 for Google’s top trending people. #4 was Donald Trump.


    However, she determined that the level of media duties was a contributing factor in the loss of her title to Holly Holm over a year ago. Rousey’s interaction with the MMA media in the past year has been zero, and her mainstream interaction extremely limited.


    She was on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Conan,” was the subject of an in-depth interview with ESPN the Magazine, played the role of Gallus Mag on Drunk History, and had a few other appearances. But comparatively speaking, Ronda Rousey disappeared. And that did not change heading into her fight with current champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on December 30. However, her popularity is such that the event was promoted with so little mention of the champion Nunes that color commentator Joe Rogan called it “bizarre.”


    Then she lost, and may be well gone from the Octagon forever. For the hardcore fanbase, the lack of Rousey interviews may not be too devastating.

    7. Weight-cutting reform

    There is a culture of Extreme Weight Cutting in mixed martial arts, and it is lethal. The fight against it is being led by Andy Foster, executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, who has an unparalleled perspective on the sport, as a fighter, promoter, judge, coach, fan, and regulator.


    At present mixed martial arts is intensely focused, reasonably, on PEDs. However, Foster argues rationally that extreme weight cutting is more dangerous.


    Although everyone in MMA has a story about someone being hospitalized for cutting, they are not aggregated anywhere. Thus the dangers are not fully appreciated.


    Documented weight cutting incidents in MMA, include:
    •In December of 2015, Yang Jian Bing was cutting weight for ONE Championship 35, and died. In response, ONE ended weight cutting in the league. They lead the industry.
    •In Aug of 2015, Dex Montenegro was hospitalized with a collapsed lung.
    In July of 2014 TopMMANews reported that Jer Kornelsen‘s heart stopped. “I passed out and stopped breathing in the sauna trying to make weight,” said Kornelsen. “I guess they did CPR on me for a while and I came to in the hospital. Seriously pissed off and feel horrible. Sorry to my team, Battlefield and mostly my opponent!”
    On June 16 of 2014 it was reported that Jordan Murray had to have emergency surgery on his gallbladder. “All my weight cutting has finally caught up to me I guess,” he said. “Looks like I have to remove my gallbladder after spending all day in emergency and losing alot of blood the Doctor says its 100% from cutting weight, crazy!”
    •In December of 2013, the the UG’s own Useless, Ulysses Gomez, was hospitalized while cutting weight and was out the Cage Warriors 62 headliner in Newcastle, England.
    •Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro “Feijao” Souza passed away from a stroke while cutting weight at Shooto Brazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro in September of 2013. He was 26 years old.
    •UFC welterweight Brian Melanson revealed he suffered kidney failure from cutting, and nearly died.
    •Light heavyweight T.J. Cook suffered kidney failure in the ring.
    •Korean Sengoku vet “Shin Ramen” Yoon Young Kim suffered a mild heart attack while cutting.
    •Veteran Marcus Davis revealed that a second cut to 155 in the MFC nearly killed him.
    •UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier had to miss his shot at Olympic gold in 2008 when his kidneys failed in Beijing. It nearly killed him. Cormier was cutting weight to compete at 211 lbs, and now is the champion at 205.

    In addition to Foster, ONE Championship has responded to the issue admirably, ending the problem. Several employees of the company deserve special recognition including Chief Doctor Dr. Warren Wang, Chief Medical Advisor Dr. James Okamoto, Vice President Mr. Rich Franklin, and the most knowledgable man in MMA, Vice President of Operations & Competition Mr. Matt Hume.


    6. Free agency


    There is currently pending Federal legislation and an anti-trust suit that seeks to free fighters up so they can fight for the highest bidder. That process has already begun, albeit very gradually. Where once fighters signed a UFC contract and took what was offered as the alternative was competing at the Fight at the Fairground 11.5 for $500, a black eye, and a shot at … a UFC contract.


    This year has seen a number of successful free agents including:
    Benson Henderson to Bellator MMA;
    Matt Mitrione to Bellator MMA;
    Will Brooks to the UFC;
    Rory MacDonald to Bellator MMA;
    Chael Sonnen to Bellator MMA;
    Fedor Emelianenko to Bellator MMA;
    Alistair Overeem was a free agent and re-signed with the UFC;
    Aljamain Sterling was a free agent and re-signed with the UFC;
    Marlon Moraes signed with WSoF
    Lorenz Larkin is a free agent;
    Ryan Bader is is a free agent;
    And biggest of all but it might not be be so, Georges St-Pierre says he is a free agent.


    5. Fighter unrest


    Fighter unrest has now taken the form of three competing efforts to organize fighters.


    Robert Maysey formed the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA) in 2009. Prominent members of the group include Randy Couture, Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Nate Quarry, and Leslie Smith. They organized a massive class action suit against the UFC, and have a bill in committee to expand the Muhammad Ali act to MMA. The extension would mean that promoters, any promoter with the capital, would have to pay the best fighters to put on the best fights. Fighters would be independent contactors, free over time to fight where ever pays them the most. Organizations would each have their own belt, but it would not be the world championship.


