The UFC crew has had a dizzying month—five fight cards, three countries and more than 100 fighters competing for pride, position and giant wads of cash. They will get a chance to breathe again soon, when UFC 149, the UFC's first event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is finally in the books.
It has been a brutal schedule, one that's taken its toll on the company's staff. It's also been a month that has highlighted a significant weakness in the UFC's plans for worldwide expansion—there just aren't enough top-level fighters to support this kind of robust touring schedule.
At one point, a UFC pay-per-view was something special. It was an honor for fighters to be booked on the main card. Competition for the spots was fierce. In turn, fans knew that when they put down their money, they were guaranteed a great night of fights. They could rely on it.
In fact, these stacked cards helped the UFC expand and grow its business even in the face of global financial catastrophe. Sure, the UFC PPV cost $54.95. Maybe that stretched the wallet thin, but it was a good bet for your entertainment dollar, a sure-fire night of fun for you and your buddies. Could you say the same about the latest Adam Sandler comedy or another night at the local sports bar?
Look no further than UFC 149's disappointing fight card to get an idea of how far standards have fallen in an effort to meet increased demand.
Main-eventer Urijah Faber is the only fighter on the card whose name can move tickets and the crowd. His opponent, Renan Barao, is a dangerous fighter but a virtual unknown. He has only competed once on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view.
It's a perfect supporting bout, but as a main event? A disaster.
In the co-main event, Hector Lombard is making his UFC debut against Tim Boetsch, a fighter who, before upsetting Yushin Okami, had beaten five tomato cans with a combined UFC record of 11-14. It's a fight that, rather than getting fans riled up, likely sent many scrambling to Wikipedia to figure out exactly who Boetsch and Lombard are.
There's always a chance that the card will deliver an entertaining night of fights. UFC shows tend to do that, in part because mixed martial arts is such an amazing sport. But what distinguishes this fight card from the ones fans get for free on FX or Fuel?
That's the question fans will be asking themselves when they start discussing their options Saturday night. It's a tough sell for the UFC and a sign that the sport has grown faster than the infrastructure of fighters that supports it. A handful of injuries—commonplace in a hardcore sport—can throw the entire promotion into disarray, especially when the glut of events means there are no fighters in reserve to take their place.
This card is a prime example of that, as stars like Jose Aldo, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Michael Bisping have all come and gone from the event's roster.
I know, too much demand sounds like a good problem to have. But make no mistake—the UFC is walking a very dangerous road with these questionable events. The promotion's brand is built on good will and a track record of delivering great talent and great fights.
When they lose that good will, when they no longer have the reputation of putting on the best show in all of sports, then what happens? Competing promotions have done their best over the years to bring the UFC down a notch or two. To a man, from boxing's Gary Shaw to gambling maven Calvin Ayre, they've failed miserably.
Could it be that Dana White's own competence and leadership will do what his enemies could not? Will the UFC be a victim of its own success?