One of the great strengths of the UFC has always been its ability to make sharp turns.
Because it operates largely without concern for modern burdens like corporate policy, decorum or—really—any internal rules, the world’s largest MMA organization is a sleek and supple machine. Even as it trundles out of adolescence and into its early 20s, the UFC power structure remains agile, mobile and occasionally hostile.
Sometimes that’s a good thing, because when—as UFC president Dana White so often puts it—“bad (stuff) happens” the company is able to react quickly to fix the problem, keep its fans happy and keep the train on its tracks.
When you do 46 (or is it 46,000?) shows per year, that flexibility is a priceless luxury.
Of course, the fact that a multimillion-dollar company like the UFC seems to manage many of its affairs from whim to whim must also be considered one of its gravest flaws.
Take, for example, the co-main event of Saturday’s UFC 170, where undefeated once and future No. 1 contender Daniel Cormier will fight undefeated random dude Patrick Cummins.
Certainly, this is a pairing that highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s emergency matchmaking strategies.
On one hand, it’s sort of fabulous that the UFC was able to respond at lightning speed to replace Rashad Evans when he pulled out just six days ago from his scheduled bout against Cormier. In any other sport, with any other organization, that probably wouldn’t have happened.
Cormier would have been left on the sideline, without an opponent and without a payday—and we know that’s not what he wanted.
Instead, after a brief social media push, the company found Cummins and offered him a chance to make his dreams come true.
A chance, frankly, that he might never have gotten otherwise.
There was no way he was going to turn it down.
The anecdote of Cummins allegedly getting fired from his job at a coffee shop for taking the fateful call from White while he was supposed to be working the drive-through was an instant classic.
A day later, when he came out with his own allegations that he once made Cormier cry during training it may have been hokey, but at least it showed he wasn’t cowed by the sheer size of the opportunity he’d been handed.
Right now, Cummins is every underdog you’ve ever read about, or watched in a 30 for 30 documentary or cheered on at a high school wrestling tournament. If you’re not moved at least a little bit by his story, you’ve likely never enjoyed a sports movie.
Or for that matter, actual sports.
The dark side of it all, obviously, is that there’s no real cogent argument that Cummins deserves to be here. He seems like a reasonably nice, reasonably intelligent guy, but he’s also a light heavyweight prospect with a meager 4-0 record who has been idle for the last nine months.
The combined win-loss total of his four opponents is 10-20-1. Meanwhile, four of Cormier’s last five opponents were Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Josh Barnett and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Cummins will come into this fight as around an eight-to-one long shot, via Best Fight Odds, while Cormier is as much as a -1200 favorite. In other words, this shapes up as a mismatch of such epic proportions it’s a wonder the UFC was able to get it sanctioned in Las Vegas.
If Cummins manages to put up a better-than-anticipated fight, then maybe we can all shake hands at the end of the night and go to bed with clear consciences.
And if not? If he gets brutalized by Cormier—who seemed legitimately irked by the whole “I made you cry” angle—then Sunday morning we probably all wake up feeling a lot less enthused about Cummins’ Cinderella story.
Eight times out of 10, the UFC deserves to be congratulated for its ability to wade through crisis without getting too badly burned.
This time, if things go poorly, the fight company may have skated away from one mishap only to wander straight into a different kind of controversy.