What MMA fans are seeing in this strange fallout of UFC 196 is not totally unprecedented. Sure, the saga of Cain Velasquez’s failure to live up to the hype due to near-constant injury issues may have single-handedly brought the UFC down a peg or three over the last half-decade, but this has happened before, and the UFC has only itself to blame. UFC 151 was canceled after Dan Henderson had to pull out of his title shot against Jon Jones and a replacement couldn’t be found. UFC 176 was canceled after Jose Aldo had to delay his second title defense against Chad Mendes, so what we’re seeing here is a lesson not learned.
The UFC needs stronger cards. This isn’t cool. Not for the UFC, which is probably losing a lot of cash, and not for the fans.
UFC 196 was a pay-per-view mostly because of the heavyweight belt being on the line. The co-main event, Johnny Hendricks versus relative unknown (to the average viewer) Stephen Thompson will now be headlining the re-tooled UFC Fight Night 82, which will be free on FOX Sports 1. In the immortal words of Nick Diaz, “It’s whatever.” While this fight may set up the middle of the Top 10 rankings, there’s nothing immediately pressing about this match-up. It’s entirely missable, unlike a heavyweight title fight.
Yes, Stipe Miocic tried to save the show by stepping up to fight on less than two weeks notice, but when champ Fabricio Werdum pulled out of that fight citing injuries of his own (despite claiming that he still would’ve fought Cain hurt), the writing was on the wall — only one fight made this worth $60 in Dana White and Zuffa’s eyes. That’s a scary precedent to set. But at least they still aren’t charging for the card, right?
It wasn’t always this way. UFC 137 was another stacked PPV that went through a weird change-up when Nick Diaz was removed from his title fight with Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit was put into the main event spot. When GSP then got injured and had to pull out of the Condit fight, what happened? BJ Penn versus Nick Diaz happened. A quality main event with a strong undercard featuring names people know like Mirko Cro Cop, Roy Nelson, Scott Jorgensen, and Hatsu Hioki for the hardcores. No one walked away from UFC 137 feeling like they wasted money, or that the show should’ve been free. No jumbled timeline to confuse fans…
What happens to the UFC’s scheduled events now thanks to this shakeup? UFC 197 has been re-titled UFC 196: Dos Anjos vs. McGregor, which goes down on March 5. Fight Night 82 was originally supposed to feature Donald Cerrone versus Tim Means at the end of February, but that’s now in limbo. That show isn’t canceled, just likely pushed back into a different title. Fight Night 83, probably.
So, all in all, it’s business as usual. We get a free card for Super Bowl weekend and a newfangled PPV later. UFC 197, which is supposedly going down on April 23, has yet to have a single fight put on the card. It’s confusing, but everything is okay. Everything except the watered-down cards that are falling apart at the loss of a single fight.