UFC on Fox 9 Bold Predictions: Insiders on Ratings, Benavidez and More
The week prior to a UFC fight card is a magical time. The fighters, like flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and his challenger Joseph Benavidez, prepare for two battles—one with the scale and the other with their opponent.
Fox's production team scurries to prepare for a fight of its own, one against chance and complacency, in pursuit of the perfect broadcast.
On the Internet, MMA journalists compete to see who can score the biggest interviews or provide the hottest take. Here at Bleacher Report, not only do we have the main-eventers in the bag, but we've also got the most sizzling takes—and are willing to provide them on demand.
Lead writers Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden go back and forth on the issues of the day, providing two takes for the price of one. And if you disagree with one or both, you can always chime in and join the conversation.
Who do you have in the main event? How will this card perform in the ratings? We know we aren't the only ones with strong opinions. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Prediction: Card Shuffling Won't Hurt Ratings
If you aren't quite clear about which fights the UFC intends to present to the public on Fox this weekend, well, I can't say I blame you. The lineup has shifted so many times, it's been impossible to keep up. Ian McCall, Jamie Varner and John Dodson were all, once upon a time, on this card. So were Kelvin Gastelum and John Moraga. Anthony Pettis alone went through two opponents before dropping out with a knee injury.
I personally quit trying when Matt Brown announced he was off the card in the midst of me working with the UFC to schedule an interview with him. When even the UFC doesn't know a week in advance who's going to be fighting, how can I be expected to have a firm grasp?
Luckily, if you're a UFC stakeholder (you're not), it doesn't really matter. The fighters, it turns out, aren't the most important element in determining whether or not a card is going to be a box-office hit. The UFC's success on network television has thus far been dependent on one factor above all other variables: football. When the UFC has the power of NFL and college football behind it, the shows tend to succeed in the ratings.
When it doesn't, they don't.
Fox airs ads during NFL games, reaching football's enormous audience of 18- to 49-year-old men. Those same men make up the bulk of the UFC's audience as well, making the NFL the perfect medium to advertise cage fighting. I guess if you've deadened your concern for your fellow man by watching football, fist fighting is not that daring a leap. The NFL's audience becomes the UFC's audience, and some network suit puts the word "synergy" in a slightly bigger typeface in his latest PowerPoint presentation.
Welcome to the mainstream.
Can’t say I care much about ratings. Sure, I occasionally feel the dull, generalized pangs of wanting the sport I like/cover to enjoy a long, healthy life, but that’s about it.
Tracking the narrative of how many people watch one UFC card to the next and—oh God, hang me now—whether those numbers are a “success” interests me just slightly less than, well, your average Thursday night NFL game. Which is to say, not much at all.
And yeah, if you’re the sort of person who’s going to sit on your couch in your Cam Newton jersey and check out this Ultimate Cage Fighting show just because you saw it advertised during Panthers vs. Saints, you and I probably don’t have a lot to discuss.
Here’s my prediction: Some people will watch this weekend’s UFC on Fox card. Some people will not. On Monday, we’ll still be here, writing about a niche sport that we love and most people couldn’t possibly care less about. Exactly where we’ll be 500 Mondays from now.
I’ve made peace with that. If I’m telling the truth? I kind of like it that way.
Prediction: 3rd Time Is the Right Time for Joe Benavidez
When the formation of the flyweight division was announced in early 2012, many analysts (including this one) jumped to anoint Joseph Benavidez as its first champion. He had been good enough in the UFC/WEC bantamweight division—going 7-2, with both losses coming to Dominick Cruz—that we assumed the 125-pound class would be his playground.
As it turned out, not quite so much. Once again, Benavidez has been outstanding (4-1, to be exact), but he fell to current champion Demetrious Johnson in the finale of the flyweight tournament at UFC 152.
At this point, you couldn’t blame us if we started to question whether Joe B. can win the big one.
At least, that’s what we’d be doing if this was ESPN and we were on one of those shows where college football commentators sit at a desk outside and shout over each other.
Saturday night marks Benavidez’s third chance to vie for a UFC title, and I think this time he takes a hammer to our suspicions, stopping Johnson in the second round to become the new 125-pound champion. He’s just too dangerous—witness his three TKOs in five flyweight appearances—to be denied any longer.
