There is not a fighter currently in the UFC that doesn't aspire to be featured on the main card of any televised event whether it's pay-per-view, Fox, FX or otherwise.
The main card signifies recognition from the UFC in a number of ways for a fighter. It means a fighter is climbing up the ranks and should be seen by a wider audience. It means the fighter is somebody fans want to watch or should take notice of when they compete.
For the fighter, beyond recognition from the UFC, it also means larger paydays and bigger sponsorships because the more eyeballs on a fight translates into better opportunities.
Several high-profile managers confirmed when speaking to Bleacher Report that the difference for a fighter competing on the main card versus the preliminary show can mean huge sums of money. Some fighters can draw rates up to 600 percent higher when showcased on a pay-per-view or a Fox card.
There are also situations where a fighter can benefit from being featured on an FX card depending on the selling power of a pay-per-view, but typically across the board every manager agrees it's better for a fighter's career to be on the main card versus any other slot on a show's lineup.
This weekend, like most UFC events, a mix of fighters will be showcased on either FX or Facebook as the preliminary bouts that essentially serve as a warm-up to the main card. The preliminary fights are kind of like the opening band at a big concert. They are there to get the crowd ready for the big act that's about to hit the stage.
It's not a bad spot to have by any means because millions of fans still have access to watch the fights worldwide, and on a network like FX, as previously mentioned, it could mean potentially bigger numbers than even a pay-per-view might draw. The goal, however, is to make it to the main card, and there are several competitors this weekend fighting at UFC on Fox 7 who are battling for wins and a little bit of recognition.
Former Ultimate Fighter finalist Ramsey Nijem will be looking for his fourth win in a row this weekend since dropping down to 155 pounds. Nijem doesn't mind the slow and easy approach to his career when it comes to fighting on the preliminary portion of the show.
He's also realistic about where he fits into the pay scale of the UFC as he still serves out his original contract from being on the reality show. Typically, fighters coming off of the Ultimate Fighter are set at a certain level, and once they complete that deal then they can renegotiate for a different contract.
"Taking it one fight at a time, and they keep matching me up with similar guys as me in the lightweight division right now. I'm okay with that because I don't want to go fight a guy that's making ten times the money I'm making while I'm still under the Ultimate Fighter contract," Nijem told Bleacher Report recently. "I want to just build my name and reputation and then when I'm out of it I can start taking bigger fights. I'm still developing as a fighter, I don't want to rush into anything yet.
"I'm in like an entry way job. I'm still making entry wage pay. So it's not like I'm going to fight a guy making $200 grand and pay-per-view cuts and I'm making $10,000 or $14,000 whatever I'm making this next fight."
Nijem's opponent Myles Jury finds himself in a similar situation after competing on the 15thseason of the reality show. Jury is 2-0 since exiting the show but also understands that he has to earn his way to the main card.
While there's no set of rules the UFC sets forth on how a fighter can make the main card, sometimes it's about the matchup, and other times it's about they style of fighter and how exciting they can make a bout. A little personality goes a long way as well when a fighter is willing to talk and promote a card.
Jury plans on being himself and not portraying some over-the-top character just to get featured on television. He figures getting there the old fashioned way with hard work is a better approach.
"I'm not like Chael Sonnen or some of these other guys that like to talk their way up to big fights. I just do me. I stay true to myself, I stay original to myself. I'm my own unique person. I'm not going to change no matter what. I'm just going to keep being me and as long as I keep winning, people will respect that," said Jury. "Sometimes I'll just be zoning out and I'll think it would just be cool to fight on the main card of a pay-per-view or what not.
"On the main card you get more sponsors and more opportunity, more exposure, all that stuff. At the end of the day, I feel like fighting in the UFC's a gift. Honestly I could really care less. I don't know if that's bad to say."
Being employed by the UFC is another thing just about every professional fighter desires, so Jury is correct in that regard. But that doesn't mean advancement isn't possible. It's no different than landing a dream job with a company and then climbing up the ranks.
UFC featherweight Darren Elkins is another preliminary fighter with main card dreams, but he's also gunning for a title shot this weekend.
A winner of five fights in a row at 145 pounds, Elkins seized the opportunity to face No. 1 ranked Chad Mendes this weekend at UFC on Fox 7 on short notice when his original opponent, Clay Guida, dropped out due to injury. Like any fighter, Elkins wants to be recognized for his victories on the way to the top, but his goals take him to the height of the sport with a gold belt wrapped around his waist in the near future.
"I look at this as a situation to put me where I want to be at," Elkins said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "It's a guy that's going to put me in a title shot position. In everyone's rankings he's either one behind Jose Aldo or one behind that, he's No. 2 or 3 in all the rankings. His only loss is to the champion. There's no doubt this is a great opportunity to shoot up the rankings.
"If I put on a great performance I think that's going to be the key. We have to go out there and show who deserves a title shot."
A title shot in the featherweight division would also guarantee Elkins his first trip to the main card of a UFC show. Through seven fights, Elkins has never tasted what it's like to be featured on the main card, but he hopes to change all that with a win over Mendes this weekend.
Of course every fighter is going to approach the opportunity to fight in the UFC differently, whether it's on the main card or the preliminary portion of the show.
Nijem is just showing patience, and he knows that if he keeps winning there's no denying him a spot in a big fight down the road. He looks at this fight and however many more he has to take while competing on the prelims as a chance to get better and improve.
When the time is right, Nijem knows he'll get the call up to the big show and then he'll have his chance to shine.
"Once I'm on a good streak and can renegotiate and everything like that, I feel like I'm fighting guys at the same tier as me right now," said Nijem. "I want to keep building my name as a top lightweight."
His opponent tries to ignore all the talk about main cards and prelims because he has no control over where he's placed. Sure, there are times Jury wonders why one fight or fighter is on a main card, but ultimately he trusts UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby to make the right calls.
"What really helps me to not even think about that stuff is I really have no control of it," said Jury. "I see some guys get on the main card and I'm like they definitely deserve that. Then I see other people and I'm like how did they get there? You've just got to go out there and be yourself. I really have no control over there."
All three fighters will try to stake a claim this weekend on the UFC on Fox 7 prelims. Depending on the outcome, it could mean a trip to the main card the next time they step foot in the Octagon.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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