As a student of history, I've always been sadly amused by the many ways France found to screw up during the two World Wars.
No, I'm not here to bash the French - unlike many in North America, I still remember a chubby little fellow named Napoleon Bonaparte, who was kicking a** and eating cheese while we were still carving civilization out of the bush here in North America. But still, you can't help but shake your head at the way the French military learned the lessons (or didn't) of the World Wars.
Before the First World War, the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian wars were still fresh in the minds of French military planners. “We 'ave to take back our lost terry-tori!” the thinking went “so our strategy must be attack, attack, attack! The elan (fighting spirit) of our soldiers will carry the day!”
This mentality of “attack no matter what” led to the absolute slaughter at places like Verdun, where wave after wave of French soldiers charged into the teeth of trenches, mortars, and machine guns in bloody futility.
“Sacre bleu!” the French military brass exclaimed after the war, “that strategy was 'orrible! We lost so many men! For the next war, we should focus on defence, defence, defence!”
So they built the Maginot Line, perhaps the most impressive defensive work in modern history, on the border with Germany. Lesson learned, right? Except when the Germans invaded next in 1940, they launched a lightning attack around the flanks of the Maginot Line, cutting off the French army in their (now uesless) defensive line and bagging the whole country in a matter of weeks.
France learned lessons from the two wars – they were just the wrong lessons. They were too focused on re-fighting the last war, while their enemies were figuring out how to win the next one.
I wonder if the UFC and Fox aren't making the same mistakes with their strategy for “UFC on Fox”. And more importantly than that – what have the lessons of UFC on Fox really been thus far?
Let's take a look at the UFC's thought process for these events so far. We'll start with the first card, where the thinking went something like:
Big, Important World Title Fights Are All That Matters
For the First UFC on Fox, we got Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight championship of the world – and nothing else.
The thinking here was pretty clear: for our debut effort, fans need to feel they're watching something truly epic. We don't have time to introduce a whole card of fighters, so we'll focus only on the main event, build the two men fighting in it up like gods in the PR, and put make it for the heavyweight championship, which any sports fan can understand the significance of.
The ratings for UFC on Fox 1 shows that, to a large extent, this strategy was successful. However, as Joe and Goldie tell us so often, “anything can happen in MMA.” And having your clash of the titans end in 64 seconds was a jarring letdown for the months of promotion that preceded it. Fans tuned in expecting to see The Hulk vs. Thor. Instead, they got The Hulk vs. Loki (Avengers humour – if you haven't seen it yet, my condolences on being trapped under that rock all weekend).
So coming off that show, the new motto for UFC on Fox could be summed up roughly as
No Matter What, There Can Be No Quick, Disappointing Finishes
For UFC on Fox 2, the UFC booked three fights that were all pretty much guaranteed to go into deep waters. And instead of relying on months of promotional effort that can, in mere seconds, be flushed away, they booked established stars the MMA fanbase was already familiar with. Micheal Bisping, Chael Sonnen, and Rashad Evans are all known commodities with a proven track record of drawing eyeballs.
What the UFC got was a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”. No quick finishes this time – instead, all three fights went to decision in slower, tactical, mostly wrestling-based affairs with very little drama.
Booking guys like Sonnen or Evans because of their name value with fans is a good idea. But the UFC (and fans too, let's be honest) seemed to forget that outside of being despised heels, both guys have a reputation for putting on “boring” fights.
And on network TV, we got exactly what we should have expected from both men: Chael Sonnen, with his Greco-Roman based attack and exactly one finish in nine UFC fights, grinding out a win in signature fashion over Mike Bisping. And Rashad Evans, coming off some absolutely despised performances against “Rampage” and Thiago Silva, and with his 1000th title shot on the line, used a similar style to shut down the less experienced Phil Davis.
For my part, I enjoyed all the fights that night. But I'm weird. By and large, fans were left yawning by night's end instead of cheering. So for this most recent UFC on Fox, the UFC changed up their thinking again to
Exciting Fights Are All That Matters
A 64 second KO. Three plodding decisions in a row. For their third outing on Fox, the UFC evidently decided to sacrifice all on the altar of exciting fights - including big name fighters and world title fights.
And again, the UFC got exactly what they asked for. Top to bottom, all the fights delivered excitement, drama, and some damn exciting finishes. The problem is that this time, no one was watching.
Ok, that's an exaggeration on the level of “Pedro Rizzo is a credible opponent for Fedor Emelianenko.” But according to the earliest reports, the ratings for this outing on Fox are down significantly from the last two shows. And the reason most folks are jumping to is the lack of “star power” on the card.
I mean sure, Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller was a guaranteed exciting fight – but if you don't know who Jim Miller or Nate Diaz is in the first place, you won't be bothered to tune in on a night featuring a big boxing match, an NBA playoff, and perhaps the biggest cinematic event of our lifetimes playing in theatres.
So with three events on the books, and three differing philosophies guiding each one, I put it to you: what should the UFC book for the fourth Fox show? The talk is that Hector Lombard will headline against Brian Stann, but let's assume for a moment that's not set in stone. What philosophy should the UFC use to book their next Fox outing? Was one of their previous methodologies the right one – or have they yet to hit upon the right formula for that slam dunk, out of the park UFC on Fox event we've all been waiting for?
I legitimately don't know. And my fear is the UFC is in the process of building the Maginot Line, when they should be getting ready for blitzkrieg.
By Elton Hobson