When we heard that the UFC was working to make Ronda Rousey vs. Gina Carano a reality, we should have known then that things were changing, perhaps by necessity.
Since the beginning of 2014, the pay-per-view numbers that had been so kind to the UFC during the time of Georges St-Pierre and a healthy Anderson Silva have passed. In its place are figures that, while solid, do not exactly speak to the notion that the sport of MMA is setting the world on fire.
In fact, UFC 174 posted some of the lowest PPV numbers the company has seen—95,000 to 115,000 range— since the days when Andrei Arlovski was the heavyweight champion, back at UFC 53.
To remedy that ailment, the UFC has taken action.
Now Nick Diaz, possessor of the kind of will and style that drives fans wild, has gotten what he wanted in the way of money, and the UFC has gotten what it wanted in the way of a fight: Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz.
Diaz has been involved in some barnburner bouts that made the crowd go wild. Against men like Takanori Gomi, Paul Daley and countless others, Diaz has backed up the talk and put his money where his mouth was, and the crowd loved it.
Of course, Dana White and the UFC love that, too. And they want that for one very simple reason: It’s half of the equation needed to make an incredible fight, and the majority of fans will love it enough to buy it.
And if enough people buy it (especially if it is part of a stacked card), then the UFC could have its first big event since Silva’s last appearance in the cage at UFC 168, which was the only pay-per-view event to break one million buys since July 2010, when Brock Lesnar took on Shane Carwin at UFC 116.
Since then, the UFC has had some big events; St-Pierre helped generate some of the highest PPV events during that time, and his highest numbers came against one man: Nick Diaz.
UFC 158 generated approximately 950,000 buys, high for a GSP-headlined card, and averaged roughly 750,000 buys since the Lesnar days. Clearly, GSP was the major reason for such high numbers, but Diaz provided the “special ingredient” needed to push it over the top.
However, unlike UFC 158, UFC 183 will see Diaz pitted against a fighter who will not be looking to turn the fight into a wrestling match, a fighter who is happiest with hands, feet, knees and elbows flying: Anderson Silva.
Finally, after all of Diaz's years of talk and shouting from the rooftops that no one would stand with him, he has finally been heard, although a fight with Silva hardly seems like a reward.
Indeed, it is more like “Be careful what you wish for…”
Even though Silva will be 40 years old by the time they climb in the cage, he’s still relevant and probably dangerous enough to close the show in a split second; when paired with the constant aggression of Diaz, they could provide the fireworks that Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown did not.
And while there has been talk of Diaz getting a title shot should he defeat Silva, the simple fact is that this bout is not really about divisional standings—it’s about wish fulfillment for many a fight fan. It’s for bragging rights, and that is something altogether different and equally exciting because it is personal.
For too long now, fans and writers have acted as if the UFC should be all about one thing and one thing alone: divisional ramifications. While this is laudable, it also circumvents the other demands that the sport was built to serve: entertaining the fans and making money.
Rousey vs. Carano is proof positive. Both are about as big as MMA stars can get on the big screen, and pulling the luster of Hollywood back into the Octagon is not done for divisional anything—it’s done to get those numbers and make that cash.
As is the case with Rousey vs. Carano, so too is Silva vs. Diaz.
Make no mistake about it—the UFC has always had a plan: global domination and making big stars that in turn would get it the big PPV numbers.
It is making enough headway in the former as evidenced by how many shows it is staging per year and how many are in foreign countries. Now it wants to get back to work on the latter, and that means getting some high-profile fights back to the Octagon on PPV.
The UFC has been doing solid work at growing the sport by promoting the lower weight classes in the PPV arena, but it can’t afford to let the public’s attention wander for too long.
The fights that have been showcased on PPV in 2014 have been good, meaningful bouts—important fights that needed to happen—but that which is necessary is not always enough.
Rousey vs. Carano was the beginning, and now, with the announcement of Silva vs. Diaz, the UFC is showing that it understands that title fights are not the only big fights available or watchable.
Will you be watching Rousey vs. Carano or Silva vs. Diaz? Chances are that if you are more than a casual fan and have the means and a free schedule, you will be. If the history of math is to be relied upon, a great many of you will, in fact—perhaps more than a million.
And if that does indeed come to pass, it could be just the shot in the arm that the UFC’s PPV machine needs. From there, other fights could be made—bouts that are more about action and fireworks than anything else: Diego Sanchez vs. Conor McGregor, for instance, or Junior Dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem.
Bouts like these might not make sense from a divisional ranking or advancement process, but they do far more good than harm. They give fans who may be tiring of countless fights that follow the due process of divisional advancement some much-needed variety.
As the UFC goes forward, it seems to have learned that it cannot afford to leave any stone unturned. In doing so, odds are high that the fans will find themselves treated to some exceptional fights, while the UFC finds its PPV numbers growing to a higher standard.
As much as Don King has been rightly criticized, he was also terribly honest about the practical side of fight promotion. One of his more famous quotes touches that rarely touted principle of the fight game—a needed aspect that is rarely appreciated by anyone who doesn’t work to make the fights.
“Martin Luther King took us to the mountain top,” King said. “I want to take us to the bank.”
Indeed, it’s not like these fighters can be paid with Monopoly money—well, not that kind of monopoly, anyway.