The UFC returns to Fox this Saturday night with a tremendous card headlined by a legitimate title fight when Ben Henderson takes on Gilbert Melendez. It's a card that top-to-bottom promises great match-ups and action. It's worth every cent of a standard UFC pay-per-view price and it's completely free.
So why is nobody talking about it?
It's probably because Henderson and Melendez are great lightweights, but they're not exactly exceptional promoters. Frank Mir in the co-main event role likely was expected to be able to carry the promotion of the event. But even Mir, while still very camera-friendly in promo videos, has lacked a certain level of punch for the build-up to his fight with Daniel Cormier. We've gotten a solid Road to the Octagon special and really very little else.
There's a good possibility that the lack of strong promotion for this Fox show has been because of a focus on the following weekend and the UFC 159 pay-per-view showdown between Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.
The 159 promotion has felt like one stumble after another. The fight is inexcusably bad to begin with. It is worse than any major pay-per-view main event in combat sports over the past five years.
The two men coached against each other in a heatless season of The Ultimate Fighter, but Dana White tried to cover for the fact that there was no real "trash talk" with his new standard line, as pointed out by Ben Fowlkes at MMA Junkie:
"Chael and Jon Jones didn't really talk too much smack during the season," White said. "Now that it's off, Jon Jones said to me the other night, 'I've never actually wanted to hurt another guy that I've fought. I want to hurt Chael Sonnen.' So even though they didn't talk trash during the season, Jon Jones does not like Chael Sonnen at all."
This rhetoric ought to be familiar to anyone who recalls that time when Georges St-Pierre totally told White that he wanted to put the worst beating we'd ever seen on Nick Diaz, as well as the time Anthony Pettis totally texted White to plead for a fight with featherweight champ Jose Aldo. Either the UFC president is not the man you want to secretly gossip about coworkers with, or else he has no problem filling in the gaps when his fighters aren't pulling their weight in the hype department. As a fight promoter, that kind of thing is in his job description, if not his DNA.
The UFC began the advertising push for 159 with a miserable TV spot featuring Warrant's cover of We Will Rock You. A video spot that managed to be worse than the original music video with the boys making crazy faces in front of green screen footage from the boxing movie Gladiator:
The negative reaction to that ad seems to have forced it out of rotation. It has been replaced by clips from a Skype rant by Chael originally given on UFC Tonight where he spouted his usual lines of nonsense about being the biggest draw in the history of the sport and this being the biggest fight in light heavyweight history.
I doubt I'm alone in thinking that the Sonnen shtick has more than run its course; as he gets more and more ridiculous and becomes more and more cartoonish it loses all semblance of being any sort of "good fight promotion" and instead is nothing but cringe-worthy.
Some people still get confused and think "this is what all great fight promoters do!" except that it's not. This is not Ali-like. It's not like Floyd Mayweather. It's not even effective in the pro wrestling mindset because there is no set-up for the lines to work and results carry far more weight in real sports.
And it also makes promoting the actual fight difficult for his opponents. Jon Jones went into silent mode against Sonnen during their promotional spot during the TUF 17 finale:
Jones dropped the ball by not giving anything with his first opportunity to speak about what he will do in the fight, but how many choices is he left with given Sonnen's game? He can laugh at him. He can try to do the same thing in return and look silly. He can get angry and look like a goof.
When Jones had to deal with Rashad Evans, he had someone in front of him with whom he could play the game. They could play off each other because they were coming from the same mindset. He has more or less been set up in an impossible position in this fight. He has to go out and destroy the undeserving challenger and he is lacking for ways to build up the fight.
And so we're in this strange place with the UFC about to put on an outstanding show on network TV but efforts are being poured into promoting a mismatch between an amazing talent and his undeserving foe the following weekend.
In short, a fight that should have never been made is getting in the way of one of the best fights possible.