Post-UFC 300: Defining moment for BMF and a new approach to fight cards

It’s been over a week since UFC 300, and the sport is still abuzz. What keeps this milestone evening of fights at the forefront of fans’ minds, in part, is the juicy array of questions it poses.

Was UFC 300 the greatest event in the history of mixed martial arts? Was Max Holloway‘s walloping of Justin Gaethje — factoring in its last-second timing and BMF circumstances — the preeminent knockout of all time? By throwing around such superlatives, are we all afflicted by recency bias, including the bevy of off-duty fighters at cageside that night who were wide-eyed in their reactions to each game-changing punch like they’d never seen the likes of it?

The common thread running through those questions is that they address only half of the story of that weekend and its impact on the sport. They dwell upon fights that are now in the past. UFC 300 raised even more interesting questions about the future.

The big one: How can the UFC top 300?

Surpassing one of the most glorious nights ever in combat sports is a long-term project, but the first step in that direction is to view the thrill-a-minute fight card as a building block or template. To that end, here are five questions that could spark a little evolution in the game.


1. What should the UFC do — and not do — with BMF?

We have to start with the BMF fight, because even on a starry night headlined by championship fights in two weight classes, this battle for a made-up belt stole the show.

That, in itself, is not a shocker. Expectations are always high whenever Holloway or Gaethje sets foot in the cage, and having them in there together was a recipe for a rip-roaring scrap. And yet these two wild men still managed to exceed what fight fans had any right to expect — and they went especially above and beyond in the final 10 seconds.

When Holloway, just a few ticks off the clock from winning a lopsided decision, stepped to the center of the cage and gestured for Gaethje to join him for a final throwdown, that was the epitome of badassery. Had the two of them just swung away until the horn, then embraced as the great ones do, it still would have been remembered as a daredevil exchange. But when Holloway connected with a windmill right hand that sent Gaethje crumbling limply to the mat face-first with one second left, it was breathtaking. Even referee Marc Goddard let out a flabbergasted “whoa!” at the sight of the sudden termination.

Beyond the thrill of it all, this was a defining moment for a BMF concept that the UFC has embraced but, before this night, had not quite ironed out what it is supposed to be. The original BMF fight in 2019 pitted Jorge Masvidal against Nate Diaz — two men shrouded in “baddest motherf—er” auras of tough-talking street cred. But the next time we were presented with a BMF fight, last July, the gimmick shifted to a pair of fighters with reputations as gentlemen outside the cage. The BMF bona fides of Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier were fully contained to the no-mercy violence they whip up whenever they’re inside those chain-link walls. And that contrasting ethos continued with the matchup of Gaethje and Holloway — especially in a 10-second finishing flurry that defined this subsection of fisticuffs as different from the norm.

Imagine if Holloway had been way ahead on all scorecards in the waning seconds of a fight for the UFC featherweight championship and nonetheless had risked it all on a rock-’em-sock-’em countdown. Some fans would have cheered his audaciousness, for sure. But many others would have questioned his fight IQ. Yet that throw-caution-to-the-wind approach is the definition of a BMF fight, which is not so much about the result as it is about a way of being.

For that reason, I hope the UFC does not embrace Ilia Topuria‘s call for a featherweight title defense against Holloway as a BMF title fight as well. Those are two different things with different stakes and different expectations. Let’s not get them tangled up.


2. Will bonuses still feel bonus-y when they shrink back to 50 grand?

If you’re a UFC fighter struggling to earn a living, pocketing an extra $50,000 at the end of your successful night has probably felt like a heck of a bonus over the years. But then UFC 300 comes along and, at the whim of the promoter, expands the performance bonuses to $300,000 for one night only. How will that play out going forward? Will the usual 50 grand seem paltry?

