UFC fans have grown spoiled over the years.
This is not debatable. It is fact. Diehard fans of any sport will find a way to argue anything, and I am being quite literal in my usage of the term "literal."
You have a personal list of your own favorite fighters? You can be certain that someone is waiting around the bend, salivating for a chance to tell you why you are a wrong-headed idiot. There is no such thing as personal preference in fandom, because your preference might be different than the guy sitting next to you, and he knows more than you, anyway, because he trains full contact five days a week, bro.
Anything you can think of can be argued, no matter how mundane. You think that, with some proper seasoning, the newly signed Holly Holm is a potential threat to Ronda Rousey's championship reign? No. You're wrong, because this other guy says so. You think Anderson Silva was better than Fedor Emelianenko? You're an idiot, because this other guy says so.
Fans of mixed martial arts will debate anything, but there is no denying that UFC fans are spoiled. Rather, they were spoiled, back in the old days when the UFC would put on cards with at least three or four interesting fights.
In those days, there was intrigue up and down the card, and if one fighter was injured and a main event fell through, well, another fight could slide right in and take its place. At the very least, another main event star was waiting in the wings who could slide in and save the fight card.
The UFC didn't put on boxing-style cards. You know the kind I'm talking about: one big main event and then a bunch of fights featuring dudes you don't care all that much about. The UFC didn't put on those fight cards because Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White were boxing fans, and they knew it wasn't the right approach.
Here's what White said about famed boxing promoter Bob Arum in 2007, when discussing the idea that Arum had promoted a weak preliminary card for the big title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar de la Hoya:
He promoted that show completely the wrong way, because he worried about the money as opposed to trying to secure the future. He should have stacked that card. He should have had Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins and Barrera and Winky Wright on there and used it to show that boxing is back.
Obviously, White's tune has changed. He says he's trying to secure the future of the UFC with international expansion, which means putting on a lot more events than his company did back in 2007. It also means carrying a bloated roster of more than 500 fighters, many of whom couldn't be picked out of a lineup by even the most ardent of UFC fans.
And it means putting together the kind of cards White used to rail against in 2007: one big main event and a bunch of filler. Or, in some cases, a main event folks aren't all that interested in, topped off with a bunch of filler.
UFC 175 featured two big main events, but the card was opened by Marcus Brimage vs. Russell Doane, and no offense to either of those gentlemen, but it was absolutely ridiculous that Urijah Faber—easily the third biggest star on the entire show—was stuck in the preliminary card, while Doane and Brimage opened up the pay-per-view.
And what happens if that big main event falls through, and there are no fights or fighters to take its place? What happens when the roster is stretched so thin that Joe Silva literally cannot find a suitable replacement for someone like, say, Jose Aldo? The event gets canceled, is what happens.
Luckily for us, the UFC has one or two events each year that are considered special. They're stacked, or at least as stacked as the UFC can possibly make them when they have five or six other cards to fill in the surrounding weeks. The year-end event, typically held in December, is one such case, and this year's version already looks mighty intriguing. For those keeping count, it'll be UFC 182 and it takes place on January 3, which is not the end of the year but the beginning of a brand new one.
We're still five months away from the card coming to fruition, and already we know that Anthony Pettis will return from injury (knock on wood) and defend his lightweight title against former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez for the first time since he won it 12 years ago.
Chris Weidman, fresh off his hard-fought decision win over Lyoto Machida at UFC 175? He wants to fight on the year-end card as well. And you can throw Ronda Rousey's name in the ring, because she'd like to be involved, too.
Obviously, there will not be three title fights on UFC 182, because the UFC is already hard up for intriguing main events. But we should not be surprised to see two title fights; my money is on Pettis vs. Melendez in the main event.
If Rousey defends against Gina Carano, that will headline a pay-per-view of its own. If she's defending against Holly Holm or Cat Zingano or anyone else in the women's bantamweight division not named Carano or Cyborg, it makes sense to slot the fight in the co-main event spot.
But what happens if Pettis (knock on wood) is injured, again? Nobody in the entire world would be surprised to see Pettis suffer some type of malady that forces him out of a fight. The lightweight champion has five fights in the UFC since moving over following the closure of World Extreme Cagefighting in 2011.
In the same period of time, Donald Cerrone has 11 fights. Pettis has fought one time since beating Cerrone in early 2103; Cerrone will have his sixth fight in the same time period when he faces Jim Miller next week.
The point is this: Trusting the health and well-being of your main event stars, and trusting them to carry a pay-per-view on their own, is probably not the smartest decision. The UFC has jumped headlong into this idea of running tenfold as many cards as they used to, because it believes it is the best way to grow its business over the long term.
And perhaps the UFC is correct. But in the meantime, pay-per-view buyrates have fallen to a historic new low. Television ratings are terrible. Pay-per-view events are canceled when a suitable main event replacement cannot be found.
We're long past the notion that monthly pay-per-view events are special. The old big-fight feeling we used to get on a regular basis? That's a rarity. The UFC calendar is a jumbled mess, a hodgepodge of interchangeable fighters. And if the promotion wants to make the year-end event feel special, it must stack the card from top to bottom. One title fight isn't enough, especially when the lightweight champion is so injury-prone.
Two title fights sounds pretty good, but even that isn't enough. The entire pay-per-view card must feature fighters people care about. Think back to UFC 100, when Yoshihiro Akiyama and Alan Belcher kicked off the pay-per-view card. That was obviously a special case, but it is also the kind of thing UFC events are missing these days. Those kinds of cards are nearly impossible to create because the UFC has so many events to fill.
We can argue every single aspect of mixed martial arts, and we often do. But the one thing we cannot argue is this: The UFC feels a lot less special than it used to, and we'd all like to see that change for the better.
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