The Greatest MMA News Column 09.24.13: Fight of the Year
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 09.24.2013
News and thoughts on the classic Jones vs. Gustafsson fight, all things UFC 165, Pettis vs. Thomson, UFC's big plans to end the year, Bellator 100, a new PPV record, and more!
UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson Thoughts
Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson delivered an all-time classic championship match in the main event. After a career full of one-sided matches, Jones found himself in a dog fight Saturday night against a major underdog. Not only was Gustafsson able to hit Jones, he even took the champion down at one point, which was really one of the more insignificant points of the fight but will continue to be talked about due to Jones never having been taken down before. Perhaps more impressive was Gustafsson's takedown defense. In the past Jones had been able to take down every one of his opponents just about every time he tried, but Gustafsson was able to stay off his back until the final round, and even then he jumped back up to his feet immediately. In the end, Jones took home a close decision victory, winning by just one point on two scorecards. The decision was anything but clear before being announced, and there are many who believe Gustafsson earned the nod. I scored the bout 48-47 in Jones' favor.
Despite a title shot already being promised to Glover Teixeira and a grudge match between Jones and Daniel Cormier on the horizon, a Jones-Gustafsson rematch was the presumed next light heavyweight championship match from the moment the horn sounded. UFC president Dana White wouldn't commit to a rematch, but did express interest in the possibility and even threw out a possible Super Bowl weekend date.
No matter how UFC 165 performed on Saturday, Jones vs. Gustafsson II is certainly a more lucrative pay-per-view option than Jones vs. Teixeira, but the same can't be said regarding Jones vs. Cormier. Jones and Cormier have a real feud, and those will outdraw fights whose sole selling point is "rematch of a great fight" nearly every time out. Of course, choosing Cormier next over Teixeira would be unfair to the Brazilian that has gone unbeaten since 2006, but UFC gives priority to money matches in almost every case. Then again, they almost surely don't see the money in Jones-Cormier that they saw in Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, but the potential is there in a way it's not with the other two matchups.
Given how little Cormier was talked about as a possible next opponent following the fight, UFC will likely head in the direction of Jones vs. Gustafsson II. That could always change due to injuries, timing, and feasibly Cormier's performance against Roy Nelson on October 19. The idea of Jones on the Super Bowl weekend card in New Jersey surely wasn't an idea White came up with on the spot. Jones has a football connection with brothers on two very prominent teams and is from New York. If one of those brothers makes it to the Super Bowl, which is possible but still a big if, it creates an easy media story and vastly more coverage for the UFC show with Jones on the card. If Jones can make that date and Gustafsson can't for whatever reason, it makes it very easy for Teixeira or Cormier to step in.
The show did roughly the same $1.9 million gate the UFC's last outing in Toronto did. Last year's show had about 1,000 more people in the building, but that may just mean fewer free tickets were given out this year. Prices were actually slightly lower this year, so actual paid attendance may be higher. No word on viewership for the Fox Sports 1 prelims, but I can't imagine they were very good, especially with the final two fights being terrible. Google trends are giving me a different result every time I check to see how the show did. On the night of the show it said there were 200,000+ searches, which is in line with last year's Jones vs. Vitor Belfort and last month's UFC 164. Later, it changed to 100,000+ searches, which seems too low, then it was back to the earlier number, and as of this writing it's at 500,000+ searches, or the level of a pretty big show. So without knowing what the actual number is, the trends for this show don't tell us anything. I will say that I'd be pleasantly surprised if the show broke into the mid-400,000s in terms of PPV sales. It had to be hurt coming a week after the highest grossing PPV of all time and the show seemed to have very little hype the day of. If the show does poorly, I'd consider it an aberration due to the Mayweather fight.
Just before Jon Jones set a new mark for consecutive light heavyweight title defenses at six, Renan Barao broke a UFC record for championship defenses as well. Barao defended the interim bantamweight title for the second time, breaking the tie between him and Andrei Arlovski with one interim title defense. Eddie Wineland was a game opponent and took the first round, but a spinning back kick to the face brought the fight to a stop in the second round. That has to be considered one of the best knockouts of the year.
Now, Barao waits as Dominick Cruz attempts to heal in time to unify the belts. Dana White noted throughout the weekend that if Cruz isn't healthy enough to defend the bantamweight title by early 2014, he'll be stripped of the title. Cruz hasn't fought since October 2011 due to an ACL injury. He initially received a cadaver ACL, but it was rejected by his body and he underwent another surgery late last year.
Being stripped of the title may seem like a terrible thing to happen to Cruz, but it may be for the best. Without the title, Cruz doesn't have to face Barao upon returning. The odds of a fully healthy Cruz beating Barao aren't particularly strong, and the odds of a Cruz after a two year layoff and two knee surgeries beating him are very slim. We saw what happened to Shogun Rua returning off two knee surgeries and it wasn't pretty. A return match against a mid or lower level bantamweight get rid of some ring rust is certainly the safer route, and a title match would be waiting for him after that.
