Putting on fights people want to see sounds easy enough. Mostly because Zuffa has done its job so well as a promoter of mixed martial arts the past decade that the concept of the fight game as a risky proposition (i.e., gamble) was basically forgotten.
Then, UFC 151.
Risks and rewards are numerous in this business. There's never been a promoter capable of flat-out guaranteeing a great fight. That's a perfect setup for failure. All promoters can do is set conditions, make cards, try to fill seats and sell pay-per-views.
And such was the thinking when, out of the rubble of another injury-strewn card, Anderson Silva was booked up a weight class against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153. A one-sided beating in the making. A mismatch by any estimation. Yet it was still worth it to Zuffa to put this fight together.
Why? The risk/reward math dictated it's the right play.
Down goes Silva! Down goes Silva! ... that's seismic stuff and really the only fault line worth dwelling on.
"The Spider" hasn't lost inside the Octagon. The odds of him doing so in Rio against a fighter as limited as Bonnar? Well, almost unfathomable. The key word: almost. There are no certainties here, and should the impossible happens there will be repercussions.
If Silva loses, is his legacy smudged like a bug on a previously pristine white wall? Maybe. But that's far less important in the near-term than the potential evaporation of a fight with Georges St. Pierre (who has to deal with a much tougher challenge against Carlos Condit in November).
Would it go down the drain with a loss? Probably not. UFC will find a way to salvage the contest, unless St. Pierre falters, too. Still, the luster would be off, and perhaps with it a proposed date at Cowboys Stadium.
Silva could have sat on the sidelines, waited until 2013 like he planned, watched GSP-Condit play out and do what's right by him. Instead, he jumped at the chance to be a hero, a noble gesture.
Clearly the risk of taking a fight 20 pounds above his weight class on a month's notice wasn't going to dissuade the Brazilian legend from stepping into the Octagon. He's also not going to dwell on the potential pitfalls -- that's not what a champion does.
The way these things work, though, you almost have to expect Silva (or St. Pierre) to stumble. The fight was talked about for too long. This is the way of the world.
As for Bonnar, the only real risk is looking foolish. He wouldn't be the first. Likely not the last. The American veteran, in this sense, has nothing to lose.
UFC risks little except sniping via the Internet, which happens everyday regardless of what's going on in the news cycle. For them, it seems this was a no-brainer.
Actually, the UFC may have in a 24-hour stretch replaced a great fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar with a not-so-great fight between Silva and Bonnar, and in the process found a more marketable, sellable contest.
Sad, but probably true.
Any Silva bout in Brazil will be big business, that's just the trajectory of things. Across TV sets in the U.S., he may provide a boon, too, not that you or I would necessarily agree, considering his opponent.
For all of the risks mentioned above, Silva will be the favored son of Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta for a while. The circumstances are certainly different than what went down with UFC 151, but stepping up and saying yes is all that matters to them.
Jon Jones refused and drew White's ire. Silva stepped up and earned his praise.
Just watch how these competing notions of the fighter-promoter relationship plays out the next few months.
Fighters tied to UFC will be much more amenable to the "company man" tag, having been reminded the degree to which the UFC will go after even its most important young fighters, after they don't do what's right by the business. Silva will be cared for, no question about that. And embedded in his payday and pampering will be a message to UFC fighters: Do what's right by us and we'll do what's right by you. Chose to be a lone wolf, well, good luck.
Risk. Reward. You choose.