UFC 172 Is Not the Most Stacked Card Ever, but That's OK

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UFC 172 Is Not the Most Stacked Card Ever, but That's OK
David Becker

It's “the most stacked card we’ve ever done.”

It's “crazy that Glover Teixeira is a 5-1 underdog.”

These are but two of the messages being championed by UFC President Dana White as he finishes his sell job for Saturday's UFC 172 event in Baltimore.

He is a fight promoter. It is his job to entice you to plop on your couch, pick up your remote and order his pay-per-view. And sometimes that job requires him to say things that have little to no basis in reality, even if it means selling an endless string of events with the same pitch: Tune in. This is the best thing we’ve ever put together.

Last week’s UFC on Fox 11 event was billed as the “most exciting card in the history of television.” As it turned out, the fight card was thrilling. It lived up to expectations and perhaps even exceeded them. But viewers didn’t buy the pitch, and the event scored just 2.5 million viewers, the lowest in the history of the series.

Why? I have to think it’s partially due to the UFC’s branding of every event as “stacked” or “exciting.” When every televised fight card is advertised as the biggest or the best, they become an unidentifiable mess. They don’t feel important because they don’t stand out from the pack. They aren’t must-see television because you can always tune in next weekend and see the next biggest and greatest card in UFC history.

Steve Snowden/Getty Images

UFC 172 represents a chance for the world to see Jon Jones in action. He is the greatest fighter in the world. He is a heavy favorite over his opponent, and rightly so. But the advertising for UFC 172 isn’t focused on the greatness of Jones. Instead, it sets up Teixeira as the latest “most dangerous threat” to Jones’ reign as champion. White is using his TV appearance time to build Teixeira up as a monster.

This is Promoting 101, of course. White wants potential viewers to believe the challenger has a chance of winning. But there comes a time when it no longer needs to be that way.

Instead of pretending like Teixeira has a real chance of beating Jones (he doesn’t), you focus on the champion. You highlight his greatness. You sell him as appointment television.

You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get to see this guy fight, so you’re an idiot if you miss it.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the best boxer in the world. Few fans actually believe any of his opponents have a chance of beating him when they step into the ring. Yet, they still tune in, but not to see the champion face his greatest challenge to date.

They tune in to see the champion, period.

The top three bouts at UFC 172 feature fights that could be called mismatches. Jones will handle Teixeira because the Brazilian simply isn’t good enough. Phil Davis will likely wrestle Anthony Johnson for three rounds, winning with ease. Luke Rockhold is nearly a 10-1 favorite over Tim Boetsch, and with good reason.

These are not the fights you see on a “stacked card.”

When I think of stacked cards, I think of a PPV with closely contested fights. Fights between superstars who have equal skill levels. Fights where you just aren’t sure who is going to win.

I also think of fight cards that are heavy on name value, like UFC 100. Fight cards filled with recognizable names from the first main card fight to the main event. With all due respect to Andre Fili, Max Holloway and Yancy Medeiros, they aren’t the level of fighter that one expects from stacked cards.

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With the UFC running two or three cards on a weekly basis, PPV events will be diluted. That’s the cost of doing business. The UFC’s international expansion plans will serve the company well in the long run, but it comes at a cost.

UFC PPVs rarely feel like must-see events these days, because Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have so many slots to fill on televised shows. They are shorter on star power than ever before, and it’s nearly impossible to create the kind of cards from the UFC’s heyday where every fight featured at least one recognizable name.

It all comes down to truth in advertising. If every fight card is the most important in history, then none of them is the most important in history. If every challenger has a great chance of beating the champion, then what does that say about the skill level of the champion?

It is OK to celebrate the greatness of Jones, Cain Velasquez and Ronda Rousey. It is OK to tell the public to tune in because it’s another chance to see great champions accomplish great things. It is OK to avoid billing every event as the best and the greatest.

Because at some point, that sell job just won’t work anymore.

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