(Take a good look, people. It’s the last time you’ll be seeing stuff like this for free. PicProps: InsideHoops.com)
OK, wait just a goddamned minute. There’s some sleight of hand going on here, isn’t there? Ever since Dana White organized another of his can’t-miss, super-special, earth-shattering, blow-your-fuckin’-mind announcement conference calls yesterday to let us know that the insatiable goatsucker that is the UFC will soon devour the scared gazelle of the WEC, people have been blowing nonstop smoke up our asses about how great this is going to be. And yeah, in a lot of ways it will be great. Specifically, it’ll be great for the fighters – except most WEC lightweights, who’ll certainly be fired as soon as they lose their first UFC fights — since the little guys finally get the long overdue opportunity to be UFC fighters, get UFC groupies and bank UFC paychecks. That’s all fine and good. Seriously, those guys deserve it.
But what about us? What about the hardcore fans who have been religiously tuning in to the WEC over the last couple of years to see what have consistently been the best shows in the industry? I mean, we’re kinda getting screwed on this deal, right? Granted, we’re no mathematicians, but it’s unclear how Zuffa reducing its programming on Versus from nine shows during 2010 to four shows during 2011 means anything other than fewer free fights for the fans. And let’s be honest, the UFC is absorbing the WEC for one reason only: So it can charge us for something we used to get for free.
Here’s the truth, P-Nation: Championship fights sell pay-per-views. If the numbers are accurate, there is some fairly convincing anecdotal evidence that casual fans will mindlessly reach into their wallets to order PPVs whenever they see a UFC title belt photo-shopped onto a poster. Yet title fights are something the UFC has been running a little low on lately.
In fact, even considering the epic awesomness of UFC 121’s main event, the UFC is currently balls deep in a stretch where it will do seven consecutive shows containing just one championship fight. One. By the time we break the monotony with GSP vs. Koscheck in December, we’ll have suffered through such “main events” as Marquardt vs. Palhares, Mir vs. CroCop, Bisping vs. Akiyama and a “TUF 12” finale which currently features Demian Maia vs. Kendall Grove as its most high-profile fight. Couple that with last year’s well-publicized fall PPV swoon and it doesn’t take a genius to see that the UFC has a developing main event problem. A problem which is only going to get worse as Zuffa continues to test the elasticity of its brand.
Take September’s UFC 119 for example. The debacle that was Frank Mir vs. Mirko CroCop had a bunch of axe-grinding internet bloggers asking aloud things like: “Will UFC 119 Break 440K PPV Buys?” and “Will UFC 119 Be the Worst Performing UFC in Years?” and “Mir vs. CroCop: Has the UFC Oversaturated the Market?”
Yeah, chances are that event didn’t pull a great number. But wait: Enter the WEC, with its heretofore untapped reservoir of exciting and marketable fighters and – most importantly – their title belts. What if the UFC could take historically weak cards like UFC 119 (and/or the upcoming UFC 122) and add featherweight and bantamweight title fights to the mix? Suddenly those cards seem a lot more marketable. Can’t get Anderson Silva to go to Germany? Send Jose Aldo. Shogun needs another knee surgery? No problem, stick Dominick Cruz in his place. That should be enough to get the local sports bar crammed with in dudes in Tapout shirts who are suffering from Imaginary Lat Syndrome.
As for the rest of us? Well, the sad truth is that we’re going to buy most of the UFC’s PPVs no matter what. We’re suckers that way. We’re also kind of irrelevant, once you consider that the UFC marketing machine is necessarily more concerned with people who don’t already buy its product than people who do. On the real, though? White better come through on his promise to score a network deal this year or even start that certain-to-be-insufferable UFC channel we’ve been hearing about. For a guy who seems so concerned with “giving back” to fans, it’d be nice for him to find a way to restore the sanctity of our free fights.