With an injury rate on fight cards sometimes exceeding 30 percent, I’ve long maintained that a key to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) promotional success is swapping out mixed martial arts (MMA) matches to keep fight fans interested.
Injuries can also decimate cards, and at their worst, completely cancel them, such as the ill-fated UFC 151.
UFC 158, which took place last night (March 16, 2013) at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, was a perfect example of how the organization can smartly compensate for fighter withdrawals like Rory MacDonald. With MacDonald’s rematch against Carlos Condit a solid co-main event, his withdrawal because of injury could have been one of the many "what-if" bouts in the sport except for the fact that fans were instead treated to Condit against Johny Hendricks.
And after pulling Hendricks from his bout with Jake Ellenberger, the UFC plugged in veteran Nate Marquardt, ultimately making for a pair of memorable bouts in Hendricks’ thrilling decision over Condit and Ellenberger’s one-round blowout knockout of Marquardt.
Ironically, the four Welterweight fighters outside of the Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz main event were there for a few reasons. And a big one was the UFC’s lack of confidence Diaz would actually make it through a chaotic series of promotional mis-steps on his part to the actual fight.
UFC 158 is a great argument for stacking cards with several bouts in the same division with top contenders. They hit a glitch with the pullout of MacDonald, who is perhaps the hottest contender outside of Hendricks who is yet to fight for the title, and pulled off a fantastic card with meaningful developments in a division that only recently seemed somewhat stale.
That’s adaptability. And a necessity, given the high rate of card changes in recent years.
Unlike boxing, where a pay-per-view (PPV) can be entirely scuttled on the heels of a main event injury, the UFC is much different in how it approaches its pay model. The scope of the event’s appeal rides far more on the depth of the supporting card, thereby not pinning its promotional mojo entirely on the main card event.
It’s pretty hard to imagine Floyd Mayweather Jr. getting injured and any of his PPV events going on in lieu of him performing, and ditto for his fellow PPV star Manny Pacquiao. In MMA, most fan interest is legitimately attached to could transpire on the under card bouts, which are far more competitive and quality-oriented than in boxing.
And lately the UFC has pretty much done its best to adjust to consistent drop-outs from cards.
There will certainly be hard-hit cards in the future, especially with the looming pressure for guys to perform in the wake of Jon Fitch’s release and the UFC’s statement that its looking to trim as many as 100 people from the roster. Nobody wants to perform at less than their best, especially when walking papers are going to be handed out in unsurpassed quantities in the coming months.
But, that also gives them a lot of room to dangle willing opportunities for guys to seize and opportunity, which ultimately means the fans win in a situation where that’s quite a turnaround once the news hit that there’s been, yet again, another card change.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst