When Did MMA Fans Become So Spoiled?

Elton HobsonCorrespondent INovember 3, 2009

So the rest of 2009 stretches out before us and we have only one title fight on the docket - it’s safe to say that the UFC is stretched a little thin, right?

Maybe so, but judging from fan reaction, I think it’s even safer to say that MMA fans really have become a very spoiled lot indeed - with no long term memory to boot.

Don’t get me wrong, even as I hurl the accusation I understand the reasons why. The first half of 2009 held such great promise, and delivered such great results. The UFC delivered a full plate of blockbuster fights - St. Pierre vs. Penn 2, Griffin vs. Silva, and the record breaking UFC 100. We saw some amazing, all-time great fights - Silva vs. Franklin from UFC 99, Couture vs. Nogueria from UFC 102, Sanchez vs. Guida from the TUF 9 finale.

Outside the UFC, fans and haters of Gina Carano alike got to see her steamrolled by Wanderlei Silva in a sports bra. The MTV crowd got their fix of obnoxious and contrived with “Bully Beatdown”. There’s was free events and reality TV drama in equal measure. And Japan kept doing it’s own very unique thing.

So needless to say, expectations were high. But the latter half of 2009 has seen some very poor luck indeed, especially for the UFC. Simply put, four of the five UFC belt holders and PPV attractions are currently sitting on the sidelines due to injury. If Dana White wasn’t already bald, I think he’d be turning grey.

Brock Lesnar, victorious over Frank Mir and Randy Couture, could not defeat the H1N1 virus, forcing him from the UFC 106 main event. Fellow PPV giant Georges St. Pierre is still out with a torn abductor. Anderson Silva’s recent elbow surgery has put the timing of his fight with Vitor Belfort in doubt. That’s three huge names, out for the rest of the year at least.

Most frustrating of all, LHW Champion Lyoto Machida has been forced to the sidelines by a broken hand, putting his big money rematch with “Shogun” Rua - you guessed it - in total limbo. It’s something of a minor miracle that White talked BJ Penn out of bed to defend his title against Diego Sanchez in December, marking the first time the Hawaiian has fought three time in one year in his UFC career.

Then there’s the Rampage/Dana falling out, which ruined a whole season of smack talking, door breaking, reality television drama. Dan Henderson’s future seems in some doubt, just after he finally arrived as a big MMA star in his native land. Onetime PPV superstar Chuck Liddell has probably danced his way into permanent retirement. Fighter injuries continue to pile up, causing headaches for Joe Silva as well as fighters like Jon Fitch, who went from fighting Ricardo Almeida (now out with a knee injury) at one event to fighting Thiago Alves (same) at another to now fighting Mike Peirce (yeah, cause he’s on the same level as Thiago Alves) on a third card. And it goes on.

My point is that the UFC has been forced to shuffle like mad to find solid replacement fights. In the month of November, the result is two cards - one of them free - headlined by Couture vs. Vera and Griffin vs. Ortiz 2, respectively. And lots of fan criticism.

The UFC itself must shoulder some of the blame for this recent wave of fan disappointment. By setting such a high standard and insisting on an ambitious schedule, they really did set their own bar a bit too high. Lots of new fans were drawn to the sport in 2009 - a great many of them will be expecting UFC 100 like events on a regular basis, and to some degree the UFC has encouraged this kind of thinking. Every fight is advertised beyond hyperbole - “The biggest bout of so and so’s career!” “The most stacked card in UFC history!” “Don’t miss this epic grudge match!”

But have MMA fans really become so jaded? I remember when me and my friends first began ordering UFC PPV’s on a regular basis - circa 2004-2005 - and every second card at least was, to put it succinctly, a piece of shit. I mean c’mon - we once paid $49.99 for Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers, and did it happily. It didn’t matter if the main event wasn’t exactly sterling - we watched because we liked the sport and we liked an exciting fight regardless of who was in it. Even then, the UFC and MMA had a much better track record then other combat sports like boxing, which holds one, maybe two big fights a year. Stacked cards, like Pride 33 and UFC 58 were a rare blessing, with weaker, “run of the mill” cards the expected norm.

For the average fan today, it seems that equation has been completely reversed. Furthermore, I don’t really view either UFC 105 or UFC 106 - both the targets of heavy fan scorn - as weak cards, going by the standards I outlined above.

First and foremost, UFC 105 is free. So if you can stomach a Mickey’s Malt Liquor add every 3 minutes, you have nothing to complain about.

Ok, so Couture vs. Vera isn’t a barnburner - my cousin described it as a “has been vs. a never was” which is pretty close to the truth. Still, it’s a fight with huge implications. If Randy wins, I seriously think the UFC will push him for a title shot - possibly after Machida/Rua 2 - as a good way to juice one last payday out of the venerable fighting legend. If Vera wins, he gets one more chance to prove he’s not a “never was” and will get heavy promotion from the UFC with the win.

Then there’s UFC 106, with Griffin vs. Ortiz 2 headlining, which has drawn the lion‘s share of fan hatred. This I understand - hey, in these hard economic times, you gotta work a little harder for my $49.99, Dana! But I really can’t blame him here. Lesnar vs. Carwin would have been a blockbuster card, and when that fell through Dana simply promoted the co-main event to main event status. What choice did he have - he was already stretched for main events.

The result, to my eyes, is far from weak. Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin are two of the most well known and loved fighters in the history of the UFC, and they have a history in terms of their previous meeting. Purely on paper, this fight would be gigantic. The problem is in the details. Ortiz is coming off back surgery, making his return after a year away from the cage, where he was coming off a loss. There are serious questions to be asked regarding his ability and relative level of ring rust, risky astrixes to have attached to a main event fight. As for Griffin, his uh, “tactical retreat” following the Anderson Silva loss has done much to erase his once endless reservoir of fan love and appreciation. Will he still command interest and attention coming into this fight?

All good questions - ones which I can’t wait to see answered. As well, the undercard of UFC 106 is tremendous, equal to the main event in my opinion. Karo Parysian vs. Dustin Hazelett should be an incredible grappling contest, a battle of wills between two guys with very different styles. “Little” Nog makes his UFC debut against Luiz Cane in a fight that should be a barnburner. Josh Koscheck and Anthony Johnson face mirror images of each other - who will vault themselves into contership for the 170 lb. title? Throw in Amir Sadollah and Phil Baroni (what the hell, right Dana?) and that seems like a solid card top to bottom - hardly the stinker fans are making it out to be.

Just remember that less stacked cards often produce more exciting fights - just look at UFC 102 or UFC 99, both of which lacked any title fights but were both highlighted by “Fight of the Year” performances in the main event. Remember that we once were asked to pay for Shamrock vs. Kimo…in 2005.

Count your blessings folks.