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UFC's Early 2015 Schedule Could Go a Long Way to Silencing Critics, If It Holds

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterNovember 19, 2014

Feb 22, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Dana White answers a question during a post-fight press conference following UFC 170 at Mandalay Bay.  Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Dana White could only chuckle on Monday, as he and some of the UFC’s biggest stars gathered on stage to release the organization’s upcoming schedule to a theater full of fans and media.

“All these guys are going to stay healthy, train smart and these fights will happen in 2015,” the UFC president told the assembled masses and those watching via the event’s live stream. He looked over his shoulder to share a sardonic grin with his fighters.

The ensuing laughs were hard earned.

We all know 2014 was a rough one for the UFC.

At this point, you can’t really blame White and his minions if they’re eager for the new year. The organization’s early 2015 slate is so stellar that it might actually go a long way toward silencing the UFC’s growing chorus of critics—this writer included—if it all goes off as planned.

Considering the climate of the last 12 months, however, that could be an enormous “if.”

“Obviously, we’re coming off a very weird year full of injuries, so that’s a big negative,” White told Fox Sports 1’s Mike Hill after the gala press conference was over. “The positive to that is all these fights are now rolling out at the same time. December, January and the beginning of February are unbelievable. Probably the greatest run in UFC history of unbelievable fights.”

John Locher/Associated Press

The mere fact that the company went out of its way to bring more than a dozen of its biggest draws to Las Vegas for Monday’s media session demonstrates how important this upcoming stretch will be. During 2014, a rash of injuries to the promotion’s marquee fighters never really let up, scuttling best-laid plans and hamstringing the UFC’s jam-packed calendar of events.

Pay-per-view numbers were down across the board according to most estimates, and on Wednesday Bloomberg News’ Christopher Palmeri reported that Standard & Poor’s now forecasts the UFC “may suffer a 40 percent drop in profit this year because of injuries and canceled bouts.”

Apr 26, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA;  Jon Jones puts his arms in the air after the UFC light heavy weight championship fight against Glover Texeira at  Baltimore Arena. Jones retained the light heavy height championship by defeating  Teixeria.  Mandatory Cre
USA TODAY Sports

Depending on whom you ask, the protracted injury epidemic either cast the UFC into these doldrums or merely exacerbated existing problems. As we begin 2015, questions still linger, and the promotion is keen to prove its current business model is sustainable, if and when it has a full complement of stars to work with.

Things actually kick off on Dec. 6 at UFC 181, headlined by a twin bill of welterweight champion Johny Hendricks’ rematch against Robbie Lawler and Anthony Pettis’ long-awaited lightweight title fight versus Gilbert Melendez. Less than a month later on Jan. 3, light heavyweight champ Jon Jones will finally square off with Daniel Cormier at UFC 182, in a bout that will no doubt outsell anything the fight company offered up on PPV during 2014.

John Locher/Associated Press

On Jan. 18, Boston plays host as newly minted star Conor McGregor battles Dennis Siver in an important featherweight bout. A week later, the Octagon treks to Sweden, where Alexander Gustafsson fights Anthony Johnson for No. 1-contender status at 205 pounds.

As if that weren’t enough, UFC 183 on Jan. 31 will bring Anderson Silva’s superfight against Nick Diaz. Feb. 28’s UFC 184 showcases Chris Weidman’s middleweight title fight against Vitor Belfort and Ronda Rousey putting her women’s bantamweight crown on the line against Cat Zingano.

All told, there will be six fairly major events in just under three months’ time, and the organization hopes the sum total will be enough to bowl us over. Brass tacks? The UFC badly needs some momentum right now, and it’s hoping that this lineup of fights ends up being so amazing that it not only provides a fresh start, but also puts some distance between the promotion and a difficult 2014.

Upcoming UFC Schedule
12/6/14UFC 181Hendricks vs. Lawler II
1/3/15UFC 182Jones vs. Cormier
1/18/15Fight Night: BostonMcGregor vs. Siver
1/24/15UFC on Fox 14Gustafsson vs. Johnson
1/31/15UFC 183Silva vs. Diaz
2/28/15UFC 184Weidman vs. Belfort
UFC press release

In order to do that, obviously, it will need a little luck.

As White indicated above, the page can only be properly turned if the company’s unbelievable roster of fighters actually makes it to the cage in one piece. Even as the UFC attempted to tell us “The Time Is Now,” the star-studded nature of this week’s press conference was itself a reminder of tough times.

Dec 27, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Anderson Silva on stage during the weigh-in for his UFC Middleweight Title Fight against Chris Weidman (not pictured) at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

There on stage with White was Silva, who’d missed the entire year after shattering his leg during the UFC’s last fight of 2013. There was Weidman, still sporting a cast on his left hand. There were Jones, Gustafsson and Cormier, whose nicked-up knees grabbed so many headlines during 2014. There too were Belfort, Diaz, Zingano and Johnson, who’d all missed significant time for various personal reasons—running the gamut from disciplinary suspensions to unspeakable personal tragedy.

Amid all these setbacks, the UFC came under fire for the continued expansion of both its roster and annual menu of live events. The fight company will do 46 shows before the end of this year, sometimes putting on two fight cards in one day. At times, it all seemed like too much, as fight fans occasionally tuned in to broadcasts that were short on recognizable names and long on, well, length.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 08:  Ross Pearson of England is hit with a right hand by Al Iaquinta of the USA in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night 55 event at Allphones Arena on November 8, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Kolbe/
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

With four tiers of programming—including PPV, Fox Network, Fox Sports 1 and Fight Pass—it was a lot, even for hardcore fans to track. Nearly 500 fighters have spots on the active roster, and the sheer crush of it all made it difficult for any one of them to stand out.

It remains to be seen if getting its best-known fighters healthy will cure all these ills, but the UFC remains steadfast on the broad strokes. As White announced on Monday, the company will do nearly as many events next year, with 45 on the docket, though he said he hopes the beginning of 2015 amounts to a “new season” for the UFC.

HONG KONG - AUGUST 20:  UFC President Dana White at a Q&A session during the Macao UFC Fight Night Press Conference at the Four Season Hotel on August 20, 2014 in Hong Kong.  (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Perhaps White and the UFC were right all along. Perhaps the issues weren’t fatigue or MMA overload, but just an unyielding spate of injuries. Perhaps if fighters like Silva, Jones, Cormier and McGregor all make their dates, it will seem as though this talk of over-saturation was much ado about nothing.

Or maybe not. Maybe it will still feel like too much. Maybe there really is a limit for how much fighting we can reasonably expect fans to keep up on. Or maybe the injuries don’t stop, which will be a kind of answer in its own right.

One of the most interesting things about 2015 is that we stand a good chance of finding out. How the entire year plays out is anybody’s best guess, though if the first few months go off as expected, it’s hard to imagine having much to complain about.

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