Regional promoters need to wise up about building cards with expensive UFC veterans like Andrei Arlovski.
It's difficult to remember a time when former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski wasn't the butt of a joke or considered a walking punchline. After suffering four consecutive losses, three of them by way of knockout, the adjectives "fierce" and "dangerous" quickly exited our mental definition of the Belarussian, replaced by phrases like "glass-jawed" or "chinny".
Despite the prevalent social convention, at least among MMA fans, to add insult to injury, Arlovski still has appeal to some fans, mainly those hoping for one final glimpse at the knockout artist who was once crowned champion of the world. On Saturday night at the iWireless Center in Moline, Illinois, Arlovski gave fans that small glimpse into the past, brutally knocking out Travis Fulton with a kick to the head with one second left in the fight.
Unfortunately, the preceding fourteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds of the bout proved definitively that Arlovski doesn't possess the killer instinct that once propelled him to the top.
The rest of the card was bizarrely similar, featuring a bevy of boring affairs that had one man screaming at the top of his lungs "You suck!" during Tim Sylvia's clinch-ladden main event showdown with Andreas Kraniotakes. As Sylvia's hand was raised in victory, the man once again let the pipes go, adding another layer of confirmation that the bout did, in fact, suck.
ProElite head T. Jay Thompson wasn't pleased with the event. There wasn't any celebratory handshaking afterwards among ProElite's brass. The event was undoubtedly one of the worst in recent memory, making a strong case for one of the worst in 2011.
The obvious flub of relying on a stable of heavyweights to produce a great event is a mistake that's easy to see, but it's difficult to predict the terrible performances put forth by both Mark Ellis and Reagan Penn. Those issues aren't a part of the macro problem that ProElite needs to solve in order to succeed however.
Obviously, those mistakes need to be avoided in order to succeed on an event-by-event case, but ProElite's progression, while still in its infancy, makes one cringe, mainly due to their antiquated thinking in the face of a changing environment.
One trend that's becoming more prominent with the growth of the UFC and Bellator is the reduced reliance on name recognition to carry regional events. Many smaller promotions use UFC veterans to fill seats, but the unappealing scraps that the UFC is kicking to the curb these days aren't names many fans recognize or want to see.
Promotions like Ringside MMA, W-1, and Championship Fighting Alliance seem to have an understanding of what it takes to succeed regionally. While main event match-ups still run parallel with the idea that a marketable name can bring eyes, there isn't a waste of time or capital trying to fill entire cards with the scraps of other organizations. Prospects are profiled, pitted against one another, and tested, and in many cases -- those prospects are eventually showcased against veteran competition, usually promoted heavily alongside their veteran opponent.
In order to promote within this new environment, talent acquisition is key, and ProElite enlisted Mark Ellis and Reagan Penn as two perceived top-flight talents they could promote. It wasn't a bad beat by any stretch of the imagination as Ellis' wresting pedigree and the history of success that NCAA champions have had in MMA are good indicators that he would be a future star. Penn is the brother of former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn, thus he already has a name attached to a successful and popular fighter. Sounds like a recipe for success.
We found out Saturday night that it isn't always the right recipe. Both Penn and Ellis lost, and it's more than likely attributed to their novice status as mixed martial artists and the learning curve of fighting. They'll have time to build themselves into better fighters.
What worries me the most, however, is the heavy reliance on UFC veterans. Kendall Grove, Joe Riggs, Drew McFedries, and Andrei Arlovski all made their way on ProElite's inaugural card, and the second card this past weekend featured Arlovski and Sylvia as the main attractions. Five years ago, I could see the logic, but the amount of money that both Arlovski and Sylvia garner could have bought lower profile veterans and highly-touted prospects.
A change in the aged philosophy that veterans can sell in the regional scene needs to happen with a promotion like ProElite. Titan Fighting Championships could take a hint as well, although they are doing a nice job with Anthony Gutierrez. Blowing a bunch of money on veterans nobody is interested in isn't helping the bottom line. Invest in prospects, promote in regional hotbeds, bring in worthy local talent, and spend some time scouring the landscape of the sport to find talent. If ProElite had done that, perhaps Saturday night's event in Moline wouldn't have been so unbearable to watch.