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The Rear Naked Column 12.04.13: Too Much of a Mediocre Thing
Posted by Samer Kadi on 12.04.2013



Hunt vs. Big Foot. Saffiedine vs. Lim. Rockhold vs. Philippou. Gustafsson vs. Manuwa.

All four fights are main events, headlining UFC cards in 2013/2014. Their respective undercards? The less said about them, the better. Yes, all four events are free. No, it doesn't matter. Free or not, the UFC has a certain standards it needs to live up to. Few will ever ask for PPV level main events on Fight Night cards, but it is hardly overly demanding to ask for Fight Night level main events on Fight Night cards. Stylistically uninteresting, lacking any notable implications over their respective divisions, or pure mismatches, all four bouts scream of uninspired match-making.

That unfortunately, has become an increasingly recurring theme with the UFC in the past year or so, with the quality of their fight cards on paper gradually decreasing. For a company that prides itself on having the best fighters in the world under its umbrella, this sort of main event is not particularly endearing for its reputation.

Forget the struggles to build new stars, the retirement/declines of some big names, or the fact that their biggest PPV cash-cow has just given them the scare of their lives, the UFC's problems are rooted deeper than the amount of top draws, or lack thereof. After all, when it comes to the quality of undercards, or the depth of a UFC Fight Night show, Brock Lesnar's departure and Anderson Silva's imminent decline (if it does indeed turn out to be just that) are irrelevant.

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"A stacked card, top-to-bottom" has become a near alien concept at this point, with the exception of a select few PPV's. After years of criticizing boxing for "one-fight events," the UFC needs to avoid going down a similar path a direction which, in fairness, they're not completely headed towards just yet. However, with a shockingly increasing number of events, and a worryingly thin roster quality wise the UFC are treading on thin ice.

Reports of an obscene amount of tentatively scheduled events for 2014 are particularly worrying, as cards are beginning to lose their value. In that regard, the UFC's longtime quest for international expansion while rewarding in many ways has been a touch counterproductive. Historically, overseas cards in general have struggled to draw much interest stateside, bar a few notable exceptions. With countries having their own seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter" (a show that has already overstayed its welcome by a good two years), and cards tailored to appeal to specific audiences, the UFC roster is missing some of its previous "universality."

To put it bluntly, the UFC talent pool is simply not deep enough to carry the weight of Zuffa's ambitions. Despite the average level of mixed martial artists being at an all-time high, the sheer volume of events is proving to be quite depleting. Mediocre fights are frequently used as fillers, instead of being blended with quality bouts and thus and made to look less glaring. As a result, mediocrity is reigning, while excellence has become a breath of fresh air, rather than the norm.

None of this has to do with the actual quality of the fight themselves. After all, an unappealing fight on paper can still deliver. However, fans are simply unwilling to lurk around in the event it does. Ratings and buy-rates are determined by the preconceived appeal of the card, not the entertainment value of the action that unfolds.

The over-saturation of the product has been a common talking-point since 2010. Almost four years later, it is proving to be a valid one. Dana White's vision of "one fight card per week" may or may not materialize (let's hope for the latter), but he and the UFC are falling victim to their own lofty expectations, and the overestimation of their own growth. "Fastest rising sport in the world" became a tortured phrase that Mike Goldberg threw around whenever he's not informing us of the time remaining on the clock, but exponential growth was never going to persist on the long term. In that regard, the UFC overplayed its hand, and at times, deluded itself with its own ambitions.

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Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta went from promises of overtaking soccer as the most popular sport in the world and equating their brand with Manchester United, to simply putting themselves on equal level with Major League Soccer. And while it is unlikely that Zuffa fully believed its hyperbolic claims, they took the loyalty of their audience for granted. More shows, free or otherwise, means a more selective fan-base. The UFC failed to learn that lesson from some of its pro-wrestling counterparts, and is slowly paying the price.

Fans have little incentive to spend every Saturday night at home to catch a perfectly "miss-able" UFC show. People do not want to be controlled by their own hobbies. Even for the most hardcore of MMA fans, an average of over two UFC shows per month, many of which fail to inspire excitement, is too much of a good thing, and at this rate, too much of a mediocre thing.

Worryingly, the UFC does not seem to be altering its approach, and is backing it up with some baffling decisions to boot. In addition to increasing its number of events per year, releasing the likes of Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami while passing up on the chance to sign Ben Askren are baffling decisions. Past their prime or not, both Fitch and Okami could have easily been kept around to occupy spots on some of the dreadful undercards we're being treated to. Meanwhile, boredom-inducing or not, Askren would have been a perfectly fine addition to the UFC's welterweight division, and a name entirely capable of headlining some of their Fight Night cards. After all, it was only three years ago when Dana White signed the equally vapid Jake Shields from Strikeforce and paraded him like a star. There is no reason why Askren should not have gotten similar treatment.

The MMA boom is long over. And while the UFC has certainly made enough of an impact, and established its name enough to where it isn't going anywhere anytime soon, it is time for them to step back and reassess their plans.

That will do it for another week of "The Rear Naked Column". As always, feedback is greatly appreciated. You can send in your comments, e-mails, or you can follow me on twitter right here for all things MMA, video games, sports, and other nonsense.





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