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TJ Grant vs. Benson Henderson Sums Up the UFC’s Most Frustrating Problem: Their Inability to Create New Stars

(TJ Grant, doing his impression of a UFC fan who’s just been told that TJ Grant will be headlining a pay-per-view. Photo via MMAJunkie)

By Matt Saccaro

Most casual fans couldn’t pick Benson Henderson — a world title holder — or TJ Grant — a man challenging for a world title — out of a lineup.

That’s not either guy’s fault. Benson Henderson managed to get the nod from the judges in his last three title defenses, scoring victories over the likes of Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz. And TJ Grant has put together a five-fight winning streak, most recently sending Gray Maynard down faster than Zynga’s stock price.

But that’s the problem: A fight between two guys who have done nothing but kick ass isn’t moving the needle. It’s not that the populace has run out of fucks to give about Henderson and Grant, they just never gave any in the first place.

Want proof?

Look at the estimated buyrates for Henderson’s PPVs. Henderson hasn’t been on a PPV since UFC 150 in August 2012, a card that earned a pathetic 190,000 buys. People don’t want to part with their cash to see Benson Henderson, so the UFC started giving him away for free on FOX. Bendo main evented two FOX cards which performed okay ratings-wise.

The UFC is putting Henderson back on PPV at UFC 164 for his title defense against TJ Grant. This PPV is a Battle of the Blackwater moment for the UFC. If UFC 164 can boast a decent buyrate, then the theory that the UFC can use FOX to create the next generation of stars will be proven true, and the UFC’s future will be a little more secure. But if UFC 164 fails as hard as UFC 150 did — if promoting a fighter TWO TIMES on one of the biggest networks on television failed to make that fighter a draw — then the UFC is in trouble. That would mean one champion who would be dead weight on a card, in addition to the champions from the lighter men’s weight classes who have all yet to establish themselves as major PPV draws.

That’s one half of the tidal wave approaching Zuffa HQ. Here’s the other: The UFC’s older stars have retired or are going to retire in the near future. Chuck Liddell is gone. Tito Ortiz is gone. Brock Lesnar (say what you will about his skill-level, the man could still part people with their cash) is gone. BJ Penn is gone. GSP is 32 and retirement may be looming for him. Anderson Silva is on the anchor leg of his career at the age of 38, and is about to face a very real threat in Chris Weidman.

What happens when all the UFC has left is Chris Weidmans, TJ Grants, and Ben Hendersons — fighters who casual fans don’t care about and who the average Joe doesn’t have a clue about?

Again, that’s not to slight any of these guys — they’ve turned physically destroying another human being into an art form. No, the blame lies with Zuffa; they’ve failed to turn the next generation of talent into superstars.

As of right now, the only two young fighters who have potential to be big draws are Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey. With only one PPV (earning 450,000 buys), it’s tough to definitively say if Rousey will be a massive draw going forward. She certainly garners mainstream media interest, but whether that’s solely due to the novelty of a female in the UFC can’t be determined yet.

Jones has performed well enough but hasn’t come close to the mythical “one million buys” mark that Lesnar, Liddell, and Ortiz have hit, and that GSP, Silva and Penn have come close to.

The UFC can’t remain “the fastest growing sport in the world” when a fighter who can only draw a max of 700,000 buys (for a match that was being hyped as a can’t-miss blood feud) is the foundation of their company.

Winter is coming for the UFC. Their old, dependable draws will one day be no more, and if the current course of events continues, there won’t be enough star power to replace them.

Cagepotato Comments

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boomer- June 14, 2013 at 10:45 am
right after i posted that i got a huge add pop up on my screen with blaring sound. FUCK YOU CP I HATE YOU AGAIN!
boomer- June 14, 2013 at 10:44 am
the best picture caption yet on cp. well done, well done.
NuclearSun- June 14, 2013 at 12:04 am
@algiers You've confused the Diaz brothers.
Mr_Misanthropy- June 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm
By the way TJ does a great "Blue Steel".
Mr_Misanthropy- June 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm
I know who they are, I give a shit, and I will watch. I'm not going to pay $60 bucks for anything unless I start raking it in again but as for everything else who gives a shit? It'll all come out in the wash.

