Zuffa’s Ultimate Gamble

The greatest business moguls always follow the risk vs reward theory, carefully balancing the two and avoiding the huge gamble. But right now it appears that the UFC is preparing to take a huge leap of faith on July 9 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as the main event for UFC 200 will be a rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.

As rumors continue to swirl that Zuffa is interested in selling the UFC, their next big show is shaping up as an event where they risk it all. For Conor McGregor the stakes will be incredibly high, as he attempts to reverse the outcome of his first meeting with Diaz in an immediate rematch. Win and he can fight Rafael Dos Anjos for the 155 lb title strap, or even challenge the still retired George St. Pierre. But lose a second time to Nate and it could be ‘game over’ for the man who just short weeks ago was on top of the UFC mountain.

Conor 777
Not long ago, Conor appeared unbeatable.

At first, the idea of an immediate rematch did not interest Diaz, but it appears his attitude has changed. “If that’s what he wants to do and that’s what the UFC wants to do, let’s run it back,” he told the gang at UFC Tonight, including our good friend Kenny Florian. “Let’s do it again.”

Of course it’s not difficult to see why this rematch is happening after the first fight sold over 1 million pay-per-view buys and was the third highest gate in UFC history. As Nate says, “money talks.” But the risk for the UFC is they could lose one of the few stars they have who is a genuine box office sensation. Out of the UFC’s last 15 pay-per-view shows, only eight have earned over half-a-million buys and only two of those featured fighters not named Rousey or McGregor. But now the drawing power of those two names have taken direct hits.

The challenge the UFC is facing is that they are trying to load up UFC200 with as many stars as they can in order to create an event that is box-office gold. They want all their stars on the card with a huge crowd and massive pay-per-view numbers to show that they are bigger than boxing and still climbing higher.

Make no mistake about it - the media adored Rousey
Rousey: not so ‘dominant.’

But the past year has given the Zuffa brass cause for concern. Ronda Rousey suffered a massive upset loss and is taking a lengthy leave from competition. Anderson Silva failed a drug test. Conor McGregor unexpectedly lost to Diaz and did not look good in the process. In other words, three of their biggest attractions are not as attractive or exciting as they once were. And it’s clear that the UFC is having difficulty developing new stars.

Not that long ago, there were plenty of big names around. Georges St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar were huge attractions but UFC also had other fighters who could headline and draw over 500K buys, from guys like Anderson Silva, BJ Penn and Randy Couture, to lesser lights but still major attractions in Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Josh Koschek and Matt Hughes. UFC100 featured GSP, Lesnar, and Henderson vs Bisping. The next event had two title fights with Anderson Silva vs Forest Griffin and BJ Penn vs Kenny Florian.

“The biggest problem with the current state of the UFC is you have too many cards and too many fights for the casual fan to keep up with,” Luke Thomas once said. “When you have cards nearly every week, you are going to get fights and fighters lost in the shuffle.”

Conor McGregor, left, trades punches with Nate Diaz during their UFC 196 welterweight mixed martial arts match, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Will a rematch be a repeat?

The best case scenario has always been that a young, rising fighter beats an aging champion and becomes a household name. Boxing had that in spades with the emergence of Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. The King is dead; long live the king, as the old saying goes. However the UFC has found out that it doesn’t always work when either the new king wins by “fluke” (Chris Weidman), gets injured often (Pettis and Velasquez), or has legal issues (Jon Jones). While the UFC may have one of its deepest rosters in history, they don’t have the cadre of box office attractions they had before.

AT UFC 200, Conor McGregor will be tasked with two big objectives that appear near impossible. He must not only defeat the man who beat him convincingly and do so after a very short training camp, but he must also help launch some new stars in the process. Zuffa is betting this 200th card will be the box-office shattering event that everybody is hoping for, that it will re-energize the company and help jump-start things for the rest of the year. Thus, it’s fitting that this card is in Las Vegas because it looks to me like it’s going to be either the UFC hitting the jackpot, or rolling snake eyes. Talk about a gamble.                  — Chris Connor  

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