UFC 128 Fight Card: Examining the UFC's Fight Distribution Since the WEC Merger

via sportsnickel.com

Drinking coffee too late at night leads to bad things, like being up and running numbers far after you should already be in bed. Inspired by some of the recent talk around the site (especially the comments in the article about Joseph Benavidez's placement on the UFC 128 card) I decided to look to see how the fights have been distributed across the seven UFC weight classes since the full merger of the WEC in January.

There have been 68 fights (including this coming Saturday's UFC 128 event) on 6 different cards. For the sake of this exercise I am not counting The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale fights since the lower weight classes were not fully integrated and UFC 124 featured no featherweight or bantamweight fights. The total fights break down like this:

Featherweight - 7 (10.3%)
Bantamweight - 7 (10.3%)
Lightweight - 18 (26.5%)
Welterweight - 10 (14.7%)
Middleweight - 11 (16.2%)
Light Heavyweight - 11 (16.2%)
Heavyweight - 4 (5.9%)

The obvious reason for the high amount of lightweight fights is that the WEC merger brought together two full lightweight division so there are more fighters and a higher need to make fights at 155 and trim the fat. Heavyweight is having one of the worst years for a division I can ever remember in the UFC and Saturday's fight between a prospect in Brendan Schaub and a guy who is way past his best days in Mirko Filipovic is the most compelling fight among the big guys we've had all year. It'll be May before we get Frank Mir vs. Roy Nelson to spice things up a little bit with a fight featuring a guy ranked in the top 10 in the USA Today / SB Nation Consensus Rankings (Mir). As an aside, in the two events the WEC had held by this time in 2010 there had been 16 combined fights at 135 and 145 only two more than will have taken place after Saturday.

Given that the discussion about Benavidez being on the untelevised undercard is what sparked me to look at this, I had to go deeper and into how televised and streamed fights were being distributed across the main cards. Follow after the jump for that information.

Ufc_128_event_button_2_medium

Here is the data on fight distribution by weight class. Untelevised means that the bout was not planned for broadcast, regardless of if it was shown due to time allowances since this directly ties into sponsor pay. Also, televised prelims are any PPV prelims scheduled for Ion or Spike prior to a PPV:

Weight Class Untelevised Facebook Televised Prelims Main Card
Bantamweight 2 2 2 1
Featherweight 3 1 0 3
Lightweight 4 4 4 6
Welterweight 3 2 0 5
Middleweight 2 0 2 7
Light Heavyweight 3 2 2 4
Heavyweight 1 0 0

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Through March in 2010, only 7 featherweight and bantamweight fights were guaranteed to air at all on WEC shows. This means that there are actually 2 more fights though March that were sure to see some degree of broadcast this year in the lower weight classes than in the WEC days.

Here is the percentage of fights by weight class that were guaranteed to be broadcast of streamed in some way shape or form in 2011:

Bantamweight - 71.4%
Featherweight - 57.1%
Lightweight - 77.8%
Welterweight - 70.0%
Middleweight - 81.8%
Light Heavyweight - 72.7%
Heavyweight - 75.0%

Going back to the lighter weight classes. It's pretty easy to see what the basis is for deciding on if a bantamweight or featherweight will make the main card, it's all about making sure that the next wave of title challengers have had some degree of exposure. The four main card fights in the lightest divisions are Urijah Faber vs. Eddie Wineland, Brian Bowles vs. Damacio Page, Miguel Torres vs. Antonio Banuelos and Mark Hominick vs. George Roop. Hominick's win guaranteed him a title shot against Jose Aldo. Faber is the biggest WEC name so he would have been on the main card regardless, but he's also being moved into position for a title shot against Dominick Cruz. Miguel Torres and Brian Bowles are both legitimate contenders for the bantamweight title in the near future as well.

Meanwhile a guy like Mike Brown, who got trucked by Aldo in their meeting at WEC 44, was put on the untelevised prelims at UFC 125 and on the Facebook fights for Fight for the Troops 2. This is likely because he's not going to be challenging for that title again any time soon (the fact that he lost those two fights bears that out quite a bit). And Joseph Benavidez lost handily to Cruz and won't fight Faber should Urijah manage to win the title so the promotion likely sees no need to force him onto the main card.

Even the televised prelims seem fairly "future contender" based. Josh Grispi fought on Ion at UFC 125 to stay busy before his title shot against Aldo but got derailed by Dustin Poirier. Likewise Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa battled on Spike TV with the winner likely putting himself in line behind Hominick for a featherweight title shot.

Even so, it remains a bit of a travesty to see Benavidez left off the Spike and Facebook broadcasts entirely while Eliot Marshall and Luiz Cane battle in a probable loser leaves town affair. The realities of seven weight classes in one promotion are harsh and the takeaway here should be that the UFC is televising a pretty fair number of fights in its newest weight classes and that number will likely increase once lightweight is thinned out. But if you're a little guy looking to find your way into the homes of fight fans, you'd better be in title contention.

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