When WME/IMG purchased the UFC for over $4 billion in 2016, even the most diligent observers won’t have envisaged quite how painful the teething problems would be.
They certainly won’t have predicted that the UFC’s ultimate company man, longtime flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, would be the one to bite them the hardest.
Indeed, it’s indicative of just how poorly this year is playing out for the company that it is Johnson of all people who is the latest to speak out of term.
The narrative of 2017 has been one smeared by weak pay-per-view sales, injury-hit cards and a growing tide of roster discontent as athletes continue to voice their dissatisfaction at how they are treated or how much they are paid.
But the latest most explosive example is deeply concerning for the owners on a number of levels.
To paint the entire picture, Johnson’s swelling anger is aimed squarely at UFC President Dana White and matchmaker Sean Shelby who he accused of “bullying tactics” over his next opponent.
After decimating Wilson Reis in April to knock off yet another 125lbs contender, ‘Mighty Mouse’ moved level with the great Anderson Silva on a record 10 straight title defences.
In doing so, he not only cemented his status as the No1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet but he also added credence to his GOAT claim as attentions turned to possible opponents for his record-breaking bout.
No3 ranked Ray Borg, bantamweight champion Cody Garbradnt and former 135lbs title holder TJ Dillashaw were all suggested, but it’s the latter’s inclusion on that list which has drawn the ire of Johnson and sparked the dispute.
His anger it seems has stemmed from White’s appearance earlier this month on the UFC’s ‘Unfiltered’ podcast where he labelled Johnson’s refusal to fight Dillashaw as “insanity”.
He responded by releasing a lengthy and impassioned statement released via MMAFighting.com last week, in which he wrote: “For years, I have been a company man and kept quiet, accepting fights, doing as they asked and always remaining humble and grateful for the opportunities provided to me through mixed martial arts.
“Unfortunately, UFC’s mistreatment and bullying has finally forced me to speak out.”
No matter how you unpack Johnson’s chagrin, his vexation is not a good look for a promotion obsessively seeking legitimacy among other prestigious sports leagues like the NFL and NBA.
One week they are opening up a $12 million performance institute in Las Vegas but then the next they stand accused of mistreating the most talented fighter on their books.
And it raises plenty of questions for White’s hostile and oppressive approach because it’s difficult to imagine the NBA disparaging LeBron James or the NFL vilifying Odell Beckham Jr. in the way he has Johnson.
Ultimately, the champion feels disrespected and he has every right to because his reasons for turning down Dillashaw are perfectly valid.
After all, Dillashaw has never fought or even wrestled at 125lbs and if he can make weight, it’s not a healthy process to be advocated.
Mini Mouse or Mighty Mouse? Dont be scared! This is the fight game, I've takin title fights on 24hrs notice. I'm already waking up at 143lbs pic.twitter.com/5TMS8zbXAX— TJ Dillashaw (@TJDillashaw) June 5, 2017
Miss weight and Johnson’s shot at history disappears, make weight and beat him then the division will be left in disarray because you can guarantee Dillashaw won’t remain at flyweight.
It’s a fight which makes little sense and White’s aggression may have been accepted in the past but it’s no longer useful.
The friction doesn’t appear to be easing off anytime soon with the UFC supremo firing back yesterday by questioning his bully tag and claiming Conor McGregor as the No1 fighter on the planet because, “he’ll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime”.
Something has to give and money is the answer. If the UFC is so intent on matching Johnson and Dillashaw up then they should dig deep into their wallet and pay the man.
If he hasn’t earned the right to pick his opponent then he at least has earned the right to be paid.
Light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier suggested the UFC fork out $1 million for Johnson and make the fight.
In the short term, paying that sort of money will be a kick in the teeth but the long term side effects of continuing this public spat could be far more wounding.
It’s a real disservice to the precocious talent of Max Holloway that Conor McGregor still looms over his career.
His last defeat – remarkably now 11 fights ago – was at the hands of the divisive Irish superstar and after the 25-year-old’s latest, most impressive victory to date over Jose Aldo in Rio at UFC 212 to be crowned the undisputed 145lbs champion, the McGregor question soon reared its head.
“That guy was the 2015 champ,” Holloway said of the current 155lbs champ. “He can go running around wherever he’s at with the belt and celebrate, but guess what? You can’t take that away from him here. This is called the year 2017 right now, he’s the 2015 champ, and I’m the champ.”
There’s a certain sense of irony that after the proud Hawaiian’s victory, recency bias saw critics claim Aldo is done after two defeats by stoppage in his last three fights, while on the flipside blemishing Holloway with a defeat some four years ago.
It’s obvious, however, that Holloway is the most improved fighter on the UFC roster and we could be about to embark on a new era of featherweight dominance.
Indeed, the new champ is intent on cleaning out the division and the frightening prospect for his competition is that at 25, he can only continue to improve.
