There's a definite feel to network television Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight cards in terms of how the fighters are matched. Anyone slotted for the televised portion can ill afford to carry a reputation for being boring or safety-first.
And since styles make fights, the challenge of bringing MMA to a mainstream nationwide audience really seems to bring out the best in UFC matchmaker Joe Silva's game.
Saturday night's (Aug. 4, 2012) UFC on Fox 4: "Shogun vs. Vera" event was a perfect example of the two elements that ultimately define a matchmaker's success: styles pitted against one another that make a plausible product on paper, and results -- which no one but the fighters ultimately can control -- that were outstanding.
A perfect example of what promotions and matchmakers can endeavor toward, but ultimately fail at, was the Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida fight. It looked fun on paper; however, nobody could guess it would turn out to be such a stinker, with Guida refusing to engage (Guida! Of all people!) and Maynard unable to really catch him.
Outcomes like that are filed under in "S*it happens," along with assorted other missteps, including eye poke stoppages, fluke injuries, weight cut dramas that affect a guy's performance, or other acts of God. We haven't had our version of "Fan Man," but give it time. Somebody will do something eminently stupid.
But, when great matches on paper come together to provide explosive results, the bottom line is served. And Saturday night felt like a quadruple dose of awesome, given that all four bouts hit home runs and were the perfect mix of showcasing the talent the sport has while being thrilling to the casual viewer.
After watching UFC 147, UFC 148 and UFC 149, I can honestly say that UFC Fox on 4 provided more cumulative thrills than those cards, and for a fraction of the $150 to $180 tally on your cable bill those three totaled. UFC 147 was a niche offering to showcase The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil," except for Vitor Belfort's withdrawal made an already weak card even weaker, with ever-loyal Rich Franklin stepping in to take a decision over a fellow aging star in Wanderlei Silva.
UFC 148 was essentially a top-heavy showcase for Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, with one of the most meaningless semi-main events in history, Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin III. And 149 was plain dreadful, perhaps the most all-around spiritless card I can recall since UFC 88.
One gets the feeling watching PPV cards that there are many slots to maintain and fighters to keep busy. It's pretty much the live-body approach to rounding out more than one dozen PPVs per year on a roster with a couple hundred guys who need to keep busy. And when those types of cards miss, they really miss, just like when the Fox cards hit on all cylinders, they offer fantastic viewing on what is readily cheap cable television.
The previous Fox card, Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller, was another solid offering, with three of the four fights incredibly good battles. With the network TV offerings ostensibly designed to lure casual fans into purchasing PPV, the problem is that you can always click away from basic cable if you're not entertained, without feeling like you got jobbed.
Recent PPVs, ironically enough, make the basic cable option a much less riskier proposition.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonprobst.