All good things to those who wait.
Let’s face it, for even the most ardent and enthusiastic UFC fan, the past six months have been brutal. And I’m not referring to the type of brutal that MMA fans are looking for. Over the past six months, the only big UFC PPV main event that had us salivating and counting down the days was Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II. And if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves, only the newer fans of the sport or those who buy into the trash-talking were doing proverbial backflips over this match-up. For the rest of us who have been around the UFC/MMA block a few times, we knew this was a hopeless mismatch and that Sonnen had little chance of winning.
Looking back through May, the UFC has offered little in the way of Main Event fights that capture the imagination. Nor have these fights caused us to rush to read up on MMA news, research the fighters’ records, scrutinize their wins and losses, or even log onto an internet forum to argue with a complete stranger over why our guy is going to beat their guy.
Since May, there have been four title fights in the UFC. Apart from the aforementioned Silva/Sonnen fight, the lead-up to these fights failed to generate the excitement most have grown to expect from UFC Main Events. The Benson Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar title fight didn’t build a great amount of anticipation, as the two had recently fought to a decision. Additionally, this was yet another consecutive rematch for the Lightweight title. Considering the depth of the UFC’s LW roster of talent, many fans wanted to see different contenders challenging for the title in hopes of clearing the log-jam at the top of the division. The recent title challenges for both the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles offered replacement fighters: Vitor Belfort stepped in for injured Dan Henderson and Frank Mir stepped in after Alistair Overeem was suspended for a failed drug test. Fans seemed excited and enthusiastic about both Henderson and Overeem challenging for the title in their respective divisions. They were far less enthused by the replacement match-ups offered instead.
Granted, there were a few fights worth watching. Most devoted MMA fans wanted to see newcomers Stephan Struve and Stipe Miocic fight. Many of us were also interested in the Jon Fitch/Erick Silva match-up. There was the match-up between Mark Munoz (who would have been the man to challenge Anderson Silva’s reign had it not been for injury) and the undefeated Chris Weidman. During this time, iconic fighter Rich Franklin took on two different legends in Wanderlei Silva and Cung Le. And, of course, there was even one of those interim titles on the line between Urijah Faber and Renan Barao. The problem is that none of these match-ups can carry a big UFC event. At least not in the manner that we’ve grown accustomed to. As it applies to PPV events, these fights aren’t “Main Events”. These are the fights that are second, third, or even fourth on what most of us would deem a ‘can’t miss’ fight card.
All in all, it’s been a tough patch for UFC fans to go through. And it isn’t fair to lay the blame at the feet of the UFC. Dana White didn’t tell a whole host of elite level fighters to get injured. Joe Silva didn’t encourage Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz to fail drug tests. Lorenzo Fertita didn’t ask Carlos Condit and Renan Barao to refuse to defend their interim titles and sit out waiting for the real champion to return from injuries. The UFC did all they could to find the best fighters and match-ups available. The problem is that these replacement fights and fighters failed to create the same level of enthusiasm and intrigue as those originally scheduled.
During this time, Strikeforce and Bellator haven’t really stepped up and filled the void, either. But that’s okay. Patience is a virtue and all good things come to those who wait. And boy, are there some good things coming right around the corner!
Starting this Saturday at UFC 154, our long wait will be over as Georges St-Pierre has recovered from knee surgery and will be putting his title on the line against the consensus number one ranked Welterweight and Interim Champion Carlos Condit. The Co-Main Event features a true pick ‘em battle between Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann with the winner earning the next crack at the Welterweight title.
Following that, The UFC on Fox has a stacked fight card. The Main Card features MMA legends and former UFC champions BJ Penn and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua facing raising stars Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson, respectively. The evening is capped off with a title fight between Lightweight champion Benson Henderson and the number one contender Nate Diaz. What’s better than a star-powered fight card with elite fighters fighting in relevant fights along with a title bout? How about all of those things on free network TV! That’s right, MMA fans—you won’t be expected to shell out 45 bucks to watch this one! It’s been said that if something happens once it could be a fluke, but if it happens twice it’s a pattern. This is the second UFC title fight on free network television. Let’s all hope this is truly a pattern.
In the coming months, Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos will put his title on the line against Cain Velasqeuz, which many of us (including myself) believe could become MMA’s version of Ali/Frazier. Highly-ranked pound for pound fighter and Featherweight champion Jose Aldo puts his title on the line against former Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Both Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz are nearing the end of their suspensions. And dare we dream about the possibilities of a super fight between Anderson Silva and either Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones?
This has been a bumpy road and true test for MMA fans. But for those of you who have toughed it out, a tip of the hat to you! You’re about to be rewarded for your patience; things are about to get really interesting again.