UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

UFC Fresno: A Friendly Reminder about Event Tiers

A few years ago, I wrote a column offering my thoughts on how the UFC should lay out its fight calendar, inserting a week off following every pay-per-view event.

At the time, my argument was that the shockwaves from PPV shows always run into the following week and when there is another fight card the very next Saturday, the competitors on that card are automatically going to get overshadowed and the event as a whole is going to get unfairly judges because of its proximity to the pay-per-view event that just happened and the depth of talent on that card.

It has been happening again all this week as we deal with the fallout from an outstanding show at UFC 218 and prepare for the Saturday’s event in Fresno as folks are just dismissing the card even though it actually features a couple excellent fights and a few quality prospects.

Seeing all the “UFC Fresno is actually a thing?” tweets and how this solid card is stuck under the radar has made me want to remind everyone that just as Frankie Edgar showed Yair Rodriguez that there are levels inside the Octagon, there are tiers to fight cards as well.

Here’s a handy reference guide you can add to your bookmarks and consult whenever you feel the need to get extra salty about there not being enough major stars on the latest FS1 event or UFC on FOX show.

Tier One: International Events on Fight Pass

Let’s start with the fact that it will probably start at an odd time because its taking place overseas, so if that one is going to get you upset, you should probably calm down already.

The main event is going to be pretty good, but pretty much everything else is going to be tailored to the country/region, the same way every Canadian fight card is guaranteed to feature a ton of Canadians. Given that it will start in the early morning hours in North America, expecting anything different – or complaining about the composition at all – feels like a “you’re trying too hard” situation for me.

And when you get an event like this year’s card in Singapore with a main card that fits in a different tier, cherish it, relish it, enjoy it – just don’t expect it to be the norm.

Tier Two: Cable Events

This weekend’s card in Fresno is exactly what fans should expect from an event that airs on FS1 or wherever you get your fighting fix:

Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega – a very good main event
Jason Knight vs. Gabriel Benitez – a chance to see a cult figure maul someone
Marlon Moraes vs. Aljamain Sterling – an underrated Top 10 battle
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche – a deep cut, completely overlooked quality fight
Eryk Anders, Benito Lopez, Merab Dvalishvili – early looks at a few solid prospects

If you’re expecting more from the standard Saturday night fight card, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe that’s not enough to get you excited, which is fine, but to expect the UFC to load up these events when they have two or three of them every month is misguided.

There have been times in the past (and there will be more instances in the future) where the quality of the card dips below this weekend’s level and trends closer to being a Tier One card that just happens to be on television and that sucks, but there are also times where the lineup is better than the baseline (like the March 11 event in Fortaleza, Brazil), so it all balances out.

Tier Three: FOX Shows

Here’s the general framework for the four main card fights on the “Big FOX” show:

Opening Bout: An action fight that kicks things off on the right foot and gets everybody excited for the next three bouts
Second Fight: Usually a showcase of some emerging talent, occasionally a “guaranteed action” fight
Co-Main Event: Contenders who aren’t quite next in line, but could be with a great performance on FOX
Main Event: Title fight with a champion who doesn’t draw on PPV or top contenders bout

As always, nothing is set in stone and sometimes you end up with Paige VanZant headlining against Michelle Waterson with Mickey Gall and Sage Northcutt in the penultimate bout of the night, but for the most part, the FOX cards follow the above guidelines. They’re designed to introduce the casual fans that aren’t buying pay-per-views and those who don’t watch every Tier Two event to a handful of top names in one sitting so that if they’re intrigued by any particular fighter, perhaps they’ll follow that person to PPV.

Three athletes who earned victories on FOX in the first half of the year – Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas and Robert Whittaker – have already gone on to fight for titles. Francis Ngannou is poised to do so in 2018 and the winner of next week’s main event in Winnipeg has been “guaranteed” a title shot as well.

The best way I can describe the UFC on FOX lineups is that they’re pay-per-view quality if you took away the pay-per-view main event. Look at the cards over the last couple years and tell me you wouldn’t pay $60 for most of them if you tossed a quality title fight in there to top it all off?

Tier Four: Standard PPV Event

These are your standard $60 affairs capped by a title fight backed by a strong supporting act, a solid swing fight in the middle and two more bouts that can range anywhere from okay to outstanding and play a big role in determining the level of excitement and anticipation there is for the event.

Exhibit A: the first two fights of the UFC 218 PPV were outstanding and helped contribute to the overall “this is an amazing card” feeling everyone had heading into last weekend’s event.

Exhibit B: UFC 210 opened with Charles Oliveira and Will Brooks followed by Thiago Alves taking on Patrick Cote. Very few people were counting down the days until the company’s return to Buffalo back in April.

Shows like this can also be goosed a little with the addition of a second championship bout, though that doesn’t always as much of an impact as having strong matchups book the rest of the way. Sometimes you can have a stacked card and there just isn’t any real buzz (see UFC 211).

For the most part, these are the baseline pay-per-views that we see 7-10 times a year that generate mediocre pay-per-view buys, but quite often exceed expectations.

Tier Five: The Blockbuster Shows

While they’re becoming a more regular feature on the annual calendar, these are the ginormous events with two or three title fights and a supporting cast consisting of fights that could headline Tier Two or Tier Three events without anyone blinking an eye.

These are the shows that your friends who never ask you about MMA ask you about and the ones where mainstream sports media suddenly develop an opinion about the names on top of the marquee. These are the events everyone gets hyped for well in advance and the ones that turn the lunatics (like me) that watch every single event into little kids on Christmas morning once Fight Day finally arrives.

UFC 205 is the ultimate example of this type of show and featured a lineup where each of the final seven fights was main event caliber. Although most will agree that three title fights on one show and a bushel of big fights behind them is often overkill and leaves the company thin a month or two or three down the line, that’s a price the UFC and its fans seem very much willing to pay in order to have an event that tops 750,000 buys and earns a place in the pantheon of the greatest shows in the company’s history.

These events cannot be compared to any other tier and if you’re hoping for Tier Two shows to be anywhere near as compelling and stacked as these occasional monster cards, I can’t help you. Hell every pay-per-view event can be as loaded as these shows, which is why they’re special and everyone gets all goofy and excited when they finally come around.

Besides, if they were all like this, I have a feeling fans would still find a way to get complacent and suggest that three title fights and a stacked card from top to bottom still wasn’t good enough.

At that point, the only thing left to do is electrify the cage or use Rorion Gracie’s original idea for the UFC and put an alligator-filled moat around the Octagon.

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