By Matt Saccaro
Oversaturation. Lack of stars. Declining interest. Record-low numbers. An ephemeral casual fanbase. A hardcore fanbase that doesn’t care anymore. A resurgent competitor with a new, well-liked, adept president backed by a financial titan.
Those topics have all been under substantial discussion in the past few months–as they should be. Those are the very real, very pressing problems the UFC faces as we enter the second half of 2014.
But last night at UFC 175, the MMA world was able to forget all that–specifically because of the PPV’s main and co-main events.
The co-main event featured UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey taking on challenger Alexis Davis. As Rousey headed to the cage, I took to CagePotato’s Twitter and presciently stated Rousey-Davis would be the most one-sided fight we see all year. That’s exactly what it turned out to be. Rousey vs. Davis made Chad Mendes vs. Cody McKenzie seem well-booked and competitive.
I know what you’re saying, “Why is the UFC-sponsored cash cow Ronda Rousey winning a squash match something to get pumped up about?”
If you paid any attention to the NFL in the late 90s/early 2000s, you might remember “The Greatest Show on Turf.” That’s what everyone called the record-breaking offense for the St.Louis Rams. At the time, there was nothing like it. Watching their games, even the one-sided blowouts, was incredible because you had the sense that watching such artistry was a privilege. You didn’t care about the 48-3 score, you cared about witnessing the spectacle, the athleticism, and the talent.
If the St.Louis Rams were the Greatest Show on Turf, Ronda Rousey is the Greatest Show on Canvas (or the Greatest Show in a Cage or whatever gimmicky honorific you’d like to use). There is quite literally nothing in MMA like watching Ronda Rousey fight–the legendary scowl she sports while “Bad Reputation” blasts in the background, her in-cage dominance, her justifiably matter-of-fact air of superiority, and the deluge of discussions that pours over the MMA community after she wins a fight.
Ronda Rousey is…unique, gifted, special, or any other similar term you prefer to use. There is not a second Ronda Rousey in MMA right now in terms of the interest–whether due to adoration or loathing–she’s capable of generating. As long as the UFC has her, they have something the fans will care about, something that’ll make the promotion worth following.
There was more to UFC 175 than just Ronda Rousey.
UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman defended his title against Lyoto Machida in the card’s main event. While Weidman dominated the first three rounds, the last two were ferociously contested. Machida almost pulled off a Gregor Clegane-level comeback as Weidman tired and opened himself up to numerous flurries. Just as it seemed Weidman might be running on empty, the Long Island native met Machida’s whirlwind of offense with his own.
The last two rounds of Weidman-Machida were everything an MMA competition should be–contested in several areas of fighting, dramatic, enjoyable, competitive, and fought between two highly skilled fighters who are among the elite of the elite. It’s this last bit that’s most important.
Any two fighters can throw their fists and dramatic have reversals of fortune. Too many fans are content with just that–random regional-level fighters closing their eyes, sticking their chins out, and throwing hooks from their waists–”banging.” While fans accept such a product because it’s branded “UFC,” it’s not something the UFC has a monopoly on. Any MMA promotion on the planet can offer that. However, top fighters like Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida in a brutal struggle for the only title in the MMA world that matters is something unique to the UFC.
Bellator, even with Scott Coker and Viacom’s apparent renewed interest, can’t create a card like UFC 175–nor a spectacle like Ronda Rousey, nor a fantastic fight where the MMA world hangs in the balance like Weidman-Machida. None of the UFC’s competitors can.
UFC 175 was an example of what makes the UFC special, what makes it the “Super Bowl of MMA.” The UFC would do well to remember that, lest it continues lowering its own standard and falls into ruin.