UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

UFC 218: A killer card that deserves more attention

Outside of the mega-cards that have dotted the landscape over the last couple years, this weekend’s pay-per-view event in Detroit stands as one of the best main card offerings the UFC has put together in recent memory.

Headlined by a featherweight title fight between Max Holloway and former titleholder Jose Aldo and boasting four outstanding secondary contests, UFC 218 is a card that hardcore fans have had circled on their calendars for months and that has the potential to be wildly entertaining while having a serious impact on the landscape of several divisions heading into next year.

Obviously the outcome of the championship main event will dictate where the 145-pound weight class goes next, but the co-main event between Alistair Overeem and Francis Ngannou could very well determine who is next in line to challenge for the heavyweight title and the same could be said of the clash between flyweights Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis. Add in a sure-fire barnburner between Top 5 lightweights Eddie Alvarez and Justin Gaethje plus a pivotal contest in the strawweight division between standouts Michelle Waterson and Tecia Torres and you have just the second pay-per-view event of the year where all 10 main card competitors are currently in the Top 15 of their respective divisions according to the UFC Rankings.

Because of the potential impact and the impressive depth of talent on the card, UFC 218 should have a ton of buzz, but beyond the diehard set, it doesn’t feel that way.

There are no major names, no real rivalries and none of the pre-fight drama that usual accompanies these events and entices casual fans that weren’t already planning on ordering the fights to open up their wallets. It’s simply a throwback classic and it will be interesting to see what kind of business it does and how that affects Saturday’s winners in the New Year.

Earlier this year I called UFC 211 – the loaded dual title fight event in Dallas – “the blockbuster card without much buzz” because even though it featured Stipe Miocic and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defending their titles, plus a bunch of other exciting, important matchups, it didn’t carry the kind of anticipation that accompanies the marquee events of the year. That show garnered roughly 300,000 buys and although it was thoroughly entertaining, it didn’t really do too much to help elevate the status of the fighters who emerged victorious.

Personally, that feels like a missed opportunity because the only way fighters like Miocic or Jedrzejczyk or Holloway are going to take the next step forward in their careers and have a chance at being legitimate superstars and top draws for the UFC is if they get treated as such heading into and coming out of events like this.

This week on Sporting News, I asked why Holloway isn’t receiving the same kind of hype that accompanied Cody Garbrandt into his matchup with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 217 in New York City. They’re roughly the same age and both were facing former champions in their first title defenses, yet while myriad stories were being written about how “No Love” could be the next big thing in the UFC, I haven’t seen very much written about his Hawaiian counterpart who could earn his 12th straight victory this weekend, has never been in a boring fight and is beloved by analysts for his ever-improving, constantly evolving offensive approach.

“Blessed” is exactly the kind of fighter that anyone who identifies themselves as a fight fan should be amped up to see every single time he steps into the cage and this event is a callback to the stacked pay-per-view events of yesteryear that everyone seems clamor for whenever a middling event is coming down the pike, but here were are just a couple days away from things jumping off and it just kind of feels like another random fight week.

And that shouldn’t be the case.

It’s easy to get everyone fired up for events like UFC 217 when Georges St-Pierre is coming back and there are three title fights that make buying the pay-per-view a no-brainer, but these are the events that should be getting even more attention because while the names aren’t as big, the stakes are just as high and the action will be no less thrilling.

In a way, this feels a lot like Holloway’s headlining turn in Toronto last winter against Anthony Pettis.

Like this weekend’s fight card at Little Caesars Arena, UFC 206 featured a late main event change and a main card that was short on transcendent names, but stocked with quality fights that had those in the know licking their chops. The event ended up delivering the best knockout of the year – Lando Vannata’s wheel kick finish of John Makdessi – and the best fight of the year – Cub Swanson’s victory over Doo Ho Choi – plus some violence between Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown and Holloway stopping Pettis to claim the interim featherweight title.

That show only did 150,000 pay-per-view buys, which feels like a travesty in hindsight and is part of what makes me nervous about this weekend’s event.

If an event like that or UFC 212, where Holloway ventured to Rio de Janeiro to defeat Aldo and unify the titles, fails to make an impact beyond the diehard audience, the chances of this card doing so are slim, which doesn’t bod well for the future because it becomes a vicious cycle where each subsequent fight is marred by the low numbers his previous fights did.

Because no one seems to be giving Holloway the “you can’t miss this guy; he’s the future” treatment and the last fight didn’t do big numbers, this fight probably won’t do big numbers and on down the line until next thing you know, we’re several fights into his title reign wondering why the champion isn’t a bigger draw?

Demetrious… is that you?
And it’s not like there aren’t ways to get that momentum building behind him or anyone for that matter. After all, we managed to turn Conor McGregor fighting Diego freakin’ Brandao on Fight Pass in Dublin into a massive event that launched “The Notorious” one to the next level of stardom.

I don’t know how many people actually tuned in to watch that event, but it was treated like a big deal and stands as the point where McGregor went from being an intriguing prospect that hardcore fans clamored to watch to the next big thing in the UFC.

For the record, Holloway has an entire island with a rich fighting culture behind him too and has already proven himself inside the Octagon far more than McGregor had up to that point, but for whatever reason, no one seems to want to give Holloway the same kind of push or commit anywhere near the amount of effort and attention that gets put towards select marquee talents and monster fight cards behind these outstanding, but somewhat unheralded fight cards, even though they’re the events that need it the most.

These are the cards and fighters that people need to be hearing about, learning about and familiarizing themselves with now because chances are several major fights for 2018 will start taking shape on Saturday night in Detroit and there is no reason for anyone to feel like the athletes involved in those matchups “came out of nowhere” or aren’t big enough stars to be worth their time.

Treat these athlete and events like they’re crucial and important and more people will start paying attention.

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