This weekend, two championship bouts will headline a UFC pay-per-view event, along with a legend on the card as well, but you wouldn’t know it. The promotional machine and more importantly, any buzz ahead of showtime is noticeably absent. Both Flyweight champions, Deiveson Figueiredo and Valentina Shevchenko will defend their belts respectively against competent contenders, but even with UFC titles on the line, this card isn’t garnering much chatter. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is also scheduled for a bout just a few months after a tenacious fight about Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but even the former Light Heavyweight champion hasn’t sparked much interest for this pay-per-view.
The reasons for this lack of buzz around a fight card with two belts on the line exposes a glaring error within not only the structure of the UFC business model, but also the weight divisions.
If you remember, UFC president, Dana White had originally planned to end the Flyweight division until the now-retired Henry Cejudo rescued it from extinction. After Cejudo vacated the 125 LBS belt to focus on the Bantam weight championship, Figueiredo defeated Joseph Benavidez to win it and then again to successfully defend. However, the break in the linage of the championship didn’t allow for a new star to be made in the Flyweight division. In truth, the entire concept of a 125 LBS weight class might’ve been too overzealous for the promotion, simply because there isn’t as much depth at that weight and by nature, the division doesn’t lend itself to dynamic finishes of fights. As dominate as Demetrius Johnson was during his heyday in the UFC, he had a slew of one-sided decision victories, and the bouts just weren’t competitive. That’s not to say that Johnson didn’t fight good competition because he did, but there are only so many top quality competitors available at 125, and Johnson was able to use his speed to win most bouts on the score cards. Basically, Johnson’s fights were predictable and from a promotional standpoint, there’s not much to market to the causal fans because the result wasn’t a selling point and often there wasn’t a highlight reel knockout. Is this assessment unfair to the stellar skills of “Mighty Mouse?” Absolutely, but the harsh reality is, the purist that can appreciate Johnson’s ability aren’t the target audience for the UFC.
As I’ve said before, the UFC is in the entertainment business as much, if not more so as they are in the fight business.
For whatever reason, Demetrius Johnson didn’t translate to dollars. Figueiredo, 19-1 on his MMA record, is a well-rounded fighter that has striking and submission skills, but the vast majority of his three-year tenure in the company has been either on the prelims or the under card of some of the smaller events. This is the problem when the UFC churns out almost weekly fight cards to satisfy the ESPN deal, even prospects that have a lot of talent sometimes get lost in the shuffle of the dozens of fights that might take place within a month. Quite simply, Figueiredo hasn’t truly had a chance to get himself established as a potential star so as of now, the fan base doesn’t have much of a reason to invest $70 to see him fight. This isn’t a jab against Figueiredo, but he went literally from prelim bouts to championship fights so there wasn’t the opportunity for the fans to follow his journey. Granted, this is a headline spot and obviously, it’s a chance for him to showcase his ability, but that will do nothing for the UFC 255 buy rate.
Figueiredo was scheduled to defend against former Bantam weight champion, Cody Grabrant, who rebounded from a three-fight skid with a victory this past June, but was sidelined with an injury. Alex Perez, a grappler even less known than the champion, steps in for the main event. I can’t emphasize this enough, this isn’t meant as a knock against either athlete, but for the entire existence of the Flyweight division, it’s been presented as a secondary priority for the UFC so there’s just not a reason for the fans to invest in this championship fight. Figueiredo is currently favored almost 3 to 1 to retain the belt.
On the flip side,Valentina Shevchenko is on a five-fight win streak ahead of this title defense. With a record of 19-3, two of those defeats via decision against Amanda Nunes, who is regarded by many as the best female fighter in the sport today, the kick boxer has made a name for herself with tremendous striking and judo skills. Her grappling ability allows her to be a well-rounded fighter, and considering that both of her losses to Amanda Nunes were via decision, with one of them a split decision on the score cards, it proves that only elite opponents have defeated her. The only other loss on her record was to Liz Carmouche via doctor stoppage because of a cut early over a decade ago. Shevchenko beat the extremely talented Joanna Jędrzejczyk to capture the flyweight belt almost two years ago and seems to be in the prime of her career.
The challenger Jennifer Maia garnered a record of 18-6-1, with a 3-2 UFC record. She won a unanimous decision this past August and strung together winning streaks at various points throughout her tenure in MMA. Still, the 32-year-old doesn’t have the name value or the momentum to bring to this fight to create any intrigue about the result. Sure, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt could secure a submission to get the surprise victory, but does anyone think that’s going to happen? The odd makers say no because Maia is an astounding 16 to 1 underdog to win the championship. On the surface, this is nothing more than a showcase fight for Vaelentina, but is that enough to justify the $70 price tag to watch the show?
The UFC has doubled in price on pay-per-view in the past 15 years, and if they can get ESPN to pay for the rights to broadcast events, as well as fans to pay for them then you can’t blame the company for trying to get the most revenue they can from each show. At the same time, if a PPV is going to $70, you would think that there would be a specific standard of quality associated with it, and unfortunately, a title fight for a division that was nearly folded completely and a Shevchenko exhibition just doesn’t seem like it’s on par for it. Maybe this is a domino effect of running so many cards within a relatively short span and there aren’t as many fighters available to take spots on the PPV card, but it will definitely be interesting to see the UFC 225 buy rate.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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