UFC 176 Got Cancelled And With the UFC's Expansion, It May Get Worse
Posted by Robert Winfree on 07.11.2014
In the wake of UFC 176's cancellation due to Jose Aldo's injury, 411's Robert Winfree looks back at the UFC's expansion, the number of shows they're running and why it's likely to get worse!
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The UFC made a pretty big announcement last week, their second ever canceled event. Following an injury to featherweight champion Jose Aldo and an inability to find another high quality main event the promotion decided that the fights scheduled for UFC 176 would be moved to other cards, the main event rescheduled, and refunds offered to those who had purchased tickets. The UFC had their first ever cancellation in 2012 when UFC 151 had to be called off after Dan Henderson got injured and Jon Jones wasn't willing to fight a replacement on eight days notice. Prior to 2012 the UFC had never canceled an event, now just two years later they have had to call off their second. The sad thing is that this is more than likely going to happen again, but how did we get here? How did the promotion that was dominating PPV numbers and exploding towards popular culture wind up dropping entire cards?
The first, sadly not the last
To understand how we arrived at our current destination we have to look back, so let's rewind the clock a few years. 2009 was a good year of the UFC, Georges St-Pierre was at or near the height of his drawing power, Brock Lesnar had made the move to the promotion and was bringing in some new viewers, the fight cards were almost all of high quality and the UFC held their 100th PPV event. The UFC was moving towards main stream coverage, fights were good, PPV numbers were good, and basically everyone was happy. It was also a year that featured a grand total of 20 events. Not pay perview's, 20 grand total UFC events took place in 2009. No that doesn't count the weekly reality television showThe Ultimate Fighter, but that's a reality television show not a UFC event. Think about that, 2009 had a grand total of 20 shows. Numbers were good, feedback was good, and the UFC was fielding questions in vein of "When are you coming to..." or "How many more shows are you running next year?". Expansion was only natural, given how successful the company was it could very well have been a mistake not to expand. In 2010 the UFC added four more shows, bringing the total to 24 and meaning on average we got two shows a month. 2010 was also a good year, Georges St-Pierre was still rolling as a dominant champion and proven draw, Brock Lesnar was defending the UFC heavyweight championship, Jon Jones was rising through the ranks, PPV numbers were still good, fight cards were generally good, demand was still high for the product. Expansion still seemed logical. 2011 may well be viewed as a tipping point when analyzed years from now, the promotion added three more events, bringing the total to 27 and inked a long term deal with Fox Sports, bringing their brand to one of the largest sports networks in the world. 2011 also saw some fight cards that could be easily classified as filler, events headlined by Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo, Phil Davis vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, even a PPV headlined by BJ Penn taking on Jon Fitch. On the positive side there was the deal with Fox, and the introduction on the UFC platform of the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. Two whole new divisions were introduced and with them came talent that had to be showcased. 2012 had 32 events go off and 33 planned. UFC 151 had to be canceled after the main event fell through and the co-main event was a relatively uninspiring welterweight clash between Jake Ellenberger and Jay Hieron. The UFC told us that it was an anomaly, their first ever canceled event, and placed blame squarely on the shoulders of their light heavyweight champion and his training camp. Business was going to resume it's normal course. By now though, "business as usual" meant 33 events for 2013. 2013 saw several fight cards hurt by main events falling through due to injury, UFC 161 went from a card featuring interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao defending his title against Eddie Wineland with a co-main event fight between Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a rematch of their classic fight in PRIDE, to a card headlined by Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans fighting for relevance with Roy Nelson taking on Stipe Miocic as the co-main event. Despite injury riddled cards and PPV numbers being down the UFC looked to a better 2014. So far the UFC has held 24 events in 2014. That's right by the mid point of this year we've had more events than the UFC put on in all of 2009 with 18 more scheduled to take place before January of 2015, and one canceled event.
Coming into 2014 the UFC had 43 events scheduled. This is only nine events short of one event a week, though in some cases the UFC has run shows on the same day. The UFC went from logical expansion in 2009 and 2010 to throwing an event nearly every week just four years later. Now we have fight cards full of guys we know nothing about, events headlined by fights that mean nothing, and PPV's that aren't drawing numbers. When Jose Aldo got injured and the main event from UFC 176 had to be scrapped those of us who look at the schedule and the condition of fighters collectively wondered what the promotion could possibly do to salvage the event. The co-main event, a middleweight fight between Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Gegard Mousasi, was a decent enough fight as a co-main event fight but wasn't going to entice anyone to spend upwards of $60 on it. Every other champion either had an upcoming fight, couldn't make such a quick turnaround from their last fight, or was injured. Most of the bigger names who aren't champions were already scheduled, injured, or had fought too recently. The only possibilities were a quick turnaround for the winners of the two title fights at UFC 175, but UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman engaged in a brutal five round battle with Lyoto Machida and UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey broke her hand in her sixteen second demolishing of Alexis Davis. The UFC doesn't have a pool of talent deep enough to replace fights that fall through, and when you're going to lose money on a PPV venture the only option is to cancel the event. The reality is that if the UFC continues on with their current model, more events are going to fall off due to injuries to the main event players. With the schedule the UFC is running it's an inevitability.
The schedule the UFC runs has other negative side effects, viewer fatigue is a real thing. For a couple of years the UFC's mind set seemed to be "We can make a fan out of anyone if they're just exposed to our product" and are saturating the market in hopes that they will catch the attention of new eyes just through sheer volume of events. Unfortunately this has two serious consequences, the cards being shown aren't up to the quality of years prior when there might have been a small grain of truth to the UFC's mind set, and fans of the product can easily become burned out on it. It's difficult to become excited about an event in general, much less a fight in particular, when there were two events last week and another one coming up, possibly even on the same day. A potential casual fan might come across an event, sadly it will more than likely feature fighters who washed out of The Ultimate Fighter, excessive amounts of grappling, and possibly an appearance by Clucky the MMA chicken judge. The other fatigue almost seems internal to the UFC, I wrote a column not too long ago where I talked about the UFC's promotional work and where it was lacking, if I wrote that same piece today I would include every fight commercial I've seen over the last four months. The promotion has so many cards to get done that every commercial is the same, in one case literally the same voice clips from Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were simply transplanted from one commercial to the other, same timing, same order, but featuring Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens instead of Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov. The product is homogenized, nothing feels special, and it's almost not worth slogging through all the mediocre fights and presentation to find the good ones.
The UFC isn't attracting that many new fans, and they're dangerously close to burning out parts of the audience they do have. They just don't have the talent pool or the star power to continue on the path they are currently on, 43 events a year is just too many.
Robert Winfree is a libra, host of the weekly 411 Ground and Pound radio show every Sunday at 8pm eastern time, long time contributor to the MMA zone of 411mania.com, and current live coverage guru.