The UFC tries to make every company milestone a big deal.
UFC 100 was arguably the company’s most successful event, and that was in large part because the organization stacked the deck with name fighters up and down the card. The UFC could make just about any event as big as UFC 100 if it chose to, but instead it opted to focus on UFC 100 because it was a major accomplishment for a company that went through some dark times financially in the early going.
When the promotion does a show in a new market, it is almost a slam-dunk that the company will bring a really strong card to show the city why MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. With this becoming common practice in today’s landscape — not to mention the UFC itself claiming it is going to do something huge with landmark events — fans and those who cover the sport closely have developed a standard of what a marquee UFC card should look like. Expectations were at an all-time high just a few short years ago. Now, however, the outlook is changing. The UFC of 2016 is not the same as the UFC of years past.
With the UFC airing as many shows as it has been for the last couple of years, it is reasonable to expect a drop in the quality of the everyday product. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, after all. This is exactly the dilemma the UFC currently finds itself in at this juncture in the game. The company is putting on a show almost every week of the year.
This type of schedule — you know, the one where the company asks fans to sit at home almost every Saturday night of the year and watch fights — has been the norm for a few years. It dates back to the Fox deal, really. By the looks of it, the UFC is not slowing down anytime soon, either. The organization is pushing the UFC Fight Pass streaming service, and although the Fox deal is drawing closer to its end, all the clues point to the UFC continuing to conduct business this way moving forward. The oversaturation argument is no argument at all in the UFC’s eyes. The company is moving full steam ahead with its new business model of show after show with little breathing room in between. We must accept this approach and the subsequent consequences.
In this new reality, we have to reassess what we have come to expect from the so-called mega-blockbuster events the UFC tries to put on every so often. Factor in the UFC’s hectic schedule, with flights from city to city across the entire globe, and the roster of fighters at the UFC’s disposal, and these marquee shows are actually pretty good.
Sure, we would all like to see these mega-events featured lineups as deep as those of some of the old UFC events, like UFCs 52, 92 and, most notably, 100. Those cards, especially for their time, were stacked from top to bottom. But times have changed, and the reason for the change is simple. The UFC has to stretch its talent across a larger number of shows. Therefore, the fighters who would usually fight in the third or fourth fight of the night are headlining shows in places like Macau in what amounts to the middle of the afternoon stateside.
This brings us to UFC 200 and the recently announced UFC 205 card, which takes place in the world’s most famous arena, New York’s Madison Square Garden.
UFC 200 started with booked fights featuring Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. It ended up with Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes as the headliners, and also featured Cormier, Brock Lesnar’s return, Mark Hunt, Anderson Silva, José Aldo, Frankie Edgar and Cain Velasquez.
UFC 205 was to feature Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone, but Lawler was forced to withdraw. Now, the lineup is set with Eddie Alvarez defending his lightweight strap against the aforementioned McGregor atop a card that also features title defenses for Tyron Woodley and Joanna Jędrzejczyk, against Stephen Thompson and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, respectively, and includes the aforementioned Cerrone and Tate, Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero, Rashad Evans and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
When we take a step back and analyze these two marquee UFC events, again given the new standards we have for the UFC, it doesn’t get much better than this. Heck, you can even throw UFC 196, a card that featured McGregor, Diaz, Tate and Holly Holm, into the conversation. These are all incredibly strong lineups in today’s MMA landscape.
If you don’t think UFCs 196, 200 and 205 are great cards on paper, just go look up some of the UFC’s other events from the last four-year span. For the most part, it is not a pretty sight when compared to these mega-cards.
So, enough with the complaining. Enough with the belly aches. Enough with saying these cards do not live up to expectations. The expectations are different now.