Junior dos Santos’ absence was noticeable at “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3” Finale. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Back when I started scribbling these “Savage Truth” columns, much of my focus was turned towards the different fringe sports that seemed to hog the television airways. Yeah, I know that was a long, long time ago.
Before there was anything like UFC Fight Pass or Fox Sports 1 or even “The Ultimate Fighter,” I’d sit down at my laptop and bang away about spelling bees and Outdoor Games or any other non-MMA entity being granted time on the likes of ESPN.
While it really isn’t a case of “Be careful of what you wish for,” the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ultra-marathon on Saturday had me pining for a simpler time. Twelve and a half hours of fights was not exactly what I signed up for, and I doubt too many fans did, either.
This was the first of at least four such doubleheaders we can expect this year, and let me tell you, it was quite a grind. In Southern California, it started about 9:30 a.m. and didn’t wrap up until nearly 10:00 p.m. That’s a long time to ask your core audience to stick around.
However, if you look at it from the UFC’s point of view, it’s giving local folks what they want: fights that matter to regional fans in a primetime broadcast slot.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees, but a sometimes-petulant hardcore fan base that’s notoriously hard to please needs to realize there’s a long-term goal in play. Growing the sport internationally has been a long-stated goal of UFC parent company Zuffa LLC, and in 2014, it has sailed across the seas and burned the ships, according to UFC President Dana White.
In order to create that beachhead in some of these global markets, the UFC has to put boots on the ground, and there are going to be scheduling conflicts. When you’re staging 45-plus shows in a year, there will be some overlap; it’s unavoidable.
The other, more significant problem that has arisen with all the shows is the fact that there just isn’t enough of a safety net in place for the inevitable injuries. They have become such a common occurrence that they hardly register on the radar anymore unless they’re at the top of a card. Take “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3” Finale main event, for instance.
Junior dos Santos, a former UFC heavyweight champion and massive star in Brazil, was supposed to square off against up-and-comer Stipe Miocic in the headliner. Well, as has become a staple of MMA, dos Santos withdrew from the bout due to injury, and the mad scramble was on to find a replacement.
Imagine scanning a roster of about 500 guys and looking for one who could headline a card. Seems pretty easy, right? Well, did I mention he would have to be a heavyweight? Narrows it down some, doesn’t it? Yes, and don’t forget he also has to be Brazilian, because this is an “Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” finale and it’s being held in Sao Paulo.
Forget looking for a needle in a haystack; try looking for a particular grain of sand at the beach.
When no one turned up that fit the criteria, UFC execs had to turn their attention to Playa de light heavyweight. That’s how we came to a 35-second pistol whipping of a blown-up light heavyweight Fabio Maldonado at the hands of a very big, very strong and developing Miocic.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have a problem with the booking before the match. It was a bout made out of necessity rather than the usual championship contender-building the promotion likes and needs to do.
This incident, in and of itself, doesn’t really warrant a “sky is falling” narrative, but with the nearly one-show-per-week pace the company has set for 2014, it seems this will be a problem that could continue to plague it going forward.
Remember the catastrophe that was UFC 151?
Now, I don’t think it would be the end of the world if a UFC Fight Night date or a UFC Fight Pass event had to be scrapped, but how about another pay-per-view card? While I’m sure television partner Fox wouldn’t be pleased if it loses a card off the schedule, I don’t think it would sting the way another PPV cancellation would, especially when it comes to the bottom line.
Now that we’re all recovered from a grueling weekend of watching fights -- Yeah, who am I kidding? We all love this stuff. -- are the powers that be tempting fate with so many events? Will it come back to bite them when they just don’t have the warm bodies that fit the bill come yet another injury?
I get the argument White has made countless times asking if there is too much football on television. He’s right; there’s a market for it, and the NFL is providing a commodity that’s in high demand. However, how high would the demand be if, on a regular basis, one of the teams had to be swapped out at the last second for a college team?
At the end of the day injuries and other chicanery -- as we have seen recently with the Wanderlei Silva situation -- are just a part of combat sports we have to accept. The question is this: Is there anything promoters, namely the UFC, can do to mitigate the problems that arise when something unforeseen does happen?
Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of Sherdog.com and can be reached via @TheSavageTruth on Twitter.