Just In Could the UFC’s new pay-per-view structure bring an end (or at least a pause) to the age of nonsensical money fight? MMA Life

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For a heavyweight title fight, the news came with shockingly little fanfare. Instead of a major announcement, it felt more like a shrug.

UFC heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier and former titleholder Stipe Miocic are set to do it again this summer, just a little over a year after their first meeting.

Why this rematch, and why now? Well, come on. You already know the answer to that, and it has more to do with who isn’t involved than who is.

The initial plan here was pretty simple. After Cormier took the title off Miocic, the UFC wanted to bring pro wrestling behemoth Brock Lesnar back to the world of unscripted sports just long enough for him to do the thing he does best – sell a ton of pay-per-views.

Did it make sense under the old concept of champions and contenders, the one where title shots are the result of wins stacked upon wins? No, not even close. Did it seem like a guaranteed good night at the box office? Absolutely. And that’s the calculation that carried the day.

But Lesnar, as he often does, reportedly wanted more money. In particular, we’re told he wanted more guaranteed money. There’s some logic to that request now that the UFC is routing pay-per-view sales through ESPN+. That move effectively puts an added pay moat in front of the existing paywall, and it’s reasonable to think that overall sales figures will dip at least a little bit as a result.

The UFC might not mind so much, since its reportedly getting an upfront fee from ESPN under this new deal. But a fighter who’s making the bulk of his money through a contract that cuts him in on pay-per-view sales? Yeah, he might want some of that upfront fee for himself, especially when it’s too early on in this new system to tell just how severely buy rates will be affected.

From the sound of it, the UFC wasn’t willing to meet this demand. That took Lesnar out of the picture and put Miocic back in. Without ever stepping in the cage to bolster his credentials after his title loss to Cormier, the former champ secured the rematch he’d been calling for since the first fight ended. And through an inability to make a semi-absurd fight that had no basis in anything related to the divisional hierarchy, the UFC ended up with a title fight that actually makes some degree of sense.

Cormier-Miocic II? Sure, that’s reasonable enough. Miocic was, after all, the most dominant heavyweight champ the UFC has ever had. If anybody deserves a rematch without having to earn it against some other contender in the meantime, it’s him.

You can justify a fight like this. You don’t even really have to try.

And maybe it’s just an isolated incident, but it’s hard not to wonder if this might not be a sign of things to come. That ESPN+ deal that makes superstar fighters less secure about pay-per-view sales? It could also make the UFC less dependent on chasing those buys. When you’re getting money upfront, you don’t have to live and die with each event’s sales figures.

That could very well take some negotiating power away from the sport’s few pay-per-view stars – your Lesnars, your Conor McGregors, maybe even your Georges St-Pierres – but it could also end up giving the UFC fewer reasons to pursue those barely defensible money fights.

Is it going to remake the entire UFC universe, returning it back to some pure sports utopia? No way. Sales still equal money and the UFC still likes cash. But when you don’t need a huge buy number to make it a profitable outing, maybe you’re more likely to err on the side of the stuff that actually makes sense.

Of course, there’s another side to that coin. If the UFC feels less pressure to move the pay-per-view needle, maybe it will feel less incentive to give fans quality fight cards for their money. Maybe then the focus shifts even more from how to do this well to how to do it cheaply.

That is, after all, what the Lesnar situation supposedly boils down to. It isn’t that the UFC brass didn’t want him – it’s that they didn’t want him at that price. The calculation at work there could very well be the difference between needing the services of somebody like McGregor and simply wanting them.

One thing that seems clear is that no one knows for sure yet just what this new era will look like. Over the past few years, the middle class of UFC pay-per-views has largely disappeared. Either it’s a huge hit of the high six- or seven-figure variety, or it’s another night of playing to the couple hundred thousand hardcore fans.

How that changes when the biggest market for pay-per-view buys has to go through a streaming service with a monthly membership fee requirement, nobody knows. The UFC has only done one event this way so far, and we may never get an accurate fix on how it sold.

You can tell yourself that it doesn’t matter – sales and ratings and all the rest, when here all you want to do is enjoy some fights – but clearly it matters to the UFC. It also seems to matter to the heavyweight division.

You can bet it matters to Miocic, who’s finally getting exactly what he’s spent the last year asking for. All it took was a major change to the UFC’s revenue stream and the failure to book something bigger and more bizarre.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, including UFC 241, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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