After drawing over 16,000 fans to Belo Horizonte’s Mineirinho Arena for UFC 147 last June, the UFC is having a much harder time convincing the locals to return for today’s UFC Fight Night 28: Teixeira vs. Bader. A Combate report published yesterday claimed that only 4,200 tickets had been sold for the event, which is also being held at the 25,000-seat capacity Mineirinho. As a result, the UFC considered moving UFC Fight Night 28 to Chevrolet Hall, a smaller venue seven miles away. As MMAFighting reported, “Technical problems prevented the change, then the organization has decided to reduce the space for fans in the stands.”
First off, let’s have a moment of silence for the poor, downtrodden people of Belo Horizonte, who were given one of the worst events of 2012 in the form of UFC 147: Silva vs. Franklin, and are now being presented with an equally garbage-ass card this evening. In case you haven’t checked out the lineup, it starts out decent at the top (Glover Teixeira vs. Ryan Bader, Yushin Okami vs. Ronaldo Souza), and you have Joseph Benavidez in the #3 spot — which is alright, assuming you care about little flyweights — but then things quickly devolve into “never heard of ‘em” territory.
Edimilson “Kevin” Souza? Ramiro Hernandez Jr.? Elias Silvério? Ivan Jorge? Who are these guys? And how did two relatively obscure European prospects (Piotr Hallman, Ali Bagautinov) sneak onto the damn main card? The UFC has a bad habit of filling its Brazilian events with local scrappers in the hopes that Brazilian fans will cheer for anybody who’s Brazilian. And that’s fine for the prelims, but you also have to give people a reason to show up.
Glover Teixeira may not be enough of a reason, especially for those fans who were burned last year by a weak UFC event that was also low on star power. Sure, Glover was born in Minas Gerais, but he’s spent the last 14 years as a U.S. resident, and has been long associated with John Hackleman’s California-based fight camp The Pit. Exciting fighter? Absolutely. Local hero? Not exactly. Main event-caliber superstar? Definitely not. As for the co-main, Brazilian middleweight “Jacare” Souza is well-liked and usually entertaining; his opponent, Yushin Okami, is neither of those things.
The other challenge for this event is the time-slot itself. When Yuri Villefort and Sean Spencer face off in the opening bout at 5:30 p.m. local time, Belo Horizonte’s working folk will still be making their way to the arena. (If it was me, I’d enjoy a couple caipirinhas at happy hour, have a nice dinner somewhere, then show up midway through the Benavidez fight. Or more likely, I’d be watching the Atletico Mineiro vs. Fluminense soccer game that’s also happening tonight, and which is clearly stealing some interest from this third-rate UFC card.)
The bottom line is this: When UFC events underperform in terms of ticket sales or TV ratings, there’s always a logical explanation. If you put on a badass card in a town that doesn’t often get them, the fans will turn out. If you treat a small market like it’s not worthy of big fights, the fans will tell you to shove it up your ass. Maybe an empty arena will make the UFC pay attention this time.