Not that long ago, the idea of a network where glowing hockey pucks and football-playing robots could be the home of MMA seemed outrageous.
No more outrageous than those idiotic ideas themselves perhaps, but outrageous nonetheless. Outrageous because the sport was on the fringe of professional athletics, on the fringe of society's consciousness.
No one was really paying attention, and MMA was being propped up by a rabid group of diehard fans who would do almost anything to see the next card.
Part of that commitment was knowing that the game's biggest promotion would offer up some major tent-pole events on its calendar. You'd see four can't-miss offerings from the UFC every year, guaranteed: Super Bowl weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Independence Day weekend and New Year's Eve.
Times have changed a little, though.
Fiiiiiiiight weeeeeeek!!!! Henderson vs Cormier and Barao vs Dillashaw for the bantamweight title this Saturday LIVE on PPV!— Dana White (@danawhite) May 19, 2014
Fox, home of those glowing pucks and silly robots, bought up the UFC rights with an eye on making it mainstream. Part of that was a dilution of the pay-per-view product, with stars being needed for several platforms instead of one main form of combative fix.
There have been good and bad components of this Fox Era and plenty of debate from people on either side of the fence. Irrespective of that ongoing debate, though, one can't help but wonder: Do those tent-pole events mean as much as they once did to MMA fans?
It's hard to see how they do, and you needn't look any further than UFC 173 to see why.
Leading up to the event, the promotion's Memorial Day show, there were 12 easily accessible MMA events in as many weeks. That's an astounding amount of MMA, an amount that fans from 10 years ago would consider incomprehensible if you told them it was possible back then.
Are you as excited for a traditionally "big" UFC event as you once were?
Between two Fox networks, pay-per-view, the UFC's online service and its most notable competitor, Bellator, MMA has been running at an average clip of nearly two events a week.
Is it even remotely possible to be excited about a former landmark event when you've been utterly assaulted by the sport for two months straight?
That's nobody's fault, either.
Most of the events leading up to UFC 173 have provided some level of enjoyment, be it a violent thrill or truly bizarre bliss, so quality hasn't been in question. It's more a matter of proper exhaustion, the fact that the average person can only watch people punching each other so often before it gets to be ho-hum.
With that in mind, it makes sense that the formerly epic Memorial Day show would slide back to being just another event. It's a great one on paper, full of competitive bouts and athletes at various stages of stardom, but it's just not possible to be giddy with anticipation when you've put in 40-something hours of MMA viewing since April.
That suggests the days of the tent-pole event are largely over, as the UFC has opted to spread itself out across the calendar in an effort to offer fights where it can, when it can. It's a gamble predicated on the idea that consistent interest in the promotion is better than overwhelming excitement a few times a year.
Take that for what it's worth, argue it to be better or worse than the way things used to be, watch those silly robots fighting instead of throwing footballs now before you tune into the pay-per-view portion of tonight's broadcast.
But always remember that those tent-pole events propped up an entire sport when no one else was watching, and losing them will always be a sore point for those who circled them on the calendar when no one else cared.
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