HEYDORN’S TAKE: The top five things UFC should be thankful for in 2017

BY ZACK HEYDORN, MMATorch Contributor

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving 2017 is here. Looking back in the rear view mirror, it’s been an incredibly strange year for the UFC. Conor McGregor competed in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, Jon Jones tested positive, again, for performance enhancing drugs, and Georges St-Pierre is back as a UFC fighter. Last year at this time, nobody would have been placing money on any of those things happening. Yet, here we sit, and all three came to fruition fortunately or unfortunately. For as weird of a year as it was, the UFC still is a multi-billion dollar company and has plenty to be thankful for.

1. Conor McGregor

It’s hard to live with him, but they can’t live without him. Such is life in the UFC world in 2017. McGregor’s behavior and awful recent comments won’t be winning him any man of the year honors, but the UFC should be glad they have him. In 2017, McGregor hasn’t stepped foot inside an MMA octagon. Check that. In 2017, McGregor hasn’t stepped foot in a UFC octagon (wink, wink). Without doing so, Conor McGregor is still the hottest athlete in the world and he’s signed to a UFC contract. Recently, he’s been an incredible headache for the UFC, but right or wrong, the time will come where he will once again bring millions upon millions of dollars to the company. Even without fighting, McGregor has brought attention to his company which continues to tick as he does.

2. UFC Fans

The UFC and mixed martial arts in general has some of the most loyal fans around. They are passionate and understand the product through and through. 2017 has been a trying year for the UFC and its fans have stuck around. They’ve had major stars pull out of big events, main attraction fights get cancelled, and some of their favorite stars barred from competition due to idiotic drug test failures. UFC’s fans have even had to endure fighters making racist comments and saying homophobic slurs. Still after all of that, UFC fans are buying PPV’s, attending events, and talking about the game like they always have. PPV numbers aren’t what they were in 2016, but with eroding UFC talent, the fan base is still strong. That said, the fans do have a right to take the UFC to task when appropriate and if they see fit. They haven’t yet and for now, the UFC should thank its fans and outwardly appreciate them more than they do.

3. Georges St-Pierre

With Conor McGregor on the sidelines for his Mayweather mega fight and Ronda Rousey fading into obscurity after her loss to Amanda Nunes at the end of 2016, 2017 has been the year of UFC trying to find its next star. Both Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar ruined it for themselves so UFC went down the line to guys like Cody Garbandt, Tony Ferguson, and Kevin Lee. Those guys are all amazing fighters, but have yet to prove their power at the box office. The UFC’s inability to find that next star hurt PPV revenue and casual interest in the product. Then, like a savior descending down from the heavens, Georges St-Pierre returned. With that return came approximately 875,000 PPV buys in North America for UFC 217. When the UFC was reeling, St-Pierre pulled them up by the bootstraps and was the star they desperately needed. His return doesn’t help in the long term for UFC as they still need to find their next Conor McGregor. He helps in the short term and will be someone that UFC leans on considerably as the calendar turns over into 2018.

4. Being able to compete in New York City

It’s hard to believe there was a time where the UFC wasn’t allowed in New York City. That city is synonymous with the fight game. When the UFC is at Madison Square Garden for a big event, it feels right. It feels like the entire production is home. UFC being able to run in New York City legitimizes the sport and makes events feel big time and must-see. The entrance into that market is significant for the company itself as it continues to grow in 2018 and beyond.

5. UFC 217

Speaking of New York City UFC events, enter UFC 217. This was the card of the year and the event of the year. 217 featured three title fights and the return of UFC legend, Georges St-Pierre. That is big in its own right. After the dust settled on the event, all three championships that were defended changed hands including the UFC Women’s Strawweight belt that was won by the astronomical underdog, Rose Namajunas. UFC 217 was the best event of the year and possibly the greatest event in UFC history. It also generated the most buys of the year with 875,000 in North America alone. Big events were hard to come by this year. With fighters dropping out all throughout the year, this card stayed intact and proved just how entertaining and successful the UFC can be.

NOW CHECK OUT HEYDORN’S PREVIOUS TAKE: Michael Bisping needed UFC’s protection and they were nowhere to be found

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