those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. it seemed for a while that the ufc had learned. why then are we just a day away from a ufc ppv without a credible headlining fight?
make no mistake: ufc 206 is about to be a box office disaster. seats — good seats — remain unsold. the ppv buyrate is likely to be low, and an educated guess would put it in the 250k range as far as paying customers. bars aren’t likely to be packed. no one’s breaking out the 7-layer dip, cheap booze, and calling their buddies over.
with the return of ronda rousey in just a few weeks at ufc 207, and coming off the momentous ufc 205, this weekend’s card in toronto was very much the middle child of mma. overlooked. neglected.
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for local media and fans in southern ontario, this slight has not gone unnoticed. “the honeymoon is over” read one headline. to be honest, it has been over for a while. pretty much when the ufc ignored the city for years following the very successful ufc 165. that card featured the classic jon jones vs. alexander gustafsson title fight, as well as a host of other solid fights.
tomorrow, those of us walking into the air canada center aren’t sure what we’re getting.
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here’s the head-scratcher: the ufc has been here before. it has been in this exact situation, with a watered down card, in canada before. in 2012, ufc 149 in calgary was decimated by injury. josé aldo, michael bisping, shogun rua, and antônio rodrigo nogueira all pulled out of the card. in the end, an interim bantamweight title fight between urijah faber and renan barao was promoted to the main event. the card underwhelmed, and was panned by fans and critics. dana white went so far as to apologize to the city.
the take-away: always have a second fight that can serve as a legit headliner. lesson learned, right?
wrong. ufc 161 in winnipeg the very next year featured a similar set of circumstances. a main event of barao vs. eddie wineland was scrapped when barao pulled out. with no other title fight available, a non-title affair between dan henderson and rashad evans was bumped up to the headlining slot. it struggled to capture the interest of fans. then antônio rogério nogueira dropped off the card. set to square off against shogun rua in the co-main event, that meant both marquee fights were gone. roy nelson stepped up to face stipe miocic in place of soa palelei on short notice to bolster the card, but in the end, it was another weak octagon outing.
in hindsight, as far as injuries and scrapped cards, it was one of the worst eras for the promotion. ufc 151 had been cancelled in 2012 due to a dan henderson injury, the refusal of jon jones to fight chael sonnen as a short notice replacement, and a weak undercard. ufc 176 in 2014 was axed when its main event was lost.
post-2014, however, the ufc seemed to have learned its lesson. cards were double stacked with title fights to ensure that if one headliner fell through, the other could easily take its place. riding on the coattails of ronda rousey and conor mcgregor, the ufc soared to new heights.
why, then, do we have ufc 206, and arguably, 208, pointing to the fact that the ufc has suddenly turned a blind eye to, or simply forgotten, history?
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the 206 debacle is particularly unforgivable. in a market where mma could easily be a top five sport (the nhl hockey score predictions, mlb, and nba come before it, but after that, the ufc need only contend with the canadian football league and major league soccer), the company failed to plan ahead.
were it not for cancellations at 205, the only ppv worthy fights at 206 would be doo-ho choi vs. cub swanson and anthony pettis vs. max holloway. the ufc actually lucked out in getting names like donald cerrone, kelvin gastelum, and tim kennedy to appear in toronto. after all, ufc 205 could afford to take a hit.
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the toronto card, however, was dangerously close to being cancelled. the ufc gambled on coming to terms with georges st. pierre, and lost.
ufc 208 meanwhile? it was cancelled. sorry, postponed. let’s not sugar coat it however. another case of bad booking led to the card’s demise. of course, there’s another 208, but it’s not in anaheim, but rather brooklyn, and a month later than planned. anaheim will get their show, eventually, but in the meantime, matchmakers are scrambling just to fill the brooklyn card in february.
the promotion has blamed the change on cyborg justino refusing to accept a title fight for the inaugural women’s featherweight crown. justino says she needs more time to cut weight. logic says you should always have a plan b. were there really no other options for this card?
at least anaheim still has a shot at a successful card later in the year. toronto, well, the ufc will need to do some serious damage control. those of us who were in attendance back at ufc 165 do not see ufc 206 as a ppv-worthy card. it’s questionable whether any fan does. it’s a fight night, or a fox card perhaps.
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yet how representative of the new-era are these cards? how did this happen? is this a promotion with booking issues heading into an era where they will be without matchmaker joe silva?
it’s easy to blame everything on the purchase of the promotion by wme-img, but it’s not the only reason. at the end of the day, it’s fair to say that the ufc has taken a large portion of its fans for granted for a while now. specifically, those in markets like canada and brazil, where they feel like than can put on a b-level show, but still get a solid turnout. mma meccas, they’ll buy anything. meanwhile. enough fans will order the ppvs that they’ll be profitable.
it’s inexcusable that these cards were so poorly managed. injuries are a part of the sport. the second daniel cormier vs. anthony johnson was announced as the original ufc 206 headliner, hundreds of people were pointing out the obvious: that it was a cormier injury away from being on the scrap heap. then that injury happened, and the company was forced to put a meaningless interim title on the line in order to promote pettis vs. holloway to main event status.
if all this sounds like sour grapes, well, maybe it is. maybe that’s justified. mma fans spend a lot of money on what was, until recently, a niche product. if you can’t justify a card’s price tag, you’re not doing your job as a promoter.
next: donald cerrone vs. matt brown: beautiful violence
many of us will still walk in the door saturday, or sit down and watch the fights at home. it will be without the anticipation, however, of past events. should wme-img wish to see it’s four billion dollar investment in the sport pay off, it’s going to need to counter that. not waiting another three years to return to one of north america’s largest markets, booking strong cards, and not taking fans for granted would be a good start.
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