To buy, or not to buy.
That is the question I’ve been ping-ponging around in my head about UFC 177 for the last couple of weeks. See, before Aug. 12 the card seemed more than worthy of my purchase. Not only did it feature a pretty exciting rematch between bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and previous champ Renan Barão, but the card also contained a second championship contest between flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson and challenger Chris Cariaso. Needless to say, any UFC card that features two title fights is absolutely worth the purchase for MMA fans, almost regardless of what the other three main-card fights look like.
On Aug. 12, however, the UFC announced that light heavyweight champion Jon Jones injured his ankle and had therefore been removed from the headlining spot at September’s UFC 178 card, where he was slated to face Daniel Cormier. This turn of events left the UFC with an important decision: Does the company try to a.) move up an existing UFC 178 fight into the main-event slot, b.) create a similarly compelling headlining fight that was not previously booked or c.) move an important fight from a different card to the top spot at UFC 178?
Despite the relatively exciting nature of the UFC 178 card as a whole, there didn’t seem to be a fight beyond Jones vs. Cormier that could truly carry a pay-per-view event as its headliner, so Option A is out. Option B was probably dead on arrival as well, given that the last UFC pay-per-view event to have a non-title headliner was UFC 161 all the way back in June 2013 (and that was only because of an injury to Barão), and all of the company’s titleholders are either on the shelf or already have fights scheduled for future pay-per-view events. This left Option C, which when applied in reality resulted in the UFC moving Johnson vs. Cariaso from the co-main event spot at UFC 177 to the headlining spot at UFC 178.
Aside from the disappointment that comes with having to wait a few months more to see the most anticipated MMA fight in years (Jones vs. Cormier) and the criticism that Johnson vs. Cariaso received upon its initial creation, there doesn’t seem to be much of an uproar now that the flyweight title bout will headline UFC 178. This reaction (or lack thereof) is almost certainly in recognition of the UFC’s limited options, given the unfortunate timing of the Jones injury. Sure, UFC 178 lost its ultra-hypeable main event, but it’s good that the UFC is at least attempting to salvage the top portion of the card with another championship fight. With the rest of the main card intact (for now, anyway), UFC 178 should still be a pretty nice night at the fights despite the absence of Jones and Cormier.
Unfortunately, MMA booking is a zero-sum game. That is, there are only so many marketable fights that the UFC can position atop its pay-per-view cards, and moving such a fight from one event to another necessarily means degrading the marketability of its initial home. In real-world terms, this means moving Johnson vs. Cariaso to UFC 178 significantly lessens the marketability of UFC 177.
It could be argued that part of the reason Johnson vs. Cariaso was even added to UFC 177 in the first place was because the card previously contained just a single pay-per-view-worthy contest—the main event between Dillashaw and Barão. After UFC 174 (which similarly contained a single marketable pay-per-view fight and was rumored to have a basement-level buyrate by UFC standards) and UFC 176 (which was canceled after its lone marketable pay-per-view fight was scrapped due to an injury), the company simply could not afford another pay-per-view dud with UFC 177. Even with the previous excitement surrounding UFC 178 in September, the company seemed determined to make August’s remaining pay-per-view card worth its price tag.
Unfortunately for the company, and for fans of MMA, real life interfered. Now, not only has UFC 178 been significantly altered by replacing one of the sport’s hottest fights with a flyweight title contest whose creation some were questioning to begin with, but UFC 177 is back to where it was before Johnson vs. Cariaso was even scheduled—that is, with just one fight to sell the whole card. With all of this context, we reach our central question: Should MMA fans even bother with UFC 177?
If this card was being held on a non-pay-per-view platform, the answer would unquestionably be yes. A title fight on free television? Sign me up, regardless of the rest of the card. Unfortunately, the choice won’t be quite this easy for fans, who will instead have to consider not only whether UFC 177 is worth their time, but whether it’s also worth the $50-60 they’ll have to give up in order to tune in.
The title fight at the top of UFC 177 is reasonably compelling. Dillashaw overcame enormous (betting) odds at UFC 173 to hand Barão his first pro loss since his very first fight in 2005, so both fighters return to the Octagon at the end of August with something to prove. Dillashaw no doubt wants to show everyone that his win at UFC 173 was no fluke and that he is every bit the championship-caliber fighter he looked like back in May. Barão, meanwhile, will surely want to re-establish himself as one of the sport’s reputed elite, preferably by dominating Dillashaw so thoroughly that fans will forget Barão was ever without the title in the first place.
