This time of year is, for many people, one of reflection. They look back on the previous 12 months, reliving their highs and lows and, hopefully, taking any lessons learned in that time to heart. This time of year is often also one when people resolve to make a positive change in the immediate future. Whether it’s breaking a bad habit or starting a good one, the New Year’s Resolution is a time-honored tradition as old as the holiday itself.

With this in mind, here are some New Year’s Resolutions for the world of MMA.

UFC

The world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion had a pretty big year in 2012. It continued its partnership with Fox and had its highest-rated event on the network on Dec. 8. It successfully introduced yet another new weight class—the 125-pound flyweight division—and recently announced the long-anticipated addition of a women’s division. Probably most significant, however, is the fact that, now more than ever, the UFC stands alone among MMA promotions as the destination for the world’s best fighters.

For many years, the UFC had stiff competition in Japanese organizations who could afford to pay top fighters better salaries due to the comparatively higher popularity of MMA in Japan. It wasn’t even until Pride FC’s closure in 2007 that the UFC was considered the sport’s top MMA promotion, and until this year it still faced stiff (albeit short-lived) competition from EliteXC, Affliction and Strikeforce. Those first two promotions have been long-defunct, and Strikeforce will soon follow after its final show on Jan. 12.

While there are still other MMA promotions out there, none comes close to carrying the clout that the UFC now does, and the promotion should use the next year to associate MMA with UFC for as many people as possible. The UFC is already planning at least one free-TV event in each of the first three months of 2013, and it should continue that trend for the remaining nine. In addition, the UFC should swallow its pride and put more title fights and/or fights featuring superstar fighters on Fox in 2013 to better grow its audience. Yes, it would be ideal if new fans and old would all plunk down $45 for each important fight, but in order to continue to attract viewers, the fights available to the widest audience should also be among the most important.

Finally, the UFC has the opportunity to jump out ahead of any potential future backlash regarding the long-term effects of MMA on its participants by funding the requisite research today to determine the best way to mitigate the naturally damaging impact that the sport has on the brain. As with any contact sport, there is likely no way to be completely “safe,” but better to spread the word about prevention now than have to deal with the increasingly large can of worms to which the NFL currently finds itself shackled.

For the last several years, the UFC has been on an upward trajectory, growing the sport and its own brand more and more with each passing month. In 2013, the UFC should resolve to continue that trajectory through the methods mentioned here, not only to grow its existing audience but also to prevent any unnecessary bad press.

UFC President Dana White

Leading the charge during the UFC’s upward trajectory has been company president Dana White. The tale has been told many times, but bears repeating: The promotion was struggling when White and the Fertitta Brothers bought it for $2 million in 2001; it’s now worth many, many times more than that. Because of the UFC, it’s now not only possible for people to make a living as professional cage fighters, but for some, they can earn more money in the cage than they ever would have outside of it. Even without knowing many specifics about how the UFC compensates its fighters, it’s safe to say that there is a handful that are being paid on a per-fight basis an amount similar to the one used to purchase the entire company in 2001. Slowly but surely, the UFC has made and continues to make in-roads into the mainstream sporting community and, as president, Dana White is one of its faces.

Which is why White should resolve in 2013 to begin acting more like the president of a major sporting organization. Does NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell get into very public and sometimes personal arguments with members of the media? Has MLB Commissioner Bud Selig ever called the manager of one of the league’s teams a “sport-killer?” And when was the last time NBA Commissioner David Stern launched into a profanity-laced tirade on camera?

Yes, one of the appeals of a president like Dana White is his unconventional way. As “professional” as the three men mentioned above might be, none of them do much to lend a tremendous amount of excitement to the sports they’re in charge of promoting. White’s regular presence on Twitter and his penchant to say whatever it is that he’s thinking are things that make him a great executive for a 21st-century sport like MMA. Maybe he should just tone it down a touch.

Behind closed doors, it’s possible that Goodell, Selig and Stern are just as, ahem, assertive as White, but they display a poise on camera that, while less titillating, best reflects the professional nature of their work. White can certainly continue to cut his exciting promos, but he should try his best to keep it PG-13 in ’13.

