Ultimate Monopoly Championship

There’s a lot to like about the UFC/WEC merger. From my point of view, it’s that the smaller fighters are going to get to perform on the world stage.

All those folks who’ve yet to see a Jose Aldo fight, to take the most obvious example, are in for a real treat:

I think we can all appreciate that the greater good is served putting that man on as many TV screens as possible.

On the other hand, this mmafighting post about the UFC/WEC merger makes a really sharp point:

With the Jan. 1 addition of the bantamweight and featherweight divisions in the UFC – bringing the total of weight classes to seven – the number of fighters looking for jobs will rise, but the total number of slots available to fighters is expected to hold steady.

Now, this is not an entirely bad thing. To the extent that we’re replacing heavyweights with lighter fighters, I’d regard it as a much-needed victory for the good folks who want to watch skilled MMA over the evil forces of pro-wrestling wank.

There is, however, a dark side to this. Since Pride went belly-up back in 2007, the UFC has had no really serious competition. With a few partial exceptions, it’s had a monopoly on top-level MMA fights, and whilst there are certainly arguments that say this is a good thing, I think it’s a cause for serious concern. The general effect of monopoly, as a smarter man than I once said, is to make things scarce, to make them dear and to make them bad. The fact that the UFC can just unilaterally reduce the number of high level MMA fights would be a good example of that first problem.

However, since I’m likely to spend most of my time on this blog ragging on about what a bad thing the UFC monopoly is, it’d probably be as well to spend a bit of time looking at the argument that this is actually a good thing. In the rest of this post I’ll set this argument out, and in subsequent ones I’ll go into a bit more detail about it, as well as explaining why it’s transparent bollocks.

So, the case for the defence is that sports need monopolies in order to ensure competition between players. This argument sounds like a paradox, but makes immediate sense as soon as you think about it. A controlling organisation can force any one of its fighter to fight any other.

As a quick example, apparently Freddie Roach thinks that ” Silva v Saint Pierre is the Mayweather v Pacquiao of MMA.” The difference is, obviously, that one of those bouts is significantly more likely to happen than the other. Having Dana White tell a fighter that he has to fight such-and-such if he wants to keep his contract is a much, much simpler process than trying to convince an egomaniac publicity hound to risk his unbeaten record against the Pacman.

Similarly, back in the days of Pride, when there were two serious MMA promotions, we fans spent most of our time wondering who was actually the best fighter. There were a whole load of fights that we would have liked to have seen, but never could. Even if you could get the fights to happen, there was always the question of which rules they’d happen under. Apart from depriving us of what could have been some of the most interesting fights ever, this meant that the whole business of MMA ranking was much more art than science. Having all the fighters on the same show, under the same rules, gets rid of that problem.

Indeed, monopolies are the exception rather than the rule in most sports. One of the arguments I hear a lot of when I start complaining about the UFC’s monopoly to people is that it’s no different to football. What sort of football they mean depends on whether I’m talking to an American or someone who understands that football implies extensive use of the feet,[1] but the argument is the same: FIFA, the FA, the NFL etc. all have a monopoly on top-level competition in their various spheres, and we generally see this as a good thing. The best competitors are made to take each other on according to a consistent system. This results in the best playing the best with clear winners at the end of it.

[1] Yes, I’ve actually bored enough people about market power in MMA that it makes sense to do a break-down of the numbers by nationality. You can see why I started a blog.

Update: Edited to disguise the fact that I’m an illiterate who’s incapable of proof-reading

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