Fighters might have an opinion on that, but they have no leverage to bring about change. Unlike in most major sports, there’s no fighters’ union and, therefore, no collective voice pressuring for higher pay. With rare exceptions, postfight bonuses — four of them, two for fight of the night and two for performance of the night — have remained steady at $50,000 for over a decade. Is that the way it’s going to be forever? We know who won’t be deciding that. The toughest people on earth have rendered themselves powerless.


3. Does this broadcast suggestion sound different?

One of my unexpected joys in the aftermath of UFC 300 has been watching online videos of fighters, pundits and others reacting in real time while watching the Holloway knockout, Alex Pereira’s KO win in the main event and other soul-stirring moments. My favorite was watching all-time great Demetrious Johnson giggle through the final seconds of the BMF fight before being floored, like Gaethje (but less painfully), by the unfathomable finish.

I imagine some fans regularly mute the TV commentary during big UFC fight telecasts and instead sync up the live online commentary of a favorite watch-along figure. And this got me thinking …

Wouldn’t it be amazing if UFC pay-per-views had a built-in alternate commentary, like Eli and Peyton livening up “Monday Night Football” on the “ManningCast”? The UFC tried it back in 2017 with “Dana White’s Contender Series” — remember Snoop Dogg reacting to a KO by a young Sean O’Malley by screaming “O’MALLEY! O’MALLEY!” over and over? I’m not necessarily advocating for Snoop, but let’s get creative here.

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The Gronks are stunned by Edwards’ KO of Usman

Rob Gronkowski has chills throughout his whole body after watching Leon Edwards’ knockout of Kamaru Usman.

There was also an alternate telecast for UFC 278, hosted by former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski with brothers Chris, Dan, Glenn and Gordie Jr. and father Gordon, which fans referred to as the “GronkCast.” Could the UFC have something similar up its sleeve in the future?


4. Is it possible to go big by going short?

UFC 300 did not have a megastar at the top of the marquee, yet the champion-heavy event sold out 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena for a $16.5 million live gate. The promotion also generated record sponsorship and merchandise revenue, along with reaping the financial rewards of massive television viewership. It sounds like stacking a card is good for business.

So why do events like 300 have to be such a rarity? Why not put together one every quarter?

It might seem unsustainable to stretch the top tier of the roster several times a year with monumental fight cards filled with champions, former champs, champs in the making and highly anticipated debuts. The 13 fights at UFC 300 featured 12 current or former titleholders, and there are only so many of those to go around. But maybe making the cards lean and mean is the answer. Do we really need these events to be filled with so many fights that they extend into the middle of the night?

UFC 300 started at 6 p.m. ET, and the last punch landed just before 1:30 a.m. on the East Coast. Is there another nighttime sporting event that intentionally runs 7½ hours? Why not regularly assemble cards of 10 fights — or even eight or nine — with nothing but belt-holders, former titlists and a sprinkling of up-and-comers? Leaning into quality rather than quantity would enable the UFC to really pack a punch, giving fans something memorable to talk about on Sunday morning after they wake up refreshed from an earlier bedtime.


5. Can fans stick to their own interest when judging a fight card?

Here’s one where the UFC needs to do nothing differently. It’s on the fans.

Matchmakers took some heat from online bellyachers in the lead-up to UFC 300 for booking Bo Nickal, an MMA neophyte with just two UFC appearances, on the main card of an event where six former champs were on the prelims. Is there a problem here, people?

Those of us who assess the UFC’s best practices have our hands full critiquing the promotion’s decision-making in booking title fights. On those occasions when a fighter is handed a championship opportunity because of star power rather than résumé achievements, for instance, that impacts the integrity of the sport. But plotting out a fighter’s placement up or down a card? That’s simply a marketing decision.

If the UFC believes it will generate more PPV buys by putting a fight involving Nickal, the most heralded prospect MMA has seen in years, behind a paywall instead of, say, a showdown between long-ago former champs Deiveson Figueiredo and Cody Garbrandt, that has zero impact on us as fans. Let’s stay in our lane and just enjoy the fights.

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