This summer, the UFC's Pay-Per-View fortunes start—and end—with Georges St-Pierre.
The GSP-headlined UFC 129 was a massive success for the UFC—quite on top of the record-setting 55,724 screaming drunk Canadians who crammed into Toronto's Rogers Centre. The event drew close to a million buys on PPV, a phenomenal number for any combat sports PPV not headlined by a lounge-singing Filipino congressman. It was a touchstone event in every way.
Sadly, UFC 129 could also prove to be a high water mark for the UFC in 2011.
The following UFC event, Matt Hamill vs. “Rampage” Jackson last month, drew a relatively piddling 300,000 buys—below what was thought to be the baseline for a UFC PPV.
Then this weekend we had Carwin vs. Dos Santos, a short notice fill-in fight between two (mostly) vanilla and (mostly) unknown heavyweights. Oh, and it went down the day after Game 5 of the Bruins and the Canucks for the Stanley Cup.
It's so bad that even I found myself trying hard to care about last night's card—then I see Joey Beltran's name, and know almost instinctively that I will watch any fight involving someone named “The Mexi-cutioner.” You can't put a price on Oscar Wilde-esque wordplay like that.
And after that? We have Faber vs. Cruz, a main event title fight where both the champion and the title itself are making their UFC debuts. Think about that for a second.
Then a month later, we get Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis, a marquee matchup of Jon Jones' arch-nemesis versus a guy who isn't Jon Jones. They might as well call it UFC 133: “Meh.”
Then we get Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami in a fight that should be a wonderful treat to the Rio De Janerio, Brazil crowd—but on PPV, it's an unproven PPV commodity at best defending his title against a known blanket. And in a foreign country, no less. This does not bode well.
After that, it's an uncertain future. Cain Velasquez was supposed to come back in September, but his timeline for recovery keeps getting longer and longer. Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard still have unfinished business, but who knows when either will be healed up, let alone both.
With Brock Lesnar still battling the effects of a lifetime red meat addiction, and Jon Jones jook jivin' his way into a Quinton Jackson title defense, who will save the UFC's fortunes on PPV?
Nick Diaz, that's who.
When Dana White heard Nick Diaz was considering boxing Jeff Lacy's corpse, he threw him one of the most lucrative offers in UFC history. A million dollars per fight, guaranteed. A guaranteed world title match with the sport's biggest star in his first fight back with the UFC. Freedom to jump back and forth between Strikeforce and the UFC at his whim (okay, pretty much the same company now, but still).
Why would the notoriously stingy White open the purse strings for a fringe welterweight contender who's spent the last few years getting laughed out of the divisional top-5 by MMA purists and curb stomping “Mayhem” Miller on national television.
The same reason that White turned to Chael Sonnen following the biggest PPV disaster in UFC history—Anderson Silva's staring contest/interpretive dance-off with Demian Maia. At the time, Sonnen's biggest (possibly only) claim to fame was beating Nate Marquardt on the undercard of the sleeper Couture/Coleman PPV.
Oh, and for being the only guy who really knew what voodoo incantations Paulo Filho was muttering that night in his final WEC title defense. But I digress.
But White, always the shrewd promoter, knew a winning proposition when he saw one. He knew that Sonnen presented exactly the right combination of style and swagger to make Anderson's next fight a PPV winner. His grinding, non-stop Greco Roman style would ensure an action fight one way or another. His ability to channel Ric Flair on the mic would ensure people would tune in to watch.
Coming off a disappointing title defence against Jake Shields, GSP finds himself in a somewhat similar position to Anderson one year ago. He is viewed as head and shoulders above his division, and seen by many as not really "giving it his all" in title fights. In short, many “casual” fans are starting to wonder why they need to tune in to the next “safe” GSP title defense.
Nick Diaz is the solution to the problem. Like Sonnen did for Silva, Diaz presents the perfect style to ensure an exciting fight with GSP, no matter what happens. And like Chael, Diaz has the perfect, mercurial personality (read: controversy and middle fingers galore) to guarantee the WWF-esque drama casual fans seem to die for (as to hardcores, don't lie).
After a disappointing summer on PPV, the UFC knows Nick Diaz is just the man to guarantee a hot ticket and ensure fans the world over plunk down their $49.99