Free was nice, and free was big -- and big was always the intention.
But now that we’re through with the privilege of bonus title fights on network television and dangling MMA in front of bemused pop culture, it’s back to our secular intrigues. Or, you know, back to opening the pocketbook to feed the MMA fix.
This weekend, if you want to enjoy the entire spectrum of fights going on -- and it’s a pretty stacked slate of fights spread over three promotions -- it will cost you approximately $75. A little more if you order UFC 139 in high definition (recommended). A little less if you prefer to skip watching Fedor Emelianenko take on Jeff Monson from Moscow at cockcrow (it’s your dime). But around $75 if you want to catch all the action going on behind the pay wall, along with the free preliminary bits and Bellator.
And if planned right, with DVRs and griddles, it actually looks like a ridiculous MMA marathon -- the exact opposite of the showcased 64 seconds of action from this past Saturday’s big event between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
Saturday night, UFC 139 is quietly one of the best looking cards of the year -- on paper anyway (which as you know is flammable). There’s the return of Dan Henderson to the UFC, who may or may not be fighting for a title shot against Jon Jones, taking on former champion Mauricio Rua. Their paths never crossed in the halcyon days of Pride when both were champions, a bit of restraint that plays nicely over the back-story -- but that’s a modest allure. The thing is, somebody will be knocked out. Could be Henderson, who never gets knocked out. And the same goes for the co-main event of debutante Cung Le and Wanderlei Silva. Le fights are rare, but he is the “Human Highlight Reel.” Silva is one knockout from either continuing on as he'd like to, or some alternative (which he refuses to contemplate).
Then there’s the Urijah Faber/Brian Bowles fight to determine who’s next for a shot at Dominick Cruz’s bantamweight belt; Martin Kampmann/Rick Story, which could headline a Versus show; Stephan Bonnar/Kyle Kingsbury, Ryan Bader/Jason Brilz, Tom Lawlor/Chris Weidman. It’s stacked. Miguel Torres is buried on the Facebook undercard fighting Nick Pace. Ditto Rafael dos Anjos and Gleison Tibau. And that’s just the first bill of fights.
There’s also one of the best Bellator cards happening on MTV2, with two belts up for grabs. Eddie Alvarez, who ESPN has ranked No. 4 in the lightweight Power Rankings, against Michael Chandler, and Hector Lombard in a middleweight title defense against Trevor Prangley. Bonus? Marlon Sandro and Raphael Dias. And when all that is through, at 7:30 a.m. on the East Coast the next day, Emelianenko fights Monson for $29.95. It’s a steep price for nostalgia on a three-fight skid, but it’s Fedor, and there are hopes and denials all over the place. The other thing? Somebody will get knocked out.
That’s a big bank of highly combustible MMA action for those willing to splurge. Four former Pride champions, three former WEC champions, two current Bellator champions, one former UFC champion, one reigning Strikeforce champion, and the teetering legacy of Stary Oskol all in a 12-hour window. Not all of it will be free, yet -- especially if you won’t be duped into early morning Fedor -- taken as a whole, this weekend’s fights can’t help but live up to the billing they barely received.
In other words, if you begin with hype and end with the price tag, it’s everything that last weekend wasn’t.