PPVs won't always deliver bang for buck

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
7:05
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Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Where did UFC 149 go wrong? What was the single, biggest offender?

Oh, where to start. What went on in Calgary was one of those perfect storms.

There was the eccentric that didn’t go eccentric (Brian Ebersole). There was hype that fizzled before our eyes (Hector Lombard). There was a passive observer masquerading as the third man in the cage (Yves Lavigne). There were heavy hands that were never deployed (Shawn Jordan/Cheick Kongo). There were gavels that ruled all wrong (Nick Ring over Court McGee). There was a clear body kick that was mistaken for a groin shot (Josh Rosenthal imagining things with Matt Riddle/Chris Clements).

And there was a perfectly decent main event that suffered the residual wrath.

Urijah Faber and Renan Barao needed to turn the main event into Dan Henderson versus Mauricio Rua to balance this ledger. As it were, it played out like Urijah Faber versus Renan Barao. The bout was doomed by its predecessors.

But the real problem, of course, was this: UFC 149 was a stretch to believe in to begin with, and it required some faith. Or that should say -- UFC 149 became a stretch to believe in by its fifth and sixth iteration.

The injury bug sapped this thing good and plenty before it got off the ground. Jose Aldo, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Michael Bisping, on down the line. Bibiano Fernandes wasn’t so much hurt as he was never signed.

Aside from the prelims, the people that the UFC were able to book simply didn’t (or couldn’t) deliver the goods. Shawn Jordan, the former LSU fullback who had a nice glow to his name coming in, was in a battle of leaning pillars with Cheick Kongo. He’s still green and didn’t know what to do in the big spot. Lombard was tentative. Ebersole was intending to move to lightweight when he got the call on a few weeks’ notice to step in. He did. And he looked like a man who wished he didn’t.

Of all the patchwork matches, only Riddle from the main card came correct. His arm-triangle on Chris Clements was cleanly executed viciousness that set a false premise for things to come. The thing that followed was disappointment. Disappointment that Lombard didn’t live up to billing. Disappointment that Kongo played clinch. Disappointment that the UFC played fast and loose with people’s disposable income.
[+] EnlargeCheick Kongo
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comHug of war: Cheick Kongo, left, and Shawn Jordan spent more time holding and posing than they did actually fighting.

Even the postfight news conference, where Dana White promised to update us on the bearings of the 185-pound weight class didn’t deliver. As for Lombard, who hadn’t lost since that Gegard Mousasi upkick back in 2006? Nowhere to be found. He wouldn’t be made available to scowl at trouble-making media types.

This happens sometimes. Not all cards deliver on the pay portion of the programming. White said it reminded him of UFC 33. Cynics might point to UFC 147. Only difference is, that card was so suspect that most people stayed away from shelling out the $50 to watch it. This time, there was an undercurrent of hope that UFC 149 -- for as cobbled and rearranged as it appeared on paper -- could turn into one of those rare gems. You know, one of those cards where White laughs at the people who criticized it beforehand while holding court with the media afterward.

White himself was certain that this card was going to deliver, appearing in Alberta on Thursday as a man who could barely contain his glee. But it couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t, which takes turns being nobody’s fault with being everybody’s fault. When a stinker happens, the people who bought the pay-per-view take it personally, and the crowd on-hand chants “RE-FUND” throughout the main event. The faith of a good product in spite of all the rejiggering came out to $50 and change (more if you ordered in HD). It wasn’t what the UFC wanted, nor what the fans wanted.

Everybody is complaining about the same thing from different perspectives.

But we order these fights knowing there’s a chance things won’t pan out. Look at the response to Clay Guida versus Gray Maynard on a free card. Had that fight been the main event on the UFC 149 PPV, Calgary might have turned into Vancouver after the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

It’s tricky stuff, this PPV business. The public demands its money’s worth. The UFC demands more of its fighters. The commissions demand competence of its referees and judges (or at least should). Everybody demands entertainment. It’s a demanding public, and it’s a demanding sport, and the UFC is a demanding business.

Yet as we learned on Saturday, demands can be what they want, but there are no guarantees.

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