Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz, Chris Weidman, Vitor Belfort, Ronda Rousey. These aren’t just the names of the biggest needle movers in the UFC. It’s the list of fighters who are appearing on pay-per-view cards within the first two months of 2015.
Every successful business or sports organization does some tinkering to get momentum moving in the right direction when things appear to be a bit flat. It could be argued that 2014 was a year in which the UFC didn’t progress. Instead, the buzz flattened out or maybe even regressed a bit. Injuries, stale pay-per-view cards and some unpopular decisions from the top (i.e. the Reebok deal) were just a few of the events that took place that had fans questioning their out-of-pocket expenses towards the sport. Another year of regression could cause a major spiral downward for the promotion. The UFC recognizes this and is looking to make things right in 2015, a year as important as any in the modern history of the promotion. The year looks bright, on paper, but it has looked great on paper many times before. Let’s focus on the positive and look at the pay-per-events the UFC is busting out of the gates with in 2015.
UFC 182 gets going tomorrow night with one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. These two have been going back and forth in ways reminiscent of a Chael Sonnen script. Finally, at long last, these two will cross paths inside the Octagon in what desperately needs to be an outstanding fight to live up to the hype surrounding it. The co-main event is strong and features Donald Cerrone and Myles Jury. The event still hasn’t sold out the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but with the cheapest face ticket priced at $170, that’s not all that surprising. The number of pay-per-view buys is expected to do well, however.
Just a few weeks following UFC 182 comes the most notable return to the Octagon we’ve seen when Anderson Silva meets Nick Diaz at UFC 183. Both fighters missed all of 2014, but the winner of this fight will be right in line to challenge for the belt in the near future. Silva and Diaz are two of the most intriguing fighters the UFC have on its roster and pitting them together should make the card even more successful than UFC 182. The 183 main card as a whole is more well-rounded than 182, as well. We’ll get to see Tyron Woodley against Kelvin Gastelum, Miesha Tate against Sarah McMann, plus fights featuring Joe Lauzon, Tim Boetsch and Ian McCall.
Yet, my eyes are set squarely on UFC 184, the most impressive card of the three. Not only do fans get to see Chris Weidman defend his middleweight belt for the third time, but Vitor Belfort is fighting in the United States for the first time since 2011. There’s always the haze surrounding Belfort’s fights in Brazil in that there is the sense he is treated favorably when it comes to drug testing. That, of course, isn’t a fact, just one of those stereotypical items that has been following him. With Belfort fighting in Los Angeles, that will make his performance even more legitimate should he beat the champion.
As good as the main event may be, the rest of the card is even better. The co-main features the UFC’s biggest star, Ronda Rousey. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero will go at it, as will Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Frank Mir. The long-awaited debut of Holly Holm will take place, and veterans Jake Ellenberger, Josh Koscheck and Mark Munoz will all be featured on the card. The term “stacked card” gets thrown around loosely quite a bit, but this truly is a stacked card if everyone can stay healthy, make weight, and so on.
The UFC has some work to do in 2015. The company needs to bring back the fans it has lost and retain those who are entrenched in the sport. MMA is still growing rapidly, but it’s growing all around the UFC, too. With growth comes more opportunities to watch elsewhere. There’s no denying the fact that the best MMA fighters in the world are in the UFC, and the UFC remains the ultimate goal for fighters moving up in the regional ranks. Being the best, however, doesn’t always mean you’re doing the best you can. The UFC has enough fighters to give us pay-per-view cards that are worth $55 on a regular basis. However, the promotion can no longer throw us a bunch of unheard-of fighters in Brazil and expect fans to buy it just because they are loyal. What the UFC is doing for the first three pay-per-views of 2015 is a template for success and should catapult the company to a great year.