As I mentioned in my maiden post, I am a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts, and its leading promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I even dragged my wife to their inaugural Fan Expo in Las Vegas this past July. I spent an hour in line to enter a packed convention hall where I waited for additional hours in line to meet some of my favorite fighters.
I also regularly shell out the $45 to purchase the UFC's once monthly Pay-per-view events. But I will not be purchasing this Saturday's event, UFC 108.
The event has been plagued with injuries cancellations and other snags from its inception. The headlining bout is a contest between former light heavyweight champion "Suga" Rashad Evans and fierce competitor Thiago Silva. Evans was actually supposed to fight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, himself a former champion, at UFC 107. Rampage is one of the most charismatic and polarizing figures in the sport. His war of words with Evans, which occured when both coached the UFC's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, was epic. But Rampage, ostensibly fed up with the UFC's mistreatment, ditched his contractual match with Evans in favor of a role in the upcoming A Team movie as Mr. T's character. Then the UFC suffered the loss of several potential fights from the 108 card, including a heavyweight showdown between champion Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
So fans are left with the match between Evans and Silva. Both are skilled fighters with records blemished by only one defeat. Silva is coming off a spectacular knockout victory against Evans' best friend and training partner, Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine. Make no mistake, it should be an action packed bout. The matches on the undercard will be equally entertaining for devout fans, as they are packed with mostly lesser know but excellent combatants. This is the sort of fight card that is often branded as being "for the true followers of the sport."
But is it worth the pay-per-view fee? Not for my money. I am perfectly willing to pay good money to see the big stars of the sport bang it out. I would undoubtedly have shelled out to see the Evans-Jackson match. But while I would gladly watch (and most certainly enjoy) UFC 108, it takes more star power than Thiago Silva to entice me to cough up the dough.
Bear in mind that this is the first UFC pay-per-event of 2010. The fans are entitled to something special if they are to be expected to pay for it. There should be at least one championship match on this card. Previous cards have featured several championship bouts.
My opinion is that the quality of pay-per-view matches is diluted by the sheer number of events that the UFC puts on each year. The promotion puts on at least one event on pay television per month. There are not enough marquee fighters in the sport to field this many paid events after accounting for cancellations due to training injuries.
But there is an alternative that could benefit both the fans and the promotion. The UFC is partnered with basic cable network Spike TV. Spike hosts The Ultimate Fighter, highlight shows of past matches, and the occasional live bouts between up and coming fighters. Usually the Spike TV cards are headlined by an up and coming fighter such as Thiago Silva.
It is well established in UFC lore that the promotion reached the next level after Spike TV aired the 2005 finale of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. The match, a war of attrition between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner, is universally recognized as one of the greatest in the history of the sport. And it was on basic cable for millions to watch for free. Undoubtedly, many of those new viewers were converted into paying customers. UFC President Dana White, a shrewd and tough talking businessman, recognizes this match as "the most important fight in UFC history" for just that reason.
Perhaps it is time for the UFC to reconsider the frequency of their pay-per-view events. UFC 108 is an entertaining card full of lesser known fighters. If casual viewers could see such bouts for free, they would be more apt to pay later. And greater exposure on basic cable could lead to even more mainstream sponsorships for an organization that has already pulled in Bud Light, Harley Davidson, and Burger King to name a few.