There were some questionable decisions made in 2016 by every major fight promotion, but which stand out the most? Join MMANewsline.com as we relive all the craziness MMA brought to 2016 in our three part series. These events are not in chronological order.
WME-IMG Terminates ‘Lifetime Contracts’ of Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes — Company Morale Sinks to All Time Low
Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes are both legends of mixed martial arts and the status of the sport today is largely due to the success these two fighters had back in the 2000’s. As a favor for putting the UFC on the map and staying loyal to the company at a time when many other superstars were leaving in search of bigger paydays, Liddell and Hughes were each given ‘lifetime’ jobs by Dana White in the wake of their retirements.
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Liddell became the Vice President of Business Development and Hughes, the former UFC Welterweight Champion, was given a position as Vice President of Athlete Development and Government Relations.
When WME-IMG purchased the UFC in 2016 for $4.2 billion, they had such a massive amount of debt that cost cutting was necessary. Executives were fired, fighters were cut, and a downsizing of UFC offices across the globe in an effort to decrease spending — and as a result, company morale plummeted.
The timing of the releases is what puts it on this list.
Hughes and Liddell were terminated right after the UFC laid off roughly 25 percent of their 350-person staff. Company morale has never before been lower than it is at the conclusion of 2016.
New York State Legalizes Mixed Martial Arts, Small MMA and Boxing Promoters Leave State
This year when New York officially ended the nearly 20-year ban on mixed martial arts, they also decided to included a $1 million traumatic brain injury insurance provision — which applied to all combat sports inside New York State.
A 48-page report by New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott in July of this year revealed that oversight on behalf of the New York State Athletic Commission led to the permanent brain damage and partial paralysis of boxer Magomed Abdusalamov in August, 2013. As a result, the NYSAC not only required each mixed martial arts fighter to have insurance to the tune of $50,000 for each fight — but each fighter must also meet the $1 million brain insurance policy requirement.
While the MMA world was excited to make their grand entrance in the Empire State, boxing promoters fled to Pennsylvania and New Jersey because they refused to adhere to the commission’s new, and expensive, policies.
“We do not believe the legislature and the Governor’s intent to provide economic activity by legalizing MMA in New York is served by an insurance requirement that will drive the majority of boxing promoters out of the state due to the increased costs,” an unnamed source close to NY boxing promoters told NYPost reporter George Willis back in August.
Smaller boxing promoters followed suit and the boxing scene in New York has been scarce since the new NYSAC combat sports regulations were passed this year.
Smaller mixed martial arts promotions were also kept out of the state as a result of the new regulations — which is puzzling because majority of the fighters who would be eligible to compete inside their home state would be competing for smaller organizations.
UFC Creates a Women’s Featherweight Division
When the UFC contacted Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino and she told them she couldn’t make 145 pounds within 3 months of UFC 208 on February 11, that should have been the end of their plans for the women’s featherweight division. It’s not that the women don’t deserve another title — because they do indeed, but at 125 pounds where there are a number of marketable women to fill the ranks.
The problem with planned women’s featherweight division is that the only person that is actually a featherweight is ‘Cyborg.’
The UFC decided to create a Women’s Featherweight Championship without a clear plan for the future of the division, and it will come back to bite them when the PPV buys for February 11 PPV are revealed.
Sure, Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie are competing for the inaugural UFC women’s Featherweight title at UFC 208 in NY, but these women are bantamweights (135) that are simply fighting at featherweight (145).
The excuse of creating a Championship because they needed a title fight to headline a PPV event doesn’t work either, because UFC 206:Holloway vs Pettis (Scheduled Men’s Interim Featherweight Championship bout) only reportedly drew 150k buys — less than many non-title headlined events in 2016.
People pleaded for UFC to create a women's featherweight division and are now surprised/upset that title fight is between two bantamweights.
— Robert Sargent (@MMARising) December 14, 2016
The UFC women’s featherweight championship won’t be here until February of 2017, but the seeds of that failure tree were planted by WME-IMG in 2016.
Bjorn Rebney’s Affiliation with the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association
When the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Associates was announced in early December, it appeared that fighters finally had an organization they could get truly behind as ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, Georges St-Pierre, Tim Kennedy, Cain Velazquez, and T.J. Dillashaw were announced as the board of the group, no doubt a stable of who’s who in the MMA world.
There was one big problem though — former promoter and founder of Bellator, Bjorn Rebney, was announced as the adviser of the MMAAA. In a sense, these disgruntled fighters aligned with a devil they didn’t know to take on a devil they knew in Dana White.
From there, missteps were numerous and Bjorn Rebney quickly dashed any hopes of forming a fighter union because, according to him, a union would delay betterment of mixed martial artists.
“The Association’s sole concentration is to fight for the rights of MMA fighters and force UFC’s ownership to dramatically alter the company’s decade plus outrageous treatment of its athletes,” said Rebney.
Days later Donald Cerrone’s support for the group wavered, as he told MMAFighting.com: “There were a couple of people that were there that I don’t plan on working with and being a part of, not mentioning any names. I was there mostly just, not saying I’m leading a board or I’m sitting on a board, but more voicing my opinion of what this sport needs.”
Rebney talking about fighters' well being and not having a safety net is pretty funny.
— Suzanne Davis (@SoozieCuzie) November 30, 2016
Fans, disgruntled fighters, other promoters, and even the media couldn’t take Bjorn Rebney seriously — as it would require people to believe that he was acting on behalf of the fighters, and not himself, as it pertains to the MMAAA.
Dana White was on UFC Unfiltered with Jim Norton and Matt Serra to blast Rebney and his affiliation with the MMAAA.
The Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association has been mostly inactive since their first series of announcements in early December.
Part 3 will be released tomorrow, December 28 at MMANewsline.com