In case you haven’t yet heard: UFC 129 is shaping up to be a pretty big deal.
In a little less than two weeks' time, the most successful MMA promotion in history touches down in the biggest fight city in the world, to put on the biggest card they‘ve ever done, in front of the largest crowd in North American MMA history.
So for MMA fans, UFC 129 is like the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Royal Wedding all rolled into one—minus the stuffy royals, geriatric rock bands and bombing British comedians.
Okay, so it’s nothing like the Super Bowl, Oscars or Royal Wedding. But it’s a pretty huge deal, a seismic shift in the combat sports world and a high water mark for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If you’re Dana White, nothing makes you happier than telling Scott Coker your favorite joke:
Dana: Scott, what’s the name of that old sitcom starring Tony Danza?
Scott: *sigh*…Who’s the Boss?
Dana: I am motherf*cker, and don’t you ever forget it!
The news narrative surrounding this event has been an unending avalanche of really good news. Fifty-five thousand tickets sold; all moved faster than Usain Bolt on crystal meth. A card stacked with big fights and world title matches. A main event anchored by the second-most popular three-letter acronym in MMA: G-S-P.
So it’s all systems go, right?
Let me stop you right there, so I can rain all over your happy little parade.
Yes, Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields is a huge fight in its own right, a clash of P4P top-10 fighters and lineal world champions. It’s a fantastic main event, and I for one can’t wait.
But I’m hardly the typical MMA fan. And as far as the typical MMA fan is concerned, GSP vs. Shields is starting to show signs of being an epic flop.
For starters, to most “casual” MMA fans, Jake Shields is an empty suit as challenger. He might as well be listed as “Opponent” on the event poster for all the name recognition he has among the UFC rank-and-file.
Dan Hardy was similarly unknown when he challenged St-Pierre’s title, but he at least had something of a UFC winning streak going into his shot and oh yeah—a personality.
For most fans, they’re only exposure to Jake was the 15 minutes he spent heaving for air and trying to hug Martin Kampmann to death at UFC 121. When his hand was raised at the end of those 15 minutes, many fans cried foul.
Jake’s previous two wins were on CBS network television, a pretty good outlet for mass exposure. Unfortunately, those fights were about as dull as a cheap airline butter-knife. Ratings during these fights fell through the floor.
If we believe Frank Shamrock, they were actually so bad they drew negative numbers.
That’s right—Jake was so boring, he actually convinced people who were on the fence not to buy television sets. That’s some powerful mojo, folks.
And just like that, a dude who was once a BJJ killer became Jon Fitch 2.0.
And then there’s GSP himself. The welterweight champion is certainly at the peak of his popularity, both inside MMA and out, but there are signs that fans are starting to lose interest as he begins to lap his division.
Just look at the numbers for the latest edition of “UFC Primetime”, featuring GSP and Shields. At one time, this show was a promotional juggernaut, drawing over one million viewers an episode for the GSP/BJ Penn build-up.
Even the first episode of the GSP/Hardy Primetime series drew nearly 800,000 viewers, with nearly that number tuning in for the repeat broadcast.
In contrast, the first episode of Primetime: St-Pierre vs. Shields barely broke 600,000 viewers. There’s only so many times fans can be sold on, “Georges St-Pierre will fight his greatest threat ever! My God the bad blood!” only to get 5 rounds of GSP cruising to another dominating victory and then hugging it out after the fight.
Which brings me to the fight itself. Let’s get real here: barring some sort of miracle or Aristotelian confluence of events, this fight is going to be a snoozer.
Shields has only one avenue to victory, and that’s to take GSP down and try to submit him. His game plan in every fight is pretty transparent. And for his part, GSP has shown a marked aversion to risk-taking in his fights of late.
So let me go ahead and spoil this fight for you: Jake comes forward. GSP retreats. Jake shoots for a double. GSP stuffs, then retreats. Jake throws an awkward arm punch. GSP blocks, jabs Jake in the eyeball, and retreats. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Now me personally, I’m not complaining. I’m that kind of MMA fan—call it “hardcore” if you will—for which an MMA fight has to work very hard to bore me.
I can’t wait to see who wins the GSP/Shields positional battle, because both these guys are used to being the hammer, not the anvil. One way or another, one of these guys is going to be out of his element come the 30th. I can’t wait to find out who.
But for most fans, sitting there in there TapouT shirts and Harley Davidson belt buckles, drinking Bud Light or Xyience or Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor (there’s a find drink selection if I do say so myself), GSP vs. Shields could be the dark horse “stinker” of the year.
Good thing we also have Aldo vs. Hominick on the card to deliver up some surefire brain damage…Uh, I mean, a highlight-reel knockout.