In case you hadn't heard, UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" takes place tonight (Sat., Jan. 14, 2012) from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It almost seems sensational to say such a thing but let's get real here: there's too much MMA these days.
Way too much.
I hate to toot the oversaturation horn but the quickest way to make something feel less important is to offer a lot of it. And now that Zuffa has purchased Strikeforce, we're to a point where "major" MMA fights are happening damn near every weekend of the year.
That's not a good thing, either.
Take tonight, for instance. One of the best fighters on Earth, Jose Aldo, will defend his featherweight championship in front of his home crowd against Chad Mendes, a strong American wrestler. And no one really cares. Sometimes it's difficult but if you can jump outside your MMA bubble and see things through a far more casual lens, which is what most fans are looking through, you'll realize how small time this fight feels.
In fact, as far as buzz online and all other business indicators, this event is DOA. MMAmania.com does rather well with page views and all that but it's obvious when an event comes that really moves the needle. So far, this one has hardly touched it. It's sad, really. These fighters deserve better.
But so do we, the fans. You know, the ones being asked to shell out $60 for these shows.
We're being told now to care about cards that are headlined by men who have never once even been on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view. It's entirely possible that a large segment of the fanbase who actually does bother to buy the show tonight won't have a clue who Mendes is or where he came from. They'll just see a small, compact fighter against another small, but speedy fighter but the speedy guy is champion, so at least we know he's kind of a big deal.
And that's the problem, ladies and sirs; with the UFC so eager to hold a new event every weekend, they're giving themselves no time to properly build up a veritable stable of superstars. If you put Jon Jones up on a pedestal, he'll stand out in a small crowd. But what happens if that crowd just grows and grows and grows and you don't get the necessary time to sift through it?
He becomes just another member of the crowd.
WWE fans have been dealing with this problem for some time now. The difference? The pro wrestling promotion holds a pay-per-view event once a month. Even then, fans decry the lack of a proper build to each event and can't help but feel cheated because they've been given no reason to care. And how could they? There are only three to four weeks in between major shows.
UFC, on the other hand, is trying to make us care while running shows almost every week. That's completely impossible. Fighting is not enough. Purists will tell me I'm wrong but the reality is that fighting is just not enough to make us truly care. Casual viewers enjoy drama and they while they don't necessarily need a backstory, it's far preferable than not having one. You know why the Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir rematch sold 1.6 million buys on pay-per-view? Because it had the proper storyline going into it. Or how about Rashad Evans vs. Quinton Jackson or Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva. You can go back all the way to Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz and even Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock.
All big money bouts and not just because they were fights but because fans actually had a reason to care about them.
What exactly are we supposed to care about tonight? Brazilian defends title in front of partisan crowd against guy no one knows and they're both small enough to look like my kid brother.
Excuse me while I rush to the remote and place my order.
UFC President Dana White should almost feel grateful to Anthony Johnson for his weight cutting issues. It's actually provided an interesting story for fans to key on heading into the event. Everyone in Brazil seemingly loves Vitor Belfort and the guy who signed to fight him couldn't make weight. In fact, he missed badly, coming in a full 11 pounds over the agreed upon limit. So it was stipulated that if Johnson could weigh in at under 205-pounds today (he did), the fight would go on as planned. If not, they would cancel it the day of the event.
As silly as it all seems -- and it is when it comes down to it -- it's something actually worth following. And now when fans are watching the event tonight, they have a reason to want Belfort to tear Johnson's head off, unlike the main event, which has provided us with no clear reason to root for either man.
Imagine this conversation at a party tonight between friends:
"Vitor vs. Rumble up next, brother, who you got?"
"Rumble will probably win but I really want Belfort to knock him out. You see he missed weight by 11 pounds? Dude is supposed to be a professional and he's coming in that heavy? Go Vitor."
That may or may not have been a conversation I just had today.
And the headliner?
"Who you got in the main event?"
"Who's fighting again?"
I rest my case.