This weekend’s UFC 228 event will be held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas and despite featuring two championship bouts on the card, there’s very little buzz ahead of this pay-per-view. The reasons for that seems to be a combination of factors around the show.
Tyron Woodley, the current UFC Welterweight champion, was scheduled to defend his title against former interim titleholder, Colby Covington, who defeated Rafel Dos Anjos just a few months ago for the belt at UFC 225. Covington, who does a cheap imitation of Conor McGregor to attempt to get attention, required nasal surgery and declined the unification contest. That prompted UFC officials to strip him of the interim status, making the entire title fight against Dos Anjos rather pointless.
The cancellation led to the announcement that undefeated British fighter, Darren Till will challenge Woodley for the championship in Dallas. So, why does this event lack hype?
Despite the unblemished record of 17-0-1, Till doesn’t bring much name value to the table, fighting four of his six UFC bouts on their Fight Pass streaming service, which brings the least amount of exposure of the current broadcast formats of the organization. He also missed weight twice in his UFC run, including his most recent bout against Stephen Thompson in May, which saw him win a very controversial decision. The Thompson contest was broadcast on Fox Sports 1, an outlet that gave Till the most TV exposure of his career and he didn’t necessarily deliver a thrilling performance that justifies a title shot.
Aside from a lack of mainstream exposure, even diehard fans know that this title fight won’t be secure until Darren Till makes weight this Friday. Without much name value, the intrigue of an undefeated competitor challenging for the belt is the only major selling point of the main event for UFC 228.
Assuming that Till can properly cut weight this week, the flip side of this scenario is that he has an opportunity to use this platform of a pay-per-view main event to truly make a name for himself. Keep in mind, the UFC inked a deal with ESPN for their next TV contract for next year so that outlet will cover the sport closely to build a foundation for the launch in 2019. If Till KOs the welterweight champion, the highlight could be used for him to become more well-known to casual fans.
On the other side of the cage, Tyron Woodley, even as the current Welterweight champion, has yet to really reach the level of notoriety of most UFC champions. Woodley was outspoken about his discontent with the lack of promotional efforts from the company, and he might have a point, depending on someone’s perspective, but the fact remains that for whatever reasons, he doesn’t have a level of popularity that sells a considerable amount of pay-per-views, which is still the most important revenue stream for the MMA league.
Woodley won the belt via first round KO against Robbie Lawler in mid-2016 before he fought the previously mentioned Thompson in a contest that went to a draw in November of that year. He went on to beat Thompson in the rematch just a few months later, and then defended his title against Damien Maia for a decision victory in July of last year. A shoulder injury from that bout required surgery and put him on the shelf for an extended period of time. Woodley hasn’t fought in over a year, and competed only twice in 2016 and 2017 respectively. It’s a harsh reality, but Woodley has simply been off the radar of MMA fans for much of the time that he has been the 170 LBS champion.
The outside factor of the scenario ahead of UFC 228 is the return of Conor McGregor to the octagon for the first time in nearly two years next month against the dangerous Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The brash Irishman won that championship the last time he was in the cage when he KO’ed Eddie Alvarez and then took his name value from the UFC’s marketing plan to cash in to fight Floyd Mayweather for a rumored $100 million last year. McGregor was stopped in the 10th round, but it was about the payday, not the victory.
The boxing venture and a lack of an indication of when he would defend either championship forced UFC management to strip him of both the featherweight and lightweight belts before he defended either title. Since his record-setting boxing match, Conor made headlines for all the wrong reasons in April when he threw a dolly at the window of a bus that transported fighters on the UFC 223 card. Supposedly, animosity between McGregor’s fight team and Khabib caused the altercation. A few fighters on the bus were injured from the shattered glass and McGregor was arrested.
About a month ago, Conor’s lawyer reached a plea agreement that ordered him to do community service and attend anger management. After the legal debacle was resolved, it was announced that he will fight Khabib for the 155 LBS championship at UFC 229 in October. Where this can affect the Woodley vs. Till event is that the audience might simply decide to wait a month to spend $65 for an MMA pay-per-view to see the return of the controversial McGregor to the octagon.
Again, it’s a harsh reality, but does a main event with a lesser-known champion scheduled to fight a challenger that might not make weight really justify the price tag for the pay-per-view? Granted, not every event can be historic, but there should be a standard for what is considered a PPV quality card, and without a solid under card, UFC 228 just doesn’t have the bouts to draw fans to spend the money order the event. If I had to guess, I’d say that UFC 228 will generate a buy rate of roughly 120,000 for the event, but more than anything, this scenario is a major example of the lack of star power for the product.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story
UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9.
Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.
UFC Fight Island
Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.
“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”
The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry.
When, and Where?
The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.
The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.
The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.
As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249
It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia.
Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.
To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively.
But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.
Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib.
The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade.
All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.
Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC.
UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans
UFC 249 had promised to be a rare occasion of a sports event going ahead, but the April 18th showpiece ultimately fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak, and was cancelled. However, UFC chief Dana White is not one to be put out, and so came the recent announcement that there would be a series of UFC fight nights in May.
It’s a great chance for fans to see some sporting action, for fighters to keep in shape and perhaps make a name for themselves in these strange circumstances, and for people stuck in lockdown to have some alternative entertainment, something a bit different from Joe Wicks workouts or Zoom quizzes! Here, we look at why these UFC fight nights will be welcomed by so many people.
The sporting world has basically been at a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe. It feels like an eternity ago that we were watching horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, but the measures put in place by the government to protect the public meant that most events had to be cancelled.
And so, the news that there will be some live sporting entertainment in the form of several UFC fight nights will give sports fans that much needed fix of live action. Sports nuts all over the world have been forced to make do with virtual championships and races, or with trawling the archives to reminisce on past sporting occasions, but now White and co. have brought some welcome live sporting action back to our screens.
Of course, these are not just any old fighters going head to head. Some of the best in the business will be battling it out, not least Tony Ferguson who takes on Justin Gaethje on May 9th. The Tony Ferguson odds have him as hot favourite for the bout, but Gaethje will be a man on a mission on fight night to prove he has what it takes to cause a stir at the highest level of the sport.
May 9th sees two other interesting clashes, as Henry Cejudo takes on Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight Championship, and Francis Ngannou meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Cejudo vs Cruz fight features two men with similar records, and will therefore be an intriguing clash as both try and prove themselves on the big stage. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik will be trying to defend his 10-fight unbeaten record as he takes on Ngannou, and so there will be plenty on the line in that one.
A welcome distraction
Perhaps one of the key benefits of these fight nights is that they will provide a welcome distraction from the sad news and gloomy headlines we’ve all been reading in recent weeks. Sport has the power to unite people and spark a feel-good factor among the public.
Although the UFC may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a chance for a lot of people to get to know a sport they perhaps wouldn’t have considered watching before, and few sports have to power to grip and entertain like mixed martial arts. Many people are craving a dose of live sporting action, and thanks to the UFC, that sporting fix is not too far away.
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