For The UFC, Less Could Mean More

By E. Spencer Kyte (espencerkyte@mmaratings.net)

When news broke earlier in the week that Brock Lesnar was forced to pull out of his UFC 106 title defense against Shane Carwin, Mixed Martial Arts writer Josh Nason asserted that the sudden shift in schedules highlighted a bigger UFC problem: too many events.

Let’s make one thing clear right off the top: the chances of the UFC deciding that they’re running too many pay-per-view events in a year are about the same as Bob Arum and Bernard Hopkins being next year’s inductees into the UFC Hall of Fame.

But hypothetically speaking, what would 2009 have looked like if the UFC cut the number of shows in half, combining cards and assembling stronger lineups?

While the company bank accounts would be a little lighter thanks to seven less opportunities to collect $50 from thousands of people, fight fans would have been treated to some seriously stacked shows.

January – UFC 93 / UFC 94

Georges St-Pierre vs. BJ Penn for the UFC Welterweight Title
Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson
Lyoto Machida vs. Thiago Silva
Mark Coleman vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Stephan Bonnar vs. Jon Jones

Preliminary Card to feature Jeremey Horn, Rousimar Palhares, Alan Belcher, Marcus Davis, Chris Lytle, Nathan Diaz, Clay Guida and Jon Fitch.

March – UFC 95 / UFC 96

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Keith Jardine
Diego Sanchez vs. Joe Stevenson
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shane Carwin
Nate Marquardt vs. Wilson Gouveia
Josh Koscheck vs. Paulo Thiago

Also featuring Dan hardy, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen, Junior dos Santos, Gray Maynard, Brandon Vera and Kendall Grove.

May – UFC 97 / UFC 98

Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leites for the UFC Middleweight Title
Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title
Chuck Liddell vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra
Sean Sherk vs. Frankie Edgar

Also featuring Cheick Kongo, Luis Arthur Cane, Nate Quarry, Dennis Kang, Chael Sonnen, Dan Miller, Brock Larson and Kryzsztof Soszynski.

July – UFC 99 / UFC 100

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir for the UFC Heavyweight Title
Georges St-Pierre vs. Thiago Alves for the UFC Welterweight Title
Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping
Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva
Marcus Davis vs. Dan Hardy

Also featuring Mirko Cro Cop, Mike Swick, Ben Saunders, Spencer Fisher, Jon Fitch and the debut of Yoshihiro Akiyama.

September – UFC 101 / UFC 102

BJ Penn vs. Kenny Florian for the UFC Lightweight Title
Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva
Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia

Also featuring Chirs Leben, Brandon Vera, Ed Herman, Ricardo Almeida and Brandon Vera.

November – UFC 103 / UFC 104

Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title
Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort
Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Junior dos Santos
Tyson Griffin vs. Hermes Franca

Also featuring Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck, Joe Stevenson, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Yushin Okami.

You wouldn’t find many people complaining about putting out some of their hard-earned for fight cards with multiple title fights and the collection of creations pushing two cards together would have yielded.

As much as the UFC is clearly the big dog in the Mixed Martial Arts yard, there is no denying that they’re currently in a bit of a crunch when it comes to finding names for the top of the marquee.

No disrespect to any of the four fighters set to headline the next two events, but are Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera and Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin really the kind of fights that are going to sell pay-per-views and put more butts in seats than normal?

While UFC 106 would certainly do far better with the inclusion of the Lesnar – Carwin title fight, the fact of the matter is that Josh Nason is right; the UFC has been going so hard for so long that they’re at a stage where one injury can take a card from being a “must-see” to a “you-must-be-kidding-me” event.

Even combining the two November events the way they stand now doesn’t yield one of the best cards of the year, with or without a contracted schedule. Here’s how it would look:

Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera
Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
Mike Swick vs. Dan Hardy
Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson
Michael Bisping vs. Denis Kang

While all of those are somewhat interesting fights, it’s not a card that 600,000 people would spend $50 on, is it? Though 600,000 is a respectable number of PPV buys, the goal is to keep getting bigger and bigger and events with one or two truly engaging fights isn’t the way to achieve that growth.

Opponents to this line of thinking will argue that a reduced number of pay-per-view shows would create less opportunities for the fighters who call the middle of the pack home and to an extent, that is correct.

Though they wouldn’t have as many opportunities on PPV, cutting back on the multi-million dollar spectacles would free up a large chunk of change to expand the Fight Night brand or create a new avenue to introduce those fighters.

Truthfully, the casual fans aren’t tuning into a UFC pay-per-view event to see Kendall Grove versus Ricardo Almeida anyway, so why not give them a chance to shine and gain exposure for free, while showcasing the best the company has to offer when you’re asking the fans to open their wallets?

The evidence of potential success is there, as some of the more criticized cards of the year (UFC 97, UFC 102) get an impressive pick-me-up from their contracted companion. The Anderson Silva – Thales Leites fight would certainly have been a lot easier to stomach if it followed Lyoto Machida winning the Light Heavyweight title, while the Hughes – Serra grudge match would have fit perfectly as the #3 or #4 fight on the same card, instead of being a boring co-main event at UFC 98.

Does anyone actually expect the UFC to decide to reduce the number of mass moneymaking opportunities they offer each year?

Of course not, but in turn, the UFC shouldn’t be surprised if fans decide to hold onto their money for a month or two, waiting for a truly great card like UFC 108 looks like it could be, while skipping the mediocre match-ups being offered in between.

More often than not, quality will win out over quantity or like my mom used to tell us all the time, “Sometimes, less is more.”

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