It's harder and harder to dazzle these days. It's not enough to have Iron Man or Captain America in your summer blockbuster. You've got to put your hands together to impress anybody in 2013's crowded media landscape. Nobody tunes in for The Avenger. It's plural or bust. You come hard or you don't come at all.
Godzilla? Not enough. He's got to fight a bevy of monsters to the death to get anyone to look up from their iPhone—if only for a momentary reprieve, a mental break between texts and tweets. Even the two biggest rappers alive had to combine forces to make the world sit up and pay attention.
Is it any wonder, then, that the UFC is having trouble capturing fans' attention, facing the same problems others in the entertainment industry have battled for years? Since climbing to dizzying box offices heights in 2009 and 2010, smashing their competitors in boxing and the WWE handily, the UFC has plateaued.
Today the promotion often fails to sell even 300,000 pay-per-views. In the eight years since The Ultimate Fighter exposed the sport to the American mainstream, MMA fans have seen it all. Even Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are not always enough to push back against the forces of entropy.
Like their fictional comic book counterparts, these stars are capable of amazing physical feats—they also need a worthy foil to reach their ultimate potential, at the box office or in the cage. No one wants to see Batman trade punches with crack dealers for 120 minutes. They want to see him outsmart the Joker. Superman razzing polar bears wouldn't make for a very satisfying film experience. Superman needs Kryptonite. Without it, he's just Captain Marvel. And Captain Marvel sucks.
It's no different in the Octagon. GSP will never excel in a bout with Dan Hardy. Anderson Silva deserves a better man than Thales Leites across the cage from him. In short, these men aren't made for mortals to fight. They are meant for each other.
The UFC brass pinpointed the superfight as the sport's next big thing several years ago. They've attempted several times to push Silva and St-Pierre towards each other—but so far neither has been willing to bite. Big fish in their own ponds, neither man is keen to jump into unfriendly waters. Unfortunately they've both hunted their own territories so viciously that few other predators remain.
In part, that's how we've gotten the so called superfight at UFC 156 too. Jose Aldo has decimated a very thin featherweight division, leaving a giant gaping hole that former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar was happy to fill.
This is clearly a super fight. What it's not, is a superfight. There's a distinction. Any two talented fighters can have a super fight. It takes two legends to have a superfight.
That's traditionally the preferred nomenclature for a battle of megastars. Often meeting across weight classes, it signifies a clash between two fighters the combat sports world both respect and care deeply about.
It's a standard Aldo and Edgar fail handily to meet. Together the two fighters, as amazing as they are in the cage, represent the UFC's biggest pay-per-view failures to date. Both men were constants in most media pound-for-pound lists. Both starred in scraps the MMA media raved about. And both failed at the marketplace.
From a sporting perspective, this bout also fails to meet the "superfight" standard. Edgar has won just a single fight in his last four attempts. He's lost two in a row, as well as his UFC lightweight title, keeping this from being a real battle of the pituitary challenged titans.
But, as first steps go, it's not a bad one. Perhaps UFC 156 is a test run for the real thing, a chance to convince skeptical superstars like Silva that there is as much to gain as there is to lose by dipping your toes in the superfight waters. If, in the end, this fight helps create a bona fide superfight, a battle between two megastars near the peak of their powers, it will have been well worth the effort.
This an important fight. A fun fight. Even a title fight, despite Edgar's recent resume. But I'm drawing a line in the sand and I refuse to cross it—this is not, it cannot be, a superfight. It takes superstars to make a superfight. And Edgar and Aldo, unfortunately, don't qualify.