As You Get Older, Your Birthday Becomes Just Another Day
The UFC doesn’t often draw attention to its roots in pro-wrestling but Zuffa is surprisingly unable to resist the lure of trying to have its own Wrestlemania or Starrcade. Time after time, the UFC has sought to build upon a successful show by announcing that *this* will be its annual tradition, its yearly supercard.
And every time it fails.
Following Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz II being the first UFC match to be bought by a million households, the UFC decreed that its year-end show would be the biggest of the year. And for two years it actually managed it with Ultimate 2007’s double main event and Ultimate 2008’s triple main event making them amongst the promotion’s most successful shows of all time. And then the event to ring in 2010 was so snake-bitten with injuries that it ended up with Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva as the main event. After that the tradition never recovered with Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II, Alistair Overeem vs. Brock Lesnar, nor Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez being amongst the year’s biggest events.
We’ve seen the latest example of this failure just this week as Ricardo Lamas vs. The Korean Zombie was pulled from UFC 162’s main card due to the latter being needed to replace an injured Anthony Pettis in the main event of UFC 163. Losing the match just underlined that the event’s lineup is nothing that stands out as a supercard.
That was not the idea going in. The July 4th weekend event was planned to be the deepest UFC card of the year, acting as the climax of Las Vegas’ International Fight Week. The format was introduced last year with UFC 148. But while that had a truly blockbuster main event in Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II bit by bit the stacked undercard was taken apart as different shows needed rescuing. The bantamweight title fight was moved to UFC 149 while Rich Franklin was sent to rescue UFC 147.
The experience of UFC 148 explains why attempts to load up one card as an annual supershow always fail. Unlike Vince McMahon, Dana White cannot prioritise one event above all others. Whereas WWE can just stock up the May pay per view with Wrestlemania rematches, UFC matchmaking is a zero-sum game. Put a match on this card, then you take it away from another. And nor should he. Whereas the Wrestlemania brand amplifies the marketability of a match, UFC fans are not preconditioned to buy annual events but instead pick and choose based on the main event. Look at the July 4th weekend shows. UFC 116 and UFC 148 both did around a million buys because people really wanted to see those main events, whereas UFC 132 did just over 300,000 because Dominick Cruz vs. Urijiah Faber didn’t interest people as much eagerly anticipated defences by Brock Lesnar and Anderson Silva. The date simply didn’t matter.
It’s for that reason why fans expecting a big birthday bash for the UFC’s twentieth will almost certainly be disappointed in the same way that those expecting a blockbuster UFC 150 were. After rumoured pound for pound superfights and open-air stadium venues, its now been confirmed that the UFC will celebrate turning twenty with a routine title defence by Georges St. Pierre in one of its standard venues in Las Vegas.
And while its disappointing that we won’t get a UFC 100 style supercard this year its the sound commercial decision. In mixed martial arts, it simply doesn’t make sense to open all your presents on one day.
The House Always Wins
It’s a truism that styles make fights, something even truer in UFC where rather than variants of the same discipline you have fighters trained in a wide range of disciplines. One thing that is slightly overlooked is that this gives tremendous power to the promoter providing they can read a fight.
Vitor Belfort is a good recent example of this. Many have focused on TRT as the explanation for his recent uptick in form but a more convincing argument is that after facing someone with the power to knock him out (Anderson Silva) or outmuscle him (Jon Jones) he’s finally facing his preferred style of opponent again. Both Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping are like Rich Franklin and Yoshihiro Akiyama, good all-rounders who don’t excel in the two areas that cause Belfort problems. Belfort’s the ultimate cowardly lion; match him against someone whose power he doesn’t fear and he’ll destroy them whereas he’ll stop fighting at the first sign of counterfire.
Likewise while the UFC has been happy to put Roy Nelson in with guys happy to stand and bang with him for the past few fights, when it came to the last fight on his contract they put him in against a former Golden Gloves winner. While the form-book made it seem likely that Nelson would emerge victorious, Stipe Miocic had more than enough technical boxing knowhow to avoid the big man’s powerful but uneducated right hand. That it significantly undermined his bargaining power going into contract negotiations was I’m sure a happy accident. Just like the second most marketable fighter in Brazil having earned another title shot so quickly!
Not With A Bang But A Whimper
It’s never a good sign when the main takeaway from your event is that your competitors were proven right but that sadly happened to World Series of Fighting. Their third event saw the sensational destruction of Jon Fitch at the hands of Josh Burkman. In doing so Burkman vindicated both the UFC’s decision to cut Fitch and Bellator’s to not hire the former world welterweight title contender. It also means that a man who at one point was 23-3 has now gone 1-3-1 in his last five fights.
The most telling moment was when Burkman dropped Fitch after catching him coming in with a big inside punch. It showed that as his body has aged the punch resistance that allowed him to withstand an absolute shellacking at the hands of Georges St. Pierre is now greatly diminished. That bodes ill for Fitch’s ability to bounce back from this latest defeat. In the past he was always able to make up for what he lacked in inspiration or athleticism by being tougher than his opponent. Fitch wouldn’t do anything clever or impressive inside the Octagon but could simply barge through his opponent’s defences and drag them to the ground. If he can’t do that anymore, then it’s time for him to find a new line of work.