This is a really tough one to call. And while that might have easily served as the first line of a cop-out, I refuse to grant myself the easy way out.
And so, forced to choose, I have to agree with you.
Johnson is an amazing technical fighter. His footwork, speed and instinct generally keep him just out of harm's reach, allowing him to outpoint opponents on his way to a decision win. But as we've seen recently with Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar—two other fighters with that approach—the method can backfire.
Johnson has to be perfect for 25 minutes every single time to win. Benavidez, who has knockout power and a sick submission game, only has to win a battle to take the title. He doesn't have to win a war. A skirmish will do. At some point, he's going to catch Johnson with a right hand and then finish him on the ground.
And like that, Team Alpha Male will have its first UFC champion.
Prediction: Team Alpha Male Will Go into 2014 as the Best in the World
There was nothing in his past to indicate Duane "Bang" Ludwig had it in him to become the best coach in mixed martial arts. And yet, a year into his new career, he’s on a path only Pat Miletich and Greg Jackson have walked previously.
He's well on his way to becoming a bona fide icon.
As a fighter, Ludwig was fairly one-dimensional; he was a wicked striker who was never quite able to transition that singularly superb skill set into the UFC Octagon. But as we've seen so often in sports, the best athletes don't necessarily make the best coaches.
Ludwig wasn't a world-beater in the cage. Perhaps those struggles—the extended and frustrating learning curve that informed his career—have made him such a good coach.
Whether his effect is real or mere placebo, the results are demonstrable. Team Alpha Male, already one of the best fight camps in the world, has taken its collective performance to a new height under Ludwig. That will continue on Fox, where his proteges will win four fights, including the team's first world title, to make it the top team in the world going into 2014.
Indeed, much ballyhoo has been made of Coach Bang elevating the already potent Team Alpha Male. The fighters haven’t been shy about giving him all the glory, so I suppose we have to take them at their word.
On one hand, it seems like the most obviously perfect fit—a coach renowned for his striking taking on a team known for its wrestling and the two of them making sweet, sweet music together.
On the other hand, we’ve heard precious few specific details about how/why Ludwig’s coaching makes Alpha Male so formidable, and that occasionally makes me wonder. These guys have always been good, so how much of the Bang Effect is real and how much is just a convenient storyline for an MMA news cycle that demands to be fed?
We may never know, though a 4-0 result for TAM this weekend could do a lot to dispel any lingering doubts.
Prediction: Matt Brown’s Magical Run Ends
Matt Brown has been the toast of the welterweight division for going on two years now. After starting his UFC career at a much more pedestrian 5-5, he suddenly found his stride beginning in Feb. 2012, rattling off six straight wins against increasingly difficult competition.
His scheduled bout against Carlos Condit was meant to be UFC on Fox 9’s People’s Choice Award winner. It was also set to be the stiffest and most high-profile test of Brown’s run in the Octagon, until a back injury knocked him out of it at the last minute, as first confirmed by Bleacher Report’s Jeremy Botter.
Brown’s herniated disks effectively stymied the momentum he’d spent the last 22 months building, and I’m afraid to say he’ll probably never recapture it. His fight with Condit will be pushed back to UFC 170 or 171, and when it does finally happen, the former interim welterweight champion will take it handily.
Stories like Brown’s are part of what makes this sport so fun to follow, so it pains me to say that by the end of 2014, he’ll probably have reverted back to being an extremely tough but middle-of-the-pack 170-pound fighter.
Brown has been the belle of the ball for a year solid, destroying opponents in increasingly delightful ways. He surprised everyone by beating Stephen Thompson at UFC 145 and has gone right on surprising us ever since. It's been a heck of a run.
But you're right. It's too good to last.
I think, if we're honest with each other, we will admit that, deep in our hearts, we knew that Mr. Brown's wild ride was about to come to an end one way or another. It's one thing to beat up Jordan Mein or Mike Pyle. Stepping into a steel cage with Carlos Condit is a totally different kind of proposition.
Brown is going to get a wake-up call, the kind of lesson you can only learn at the hands and feet of an elite fighter. That it will come later, rather than sooner, is likely a mixed blessing for his legion of new fans.