If not Cruz, the winner of December's Urijah Faber vs. Michael McDonald fight would be the most deserving contender, but both have recent decisive losses to Barao.
Brendan Schaub advanced to 10-3 with a first round D'Arce choke over Matt Mitrione. This fight brought the crowd back into the show after three of the previous four fights being boring. Mitrione falls to 6-3 with the loss, and has now lost three of his past four bouts. His next fight will likely be a do or die situation. Schaub, 30, did only what he needed to do to beat Lavar Johnson in February, but he looked good here. I don't think he'll ever be an elite heavyweight due to chin issues, but he could be right below that level. White noted after the fight that Schaub may see action soon as a replacement for an injured fighter, but no word on who that might be. UFC 166 has three main card heavyweight matches, though I would think the main event isn't an option for him. He could be placed in either the Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson match or Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan.
Francis Carmont beat Costa Philippou in a terrible fight. It was his sixth straight win in the UFC and he hasn't lost since 2008. He's a very good fighter, but he's boring, which doesn't help his case. It took Jon Fitch eight consecutive wins to get a title shot, and after six wins Carmont is way further from a title shot than Fitch was after six wins.
The fight I was most looking forward to from a competitive standpoint didn't end up being so competitive. Khabib Nurmagomedov handled the very tough Pat Healy and won each round to earn the decision. Now 21-0, Nurmagomedov had an excellent record but we didn't quite know where he stood in the division. After beating Healy, we know he's a top ten talent. Healy was coming off a decisive win against Jim Miller (later overturned to a no contest due to Healy's drug test failure for marijuana) and hadn't lost since a very competitive fight with Josh Thomson three years ago. I think it makes sense to pit Nurmagomedov against Rafael dos Anjos or the winner of next month's Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez.
Anthony Pettis vs. Josh Thomson headlines 12/14 Fox show. TJ Grant falls to the wayside once again as the UFC booked Josh Thomson to battle Anthony Pettis for the lightweight crown in December. Grant suffered a concussion in training in July, forcing him out of an August title match in which he was replaced by Pettis. When asked about the possible December date, Grant said he'd consider it if asked by the UFC, but would prefer to wait until the New Year.
With Grant out, Josh Thomson steps in. After a few years riddled by injuries, poor performances, and lucky decisions, Thomson looked better than ever in a rubber match with Gilbert Melendez in May of 2012. Melendez took home a razor close decision many thought should have gone the other way. In April, Thomson made his UFC debut and scored a big head kick knockout over Nate Diaz.
While not ideal for Grant, the decision to keep Pettis on the December 14 card as planned is a smart one. It gives the show a good marquee main event that one has to think will deliver fireworks. Plus, it keeps Pettis' name strong and helps in the process of building him as a draw. That process often has to involve featuring the fighter on major cards to work. Georges St-Pierre became the draw he is today after being featured on a series of shows with either a good amount of drawing support (UFC's 79, 87, 100, 111, 129) or fights with major promotional pushes (UFC's 94, 111, 124, 129). Certainly, a fighter has to have a certain appeal and skill to become a draw, but consistent major fights is key. Pettis' title win against Ben Henderson certainly didn't do major numbers, but it almost certainly did above the bottom level and received a good amount of publicity. A fight on Fox continues to build that name recognition necessary to make him a draw.
Other matches made for the stacked card over the past week include Matt Brown vs. Carlos Condit, Nik Lentz vs. Chad Mendes, Mac Danzig vs. Joe Lauzon, and Scott Jorgensen vs. Ian McCall. Brown vs. Condit was put together after Brown's bout against Tarec Saffiedine fell through as Saffiedine's recovery is taking longer than expected. That could be a really great fight and will tell a great deal about Brown's skill set. Mendes vs. Lentz is interesting booking since Lentz is generally considered boring, and was even cut from the UFC at one point due to that reputation, but Mendes has been excellent since losing to Jose Aldo early last year. Lauzon vs. Danzig should be a good action fight. Jorgensen vs. McCall will be Jorgensen's debut at flyweight.
UFC brings stacked run to end the year. If injuries don't screw things up, October through the end of the year could be remembered as the strongest stretch of cards in UFC history. There's a Fox Sports 1 show on October 9 with a few interesting matches, including Maia vs. Shields, Palhares vs. Pierce, and Erick Silva vs. Kim, but it isn't too strong. Ten days later UFC presents a strong card on PPV headlined by Velasquez vs. Dos Santos III. The co-main event, Cormier vs. Nelson, may not be competitive on paper but it is two name fighters with an issue. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez has good potential, as does John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague. The prelims, featuring Marquardt vs. Lombard and Kaufman vs. Jessica Eye are also strong. UFC ends the month a week later with Bisping vs. Munoz on Fox Sports 2. That doesn't have a very good card, but it's a very interesting TV main event.
