In this three-part series, I'm going to do my best to dispel the myth that the UFC is running too many events and this has led to 'watered-down cards'. I believe that this label is completely undeserved, and I'll examine why fans and media are complaining about the very thing that they've been asking for all along.
MMA fans and media are no different than fans of any other sport. They love to obsess over every minor detail, and they love to complain about things. Ever since the UFC signed their huge seven-year deal with Fox, fans and media alike have picked apart the minutiae of the the agreement with fervor. They've come up with all sorts of wacky theories, conclusions and complaints. After nine months, two of those complaints have risen above the rest:
1. A lot of people don't get Fuel, and can't see all the events.
2. The UFC is running too many events, which is leading to watered-down cards.
The first is clearly a valid concern. But the second makes very little sense when you take the time to examine it. Why? Instead of making excuses and saying that there have been too many injuries lately, or maybe that TUF isn't producing good fighters anymore, I'm going to take a different route. I'm going to point out the things that fans are conveniently ignoring when they jump to the conclusion that these cards aren't very deep anymore. And one of the biggest things that people are missing is the rise of the lighter weights.
Remember the WEC merger? Fans were overjoyed that featherweights and bantamweights were finally going to get all the benefits of being in the UFC (Ironically, I was one of the few railing against it). The majority of fans were psyched because WEC cards were non-stop action and the smaller divisions would prop up weaker cards with entertaining fights. The UFC rolled out the divisions at a slow crawl, barely promoting any lighter-weight non-title fights and burying them on the undercard for most of 2011. But eventually they grew and have earned their spot as legitimate divisions in the UFC. Just in time for the Fox deal, when they'd be relied upon to carry some of the entertainment load. And in March of this year, the flyweight division was added as well.
What does that mean? The UFC now employs 104 fighters from those three divisions. 13 flyweights, 39 bantamweights, and 62 featherweights. That's out of a total roster of 442 fighters according to Bloomberg. There have been 73 bouts at 145 or below so far in 2012, and another 16 scheduled for the next two months. Not a single event this year has had less than two fights at 145 or below. Most have had three or four. These divisions, along with the lightweight division, are quickly becoming the backbone of the expanded UFC schedule.
But it seems like nobody cares, because the cards they're propping up apparently aren't good enough for the complainers.
The biggest complaint from the "watered-down" crowd is that the a lot of the fights are irrelevant. They don't mean anything to the bigger picture. But they're missing the simple point that these divisions are still evolving rapidly because they're so new. Every fight in these divisions means something. One or two flyweight wins could mean a title shot. Guys go from zero to hero to zero at featherweight in no time. Bantamweight is wide open. Fans should want that kind of uncertainty, not waste time whining about it. It's part of what makes the bouts worth watching.
Plus, this whole merger is precisely what most fans asked for two years ago. They wanted action and excitement. And now these same fans want to say the cards aren't entertaining enough? That the guys they brought in to entertain might not be holding up their end of the bargain? That's nonsense. They're doing an awesome job. These aren't bush-league fighters, they're some of the best guys in the world. They just happen to be smaller than everyone else, which apparently makes them easier to ignore and dismiss.
And before you say it, I'll say it for you - "But Tim, we're not complaining about the little guys. We're complaining about Amir Sadollah and Matt Riddle being on main cards of events! We're complaining about cards like UFC 149!"
I know you are. And I'll get to that tomorrow. For now though, the next time you complain about the dearth of quality fights on a card, try not to overlook the contribution of the smallest guys in the octagon (besides Joe Silva). They're delivering. Some of you just need to open your eyes to it.