UFC: Too many shows, not enough stars
Injures have been decimating the UFC’s summer line-up over the last couple of weeks.
Vitor Belfort was forced from the main event of UFC 147. Thiago Silva was scratched out of the co-main event at UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and both Brian Stann and Michael Bisping befell the same fate for their respective middleweight contests, which were scheduled for later in the summer.
Toss in Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, his original opponent Yoshihiro Akiyama, and so many more that I can’t list them all, and it’s clear that the UFC is currently suffering through one of the worst injury stretches in the history of the organisation.
While they’ve tried valiantly to repair the tears in the various fight cards, there is only so much patch work that the company can do. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t enough healthy bodies to go around right now, and it’s starting to show.
Case in point: the upcoming UFC on FOX 4 main event.
Originally scheduled to feature Stann against incoming former Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard, it was announced earlier in the week that Lombard would instead move over to fill Michael Bisping’s place opposite Tim Boestch at UFC 149, while Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would headline the next FOX event opposite Brandon “The Truth” Vera.
You read that correctly: Brandon “The Truth” Vera.
The same Brandon Vera who has been sidelined for the last eight months after Eliot Marshall messed up his arm in October. The same Brandon Vera who was on his way out of the organisation before his UFC 125 loss to Thiago Silva was ruled a no contest when the Brazilian admitted to using a banned substance during their bout.
Because of the tremendous number of injuries that have ravaged upcoming fight cards – and a numerous “inactive” fighters already nursing injuries – the UFC is in a place where rolling out Rua versus Vera is the best they can do for their next big show on network television.
While there is no way to know when injuries are going to wreak havoc on projected line-ups, the string of breaks, sprains, tears, and tweaks that have laid waste to the roster wouldn’t be so bad if there were more fighters available to fill the voids.
I’m not talking about regional fill-ins or guys from the lower third of the roster getting a chance in the spotlight either; I’m talking about more legitimate stars and recognisable names who could step in for their fallen comrades, and help keep the quality level of these upcoming shows as high as possible.
But because the UFC is rolling out so many events each month – eight events in the next 10 weeks, starting with Saturday’s FX show – the roster is depleted, leaving regional call-ups and lesser known members of the UFC roster to be tabbed as replacements whenever an injury occurs.
If the UFC was at all worried that over-saturation was going to turn some fans away from time-to-time, their new chief concern should be that injuries are going to turn good shows into average events, and the already slipping buy rates and television ratings are going to continue to decline, two things they can ill afford right now.
As fans, we’ve come to expect fights being changed, and cards being ravaged by injuries. There was a stretch of fights not that long ago – UFC 106 through UFC 110 – that suffered the same fate as this summer’s schedule is currently facing. While we didn’t get the marquee match-ups that were originally scheduled, we still got some quality fights in the end.
But it’s not as easy to placate the people at FOX, I would imagine.
Having started with a UFC heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, I somehow doubt having Mauricio “Shogun” Rua headline opposite Brandon Vera is what they had in mind for their fourth show, especially considering the last event was the second straight FOX broadcast that saw a decline in ratings.
A few weeks back when I said the UFC had a problem with over-saturation, and suggested that they scaled back the number of events they ran each year, I had a number of people tell me I was out of my mind. “The UFC is as business,” they said, “and they’re about making money, so if anything, I should expect more shows in the future, not less.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the gist.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, I’m not sure how the fights cards on the horizon are all that great for business.
Each of the four events in June earns no higher than a mediocre rating in terms of recognisable names and meaningful fights. UFC 147, this month’s pay-per-view event, will surely deliver the lowest buy rate we’ve seen in quite some time.
July starts off well with UFC 148, headlined by a pair of title fights, but the Fuel TV show four days later is exceptionally week, and while UFC 149 boasts a Jose Aldo title fight, it’s also been hit hard by changes, and has a distinctly Canadian (and fighters coming off of losses) feel to it.
The August FOX show going to be a hard sell as well, though Rua, Lyoto Machida, and Ryan Bader should generate some interest, while UFC 150 falls off dramatically after the lightweight title rematch between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar.
Simply put, there just aren’t enough big names to go around right now, leaving each card with one or two recognisable match-ups, and an assortment of “okay-at-best” fights to fill out the fight card.
While the UFC could use this time to try and generate interest in some emerging talents, even that is difficult when you can’t entice people to tune in because there aren’t enough fighters they know competing from event to event.
The injuries are unavoidable, but running out of top talent because you’re spread too thin isn’t. It might be time for the UFC to dial it back a bit, if only so they can find some greater success in the future.
Follow E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter: @spencerkyte
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