On November 6 they have the third Fight for the Troops show with Machida vs. Kennedy on top. A few days later they head to Brazil for Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson II. Things really kick into gear on November 16, which has St-Pierre vs. Hendricks headlining a main card of Evans vs. Sonnen, Mir vs. Overeem in a loser leaves town match, MacDonald vs. Lawler, and Koscheck vs. Woodley. Only two of those fights are really meaningful, but the other three are all fun fights with name fighters. It's a can't-miss show. On November 30, the rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez for the flyweight title headlines the TUF Finale.
In December there is an Australia show with Hunt vs. Bigfoot Silva as the main event, which could be fun despite Hunt's momentum coming to a halt thanks to Junior dos Santos' spinning heel kick. Shogun Rua also fights on the card, as will Ryan Bader. UFC on Fox 9, as noted, is stacked and top to bottom perhaps the best Fox show they've ever done. The year ends on December 28, with Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva II and Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate II. The latter doesn't figure to be a competitive fight, but the first one was fun. Recently added to the card was Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne, where the winner will be close to a title shot. Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Brandao was also added and should be awesome. I don't like the booking of Chris Leben after a couple of really poor performances, but he's on the card too against Uriah Hall.
UFC PPV estimates last year totaled 5,835,000 buys. After eight shows, they're about 2.3 million buys off that total for the year with five shows either unreported or not yet taking place. They're very slightly behind on average buys, but two upcoming shows should far exceed that average. Even if UFC's 164 and 165 underperformed and did a combined 500,000 buys, which would be a low end estimate, the final three shows should more than make up the remaining 1.8 million buys over the final three shows. All three of those shows will have a UFC Primetime series for the main event, although the effectiveness of those shows depends on how many people watch them, and not a ton of people are watching Fox Sports 1 at the moment.
UFC 166 should hit 500,000 buys, but I don't know how far beyond that given the one-sided nature of Velasquez's December win against JDS. UFC 167, with the biggest draw in the company, a stacked card, and serving as the 20th anniversary show, should hit 800,000 buys. UFC 168 should be the biggest of all with the double main event. A lot of people have given predictions of well past one million buys for that show, but this far out that's nothing more than a shot in the dark. It certainly has a shot to do one million buys, but a lot of things have to fall into place for it to go significantly further.
Quick news. Jon Jones received a one-fight sponsorship from Gatorade. This seems to be a testing of the waters sort of thing. Georges St-Pierre has been sponsored by Gatorade before but only in Canada, and he never wore their logo on his shorts… Chael Sonnen got himself into hot water once again for a joke about the Chris Brown-Rihanna domestic abuse incident. I think his intent was to make the joke about Brown, but it didn't come across well… Arthur Jones, Jon's NFL playing brother, noted on Twitter Jon makes more than him and Chandler combined. Arthur and Chandler are slated to make a combined $3.5 million this year, so it's not a ridiculous statement. I'm fairly confident he made more than that in 2011, when he fought four times, and 2012, when he had a big PPV with Rashad Evans, but this year is a tougher call… Nate Diaz, initially scheduled to face Gray Maynard on 11/30, told the UFC over Twitter he couldn't make the show because of a high school reunion... UFC will be bringing in a lot of old names for the 20th anniversary show, which is great to hear.
Bellator 100 results. Spoiler alert about Bellator 100: it wasn't actually their 100th show. Bellator's 3 and 4 were taped on the same night and aired separately. Douglas Lima won last season's welterweight tournament with a knockout over Ben Saunders in the main event. War Machine, Rick Hawn, Ron Keslar, and Brent Weedman advanced to the semi-finals of this season's welterweight tournament. Hawn is back up at welterweight after being dominated by Michael Chandler at lightweight in January. Other notables on the card included Efrain Escudero, Clifford Starks, and Might Mo, all of whom won. The upset of the night was highly touted (and highly favored in the betting odds) wrestling prospect Bubba Jenkins losing to LaRue Burley.
Mayweather vs. Canelo estimated at 2.2 million buys. Showtime announced Thursday the September 14 Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez match drew an estimated 2.2 million PPV buys for $150 million in revenue. The PPV estimate is short of the record 2.55 million for Mayweather vs. De La Hoya, but any number this early can fluctuate significantly up or down, so there's still a chance it could break the record when every buy is tallied. In fact, Mayweather vs. De La Hoya was initially estimated at 2.15 million buys. The $150 million in revenue breaks the record previously set by Mayweather vs. De La Hoya. The show's increased prices meant it could have broken the record even if it fell slightly short of 2 million buys. It also set records for live gate ($20 million) and closed-circuit gate ($2.6 million).