While pundits and fans alike keep talking about the UFC's “down year” in 2017, company president Dana White continues to insist that it was a banner year for the fight promotion.
The UFC doesn't reveal pay-per-view numbers, but most industry insiders pointed to a decline compared to 2016, which hit several home runs, largely on the back of Conor McGregor, who did not fight in the Octagon in 2017.
Although that may be true of UFC branded events, the MMA juggernaut was a partner in promotion the blockbuster boxing bout between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. The UFC didn't simply allow McGregor to fight outside of his contract in the boxing ring, the company also benefited financially from what is one of the most successful single-day sporting events of all time, though the UFC's revenue from the bout was not disclosed. Considering McGregor netted somewhere in the $100 million neighborhood, the UFC likely benefitted significantly from the spectacle.
Still, White insists you can't discount the financial success of Mayweather vs. McGregor when looking back on the company's 2017 and whether or not it was a good year.
“If you don't know what's going on in our business, how can you speculate we're having a bad year? This is our best year by a long shot,” White told ESPN on Monday before dishing on McGregor's boxing blockbuster.
“Who cares if it was a boxing match?” White continued. “Do you think we knew Floyd Mayweather was going to fight Conor McGregor in 2017? F— no. We still had our year lined out, a budget and everything else.
“This is the fight business. You have no f—ing idea what's going to happen. If that fight hadn't happened, Conor would have fought twice in the UFC and who knows who he would have fought or the fights it would have set up. This s— doesn't just happen. We create this s—.”
The way things have drug out thus far, it's questionable whether or not McGregor would fight twice for the UFC in 2018, if he returns to the Octagon at all. White has admitted that it isn't easy to know if the money McGregor made for fighting Mayweather was enough to pull him away from a career of getting punched in the face.
If McGregor returns, it will surely be another solid year for the UFC. That is something the promotion needs as officials are currently trying to negotiate a new television deal, which is supposed to be a cornerstone of revenue for new owners Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG).
McGregor hasn't yet committed to anything, although he and his coach, John Kavanagh, have indicated a UFC return is likely in 2018. White is also sounding more positive about McGregor coming back to fighting than he has recently.
“It's looking good to get him back,” White said.
And even though numbers for UFC events may not be sky high in the U.S. lately, the promotion has long had a strategy of going global. The company consistently pedals its product worldwide and is only scratching the surface in many promising markets.
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One of those markets where the UFC has scratched the surface is China. The UFC sold out an event in Shanghai in 2017, which is significant considering how difficult it is for any fight promotion to make headway in a rather difficult-to-navigate Chinese market.
White has also teased a possible foray into promoting boxing.
In short, the UFC has many cards to play, and has yet to fully leverage Endeavor's gorilla-like presence in the entertainment industry.
The UFC may not have too many glowing stars outside of McGregor at the moment, but the tools are all in place to continue manufacturing them. People constantly question what the UFC will do if McGregor doesn't return, just like they did to past superstars like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, BJ Penn, Ronda Rousey, and numerous others. As always, White has the answer.
“I hear that all the time, but who the f— builds more stars than we do in combat sports?” he said. “Nobody.”