With 11 straight wins, only four fighters have had longer streaks (Anderson Silva 16, Jon Jones 13, Georges St-Pierre 12, and Demetrious Johnson 12) and Holloway is a great fighter who has the potential to become a great.
His intention now, after his third-round TKO win over one of the best featherweights of all time, is to achieve exactly that.
“Demetrious Johnson, he finds his motivation of keep defending, keep defending,” Holloway said in the post-fight press conference.
“It takes a special human being to do that. And that’s me. I want to defend my throne. All my fans know, they love me, I want to defend this, I want to be a champ and keep defending. Come try to take over my village.”
Holloway entered Aldo’s backyard and silenced the bark of a fervent Rio crowd with a performance of maturity and malice.
While his fluid striking has grown to be among the best in MMA, it’s his mentality which impresses most. Holloway has an unshakable belief and it’s married to a fight IQ which allows him to implement his slick skills.
As has often been the case, though, ‘Blessed’ started slow in Rio with Aldo much sharper and quicker.
The challenger is a fighter who flows without thought but in the opening two sessions he appeared to have a lot on his mind.
But as the action picked up in the second, so too did Holloway and he carried his signature high-pace into the third and dropped the 30-year-old with a mirrored four-punch combination.
As the Brazilian turtled up, Holloway swarmed him on the ground and proceeded to beat Aldo out of his shell with nearly every move in the book from back-taking, to elbows and big shots from the mount as stoppage inevitably arrived.
“Slow and steady always wins the race,” he added.
“I was taking my time. I had five rounds. I took my time. I knew he’d fade later on, and I took advantage of the shots that were open.”
For Aldo, a second defeat in 11 years has critics grabbing the pen to write him off but for the first two rounds he was on top.
Aldo’s reign at 145lbs is over but his career is by no means done and the next phase of his career could well involve a move up to the 155lbs division.
Seems like everyone forgot who Jose Aldo really is after his loss to Conor.. Dudes a legend and damn near flawless— Shane Burgos (@HurricaneShaneB) June 4, 2017
Holloway, however, has a home at featherweight and he again called for the UFC to host him in his native country for the defence of his crown with Frankie Edgar a potential opponent.
“If they want to do it, let’s do it in Hawaii,” Holloway said of a potential fight with Edgar. “I know a place, a stadium, it’s very nice.”
He added: “The ‘Blessed’ era is gonna be in full effect here in a bit, you guys are gonna see. I’ve been telling you. I’ve been screaming at the top of my lungs. And now, you guys are starting to listen.”
The noise of McGregor at featherweight is beginning to fade, all the talk now is about Holloway and deservedly so.
Fight promoter Dana White says he has an agreement with mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor fpr a proposed megafight, but boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather remains unsigned.
White told American television cable channel TNT on Wednesday night that McGregor has agreed to a boxing match and not a martial arts fight which heavily favors Mayweather, who has never lost in his two-decades long storied career.
White said they still have a long way to go. But his plan now is to try to lure Mayweather out retirement for a superfight with McGregor.
“The McGregor side is done,” Ultimate Fighting Champion president White said. “I’m not saying the fight will happen but I got one side done and it’s time to work on the other (Mayweather).
“If we can come to a deal with (Al) Haymon and (Floyd) Mayweather, the fight’s going to happen.”
White said that McGregor has agreed to step in the ring with the undefeated Mayweather despite not having fought competitively in a boxing ring since he was a teenager. McGregor was granted a license to box in California several months ago.
McGregor, a 28-year-old Irishman, has been the UFC’s most popular fighter and among its top money spinners while Mayweather, a 40-year-old American, retired in 2015 with a 49-0 record including 26 victories by knockout.
White has said the fight could generate a payday of $100 million for Mayweather and $75 million for McGregor. Mayweather has repeatedly said that he won’t come out of retirement, against anyone, for less than $100 million.
McGregor then reaffirmed the news in a statement on his website, TheMacLife.com as he stated: “It is an honor to sign this record breaking deal alongside my partners Zuffa LLC, The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Paradigm Sports Management.
“The first, and most important part of this historic contract has now officially been signed off on. Congratulations to all parties involved. We now await Al Haymon and his boxer’s signature in the coming days.”
While the latest development points towards the superfight between two of the biggest stars in combat boxing coming to fruition, there is much work to be done with Mayweather infamous for his meticulous approach to bout agreements.
However, the former five-weight boxing world champion hinted that he wants to get the deal done as he spoke to reporters in England ahead of his protegee Gervonta Davis’s clash with Liam Walsh.
“There’s only one fight that makes business sense,”said the undefeated 49-0 boxer.
“I came out of retirement because I’m a businessman and I want to give the world what they want to see.
“McGregor’s a fighter. I’m a fighter. This is what the fight fans and MMA fans want to see.”