GONZALES: The UFC is a-Changin’ – From C.M. Punk to Greg Hardy to Ben Affleck to Conan, what’s in store for UFC fans in 2017?

By Frank Gonzales, MMATorch columnist

Earlier this week, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, in recognition of not only his musical achievements, but because of how he blurred the boundaries between folk and rock, music and poetry, pop culture and art.

Similarly, the UFC blurred a boundary of its own this week, between entertainment and sport.  The aftermath of Greg Hardy’s decision to fight made it crystal clear that this separation no longer exists.  A threshold has been crossed and the paradigm has been shifted.

The time’s have a-changed, indeed.

When C.M. Punk decided to fight, the MMA community was up in arms that someone with no experience and little training could basically walk off the street and step into the Octagon.  With Hardy, the debate is over his character, and no one, no one, no one, is questioning his credentials, or lack thereof. It’s not just media members and fantasy fight bookers.  It’s Dana White himself, already talking about “second chances” on national outlets, possibly priming the pump for what’s to come.

And there’s more coming, don’t fool yourself.  A while back I wrote a column hyping The Celebrity Ultimate Fighter ***, which got a few chuckles, as if I was just being a smart-ass.  I really wish I was being facetious, but the door for entry into the UFC continues to open wider and wider, and it’s now official the WME-IMG will consider letting anyone in who can bring in some buyrates.

What I’m most curious about is how quickly WME turns the corner.  I’m not saying they sign Hardy, but I guarantee they’ve created some of the buzz to gauge the reaction and measure the resistance.  It’s a slow play toward a bigger move.

And what might that be?  I’m guessing it will be connected to one of the UFC’s new famous owners.  Perhaps Ben Affleck has a buddy who owes him money and needs a career boost.  Get him on Conan to announce his intentions.  Have a camera crew follow him around.  Edit a reality show that makes him a hero or a villain.  Charge sixty bucks to see how it ends.

If I had to place odds, I’d say even money this happens in 2017.  The white whale in WME-IMG’s purchase is the upcoming TV deal in two years, so expect them to do everything they can to increase the UFC’s visibility in the short-term, with an emphasis on popularity rather than competition.  They’ll be looking to cash in on the casual fans, not please us dorks that care about the direction of the sport.

I can’t say this makes me feel good but I also can’t be in denial, and like a voyeur on Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” I’ll continue to watch the freak show that is MMA.  It’s just as seedy, too, with the UFC now pimping the Octagon, and us lonely Johns still ready to reach into our wallets.  How does it feeeeel?

***Bootleg Copyright

 (Frank Gonzales is a new MMATorch contributor. Look for his column once a week here at MMATorch. Follow him on Twtter @frankieagogo.)

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