Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its second venture into the network television waters this coming Sat., Jan. 28, 2012, when it brings the UFC on Fox 2: "Evans vs. Davis" event to the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
It's a pay-per-view caliber fight card featuring two different match-ups that could determine the next challengers to the middleweight and light heavyweight championships. If that sounds like a good thing, that's because it is, but the match-ups themselves could result in three of the least aesthetically pleasing fights possible.
When the UFC dipped its toes in to test the waters with FOX last November, it did so with a heavyweight championship fight that all but guaranteed a knockout. Sure enough, 64 seconds into the bout, Junior dos Santos floored Cain Velasquez with a looping punch to win the title and send the fans home happy.
When the ratings came in, the fight was deemed a smashing success, having garnered a peak of 8.8 million viewers for the short but sweet contest. Obviously, that gives hope for something to build on.
However, UFC President Dana White was quick to tell folks that he was dealing with a lot of heat behind the scenes and we, both the media and fans, are not privy to the kind of pressure his organization is put under from various sources. Perhaps that played a big part in the "play it safe" mentality when it came to booking the next FOX card.
Let's take a brief look at the three match-ups on tap for Saturday that feature big names but are likely going to be duds inside the cage.
205 lbs.: Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis
A solid match-up featuring two guys who have shown no aversion to trash talking each other to help hype the fight. But they've also both made no bones about the fact that wrestling is going to play a big part in the eventual outcome. Evans boasts knockout power in his hands that is to be respected, enough so that we could very well be looking at 25 minutes of Davis shooting for takedowns and because Rashad has serviceable takedown defense, they could end up stalling each other out up against the fence while the Chicago crowd showers them with boos. Not exactly a good look for live TV and not something that will maintain viewership. When you factor in Davis best route to victory is to get Evans to the floor, and Rashad isn't exactly a jiu-jitsu wizard, this one has potential snoozefest written all over it. If Evans wins he earns a title shot, sure, but if he does it in a fight everyone hates, will anyone want to see his championship chase? Will the casuals convert to pay-per-view buyers because of it?
185 lbs.: Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping
This fight isn't much different than the main event. Bisping has hands that have best been described by his peers as "pillow fists." That's because he's not knocking anyone out with them and Sonnen isn't the kind of fighter who takes frequent trips to Queer Street anyway. Chael, meanwhile, has made his name by simply dragging opponents to the mat and outworking them from top position on his way to decision victories. Sure, he's got submissions in his arsenal, as he showed against Brian Stann, but those are few and far between. Bisping is better off his back and should cancel any threat of that type of attack. The blueprint here seems to be Sonnen taking the Brit down and "The Count" hunting for submissions. It's likely going to look that way for all three rounds, too. Or Sonnen gets a takedown and Bisping manages to get back up (which he's very good at doing) and they simply repeat that process. Unless Bisping finds a submission or Sonnen's ground and pound actually scores a knockout (as if), this should serve as the worst possible appetizer to the main event to come.
185 lbs.: Demian Maia vs. Chris Weidman
Despite these two having the least amount of name value, they have the biggest potential to deliver the most fireworks. Maia is a jiu-jitsu wizard who creates sweet poetry when he works his craft on the mat against what always seems to be helpless opponents. Weidman is the furthest thing from that, as he provides quite the foil for Maia's vaunted grappling. So what's the problem here? Well, even if they get into a glorified jiu-jitsu match and trade submission attempts on the mat, how likely is the casual crowd tuning in on FOX to be enamored with it? Sure, the educated portion of the fanbase will have a gay old time but folks tuning in hoping to see some free FIGHTS -- you know, where two guys stand and trade punches until someone gets knocked out -- will be terribly disappointed. And believe me, there are far more of those fans that exist than anyone cares to admit.
This is a fascinating card for many reasons, but the biggest of which is that UFC decided to play it so safe with the matchmaking, offering three separate fights between foes who could all cancel out the strengths of the other. It's entirely possible -- likely, even -- that all three bouts go to decision. One on the one hand, that means casual fans will be exposed to all aspects of MMA but on the other it means they may very well come to learn terms like "lay-n-pray."
No one wants that.
Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen could earn title shots against Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, respectively, by winning their fights this Saturday night. It's just unfortunate they may very well do so in the most mundane, spiritless way possible.
Now who wants to tell me why I'm full of crap?