Since WME-IMG’s acquisition of the UFC in 2016, questions have persisted concerning how, if at all, the change in management would affect the consumer experience.
Rather than any drastic changes, with the exception of some notable layoffs, it has been, largely, business as usual for the UFC.
Sweeping changes were never likely, and the differences between the Zuffa and WME-IMG eras will appear most prominently in their tactics concerning matters such as international expansion, roster management, and matchmaking.
With limited data to draw from, it’s difficult to compare WME-IMG’s promotional strategies with Zuffa’s, but in the case of matchmaking, there is more information to draw from, and trends to interpret within.
Though veteran matchmaker Sean Shelby was retained through the transition, he now shares these duties with Mick Maynard, a former Legacy FC matchmaker.
Even in the case of Shelby, we should not expect his matchmaking approach to be exactly as it was before. Booking fights, like so many things, is a matter of problem solving, and WME-IMG’s problems may not be identical to Zuffa’s.
Examining the UFC’s matchmaking strategies in 2017, a clear trend begins to emerge; WME-IMG loves pressure. Specifically, they appear far more willing to book fighters, even quite valuable ones, in high-risk bouts where one’s career trajectory will be sent firmly off course.
The Zuffa playbook was a little bit different. Under the Fertitta brothers and Joe Silva, promising talents were handled carefully, often given springboard fights against ageing legends, long past the peaks of their powers.
In 2017, fighters with the potential to breach the elite of their divisions are still given this treatment (such as Kelvin Gastelum’s bizarre but strangely compelling upcoming bout against Anderson Silva), but, more often than not, matches are booked…