Bellator/Invicta

With Strikeforce’s closing a foregone conclusion at this point, there are now two remaining MMA promotions positioned in the sport’s second tier. Bellator is the only other promotion that currently enjoys a national television deal (first with Fox Sports Net, then with MTV2 and, beginning in 2013, Spike—the former home of the UFC’s cable events and The Ultimate Fighter) and, as such, has the greatest ability of non-UFC organizations to promote its fights. Invicta FC, an upstart promotion that only opened its doors in 2012, has in its first three cards featured some of the best female fighters not named Ronda Rousey and received a significant positive push from the MMA community at large.

With their unique positions among promotions that aren’t owned by Zuffa, it might be tempting for Bellator and Invicta to ramp up their efforts to compete with the UFC. That would be an unwise choice. As mentioned earlier, the UFC’s role as MMA’s top organization is unquestioned. While a few years ago it might have been feasible for a competing promotion to usurp the UFC from its position atop the MMA mountain, in 2013 it’s all but impossible.

Instead, the promotions should use their resources to promote themselves as the best supplemental content to the UFC available. Even if that requires directly piggybacking off of their supposed competitor (“Hey! Do you like the UFC? You might like our stuff too!”), Bellator and Invicta’s goal should simply be to grab as many viewers as they can, knowing that they’ll probably never achieve the sorts of numbers the UFC is able to, but also being content to showcase some lesser-known (but certainly no less talented) fighters in a manner accessible to all fight fans. For this reason, Invicta’s supposed plan to begin airing its content on pay-per-view might be misguided, but the market will let company head Shannon Knapp know if that’s the right decision or not.

American sports are ruled by singular entities, and MMA is no exception. The UFC will continue to expand its control over the fighting landscape, but there will always be room for additional content as long as it’s accessible and of high quality. Bellator and Invicta should do their best to take advantage of the elite fighters on their rosters and promote their events just like the UFC, but their goal should not be to compete with it.

Jon Jones

When UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones debuted in the UFC in 2008, few could have predicted the incredible success he would have in the years to come. Since that decision victory over Andre Gusmao at UFC 87, Jones has demolished everyone in his path. He became the champion in 2011 and has successfully (some might say easily) defended it four times. He has faced every challenge head-on and bested them all.

But 2012 was sort of a down year for Jones. After Dan Henderson withdrew from a title fight with Jones at UFC 151 just a few days before the event, Jones opted against fighting a replacement opponent on such short notice. With “Bones” off the card, and no other fights with which to sell it, the UFC canceled the event altogether—the first such cancellation in company history. Jones, fairly or not, took a lot of the blame for the debacle since his lack of participation was viewed as the primary reason for the event’s cancellation. This unfortunate series of circumstances only exacerbated the earlier image hit Jones took after he was arrested on DWI charges in May.

Since that time, Jones has more or less remained out of the spotlight, save for another decisive title defense against Vitor Belfort. Jones’ image outside the cage should undergo some repair in the coming months as well, as Jones will be one of the coaches on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter (after which he’ll have the pleasure of beating up his toughest public critic, opposing coach Chael Sonnen).

Assuming everything goes according to plan, Jones should resolve to make himself the face of MMA in 2013. He’s a dominant champion with what seems like a media-friendly disposition and movie-star good looks. He’s already sponsored by Nike and has appeared alongside Dana White in a number of UFC promotional campaigns. He foiled a robbery. If it wasn’t for the rough patch he had in 2012, there’s no question that he’d be on the cover of every UFC-created media item on paper.

We’re a forgiving society (to celebrities, anyway), and Jones’ missteps are nowhere near as bad as we’ve seen from other people who live their lives in the spotlight. All it will take is a charming, effective coaching turn on TUF and a dismantling of Sonnen to make most folks forget all about his 2012, and after that, the sky’s the limit

Despite the fact that some (Okay…many) resolutions go unfulfilled as the new year becomes older, it’s still good that they’re even made. New Year’s Resolutions enable people to identify ways to improve themselves, even if the goals they set to achieve this improvement are eventually made lower priorities. The UFC, Dana White, Bellator, Invicta FC and Jon Jones all have ways to improve upon their 2012s, and by following through on these resolutions, they’ll see that improvement through.

Photo: The UFC Octagon (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.