Sports

UFC PPV Main-Events Don’t Deliver

UFC 152 is in the books and most of the feedback appears to be negative. According to many fans, Jones vs. Belfort didn’t deliver. I started thinking about that and looked at the bigger picture and wondered whether most UFC main-event fights actually deliver. A look back at the ten main-events of 2012 say no.

Dana White was asked in a recent media call about fan criticism over the weak Jones vs. Belfort matchup prior to the pay per view. Dana White was very clear with his response to UFC fans that if you don’t like the main-events, don’t buy the shows. He better hope that fans don’t take him at his word. If fans start taking a close look at the fights they are paying money to see, they may actually start to take his advice.

No matter what Dana White wants to believe, business is on the decline. Attendance is down, buyrates are down, and ratings for events have never been worse. There are a lot of reasons that interest in the UFC is not what it once was. The popular theory is that the UFC has become watered down due to too many shows. That is certainly plausible but I think the problem is even bigger than that. I think the problem is that fans are tired for paying main-event fights that don’t deliver as advertised.

I started to think about this a few days after UFC 152. I knew that Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort was a mismatch. But I fell into the trap of believing the hype and thinking that it would actually be a fun fight. Even if the fight lasted just one round, I expected to see some intense action. Instead I watched a one-sided fight that was dominated by a champion who needed four rounds to put away a guy that was gassed out and overmatched. This was not exactly what I had in mind when I opted to spend my $50 to watch it.

As I was writing my recap of the show for my blog, I brought up that Jon Jones has yet to deliver in main-events. Jones is not the kind of draw he should be for the UFC. Even Dana White admitted that when he ripped him during the infamous UFC 151 media call. I pontificated in my blog that one of the reasons for this is that fans have yet to see a Jones fight that delivers. His style is technical to the point it is boring for most casual fans. Even as dominant as Anderson Silva is, he still manages to somehow have fun fights. Jones didn’t but then I started thinking about how many times I have finished watching UFC pay per views the last several months and felt the same way.

Unfortunately for the UFC and Dana White I have probably felt more dissatisifed after watching UFC pay per view events in 2012 than at any other time in UFC history. Quite frankly I think my tastes are a little more sensible than a lot of fans. I don’t need to see a slugfest. I just want to see a competitive, tactical, chess match. Whether that fight is on the ground or on their feet is inconsequential to me. I just want to feel satisfied with purchasing a UFC show after the headliner. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is. I went back and looked back at all of the 2012 pay per view headlining fights. The UFC has had nine pay per view events in 2012.

UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes
UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit
UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans
UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir
UFC 147: Silva vs. Franklin II
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen II
UFC 149: Faber vs. Barao
UFC 150: Henderson vs. Edgar II
UFC 152: Jones vs. Belfort

As you can see, all but one show (147) was headlined by a championship fight. Diaz vs. Condit on 143 and Barao vs. Faber on 149 were interim title fights. Of the nine pay per view main-events, I’d say that only two of those fights (Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans and Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen) are what I would call grudge matches. How many of these fights actually delivered as promised? I guess that depends on what you were hoping to see when you ordered the fights.

For the championship non-grudge fights, I expect to see a competitive fight. For the grudge fights, I expect to see a thrilling, dramatic fight with more intensity than the average UFC title fight. For non-title fights, I just want to see something fun. If you are selling me a fight without a title or issue, it better be entertaining. By that criteria, I only found one fight that delivered and I may even be in the minority with that assessment.

Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen was the only fight that I felt gave me what I paid for. I wanted to see intense drama and I got it. It wasn’t a long fight, but the intensity and the fight gave me everything that I wanted to see when I ordered UFC 148. It should be pointed out that a vast majority of fans don’t agree with me on this fight. Other than that fight, there were no other fights that I felt produced the above average standards that you expect to see from a PPV fight billed as the “main-event.” To put that in mathematical terms, that is a mere 11.11% of UFC pay per view headliners that have delivered so far in 2012.

I can sit here and speculate as to why but quite frankly, I think it is a number of factors. Too many shows is probably the number one factor contributing to this. The UFC has to fill so many dates whether they have a PPV quality fight or not. This waters down the potential fights, substitutes, and challengers for titles.

Injuries and other factors is another big one. If Dominick Cruz, Georges St-Pierre, Alistair Overeem (not injured, but license suspended), Dan Henderson, the UFC 147 scheduling issue are all factors which resulted in fight changes. More than 50% of the fights sold as the main-event on PPV were not even the originally planned fight. That is hard for any company to overcome, yet at the same time if you are going to continue to charge money for the show, you better get a quality replacement. That is hard to do with so many fighters committed to other events. Less shows would give the company more flexibility when it comes to finding replacement fights or fighters.

So while 2012 isn’t completely in the books, we can look back at the entire year of  2011 for an even deeper perspective. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the 2011 selection of main-events and see how it stacked up against what we’ve seen so far this year. Get ready for this one!

UFC 125: Resolution (Edgar vs. Maynard 2)
UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort
UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch
UFC 128: Shogun vs. Jones
UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields
UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill
UFC 131: Dos Santos vs. Carwin
UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber
UFC 133: Evans vs. Ortiz
UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami
UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage
UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III
UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz
UFC 138: Leben vs. Muñoz
UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson
UFC 140: Jones vs. Machida
UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem

Wow! The first thing that jumps out to me is how much better 2011 was for UFC main-events. You have 17 events, eight of which are headlined by championship fights. In my opinion, only a handful of these fights didn’t live up to the billing. I liked Penn vs. Fitch, although many didn’t. Silva vs. Belfort is arguable in that it was short, but it produced a memorable finish for the ages. Quite frankly I think the only fights that didn’t deliver were Jon Jones’ two title defenses and Rampage vs. Hamill. So for 2011 you have a whopping 88.2% of the main-event fights that delivered either the competitive or exciting fights as promoted. That is a big difference!

What is the difference? Well for one, it looks like the UFC had a more competitive balance on top in 2011 than they do in 2012. The challengers in the championship fights were legitimate number one contenders. You didn’t have anything as lopsided as a Vitor Belfort-Jon Jones championship fight in 2011. It may be a little unfair to pick on one fight because you did get your Matt Hamill vs. Rampage Jackson main-event in 2011, but it wasn’t a title fight. Even as lopsided as Silva vs. Okami was, it was still a fun fight to me.

Once again I think this all comes back to the UFC overextending itself. Fighters are spread out over more shows which need more headliners than they had in 2011, although with UFC 151 cancelled you are only talking about a handful more. Is it the fighter insurance that some blame for the rash of headliners pulling out of fights? The policy was put into place in May of 2011. You did have BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar, Dominick Cruz, and Georges St-Pierre fighting in 2011, none of whom have fought in 2012. I could go on trying to speculate but the bottom line here is that the quality of main-event fights have drastically declined over the course of one year.

The bottom line here is that the UFC has a huge problem. There are only so many main-events you can sell to people that don’t deliver before fans get smart and realize that these fights are all hype and no substance. The next time Dana White tells you not to buy the shows if you don’t like them, you should probably listen. You won’t be missing much.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric’s work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

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