It’s fight week, and the most we’re hearing about UFC 142 is coming from concerned third parties about how nobody’s talking about UFC 142. It is a pay-per-view, after all, with a title at stake. It is happening only one time zone removed from eastern standard in Rio de Janeiro, so it can’t be a hindrance to sleep schedules.
Yet this card is tiptoeing across the calendar. Even Dana White didn’t exactly tweet out his traditional “It’s Fiiiight Weeeek!” He merely wrapped quotes around Anthony Johnson’s tweet to the same effect.
Maybe it’s because of Stanislav Nedkov’s visa problems.
But more likely it’s something else, possibly what some western types are calling “inundation.” How many fight cards can be promoted as “big events” in the space of a calendar year? How many fight cards can be promoted, period? How many can be completely cared about?
Zuffa is planning to roll out in the vicinity of 40 fight cards in 2012, hitting hot markets (Montreal), old ones (Sydney), barren ones (Omaha), familiar ones (Japan) and new ones (Stockholm) -- on Fox, FX, Fuel and PPV. There are only 52 weeks in 2012. With plans to run concurrent “Ultimate Fighter” shows in the States and in Brazil, plus the live coverage of the weekly fights on the reality show, that makes for a year of constant action. No offseason. Just fights after fights after fights.
That’s not even factoring in Bellator’s schedule. All told, MMA is requiring us to be obsessed to catch it all. (Note: In the quest to attract mainstream fans, has anybody thought about the casualization of existing diehards? Saturation does things to a man.)
But you know what gets lost in that many fight cards? Hype. And hype has been joined at the hip of the fight game for better than a century -- hype is White’s raison d’etre. We need somebody to tell us that Yushin Okami is the best fighter to ever come out of Japan, because that sounds outrageous coming out of our own imaginations. We need healthy delusions, strong enough to make hard-earned income appear to us as disposable income. White’s a master here. He can burst the seams of what looks otherwise ordinary. But in 2012, with the worldly takeover Zuffa is planning and the merciless globetrotting schedule, he can’t possibly be the same circus barker. This year will have to involve inertia.
Which brings things back to this weekend’s fight card. UFC Rio will have to go off without a lot of hype. In a roundabout way, that makes it perfectly hyped. There is nothing epic about the matchups. There’s a featherweight fight between Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, and if the wrestler Mendes has a say in things it could be a five-round toil where he eats a lot of punches in dogged pursuit of single-leg takedowns. It doesn’t help that featherweights haven’t yet caught up to the bigger weight classes in fetching PPV dollars.
The co-main event is intriguing, with Anthony Johnson debuting as a middleweight against Vitor Belfort, but then the night becomes about Brazil’s own -- which is fine for a card that’s realistically all about Brazil to begin with. If there was a fight that stood out like a Donald Cerrone versus Nate Diaz, it’s got to be Terry Etim versus Edson Barboza. That’s a lightweight clash of two highly explosive future stars. Erick Silva is also one to watch. But this weekend he’s stepping into the Octagon almost anonymously against Carlo Prater (remember him?). There’s some intrigue on the card, if you care to find it. It’s not a bad night of fights, and it’s not a spectacular one.
But from the promotional standpoint, you know a card is adrift when the biggest story heading into a main event is that Gray Maynard is helping train one of the participants. Things feel a little detached this week -- and it’s a feeling that could become familiar going forward, particularly as the UFC breaks from being strictly America-centric. There will be more cards that sneak up on us in this way, more cards that feel like nonevents.
That’s new terrain for the fight fan, at least when we’re used to the buzz traditionally beginning with fight week. When we changed into 2012, it became something grander and less immediate, something like "fight year."
Now it’s a matter of adjusting our enthusiasm.