I don't care if the UFC is only clearing $100 million a year now in profit instead of $500 million. I also don't care if ignorant people can't figure out what's going on.
SonOfSerbia- June 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm
Benson fights with no heart and runs around the cage like a little bitch trying to score points instead of finishing fights. Frankie Edgar was a PPV draw because he showed heart. Benson is a little bitch who tries to leg kick and lay and pray his way to victory. He should be fighting at WW anyway, I cant wait for Aldo to come up to LW and knock him out.
SethF- June 13, 2013 at 11:49 am
I think a lot of it is that the UFC doesn't build fighters the way they used to. Case in point, drainplugofideas brings up how no casual fans really knew about Grant until after the Maynard fight. Or how casual fans (who, let's face it, didn't watch WEC) skipped Ben Henderson's Facebook preliminary match, then wondered who the fuck he was when he fought for the title.

Or for that matter...Gustafsson went from crushing guys on FUEL in front of the ten readers who get that channel to (possibly) fighting for the title. Only big name he beat is an aging Shogun Rua. Only recent PPV exposure was against Matyushenko...almost two years ago. Basically, he went straight from Prelims to FUEL to title picture. To the hardcore fans, that's awesome because Alexander is a beast, but to the casual fans (ie at least 60% of any sport's television audience and up to half of its live gate, according to studies on the issue), who the fuck is this guy? I think that's a big part of why they're struggling to create stars.
KidDinomite- June 13, 2013 at 10:31 am
I'd be more inclined to pay to watch Grant then pay to watch another 5 round wrestling match. I think the problem is we're seeing the limits of the unified rules. There needs to be more stringent limits on stalling.

Either way, the UFC should really start to push guys like Edson Barboza.
drainplugofideas- June 13, 2013 at 9:00 am
*Warning: Serious Post*

MMA has gone and finished with it's initial boom. It's still an awesome sport and will continue to have fans and make money, but the days of wildly excited fans for any and all MMA products is over. The lack of name recognition for Bendo is not really surprising. Sure he's a champ, but everyone fight he's had has been super close. Bendo doesn't have a very interesting style. He's very strong and he smothers guys and trys to work his control game. If he was more experienced in the sport we would have seen him blow some chumps out of the water, but as it is he's fighting the best guys in the world and he's good enough to control them and make them look worse. And that's the thing, his fights are ugly and not great TV.

As for TJ, I mean... NO ONE heard of this guy before the maynard fight. For TJ I don't think we need an explanation for why no one knows him.
nick diaz and the dub sack- June 13, 2013 at 8:39 am
Wanna know why the sport isn't growing so fast these days? Read comments. Stupid fans who don't appreciate good fights and great fighters have hampered the whole thing.
coolsnow7- June 13, 2013 at 8:06 am
Benson is kind of an unusual case - the guy has had close, not-very-compelling fights (bear with me) every time except against Diaz. The fact is, Americans (who are the ones buying PPV) want their champions to be dominant. Benson is not. He wins but does not make it look like he's won.

A better argument might have used Jose Aldo, but of course he hasn't been given away for free at all. He's just been headlining PPV every once in a while whenever he hasn't just gotten into a motorcycle accident. Not to mention, again, he had less compelling defenses against Hominick and Florian. The point at which people started giving him more attention was after 142 when he annihilated Mendes.

The fact is, if GSP retires, and say, Johny Hendricks succeeds him and maintains the same dominance, he will certainly develop into a star. Same goes with Weidman and Anderson.
drainplugofideas- June 13, 2013 at 9:04 am
I agree 1000%. Champs need to be dominant to develop a cult following. Either that or have a winning personality and style like JDS. Bendo has neither.
Ringo- June 13, 2013 at 7:48 am
Could it also be that bendo's last 7 fights ended in a decision and that three out of the last four where "close", maybe people dont want to spend their money watching point fighters like him.
keepyahguessing- June 13, 2013 at 7:40 am
casual fans need a like myself want to see guys who stand and bang no wrestlefucking like GSP, even guys like matt brown have my interest in a card guys who go out and fight..i hardly see commericals for the regular guys bendo is good but boring to watch pillows for hands and jumps all around like clay guida...much rather see a regular guy that finishes fights or atleast has exciting ones profiled in an upcoming fight...johnny hendricks etc
algiersheadkick504- June 13, 2013 at 7:28 am
I used to like Ben Henderson in the wec. But really what has he done spectacular lately. Most people know Henderson because he got showtimed. He has had lackluster title defenses. Two close fights with Edgar, battered Diaz who didn't even think he was fighting Ben till a month before the show and a razor thin decision over Melendez I thought Melendez won but really fucking close. Anderson and Cain finish people and are huge draws...gsp used to finish people now all that matters is the w. Not finishing people but the w.
entropy763- June 13, 2013 at 6:35 am
Nothing can remain "the fastest growing" anything forever. Hopefully they realize there will be dips while new names raise to star status and as old stars burnout and retire.