The UFC has been feeling the pinch in recent weeks. A plague of injuries has seen over half of their champions out for months -- Cain Velasquez, Mauricio Rua aka Shogun, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz have all had to postpone defending their belts to get surgeries or medical treaments.
Strikeforce's heavyweight tournament has been getting a great deal of attention and might be the move that gets the UFC's biggest rival on pay per view.
Dave Meltzer speculated (subscription required) that the UFC only had one possible event that could break the 800K buys barrier -- a superfight between middleweight champ Anderson Silva and welterweight king Georges St. Pierre. MMA Payout predicted 2011 would be a "rebuilding" year for the organization.
And top draw Brock Lesnar has been AWOL since losing his heavyweight title to Velasquez in October at UFC 121. Rumors swirled that he was holding out and pressuring Dana White to allow him to headline WrestleMania to make a cool couple of million dollars for a few hours' work. Others said he had lost his taste for fighting and was looking to retire sooner rather than later.
Dana White had openly talked about booking Lesnar and Frank Mir as coaches on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. But then Mir was rumored to be fighting Brendan Schaub then Roy Nelson. Lesnar had always seemed unlikely for the show due to his infamously reclusive nature and hatred of travel.
But Dana White pulled it off, booking Lesnar and #1 contender Junior Dos Santos to coach the show then face off for a #1 contender's match with the winner getting a date to welcome injured champ Velasquez back to the Octagon.
There's a lot of upsides for everyone, I mean this is like a no-lose situation for all concerned. I'm amazed at any negativity towards this because it's, you know, obviously it was the optimum decision which is the question is they could actually could pull off getting Brock to do the show, that was always the problem. But with 13 weeks of television or 12 weeks or whatever it turns out to be with Brock and Dos Santos, Dos Santos is going to end up being a very well-liked guy and a much bigger star for a fight with Brock than if they had just done the fight cold and, you know, Brock gets TV. It's going to be airing the same time his book comes out, which we had pointed out was a perfect thing for him doing this season of Ultimate Fighter. You know, the June 11th date is a tough one and again because of the traveling as far as like the book promotion, I don't know what the details are on that because the people involved like really just found out, so... we'll probably more on that in a day or two.
"But, you know, as far as um, you know, he's going to be on TV every week. The show's going to get good ratings. It builds up a fight. The fight with Junior, with that 13 week build-up, may do a hell of a number. I could see, you know it's hard to throw out a number right now. It ain't going to do, I can't imagine it doing less than 750,000 and you know I mean if there's the right conflict and things like that because we're talking about a season of Ultimate Fighter that's going to be doing I would think bigger ratings than this last season...
Zach Arnold has more thoughts:
I think UFC being able to deliver Brock Lesnar for The Ultimate Fighter will certainly put the pressure on Spike TV to pony up big bucks for a new deal with the UFC. After all, Lesnar and dos Santos are going to draw very high ratings. Will they match the ratings that Rampage and Rashad did with Kimbo? I don't know, but it will be close.
What makes this situation interesting is that the fight they are building up towards will happen in June in Vancouver. Brock's history in the UFC is that he draws enormous PPV buys but is not necessarily a strong live house attraction. Given that UFC does well in Canada, the live house portion won't be such an issue. The more intriguing issue is how hated Lesnar will be in Canada given his very public comments about how much he hates their health care system. Believe me, this will be echoed ad nauseum leading up to the fight.
We'll close with more Meltzer:
It's also a career-maker for Dos Santos, as being a TUF coach raises the profile of every fighter put in the position. Some of the UFC's biggest PPV events in history, including Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans and Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St. Pierre, were built off the show.
White bristled at talk that putting Lesnar in as coach would hurt the show based on the notion that Lesnar is probably going to be less experienced and well-rounded than some of the fighters he'll be coaching. But White noted Lesnar's status as a former UFC heavyweight champion.
Lesnar has been a successful fighter largely due to his size and power, combined with freakish speed and freestyle wrestling skills. However, Lesnar's camp, which includes physical conditioning expert Marty Morgan, Erik Paulsen, one of the most respected coaches in the sport, and judo black belt Rodrigo "Comprido" Medeiros, moulded him to a win over Randy Couture just 17 months into his MMA career.
I have to hand it to Dana White, he knows how to make the most of his options. This is a damn fine play.