If I didn’t know better, I would think that Ronda Rousey’s debut at UFC 157 was the next event on the UFC calendar. While I’ve seen the trailer for this month’s historic encounter between Rousey and Liz Carmouche — the first women’s MMA bout to take place in the UFC — there has been very little mention of next weekend’s event at Wembley Arena in London, England.
Sportsnet has been running previews for the event, both during its UFC programming and otherwise, and will air the six-fight main card next Saturday. Throughout the UFC 156 broadcast last weekend and during Tuesday’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter, however, the only fight card that got any mention was UFC 157.
That’s downright tragic in my opinion, and a missed opportunity to give a number of up-and-coming talents who will be a part of the future of the organization a little bit of time in the promotional spotlight.
Next weekend’s event isn’t headlined by a pair of aging veterans trading on their names or a pair of fan-friendly sluggers far removed from title contention.
The main event features Renan Barao defending the interim UFC bantamweight title against rising star Michael McDonald. The champion and challenger are 25 and 22 years old, respectively, and are a combined 11-0 between the WEC and UFC, with victories over former champions Urijah Faber (Barao) and Miguel Torres (McDonald) in their last outings.
Each of those fights took place on pay-per-view, with Barao earning a good win in the main event of an admittedly bad event at UFC 149, while McDonald starched Torres in the opening round of a their main-card meeting at UFC 145. Overall, these two bantamweight standouts are a combined 44-2 (with one no contest), and sit at No. 1 and No. 2 in the recently released UFC rankings for the 135-pound weight class.
If this isn’t a fight worth promoting to the hilt — both now and with an eye to the future — I don’t know what is.
Barring any catastrophic injuries or early retirement, both Barao and McDonald have the potential to be championship players for the next 8-10 years. At a time when the UFC needs to start identifying and promoting the stars of tomorrow, these two fighters are near the top of the list of potential future stars, and yet there has been little-to-no effort put into promoting this fight or event.
The bantamweight headliners aren’t the only promising young fighters making an appearance across the pond next weekend.
Featherweight contenders Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier pair off in what should be an explosive co-main event.
Fresh off a first-round submission win in December against former TUF winner Jonathan Brookins, Poirier steps in for Dennis Siver to square off with the surging Jackson-Winkeljohn student Swanson, who has collected three straight victories and consecutive Knockout of the Night bonuses heading into this one.
Both sport 3-1 records over the last four fights, and none of those contests have gone to the scorecards. Poirier’s lone loss in that time came in 2012’s Fight of the Year with (The Korean Zombie) Chan Sung Jung, while Swanson’s sole setback came to current No. 1 contender Ricardo Lamas. This is a clash between two legitimate title contenders on the upswing, both of whom are ranked in the top 10, and yet the fight is flying completely under the radar.
In addition to the quartet of elite young fighters already mentioned, next weekend’s event also features the sophomore appearances of Jimi Manuwa and Gunnar Nelson; the former a surging light-heavyweight knockout artist, the latter an Icelandic grappling savant set to make waves in the welterweight division. Add in Canadian Ryan Jimmo fresh off the seven-second knockout victory in his debut that pushed his winning streak to 17, and you have a collection of up-and-coming talents deserving of much greater attention than they’ve gotten heading into this event.
While it’s understandable that the upcoming pay-per-view built around Rousey garners the lioness’ share of the attention, failing to promote a 12-fight event headlined by a championship contest that falls before the historic UFC 157 fight card is malpractice.
If the time and resources required to promote the event aren’t available due to it being sandwiched between two major pay-per-view events, perhaps the UFC should revisit their scheduling or think twice about booking a championship fight at the top of an event they’re simply going to let wither in the shadows.
Barao and McDonald are coming off the biggest wins of their careers, and the winner of this contest could potentially share the cage with Dominick Cruz in a title unification bout later this year. Even if Cruz isn’t the next opponent for the winner, a main or co-main event spot on a much bigger, more heavily marketed fight card than this has to be expected, but by sandbagging them here, it diminishes their value moving forward.
With this event getting ostensibly skipped over in terms of marketing, wouldn’t it have made more sense to slot Barao and McDonald into the co-main event position on last weekend’s must-see pay-per-view event and have another solid, non-championship contest from that card or the upcoming UFC 157 line-up headlining in England?
Getting Barao and McDonald the exposure that comes with a major fight card like last weekend’s Super Bowl show is crucial to developing them into potential draws moving forward. The UFC missed the opportunity to showcase them last weekend, and are squandering another chance by investing little effort into promoting them here.
There is no question that Rousey is a star on the rise with great crossover appeal, but to completely overlook fighters with greater long-term prospects as draws within the company is a mistake.
Unfortunately, it’s one the UFC has made before, and one the organization will likely repeat again in the future.