First off, let me apologize to the great Bruce Campbell for blatantly ripping off the title of his (very good) autobiography. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.
Next, let me get right out there with a bold prediction. Not since Brock “Big PPV Bucks” Lesnar fought Heath “I Just Want a Ferarri too, Dana” Herring (in Brock’s hometown, no less) has the UFC favored a certain fighter to win as much as they do when Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz throw down for the Bantamweight strap tonight.
Ok, so that’s not so much a bold prediction as it is an educated guess. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that any of the UFC brass are actively playing favorites here. In fact, the UFC has a phenomenal record of hedging their bets, so to speak, in big fights so the outcome never leaves them in the lurch. Just look at the recent explosion of stars like Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones at the expense of established stars like Brock Lesnar and “Shogun” Rua.
Smart business. Other promotions (assuming any still exist) would do well to take note.
All that being said, I can pretty much guarantee that there are a lot of people in the UFC front office hoping Urijah Faber takes the 135-pound crown in the main event tonight.
The July UFC is historically one of the biggest of the year, alongside the year end and Superbowl weekend cards. Lesnar vs. Carwin was the July UFC last year. UFC 100 was the July event the year previous.
In short, the July UFC event has always been a big deal for the company.
Which is why it’s puzzling to see this years card headlined by a UFC title fight in which both the champion and the title itself are making their UFC debuts. That’s not exactly a surefire recipie for box office success.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slag Dominick Cruz here. I happen to think he’s a fun fighter and a great champion.
But let’s be real here: outside of MMA’s hardcore fanbase, Dominick Cruz doesn’t exist. No one outside of the Cruz family will be plunking down their $44.99 solely on the strength of his name or the newly minted UFC title around his waist.
But they will be buying this PPV—at least the UFC hopes they will—and most will be doing so to watch a fighter that combines a Wil Wheaton-esque ability to look forever 18, a chin that looks like it was drawn on by a comic book artist, and plenty of heart.
The UFC has taken this sort of gamble with Faber before, when “The California Kid” headlined the only WEC PPV in the now-defunct company’s history. That time, the gamble paid off. Sorta.
On the strength of Urijah Faber’s name/reputation/winning smile, “Aldo vs. Faber” sold over 100,000 PPV buys, quite a feat for a non-UFC branded MMA PPV.
Ok, so Leonard Garcia and “The Korean Zombie” may have sold some last minute fence sitters, but my point remains: when the UFC bigwigs (and WEC bigwigs before them) look at Faber, they hear cash registers ring.
The UFC marketing machine constantly tells us that Urijah Faber is a “huge crossover star,” and yet it’s more wishful thinking than cold fact, as if by shouting it into the sports media echo chamber enough, eventually the echo and not the original shout will become the story.
No, Faber is not a mega-crossover star yet. I bet you couldn’t draw half the people to a serious Faber world title fight that you could to see Gina Carano mud-wrestle Meisha Tate (OK, not really a fair comparison), Kimbo Slice “fight” James Toney (don’t laugh, that almost happened), or Brock Lesnar fight his crippling venison addiction (don’t hurt me…).
What I’m trying to say is that as popular as Faber is, he has the potential to be so much more. He’s not a Liddell or a GSP yet. But he could be. He’s almost there, perched on the cusp of superstardom.
Young? Check. Handsome? Check. Charming and polite? Check and check. A good sense of business? A hell of an exciting fight style? Check all of the above. It really doesn’t get much better from a promotional standpoint—unless Faber also happened to win a few WWE titles, beat up somebody on YouTube, and go on a pre-talkshow Nyquill binge.
The problem for Faber has always been that when the spotlight shines brightest, he falters. In fact, Faber is in danger of losing his fourth consecutive world title fight, a dubious distinction for any fighter trying to break into superstardom.
At the end of the day, UFC 132 is the UFC rolling the dice on Urijah Faber’s “last hurrah.” I won’t go as far as demanding Faber’s retirement should he lose (I’ll leave that for the knee-jerk press in Faber’s own hometown). Worst case scenario, Faber will always be an exciting, well-liked fighter at any weight.
But UFC 132 could very well represent his last shot at reclaiming greatness. For the UFC, it’s their last (and best) chance to turn him into the superstar cashcow we all know he can be. The UFC has staked their entire summer (or at least it’s most important month) on that train finally pulling into the station.
All that stands in the way is Dominick Cruz and those endlessly fickle fight gods.