Let's start by what the UFC did right.
1. They cleaned the sport up. A lot. Even before White took over, the writing was on the wall for the UFC, that if they didn't clean up their act there were very few, if any, states that would be hosting their events. So over a period of years, the implementation of timed rounds, weight classes, illegal strikes (headbutting, fish hooking etc.) and the requirement of gloves started turning the UFC into a legitimate sport. As expected, this increased the mass appeal significantly.
2. The Ultimate Fighter. Maybe the most brilliant and well timed decision by the UFC was to use Reality TV as a platform to get the casual UFC fan into the sport and also into the competitors. Imagine watching "The Real World" except at the end of each episode, 2 of the housemates fight in an octagon for the ability to stay in the house. Brilliant. The show wasn't without growing pains however, in fact, the format of the first season is almost laughable (athletes being asked to leave the house without ever fighting because they lost a challenge) and many changes have been made to the increase the validity of the winner. But many fans credit the finale of TUF 1 between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin to be the most critical moment in the UFC's growth.
3. Less is More. Despite being the big dog, the UFC was not without competition (internal and external) early on. So to make things a bit easier to manage, they started swallowing them up. They added the WEC, WFA, Pride, & Strikeforce both increasing the talent pool dramatically, making the titles more relevant and unifying, and more importantly keeping fans tuned into one brand and one brand only, UFC.
Those are just a few of the many things that the UFC has done over the past decade to become the fasting growing sport in America. Add in the personalities and the increased level of skill and athleticism amongst the fighters, this sport was quite frankly impossible to ignore. But something seems to have happened in the last year and the enthusiasm, at least among my camp, has waned. Although I am still an enormous fan, below are couple of things I think the UFC NEEDS to do to right the ship. Dana, read this and call me.
1. Less is More: We get it, people love the UFC and we understand that the time is now to get it to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. But what has happened is the UFC has become watered down. Case in point, UFC 151 and 152. The first event gets cancelled because after injuries, there was no viable way you could sell that card to people. It's easy to point the finger at Jon Jones as the guy who cost the UFC that event, but if that card wasn't so thin to begin with you wouldn't have been in that predicament. Now look at UFC 152. Aldo and Rampage pull out with injuries, and the best you can come up with is Stephan Bonnar and Anderson Silva to headline that event? I love both of those guys, but if Silva enters that fight at anything less than -1500 to win, I'll be shocked. Its a transparent and desperate move and UFC fans are smarter than that. They may get it, but its because they're starving for a good event not because they love it. That won't last forever, people like me have stopped getting every card. Look at the hedline fights of the evnts between now and November, they just aren't as good anymore. Free events on Fuel and Fox are great, but not at the cost of the PPV cards. If you can't make them all strong, consolidate. Please.
2. The Ultimate Fighter: You see what I'm doing here, right? Listen, I LOVE the show. It is still must watch TV for me. I have blogged episode recaps of several of the seasons and haven't missed an episode since I started watching. But the talent isn't as strong because real good UFC prospects go straight to the big show and what you get in TUF is about 14 1/2 guys that can't hack it in the UFC once the show is over. What's worse, is even the losers (I'm talking real losers, not finals losers) still get several fights in the UFC after the show is over. How does a guy who doesn't make it to the finals get a crack at a UFC event right after the show? What needs to happen is some sort of UFC Developmental League. Move the guys who don't win the show into that for a few fights against other TUF alumni and up and commer's. Make the glory of winning even more special by limiting the path to the UFC to only 1 or 2 guys from each season.
3. Clean Up the Sport: I'm talking here about the 500 lb gorilla in the room, the officiating. There has got to be more accountability with the refs and with the judges. I have seen way too many bad decisions and early and late stoppages with no repercussions other than a nasty tweet from you. Add 2 more judges to prevent fluke decisions. Clean up how the fights are scored so that takedowns don't trump damage. And please make every main card fight 5 rounds. 3 rounds is just not enough to decide who a top contender should be. These guys deserve a legit shot to showcase themselves. And outside of the rules and regs, clean up the management of fighters. Guys like Jon Jones have started to damage the sport. Not because he didn't take a fight with Sonnen on short notice, but because he isn't a UFC guy. He doesn't care about anything but Jon Jones. Same thing with Nick Diaz. There are guys like them in every sport, but started hitting them where it hurts with more suspensions.