Kyte on UFC: Deserving super-fight promotion

Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez meet in a "champion vs. champion" bout worthy of "super-fight" talk.
April 18, 2013, 12:38 PM

Super-fight.

We first started hearing the word tossed around in UFC circles heading in to UFC 129 in Toronto, with Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva attached as the speculative principals. Close to two years later, that fight still hasn’t happened, but the word hasn’t faded from the MMA lexicon.

The new fight that has captured everyone’s attention involves Silva battling light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, though the prospects of that fight coming together seem slim at this point. Now that everyone has kind of cooled on it, the potential for a Silva vs. St-Pierre pairing seems more likely than ever before.

The word “super-fight” has been attached to a couple other contests this year as well, though you can question whether or not it deserved to be hitched to either contest.

Jose Aldo’s featherweight title fight with Frankie Edgar this past February had everyone debating the true definition of a “super-fight.” So too did St-Pierre’s long-awaited showdown with Nick Diaz last month in Montreal, even though it came 16 months and one Diaz loss after it was first set to go down.

For what it’s worth, I had thought the former deserved the “super-fight” billing, but not the latter. As I said, too much had transpired for the UFC 158 to be considered a true super-fight; Diaz had dropped an interim title fight to Carlos Condit, and rode out a year-long suspension, which made his meeting with St-Pierre very different than when he returned to the UFC as the reigning Strikeforce welterweight champion on an impressive winning streak.

With the word being tossed around somewhat liberally in recent months, and fans clamouring to see any fight that is even remotely related to being worthy of being called a super-fight, it’s all kinds of crazy to me that the UFC has failed to attach the term to this weekend’s main event showdown between Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez.

Let’s look at the particulars:

Henderson is the reigning, defending, undisputed UFC lightweight champion, while Melendez enters as the last lightweight champion in Strikeforce history. He’s held that title in full since defeating Josh Thomson in December 2009, and enters the UFC on a seven-fight winning streak.

This is a “champion vs. champion” contest between the top two fighters in the 155-pound ranks, and we’re not talking interim titles either. This is the first time two — for lack of a better word — “real” champions have faced off since St-Pierre faced B.J. Penn at UFC 94, and yet it’s being promoted like it was just another title defence for Henderson.

Watch Saturday’s UFC on Sportsnet: Henderson vs. Melendez, starting with the televised undercard at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT, followed by the four-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, all on Sportsnet ONE. In addition, catch two early prelims on sportsnet.ca, starting at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT.

In the promotional trailer for this event, “El Nino” isn’t billed as the incoming Strikeforce lightweight champion; he’s referred to as “Top Contender Gilbert Melendez.”

In a nationally televised show where you could sell a true “super-fight” to an audience that has landed north of four million viewers on average over the last two events, the UFC has opted instead to under-sell the magnitude of this fight, and I’m not sure why.

Pushing this fight to the hilt as the contest that establishes the winner as the undisputed, unquestioned ruler of the lightweight ranks gives the UFC the chance to come out ahead regardless of who wins.

Being that this is Melendez’ promotional debut, why not put the spotlight on bust and give him as much of a chance to gain traction with a new audience right out of the gate as possible?

If he should win, you’re set up with a brand new potential star that just beat one of your current burgeoning stars in a highly visible, high-stakes contest on national television. If Henderson wins, he’s coming off back-to-back wins on FOX, and just defeated an tremendous challenger who has been positioned as one of the top five lightweights in the sport for the last three years and change, maybe longer.

Promoting this tilt as the “super-fight” it is elevates it to another level of interest.

Fans may not know Henderson and/or Melendez as well as they know next weekend’s main event competitors or some of the other big names on the roster, but when you put championship belts on both men’s shoulders, and give it the kind of push it truly deserves, you’re going to pull more eyes to television sets than you will just selling it as another title defence for Henderson.

With so much activity over the last few weeks, and events scheduled for the next two Saturdays as well, plenty of fans are going to pick which battles they’re going to watch. The fact that it’s on network television certainly helps make it more attractive, but why not put the full court promotional press on with this one?

These FOX shows are a great opportunity to potentially convert casual fans into more frequent members of the audience, so it would only make sense to me to use this platform to give fighters on the verge of stardom who will help carry their respective divisions in the future the maximum exposure and push possible.

Obviously, the UFC is still a pay-per-view business, and driving audiences to their $50-a-pop monthly events is key, but this month is a little different. We’ve just had an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter setting the table for Jon Jones versus Chael Sonnen, and the light-heavyweight champion is pretty much a guaranteed draw at this point.

People who are paying to watch next weekend’s fights made their decision a while ago; you’re either interested or you’re not, and at this point, there probably isn’t much that is going to prompt you to change your mind.

But some fans might not have made up their mind on this weekend’s championship showdown.

Unfortunately, in not pushing this pairing as much as they could have, the UFC might have missed an opportunity they’ve been trying to force for the last two years: giving the fans a legitimate super-fight.

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