The Rub: The UFC Should Implement Double Title Fights For All Pay-Per-Views

By Raphael Garcia

“Giving the rub” is a professional wrestling term for when an up and coming star is given the opportunity to work with an established personality in the hopes that the less-known character will gain more of a following. While mixed martial arts does not employ the scripted aspect of pro wrestling, the idea of established stars giving the rub to less established ones could be utilized by the UFC in terms of how the organization plans its cards. The upcoming UFC 181 and UFC 184 cards are two such examples.

This Saturday’s UFC 181 will feature two championship bouts. Anthony Pettis will defend his title against Gilbert Melendez, while Robbie Lawler gets his second shot at Johny Hendricks. Both of these fights could have been headliners in their own right. However, the UFC has decided to pair them together. What has resulted is one of the most anticipated cards in 2014, a year marred by injuries and less than exceptional events. As the evening of Octagon action slowly approaches, this type of format should be used going forward for UFC PPV events.

It’s no secret that the men and women who carry UFC titles are expected to be able to carry shows on their own. Lorenzo Fertitta recently said that all UFC PPVs will feature a title defense in some form or fashion. Unfortunately, it’s clear that not every titleholder is a major attraction to fans at this time. For instance, Demetrious Johnson has “failed” by some standards to carry a UFC PPV. Similarly, it would be a major mistake to expect the first women’s strawweight champion to be able to carry a premium show on her own. With this situation in mind, the UFC should stick to a formal that features two title bouts on the majority, if not all, of its PPV events.

This isn’t a new practice. At UFC 184 Ronda Rousey will be in the co-main event slot to Chris Weidman for the third time in her UFC run. UFC 175 and UFC 168 were considered strong shows due to their PPV buyrates. According to the MMA Payout Blue Book, UFC 175 brought in 545,000 buys while UFC 168 garnered 1,025,000 buys, the two biggest buyrates in the last twelve months. While it’s very difficult to parse which champion brought in how many buys, it’s clear that booking two defenses on one event will have positive affects if planned correctly.

There are currently nine titleholders, with a tenth coming once the first 115-pound women’s champion is crowned. There is potential in creating “pairings” for each of these belt holders. For example, Weidman and Rousey are already linked. Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson both appeared on UFC 152. Hendricks and Pettis, who fight this weekend, can stay a pair, while the UFC Heavyweight Champion, be it Fabricio Werdum or Cain Velasquez, could be paired with the upcoming women’s strawweight champion. These exact pairings do not have to be used, but the important thing is pairing a well-known champion with a less-known one.

The goal here is to take champions that have stronger followings, such as Jones, and give his fans the opportunity to see an effective but less popular champion, like Johnson in this case. The benefits of such a strategy are easy to see.

First, UFC pay-per-views would benefit from stronger cards. Fans and media have spent much of the last few years complaining about the diminishing quality of shows presented on PPV. A card that features two title defenses, one established and one unknown star, would help alleviate that complaint.

But what about the other shows on Fox, Fox Sports 1, and Fight Pass? Those events should be booked to feature stars on the rise such as Matt Brown, Donald Cerrone, and Miesha Tate. These cards can be headlined by fights that feature individuals who are “in the mix” — not number one contenders, but men and women who are gaining steam within the promotion, yet are two or more wins from getting a title shot. The kinds of fights that might be created under this approach would be Cerrone vs. Myles Jury or Hector Lombard vs. Kelvin Gastelum.

A second benefit is the opportunity for champions to “share the wealth” with regard to crossover exposure. Ronda Rousey was recently on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. Chris Weidman has been on ESPN multiple times. Because these two fighters are linked, the promotional success of one champion could open up doors to network exposure for the other.

Double-title events may or may not be the future of UFC PPV events, but past practices have shown positive results. Making them the norm, and linking champions in the minds of fans, would have the potential to create bigger stars, and more of them, which benefits both the fighters and the promotion as a whole.


UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler II (formerly UFC 181: Weidman vs. Belfort) is due to take place on December 6, 2014 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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UFC 184: Rousey vs. Zingano (formerly UFC 184: Weidman vs. Belfort) is due to take place on February 28, 2015 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

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