It seems like forever ago that the UFC announced that the title fight between Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson would be aired on Versus. The overall reaction was one of total rejoicing where fans felt that the UFC would be giving a great fight away for free. Hindsight being 20/20 it was all part of the ongoing negotiations between the UFC and NBC to purchase a controlling interest in G4. The talks broke down and the UFC signed a monumental deal with Fox to air events on the main network as well as FX and FuelTV.
The Versus card was supposed to be a major event. Washington, D.C. is one of the wealthiest locations of the country and whenever the WWE holds an event in the city or surrounding area, they have major success at the gate. The UFC's event was filled with fighters from Team Lloyd Irvin and the bantamweight title fight at the top of the card. With even the smallest amount of promotion, the card could be a successful show for the UFC. However, even with the first fight starting in just under 7 hours, there is almost no promotion for the card. The interest is minor with most promotion shifted to next week's UFC 136 in Houston. What went so wrong that the UFC hasn't sold this show at all to the local and national audiences?
The first thing to consider is that once those negotiations fell apart, the UFC had no stake in trying to market any events on the NBC owned network. The relationship with Versus began with the WEC but it took years for the station to really get behind mixed martial arts. They have more success with the PBR bull riding shows and hockey, two events that have a far greater return on investment and production.
There is no reason for the UFC to build up the branding of Versus, especially at this point. The original deal with Versus was to prevent the IFL from gaining access to the network. The UFC provided the WEC as the promotion and Versus was off the table as an available cable network. The WEC at times was able to bring solid ratings but the reality was that it suffered from the lack of the UFC's branding. It would be easy to pass the buck off on Zuffa and say that they just needed to promote a show as the UFC. The fact though is that even the UFC shows promoted on the network only found moderate success.
Another issue is that despite being an extremely dominant champion, Dominick Cruz just hasn't captivated the core UFC audience. He's not flashy and doesn't have highlight reel knockouts on his record. He isn't a talker like Chael Sonnen or Josh Koscheck nor is he willing to take one to deliver one like Chris Leben. He's just a humble guy with technical striking that allows him to handily defeat everyone that Sean Shelby and Joe Silva can find to put across from him in the cage. Tonight's fight with Demetrious Johnson is the very definition of unmarketable. Johnson doesn't have the big knockouts or submissions on his record. He just has the ability outwork everyone in the division with his wrestling prowess. The fact that many fans feel that he lost the fight with Miguel Torres doesn't exactly help his case either.
The argument we've been hearing is that the UFC is using this show to establish Dominick Cruz as a legitimate champion for the casual fans. It makes sense since he really hasn't been able to connect with them. This goes back to fans being told that the lighter weight classes aren't marketable or a draw. The UFC is using this fight to try and build the division. That would be a valid argument had the UFC promoted this event even at the slightest. It's easy to continue to push the feather and bantamweights to the undercard if it can be proven that the man at the top of the division can't draw fans or interest in the fights. Cruz is in an awkward situation where he's too dominant yet doesn't dominate in a way that draws eyeballs to his fights.
The card tonight is the last on Versus. The overall line up isn't awful but it isn't great either. The UFC is running on such a busy schedule that they aren't able to stack cards anymore. A title fight should never be co-mained by a fight between Pat Barry and Stefan Struve. Neither fight has really gained a foothold in the division, nor will they ever challenge for a title. The remaining fights on the main card are solid but just not up to par with what fans have come to expect from the UFC's title defenses. The fights between Anthony Johnson and Charlie Brenneman and Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig have legitimate divisional relevance. The Facebook fights are being used to work out some sort of a internal ranking system at lightweight. It's not a terrible card but the UFC just doesn't care enough about it to put any marketing behind the fights. It's a shame but the reality is that it is business as usual.