It was a nice little theory we had there. Real nice.
Anyone with a rooting interest in MMA was kind of looking at it the same way: If the UFC gives away the fights of a guy who's pretty good on Fox, they'll be able to monetize him on pay-per-view once people are hooked.
Definitely sound reasoning on paper.
Think of all the free samples you get in the mail, or the fact that you can go to Costco on a Saturday afternoon and end up with a full meal from the bite-sized samplers at the end of every aisle.
Giving people a taste for free often works when the endgame is getting them to buy that thing later on down the line.
This time, though, there has to be reason for concern.
Why? According to reports within the arena, people at UFC 174 were leaving before the main event was even over, indicating that the free samples hadn't done much of a job over the past year or so.
Damn, people are streaming out of the arena like its a 20 point lead late in the 4th.— E. Casey Leydon (@ekc) June 15, 2014
Headliner Demetrious Johnson, infallible flyweight champion and, for the purposes of this comparison, the sample you got in the mail or at the end of the aisle, was still plying his trade when the fans decided they'd had enough.
His one-sided trouncing of Ali Bagautinov, another technical master class for Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan to tell you all about, wasn't interesting enough to keep the fans in their seats.
Battling an early rush for cabs in the Vancouver rain was more appealing than watching what you'd paid (handsomely) to watch.
Now sure, that in and of itself isn't the end of the world. It's bad, but it could have happened to anyone, and just as easily could have happened on one of the Fox shows, as opposed to with Johnson headlining his first pay-per-view.
However, the question here is not necessarily about people leaving the venue early, but rather what that action represents for UFC in the greater scheme of things.
The UFC has put considerable time and effort into making Johnson a known commodity. Millions upon millions of people have now seen him bouncing around the Octagon at breakneck pace, peppering challengers with all manners of physical demolition.
Going into Saturday, he'd had spectacular finishes in his last two bouts and hadn't been in a truly bad fight for as long as he'd been in the UFC.
What did all that get him? 14,000 people who paid to watch him couldn't be bothered to see it through. If that was the attitude of the people who were already in the door, what's to be expected of people in their living rooms as they decided whether or not to part with their $60?
There's no way to say for sure, but no one could believe it to be positive without a little hand-wringing and collar-tugging.
It's weird how that happens in sports. How a guy doesn't resonate no matter how badly the powers that be want to make him a star. It's that much worse in MMA, the ultimate singles sport, one where you live and die solely by your own performances and personality.
And when those powers that be give those performances and that personality away for nothing, expecting it to pay off in the long run? Well buddy, it better. If not, there's no telling how long the losses will be felt or how deep they'll run.