UFC 138: Have the British Fans Been Taking It in the Bollocks?

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UFC 138: Have the British Fans Been Taking It in the Bollocks?

As we approach UFC 138 in Birmingham, England this Saturday, I can’t help but wonder if the UFC is purposely hosing the UK fans or if it’s a dying market lacking enough marketable names to play host to the UFC’s more important, mainstream cards.

I’m a firm believer in the sentiment that all cards shouldn’t be judge by their covers. Time and time again, fans have been pleasantly surprised with the outcomes of events that had trouble selling their intrigue to the masses. UFC 138 has the quality fights to continue that trend.

Former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves—a household Brazilian name—may seem mismatched with a downgraded 33-year-old opponent on paper, but Papy Abedi is undefeated with seven finishes and one decision victory. This is the type of fight that will save a former success story from irrelevancy or propel a new threat in the 170-pound division.

England’s own bantamweight Brad Pickett has proven his potential in the WEC by defeating Kyle Dietz, with a Peruvian necktie submission of the night, former No. 1 contender Demetrious Johnson and, most recently, Ivan Menjivar. Pickett is up against a young, nasty Brazilian who holds one of the longest win streaks in MMA—having seen the win column for 26 consecutive times—and who also kicks around with current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in the gym.

Obviously, anytime Chris Leben enters the cage, fans know they will more than likely see a gnarly knockout or a tough SOB binging on punches like a superhero—Leben’s gift and curse.

Here’s the problem: comparatively speaking, the British fans are just as passionate about the sport as Canadians or Australians or Brazilians. They’re just as worthy as the others to receive a huge card every once in a while—and it’s been awhile.

Without tapping into the magical powers of Google or Wikipedia, does anybody remember the headliners from UFC 38 (that’s a cheap shot), UFC 70, UFC 80, UFC 85, UFC 89, UFC 95, UFC 105 or UFC 120? I left one rather exciting event off the list, but you’re looking at all the UK cards…ever.

There is an unfortunate trend rearing its ugly head as you get past the part of the list where the UFC finished its blitzkrieg new market strategy in Britain. To put it frankly, the ol' girl got dried up once the sport had been half-way established.

With the exception of UFC 75 (Rampage vs. Henderson), many of these cards on paper were second rate to what other international markets were getting—most notably Canada, and now Brazil.

The counter argument reminds us that while many of these events looked dismal on paper, they typically produced solid fights through and through. That’s great news for the small minority of fans, the hardcore diehards out there who tend to defend this point to their graves without considering their counterparts.

What about the big portion of casual fans, who are normally targeted by effective market strategies in hopes of building a long-term stronghold to help the organization become an international player? They seem to be getting ignored in the British Isles.

Realistically, the UK is the UFC’s European headquarters. So, we can’t expect all the British fans to share the same super-fan enthusiasm for a card like UFC 138. Like any market, they have their share of weekend fight fans.

Is the UK getting its fair share of stacked cards?

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The last time the octagon blessed British soil was back in October 2010 with UFC 120: Bisping vs. Akiyama. They followed up that event with Leben vs. Munoz this Saturday, an intriguing co-main event on any other card, over a year later.

Meanwhile, in the same time period, Canada enjoyed two Georges St-Pierre main events and Shane Carwin vs. Junior Dos Santos, the Aussies had Penn vs. Fitch and Brazil hosted Silva vs. Okami, which was a stacked card.

Maybe the well has dried up or maybe due to the UFC’s breakneck expansion and lack of marketable fighters beyond Michael Bisping, the company is simply making a business decision.

Are the Brits getting the shaft here? Is this Boston born Dana White’s extended Tea Party retribution?

Whatever the reason, if the UFC doesn’t reinvest in their British brand, the company’s largest European market will continue to dwindle and local talent will continue to be shackled out of the spotlight. At some point, especially with Dan Hardy on the brink of extinction, those Doc Marten’s will need replacing with younger, hungrier talent to carry the British MMA flag.

Cheers, British fans…I live in Chicago and we haven’t seen a UFC event since 2008.

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