UFC Fight Night 155 Shows That Talent-Diluted Cards Are Here to Stay in ESPN Era

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJuly 11, 2019

Germaine de Randamie
Germaine de RandamieChris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The red flag is the main event. But the real problem with UFC Fight Night 155 goes a lot deeper.

Not every card can be a winner, and any event can be entertaining, but there's another level to this. Sometimes, there's the feeling UFC brass is throwing stuff against the wall and then relying on viewers to tell them what stuck. Sometimes, there is no choice but to report back that nothing much stuck at all.

Such is the case with Saturday's UFC Fight Night 155, which goes down from the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

When you look closely at this card, it reveals a strategy that is decidedly built for the short term, wherein the UFC turns its content into a quick sugar fix that provides no meaningful sustenance.

Before we get to that, let's unpack the event. Topping the show is a women's bantamweight bout between Germaine de Randamie (8-3) and Aspen Ladd (8-0). Their combined record of 16-3 is usually the kind of record you see in one main event fighter, not two.

The 24-year-old Ladd is a promising prospect in a division that could use another star, but her biggest win to date came over Tonya Evinger, the tough but flagging former Invicta champ. In 2017, De Randamie defeated Holly Holm for the UFC women's featherweight belt but was subsequently stripped of the title because she preferred to lose the belt rather than defend it against Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

Granted, avoiding Cyborg is, on its face, a reasonable thing to do. But it isn't exactly becoming of a champion—or a main-event fighter for that matter.

According to the official UFC rankings, there are real implications here. De Randamie is somehow the No. 1 women's bantamweight contender; Ladd clocks in at No. 4. Want a semi-educated guess? UFC brass is hoping for a Ladd victory, which would establish her as a fresh face on the national stage and a bona fide women's bantamweight contender, all while delivering the side benefit of jettisoning De Randamie.

If a win does indeed propel Ladd to a shot against champ Amanda Nunes, however, no bookmaker would give her much of a chance. That goes double for De Randamie, who already lost to Nunes in a first-round TKO back in 2013.

For Ladd, this has "too much, too soon" written all over it, and waving the main event wand doesn't change that. This matchup would be just as potent further down the slate, possibly as part of a bigger card that would draw more eyeballs.

Now let's advance down the card. In the co-main event, you have a bantamweight by the name of Urijah Faber. Perhaps you remember him from his days as a bantamweight contender and household MMA name.

Even though he never captured UFC gold, Faber rode an outstanding wrestling game, elite athleticism and surfer-movie looks to legitimate stardom. But as always happens, Faber lost a step a few years ago and ostensibly rode into the sunset in 2016 after winning a gift matchup over the even more diminished Brad Pickett. 

He hasn't fought since. Until Saturday, that is. Yes, Sacramento is his hometown, but that doesn't automatically make the 40-year-old Faber's comeback compelling television, particularly against the all-but-anonymous Ricky Simon, whose biggest win to date was over Rani Yahya.

So that's the co-main. From there, it's reasonable to expect the talent and profile of the fighters to drop off. But let's grab a few data points. Wikipedia is not the be-all and end-all, but it's telling that of the 20 fighters outside the main and co-main events, eight do not have Wikipedia pages.

Darren Elkins and Ryan Hall could put on a good undercard scrap, but it's buried below bouts like John Allan vs. Mike Rodriguez, which headlines the prelim slate for no apparent reason outside the fact that both are sluggers and, more importantly, pet projects from Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series

Livia Renata Souza is an electric prospect at 115 pounds, but her opponent, Brianna Van Buren, is as overmatched and unknown as they come. 

There's a guy named Wellington Turman on the main card. Who? Also on the main card, Marvin Vettori, who hasn't won in two years, faces Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira, whose most recent win came a year ago over Karl Roberson. Where is Roberson now? He's higher up the card, facing Turman (incidentally, Roberson is also a product of White's reality show).

This is not the first talent-deficient card the UFC has staged, and it will not be the last. Now that the company is a tentpole of ESPN's new subscription streaming service, quantity is more valuable than ever over quality. This is not exactly breaking news; for years, the UFC has been churning out about a card a week, slapping the brand on whatever it can cobble together and nudging it through the curtain.

As such, profitability is purportedly high, even as longer-term metrics—including any kind of intentional talent development—are stagnant or skew downward.

This has all been covered before. The newest factor was the lucrative deal with the Worldwide Leader. Fans and pundits were cautiously optimistic. Would it add a measure of quality control, the proverbial second set of eyes, a needed check on the UFC's heretofore unchecked power? 

To date, the answer is no. UFC Fight Night 155 is the most solid proof yet. Sure, any hardcore fan who tunes in will recognize some names and be rewarded with some nice fights. But just because it carries those three magic letters—buttressed by four even more magical letters—doesn't necessarily make a UFC on ESPN card must-see TV.

When the event kicks off Saturday, it may be the next stage of the emperor's inadvertent striptease.

                       

Scott Harris writes about MMA and other topics for Bleacher Report and other places. 

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