Beyond the night’s main event, though, the UFC is going to have a hell of a time convincing fans to pony up the dollars on Aug. 30. With Johnson vs. Cariaso no longer serving as the UFC 177 co-main event, the company has positioned a lightweight contest between Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo as the card’s penultimate fight. With all due respect to these two talented fighters, both last competed during pay-per-view prelims (Castillo at UFC 172 and Ferguson at UFC 173) and, in fact, the co-main event at UFC 177 will constitute the first time that either fighter has competed on pay-per-view itself. Probably not the situation the UFC was hoping for, but here we are. On the bright side, both men did win their last fight, so it’s not as if we’re looking at a worst-case pay-per-view co-main-event scenario here. That said, neither of these guys could be considered contenders at 155 pounds, and a victory on Saturday probably won’t do much for their standing among the significant number of fighters ranked ahead of them. The bottom line on Ferguson and Castillo is that they probably wouldn’t even have ended up on the Fox Sports 1 prelim portion of UFC 178, but at UFC 177 they’ll be the second-to-last fight. I don’t know.
Other than Dillashaw and Barao, perhaps the most intriguing fighter on the UFC 177 main card is the undefeated Bethe Correia, who will enter the Octagon on Aug. 30 on a two-fight UFC winning streak after besting Jessamyn Duke at UFC 172. Currently positioned 10th in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight rankings, Correia will look to defeat her second straight opponent from Ronda Rousey’s “Four Horsewomen” clique when she squares off with Shayna Baszler, who makes her official promotional debut at UFC 177. With Rousey having already defeated five of the women ranked ahead of Correia, the Brazilian bantamweight might just be a couple of wins away from a future title shot, so her performance against Baszler will have a significant impact on her place in the division. If not for Baszler’s most recent official fight ending in her defeat, this might have been the co-main event, given the significance the fight carries for Correia.
Another newer UFC face that has piqued the interest of some attentive fans is Carlos Diego Ferreira. The undefeated lightweight submitted Colton Smith in just 38 seconds in his UFC debut in June and could prove to be a dangerous commodity in the Octagon. On Aug. 30, Ferreira will face the affable Ramsey Nijem, who himself is riding a two-fight winning streak. On paper, this seems like a fine fight, and it would be absolutely perfect for the first or second main-card fight on a free show. Unfortunately, UFC 177 is not a free show.
Let’s be completely honest here: Even with Johnson vs. Cariaso in the mix, UFC 177 would likely have attracted only the sport’s most dedicated group of fans, so the UFC has to know that the show’s pay-per-view numbers absent the flyweight title fight are going to be pretty abysmal. Why, though, would the promotion position Yancey Medieros and Justin Edwards anywhere near the pay-per-view portion of the card? Edwards has lost his last two fights, and Medeiros is officially 0-2 (with one no-contest) in the UFC. Yes, both fighters were more successful earlier in their careers, but why position this lightweight contest over, say, the flyweight fight between Scott Jorgensen and Henry Cejudo? Sure, Jorgensen has gone just 4-5 in the UFC and 1-2 at flyweight, but he is coming off a win (and “Fight of the Night” performance) against Danny Martinez in his last outing. Cejudo might be making his UFC debut on Aug. 30, but his unbelievable success as an amateur wrestler makes him the most interesting MMA prospect since Ronda Rousey. Cejudo has already racked up six professional MMA wins, four of which have come by stoppage. He’ll face a significant step up in competition in Jorgensen, though, so that fight seems to pack more intrigue than Medeiros vs. Edwards, especially for the hardcore fans that will comprise the bulk of the show’s reduced audience. Fans can still see Jorgensen vs. Cejudo on Fox Sports 1 during the preliminary portion of the card, and in truth, swapping out Medeiros vs. Edwards for Jorgensen vs. Cejudo would not make for much of a difference in the buyrate. Still, thinking about how to create the best possible event out of the pieces that comprise UFC 177, the flyweights (and Cejudo in particular) would be a better fit on the main card.
As soon as Jones withdrew from UFC 178 and the promotion replaced his fight with Johnson vs. Cariaso, the company tacitly acknowledged that it would have to write UFC 177 off. The company won’t scrap the event altogether (unless, of course, Dillashaw or Barão ends up injured, in which case the UFC won’t have much choice) because the marketing mess that would come from two consecutive canceled pay-per-view cards would be tough to clean up. The company probably won’t reduce the price in an effort to attract more fans, acknowledging once more that the card’s audience was going to be fairly limited to begin with. Instead, the UFC has put its most passionate fans to a tough decision: Forgo watching the bantamweight title fight and save your money, or spend the dollars and hope for the best. I bought UFC 174 with the latter mentality in mind, and I can’t say I was rewarded for my decision. That said, do I really want to skip a night of fights only to likely spend at least the price of a UFC pay-per-view during the course of a night out?
At this point, I’m still not sure what to do.