UFC 180: Zuffa Finally Goes to Mexico, but Is the Main Card Good Enough?

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UFC 180: Zuffa Finally Goes to Mexico, but Is the Main Card Good Enough?
David Becker/Associated Press

For a very long time, fans of the combative sports have been waiting (or even dying) for the UFC to go to Mexico.

The reasoning is simple: Mexico is home to some of the greatest fighters in the world, hands down, and MMA fans would love to see fighters like them in the Octagon. To think that the next generation of great MMA fighters may come, at least in part, from Mexico—if they are inspired—is terribly exciting.

But we knew that was never going to happen until Zuffa decided to go all-in when it came to introducing their brand of violence to those South of the border.

To say that the stakes are high is insufficient. The sport of boxing is so ingrained into the heart of combative sport fans in Mexico that nothing less than an incredible main card is going to guarantee that the first pay-per-view impression the UFC makes is as good as it gets.

LAURA RAUCH/Associated Press
Barrera (L) and Morales (R) engaged in one of the greatest fights ever

For those who don’t think the UFC will be contending with the boxing establishment, consider this: Since 1990, Mexico has been responsible for generating 16 fighters who have participated in the Fight of the Year, according to Ring Magazine.

And that doesn’t even take into account the fighters on that list who were born in America but have Mexican heritage—men like Diego Corrales, Juan Diaz, Victor Ortiz and others.

Of course, most of you know the names associated with said greatness: Julio Cesar Chavez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, etc. They are known and loved by fight fans the world over because they have proven that they rise to the occasion, time after time.

And even though MMA fans are loathe to admit it, the boxing legends from Mexico’s past are going to play a large part in Zuffa’s march into the country. When the Octagon is set up in the Mexico City Arena, they are going to attempt to draw from the expectations of greatness that Mexican fans have of the combative sports, and that comes from boxing.

Can the UFC deliver the goods?

So far, it seems like the answer is both “yes” and “maybe.”

First of all, the event itself is already a success; UFC 180 sold out all 20,000-plus seats in eight hours, which is really an excellent sign for Zuffa’s first foray into Mexico. That is reason for both excitement and a little bit of nervousness.

Given that UFC 180 will host the finals of both the featherweight and bantamweight divisions from The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, fans will have gotten the chance to know those fighters and learn their story, week after week. That kind of drama should serve UFC 180 quite well given that stories still make the world go round.

And stories that end in great fights on the biggest stage? Well, who wouldn’t like that?

We know from experience that The Ultimate Fighter can, when it has all its ducks in a row, really generate a kind of interest that makes said fans feel invested in the fighters. That in turn ends up being the gateway to making them fans of the sport as a whole while showing the next generation of fighters that there are other options for them outside the world of boxing.

If The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America is really good, it could do both of those things, in addition to introducing Cain Velasquez, the reigning heavyweight champion, who is the first fighter of Mexican decent to ever claim the heavyweight title in the history of all major combative sports.

So, what could be the problem?

Well, it may be hard to believe, but the fights on the show should be competitive. Mexican fans appreciate a blowout as much as anyone, but a season of blowouts may leave them looking to watch something else that could bring them to the edge of their seats.

When you look at the cast of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, you notice two things right away: The eight men from Team Werdum have far fewer losses than their opposition and the men from Team Velasquez have many more fights.

The combined records for both teams stand as thus: Team Velasquez at 86-28 and Team Werdum at 30-7. Hopefully, such a disparity in experience won’t be indicative of a one-sided competition.

Then, we turn our attention to the main card of UFC 180, where we find more than a few known names.

USA TODAY Sports
Erik Perez (L)

First off, Erik Perez (14-6) will start off the main card against Marcus Brimage (6-3). While it would seem as if Perez has been set up with a fighter he should be able to defeat, the real problem is that Perez has never been on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view event. He has been on the main card of two UFC Fight Night events, but the simple fact is that he really isn’t all that well known.

Next, we have Americans Ricardo Lamas and Dennis Bermudez in the second main card bout of the night. This is honestly a very solid fight, especially since Lamas fought Jose Aldo for the title at UFC 169 and Bermudez is coming off an excellent victory over Clay Guida. 

Then, we have Diego Sanchez fighting Norman Parke. Sanchez, although American, should win over the crowd with his ferocious fighting style.

After that, we see season-17 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, Kelvin Gastelum, facing off against Jake Ellenberger.

USA TODAY Sports
Cain Velasquez (R)

Obviously, this entire card was built around the headlining bout, and it is a dandy. Cain Velasquez versus Fabricio Werdum is an excellent bout from top to bottom and honestly worth the price of admission, be it at home or on pay-per-view.

Is the main card good? It absolutely is, but one can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t have been bigger. To be honest, save for the headlining bout, the main card would have served as an excellent preliminary card; lots of great up-and-coming fighters slugging it out on a historic night.

Sadly, taking the UFC to Mexico isn’t like taking it to Florida or Texas or Boston. Out of all the fighters on the main card, there is only one who was actually born in Mexico: Erik Perez. The rest of the fighters who can claim any kind of Mexican heritage are Mexican-American.

Why might this matter at all?

Honestly, it might not, depending on how great the fights are. But if you are going to build a main card for a pay-per-view in Mexico, if you cannot stuff it full of genuine Mexican fighters, then you need to at least make up for it with some very big names to cover the difference.

Mexican fight fans love great fights, to be sure; but they go absolutely insane for Mexican fighters above all else. Oscar De La Hoya may have been the biggest name in the sport of boxing when he was in his prime, but when he fought Julio Cesar Chavez, Mexicans were cheering for Chavez, no questions asked.

When Juan Manuel Marquez was discussing his keys to victory over Juan Diaz, he summed it up simply, and we knew he was talking to the people of Mexico when he said: “Juan Diaz is 50 percent Mexican and 50 percent American. I am 100 percent Mexican.” Their fight turned out to be the Fight of the Year for 2009.

Obviously, there are more events on the UFC’s calendar for 2014 than UFC 180, but there may not be any as important as this in terms of global expansion. This is an event that the big wigs at Zuffa should have been working on and planning for since Velasquez reclaimed the title at UFC 155.

UFC 180 would have been the perfect place to put on the bout between Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis, even if it would have meant adjusting the event calendar to afford such a bout. It’s bound to be a barn-burner of a fight and there is another title on the line, which makes up for both fighters being born in America.      

The same could be said for the bout between Donald Cerrone and Eddie Alvarez, which is scheduled for UFC 178. The minute Alvarez was signed, his bout with Cerrone should have been slated for UFC 180 because both men are known names and it looks to be a great fight.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Nate Diaz

Of course, White and Zuffa should have been working to include Nate Diaz on the card. White may think that Diaz doesn’t “move the needle,” but his name, coupled with his style, would go over very well in Mexico, especially if he was pitted against Diego Sanchez.

All of the above suggested fighters have big-enough names and enough Mexican heritage to make up for the fact that they are not nationals; two very important things when a promotion is going to go to a country and play upon their national pride.

UFC 180 isn’t just another event—it is the event of 2014 for the UFC in terms of global expansion. If they can’t make a big splash on November 15, they may not get another chance to reverse the public opinion of a nation that knows boxing as the only combative sport of any worth.

Boxing has been thriving in Mexico for several decades, and as such is in direct competition with the UFC once Zuffa steps foot into the country. Unless UFC 180 really blows the doors off the joint with bout after bout producing Fight of the Year-caliber effort, people of that great country are going to be judging it against the best that boxing has given them.

When you consider bouts like Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales, Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor and countless other epic fights that have given Mexican fans so much to be proud of, the UFC cannot settle for less.

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