    In August, baseball agent Jeff Borris launched the Professional Fighters Association. His goal is to unionize UFC fighters. Fighters are currently classified as independent contractors, and as such, do not have the right to strike. It would likely require a court battle to get them reclassified as employees. Prominent members of the group include no one, since Leslie Smith cut ties with Borris, citing concerns over confidentiality. Borris says he has support from countless active fighters, but they are afraid to come forward.


    On November 30, Bellator MMA founder Bjorn Rebney announced the debut of the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association. Prominent members of the group include  Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez, Tim Kennedy, TJ Dillashaw, and to an unknown degree, Donald Cerrone. Goals of the group include a media campaign to force the UFC into bargaining, with the eventual goal of getting the UFC to accept a union and an anti-trust exemption, like that enjoyed by the NFL. They say fighters at present make about 8% of total revenue and want to expand that to 50%. Doubts have been raised about the true goals of and role played by Rebney and CAA, the arch rival of new UFC owners WME-IMG.


    So fighter unrest has led to organizational efforts, which themselves are in a state of unrest, perhaps no shock given that this is the fight business.


    4. MMA legalized in New York


    The fight for the regulation of mixed martial arts in New York was long and sometimes bizarre, peaking at the final debate.


    “I should really like it,” said Rosie O’Donnell’s brother, Assemblyman Daniel. “You have two nearly naked, hot men, rolling around on top of one another, trying to dominate each other. And just in case you don’t know, that’s gay porn with a different ending. Okay?”


    O’Donnell is a role model in how you can be publicly highly successful, and proudly gay. However, he traced his opposition back to a colleague who thought MMA was “unChristian.”


    Matthew Titone, another out assemblyman, supported the bill, but couldn’t resist a gay joke.


    “If I wanted to see half naked men fighting in a cage over a belt and purse, I’d go to Fire Island,” he quipped.


    Assemblyman Charles Barron compared MMA to slavery, where men on plantations were “thrown in a cage.”


    And in a moment of remarkable irony, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick accused MMA stars of being part of the “dumbing down of America.” Glick was unaware that gloves are used in the sport. And afterwards she unknowingly engaged in a twitter battle with a troll.


    However, this buffoonery was eclipsed by the great, blazing, blinding light of stupidity that emanated from Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak (C-Cheektowaga), 29.

    Wozniak voiced the concern that legalizing mixed martial arts might somehow lead to registered sex offenders owning schools that teach amateur mixed martial arts to kids.


    “We can’t be naïve to the fact that these people target these schools,” said Wozniak, as transcribed byKen Lovett for the NY Daily News. “They know what they’re doing. They know that if they’re teaching a child they can put that child in a situation where they’re doing a maneuver perhaps to touch them in a way that that the child might not even realize they’re being touched or they can gain trust with that child and really harm that child.”


    This was puzzling on a number of accounts. For one, it is bonkers. For another, Wozniak is a sponsor of the bill she was arguing against. And thirdly, Angela Wozniak is an unlikely figure to be discussing sexual predators.


    Wozniak is married with a young son, and campaigned on a pledge of bringing “Western New York values to Albany.” She is an enrolled member of the Conservative Party, whose leaders support traditional family values.


    She replaced former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (D-Cheektowaga), who resigned amid a flurry of harassment charges brought by female staff members. A half dozen former and current female staffers, claimed the assemblyman’s unwanted advances included taking them to massage parlors and sending at least one woman a video of a sex act being performed on him.


    Unfortunately, the values-trumpeting Wozniak was the subject of an Ethics Committee probe, into allegations that she coerced a male staff member into having sex with her. Elias Farah, 29, was the lawmaker’s $39,884-a-year legislative director.


    The busy Assembly Ethics Committee concluded in a report earlier this month that while the sexual relationship may have been consensual, Wozniak did retaliate against Farah.


    Wozniak will have to pay Farah’s salary and benefits through Feb. 2017, unless she leaves office before then, or the Assembly places him in a comparable job before that date. The Assemblywoman is also prohibited from having interns. And an independent investigator will survey her employees at least semi-annually, to make sure there is no further sexual misbehavior on her part.


    Following her speech, Wozniak voted in favor of the bill.


    Wozniak’s formal apology for her sexual transgression, with a dash of sorry not sorry:

    Since her sanction by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Wozniak has faced calls from home to reconsider her re-election bid.


    3. USADA’s impact


    There was a performance enhancing drug problem in mixed martial arts such that PRIDE FC contracts could contain an explicit reference to no drug testing.


    UFC fighters used to get tested only by the State, Provincial, or Tribal athletic commission regulating where ever the fight took place. Most tested, some didn’t. Most tests were not comprehensive. Only a handful extended to out of competition testing. For fights in an area without a government commission, the UFC did the testing itself.


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