Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Every time I watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship event, I invariably see the same UFC Fight Pass commercial; and every time I see it, I’m struck its stupidity.
You’ve probably seen it, too, but in case you can’t view the link, it’s the one that starts by asking “What’s your problem? Bored?” before imploring you to “Stop whining and watch a fight.” The sound and image of a crying baby briefly pops up, because nothing sells a product better than “You’re not a baby, are you?” The slogan of this ad is “Fighting solves everything.” Car broke down? Fired from your job? The remorse you’re feeling from pounding that Taco Bell Party Pack in a single sitting? Don’t worry about any of that. Just watch some fights and all will be well.
Aside from the cringe-worthy tropes of being a dude/man and the laziness of its angle, there’s something ingenious about the ad, a common motif immediately recognizable to all fight fans that the advertisers likely didn’t realize at the time but is nonetheless present. The hook of the commercial is that people have problems, which is as sure an investment as you can make. As long as humans are involved, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong. Anything can happen.
“Anything can happen” is a familiar concept to fight fans. Not only is it the reason why Fight Pass is proposed as a solution to existential boredom, but it’s the dynamic of the sport that makes it surprising and exciting; it was a promotional angle in the early stages of MMA’s growth. A fight can end at any moment for any number of reasons. The nature of fighting is like imagining Hail Marys were worth three touchdowns in football or if there was a full-court shot worth 25 points in basketball. Fights can change instantaneously. Fighters can lose four and a half rounds and find a submission in the waning minutes of the fight; they can jump off the cage and kick people in the face. They can also miss weight the day before they fight or spend long stretches locked in a staring match in the cage.
UFC 209 on Saturday in Las Vegas had the potential to be a standout card. Anchoring the event, Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson were to run back a memorable title fight from November that ended in an unsatisfying way for all parties. Meanwhile, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson would finally get a chance to break the deadlock at the top of the most talent-rich division in the sport. Given the stakes and stylistic matchups of these two fights, it was a near-certainty that UFC 209 was not going to disappoint. It was a tell-your-friends kind of card. However anything can, and does, happen.
There was some lost luster when the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson fight fell apart. We’ll get to that shortly. Still, the welterweight title tilt was compelling. In the first fight, Thompson had the sounder process, and he won more rounds as a result. However, Woodley did the most damage and had the more pronounced advantages when he got his offense going. It was an exciting, incredibly hard-to-call fight; a majority draw was the correct judgment. Both fighters vowed to end the rematch in a more definitive fashion.
Instead, the same dynamic of the first fight played out, only this time it was considerably less exciting and the decision was more limp-wristed and unconvincing. It was a strategic battle in all the not-fun ways: lots of head feints, pawing jabs and leg kicks and long stretches of tactical jockeying for cage position. Neither man really won or lost. In many ways, it was more deserving of a draw than the first fight.
Of course, it’s hard to blame the fighters themselves for their tepid performances, even if they’re the only ones who can be blamed. Fans allow the sport to exist by supplying funding, but they’re not the ones actually getting punched in the face. There’s little dignity in crumpling under an overhand right from Woodley and nothing virtuous in pursuing the muleta of Thompson’s distance striking. Patience and timing are better fight tactics than reckless abandon, but they’re also less fun to watch; and unlike the intrigue of the chess match between T.J. Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz, this was more of a perpetual stalemate, interrupted only a few times by meaningful moves. If any new viewers tuned in to see the best welterweights square off, they likely won’t be tuning in again anytime soon.
What happened during the welterweight title fight was unfortunate, but what happened for the interim lightweight championship was frustrating and bizarre.
After two tries to put two of the three best lightweight fighters in the Octagon together, it felt like fate had finally found its footing. Then, hours before weigh-ins, reports surfaced that Nurmagomedov had to be hospitalized and the bout with Ferguson was off. It only got weirder from there. Ferguson was offered Michael Johnson as a last-second replacement opponent -- for less money. You read that right. Ferguson was offered less money for a lower-profile, arguably more dangerous fight with a day’s notice. In what world does that make any kind of sense? Imagine if your boss came to you and asked if you were willing to leave your office gig for a day to clean the skyscraper windows outside, only the safety harness is unreliable and you’d make more money sitting in your cubicle.
Then, UFC President Dana White started throwing shade at Nurmagomedov for “going rogue” and going to a hospital, noting that he should have gone to the UFC first. Why? Because maybe the bout could have been saved. Apparently White knows a guy who is willing to ignore medical red flags like internal pain from dehydration, just in case the show must go on. It’s sort of understandable, I guess, since White and company know the medical community of Las Vegas as well as anyone. Then again, if fighters feel like they need to go to the hospital a day before fighting, maybe they should go to the hospital. Sounds crazy, I know, but in a world where denying your body its most basic need is a prerequisite for putting that same body through rigorous physical strain the next day, a lot of common sense goes out the window.
This is to say nothing about how White interrupted Alistair Overeem’s post-fight press conference to extol the heavyweight for puking his brains out in the days leading up to his fight with Mark Hunt. Perhaps Overeem’s courage in the face of food poisoning inspired the UFC boss. It most definitely had nothing to do with Nurmagomedov pulling out of his fight.
Fighting solves everything, aside from the problems it causes. There are important conversations to be had about fighter safety, weight cutting and the UFC’s desire to inject itself in those conversations under the guise of being an objective participant. If nothing else, UFC 209 succeeded in shedding some light on those issues. Plus, a lot of the other fights were actually good.
Nevertheless, MMA is a seductive, whimsical mistress, and though the coquetry of violent entertainment is hard to turn down, there’s always potential for pay-per-views to turn into $60 naps. The gambit is worth it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t complain a little when the letdowns come. If you can’t handle MMA at its majority decision, then you sure as hell don’t deserve it at its come-from-behind, walk-off knockout.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.