Thursday, February 22, 2007

Five Ounces of Pain: UFC acquiring PRIDE would hurt MMA

By Sam Caplan

If you haven't heard the rumors that the PRIDE Fighting Championships is for sale, and the UFC is one of its top suitors, then chances are you've been locked in a basement for a couple of months.

The prospect of a PRIDE buyout by the UFC is a polarizing topic among mixed martial arts enthusiasts.

Many long-time followers of both the UFC and PRIDE see the potential buyout as a negative, fearing the possibility of the UFC operating in a climate with little or no competition.

Meanwhile, UFC diehards, the kind who don't believe MMA exists outside of the UFC, have greeted rumors of a potential acquisition as a good thing. For some reason, they see PRIDE an adversary that somehow infringes upon their UFC enjoyment. Those fans, while deserving praise for their enthusiasm, are just plain wrong. PRIDE falling into the hands of the UFC would be bad for MMA.

Exhibit A in my argument is the acquisition of World Championship Wrestling by World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the WWF) in 2001.

The legendary "Monday Night Wars" between WCW and the WWE provided some of the most compelling wrestling television in recent memory. Fierce competition between the two not only resulted in all-time highs for television ratings, but also PPV buy rates and ticket sales.

Then, through mismanagement, WCW floundered and was acquired by Vince McMahon's WWE. McMahon kept the WCW brand alive for a brief period before killing it off. Without WCW around to push the WWE, McMahon's outfit would soon find itself in a prolonged business slump that it's just now starting to come out of.

MMA is riding a wave of tremendous growth in popularity, and the last thing it needs is contraction. Without PRIDE, the UFC will essentially have a monopoly, and there won't be an entity out there capable of keeping the promotion honest. As the only game in town, the UFC would be in a perfect position to lower fighter salaries while also being able to raise ticket and PPV prices.

As big as MMA is right now, it has the potential to get bigger. But without the right level of competition, current growth levels will slow, and we might look back at the current period as the "golden age" of MMA.

The argument against the UFC buying PRIDE is a tough one to make because being proved right is not something this writer wants to see happen.


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