If you've been paying any attention to the news about UFC 115 this week you know that things are very confusing. That is the event that has long been expected to feature The Ultimate Fighter season 11 coaches Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in Vancouver.
Rumors have buzzed around the event for more than a month, most of them having to do with the status of Tito Ortiz and whether or not he'll be able to fight. I documented the rumors here and speculated on the active role of Dana White and the UFC PR machine in deliberately putting out disinformation and spin to build heat for TUF 11.
Now there's a whole new cloud of rumor in the air, involving both the venue and the headliner.
First off, the host city is up in the air. It was rumored on Monday that Vancouver's local government was raising too many obstacles and the UFC was considering Cincinnati, Ohio as a fall back. Watch Kalib Run has a good run down on the back and forth. For the moment it appears that Vancouver is still a real life possibility. This is a huge deal for the UFC as British Columbia is one of the hotbeds of Canadian MMA and would be an excellent second front on the UFC's Canadian invasion. Along with Montreal, having a second major Canadian city hosting UFC events would put even more pressure on the real goal -- Toronto.
Not only is Toronto one of the wealthiest cities in North America, it's also the capitol of Ontario, possibly the most MMA obsessed region of the continent per capita. It and New York are the last key gaps in the UFC's long term goal of having MMA legal and regulated in every major market in North America.
But the most interesting part is that Cincinnati is Rich Franklin's hometown. Franklin vs Liddell of course is the most heavily rumored of the alternate matches to replace Chuck vs Tito 3.
And then we get this very odd report from Heavy.com saying that Chuck Liddell will be fighting Randy Couture for the fourth time at UFC 116.
A number of things don't add up here. Where would this leave UFC 115? Also, why would "a source close to the UFC" be leaking a Liddell vs Couture fight just as Chuck is doing a media tour and talking up his bout with Tito?
Whenever you get different online sources reporting contradictory things, look at the outlets. In one corner we have USA TODAY and AOL Fanhouse/MMA Fighting happily posting quotes from Chuck talking about Tito. In the other corner we have Heavy.com -- a sometimes reliable source, but not a major media outlet like the others. Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Yahoo are ominously neutral here.
Then there is the bigger question of WTF are they thinking if they are considering pulling Chuck off UFC 115 entirely. A Couture vs Liddell match has no real purpose except to possibly help push UFC 116 over the hump to become the biggest UFC PPV of all time, giving Lesnar vs Carwin an extra bit to beat Lesnar vs Mir 2 at UFC 100. Of course that leaves UFC 115, already a fairly weak card with nothing. Perhaps that's why the Cincinnati move implies a Rich Franklin vs TBA headliner. That would be a guaranteed dud on PPV but would draw a huge gate in MMA starved Ohio.
I spoke to a veteran MMA journalist about this off the record and here's his take on what's going on:
Two things are happening here. Either Heavy.com has a great scoop and the UFC is putting on a fight that company insiders have all told me they had no interest in. Or, and this is more likely, Heavy.com is being used to gauge interest online, to see how fans will respond to the fight.
How "scoops" are distributed in the MMA media is fairly Machiavellian.
This is an interesting take and I think possibly quite accurate. Regardless of what's actually being planned, it's clear that the UFC is using some ruthless PR to pump up market interest in some rapidly fading properties -- Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin and The Ultimate Fighter are all franchises that are close to or well past their sell by date.
Another MMA insider I spoke with speculated the following:
115 being totally up in the air is interesting to me -- I know UFC isn't happy about the progress of things in Vancouver but I also suspect the UFC likes to have occasional weak PPVs to get an idea of what their floor buyrate is. So I think they'd be OK with just going ahead with a pretty weak main event if they need to.
Very interesting stuff. The UFC has been pretty blithely pawning off a series of weak PPV cards on the fans for several months now. It's a pretty ruthless, and possibly self-defeating way to find out just how many suckers are out there who will shell out $50 for anything called a UFC regardless of how stale and lame.
UPDATE: via Josh Gross on Twitter:
Randy Couture text re: a fourth bout w/Chuck Liddell: "No word on that fight," he said, adding that it doesn't hold much interest for him.
For what it's worth, I still think Couture fights James Toney in July. Lesnar-Carwin and Couture-Toney makes everyone a lot of money.
UPDATE: Jeremy Botter of Heavy.com replies in the comments:
I'm trying to stay out of the fray as much as possible. We knew before we ever published the report that I would likely be twisting in the wind for a couple of months, until the TUF season draws to a conclusion. But I decided that I'm a big kid and I can handle it.
I know what I was told, and I'm sticking by it. My source is incredibly well-placed, somebody who would absolutely have knowledge of future plans, and there's a good chance that even Randy Couture and Chuck LIddell are not aware of the plans. I was told some very specific things about this fight and the hype job they're going to use to sell it. It's possible that they're counting on both Couture and Liddell agreeing to do the fight because both get a PPV cut and they'll be on a massive show with Brock Lesnar, which means both guys make a ton of money.
Could it change? Absolutely. I was told before running with it that I'll either be vindicated in the end or they'll change the fight to mess with us. But they're not known for changing fights just because the info leaked out, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. As of yesterday morning, Couture/Liddell was absolutely the plan for 7/3.