<
>

Inside the worst UFC PPV of all time

Uriah Faber and Renan BarĂ£o headlined what Dana White considers arguably the worst UFC card ever. ESPN Illustration

Dana White stepped to the podium after UFC 149 six years ago with a look of astonishment on his face.

"I'm embarrassed," he said.

Quite possibly the worst pay-per-view card in UFC history had just taken place at the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A multitude of injuries in the weeks and days prior to the event led to lackluster matchups that proved even worse than expected. All five fights on the main card had late replacements, and all but one ended in decisions that featured little to no action.

"We're at UFC 149. We can count on one hand how many shows have actually sucked," White told the media that night. "And tonight is one more finger on the hand."

The UFC will make its return to Calgary for the first time since 2012 on Saturday night. The card is headlined by a lightweight war between Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez, a bout that could see the winner fight next for a title. Former champions Jose Aldo and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, both coming off back-to-back losses, will look to rebound against Jeremy Stephens and Tecia Torres, respectively.

Why such a loaded card? Aside from it being White's birthday, he feels the fans of Calgary deserve better than what they got the last time the promotion was in town.

"I've owed Calgary this event for a long time," he said earlier this month. "That city was really good to us. We had one of the best cards we've ever put together, and literally everybody fell off the card more than once.

"I said, 'Rest assured, the card will be great.' The card sucked. We owe Calgary this one, and I'm excited to get up there and repay everybody."

ESPN spoke with five fighters and a former UFC executive about what they remember from that infamous night.


Before the card

Tom Wright, director of operations for UFC Canada: We always identified Calgary as a perfect market for the introduction of the first UFC event. We knew from our research that that province, on a per capita basis, was probably the strongest for mixed martial arts across all of Canada.

We were not only excited, but we obviously had made the right choice. When the dust settled, we set an all-time venue record for the SaddleDome in Calgary. We completely sold it out in less than a week.

Demand was so high that before we even went on sale, there were opportunities that were established for individuals in the secondary ticket market -- scalpers -- that were looking for Octagon-side seats for $3,000 apiece. We hadn't even priced them.

The card was initially headlined by Jose Aldo and Erik Koch, but Aldo had to pull out due to an undisclosed injury. Needing to bolster the PPV, the UFC moved an interim bantamweight title fight between Urijah Faber and Renan Barao from UFC 148 to UFC 149. Faber wasn't pleased.

Urijah Faber: It actually was kind of a bad experience for me, to be honest. I was supposed to face (Dominick Cruz) on UFC 148 and get pay-per-view points on the card with Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen. They forced me off at the last minute and made me fight on the Calgary card against Barao with no promotion and got PPV points on that instead. It saved them a couple million bucks and cost me a couple million bucks.

I don't have any good feelings about that card. And I lost.

Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch was also moved from UFC 148 to 149. Then Bisping dropped off the card due to an undisclosed injury. Bisping was replaced by Hector Lombard, who at the time was on a 22-fight win streak.

Cheick Kongo was set to face Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, but he had to back out due to a lingering arm injury. Kongo's new opponent became Shawn Jordan.

Cheick Kongo: At the time, I didn't pay attention [to the opponent change]. It was no different. Nogueira was a big name in the game, but I didn't pay much attention. What I was focused on was just training.

James Head's opponent was initially Claude Patrick, but he tore a ligament in training and moved off. Head then faced Brian Ebersole.

Yoshihiro Akiyama was expected to face Thiago Alves to round out the main portion of the card -- until Akiyama had to bow out with an injury. In stepped Siyar Bahadurzada as the replacement.

Siyar Bahadurzada: I was supposed to fight Thiago Alves, but then he got injured. I got another opponent (Chris Clements) and then I got injured. It was a crazy card. Injuries back-to-back. Everyone was getting injured.

I was devastated. I wanted to fight Thiago. Thiago at the time was the man. He was a great striker and still is a great striker. At that time he was huge. I was excited to fight him. We had a lot of bad blood going into that fight too. I was too excited for that fight, and unfortunately it never happened.

Bahadurzada pulled out after breaking his hand during training. He was replaced by Matt Riddle, who now matched up with Clements.

Chris Clements: I remember calling [the UFC] up short notice and saying, "I'll take that fight [against Siyar] as long as you promise to keep me on the main card." They kept me on the main card, and the next thing I know, Siyar was out. I got a phone call saying, "Do you want to fight Matt Riddle?" I was like, "Perfect."

Matt Riddle: I was actually teaching down at a school in Texas. I forget who got hurt, but they asked about me facing Chris Clements. They asked if I wanted to fight, and I said, "Yeah, I'd love to." I was superstoked.

Clements: It was [difficult changing opponents], especially going from Siyar, who is a right-handed striker, to Matt, who is a tall, left-handed wrestler. There wasn't much preparation time. It was more make weight -- and that's it. I remember everybody dropping out because of injuries and thinking, "What are they quitting for?" I myself had two torn rotator cuffs in my right shoulder and a torn labrum and torn biceps tendon getting ready for that fight, and I was like, "I'm not dropping out, so why are these people dropping out?" I wasn't complaining, though, because it got me on the pay-per-view.

Being my second fight in the UFC, it was kind of a dream come true for me. Everything that was horrible for everyone else actually helped me accomplish things I wanted to do in my career.


During the card

Ten different changes happened to the originally planned card. Riddle vs. Clements opened the main portion. Clements said White attempted to inspire the fighters beforehand.

Clements: I remember being backstage and Dana screaming at us. "People are saying this card is horrible! Go out there and show them they're wrong!"

I wasn't training for the takedowns, and that's why I took the Siyar fight in the first place. Striking is my thing. I wasn't too concerned with the opponent because we were going to stand and try to take each other's heads off. I only had a couple weeks notice for the wrestling part, and I was injured pretty bad, so I didn't work much on wrestling.

I remember [Matt] taking me down, and I was like, "Dude, what the hell? I thought we were going to get fight of the night?" We were talking quite a bit throughout the fight.

I watched some of Matt Riddle's tape, and he liked to throw a lead hook with a swoop-back swing kick as a lefty. I was planning on throwing the left hand as soon as he threw that hook, knowing the kick was coming behind it, but I didn't plan on how long and tall he was. I remember countering it perfect, but my short arms didn't quite make it to his chin. His kick landed flush for a liver shot in the first round.

I turned because he hit me so hard in the liver. The referee actually thought I got hit in the groin, so he tried to stop the fight real quick.

Riddle: In the middle of the third, I was taking him down throughout the fight. He went to throw a spinning back fist. I slipped it, caught him in a rock-bottom position and locked him up in a standing arm triangle. Then he went headfirst to the ground, and I got the choke.

James Head next took on Brian Ebersole. Ebersole suffered his first career loss after being stuffed on nearly all of his takedown attempts. Head was able to earn the split-decision victory by points due to punches standing and in the clinch, as well as knees to the body when tied up. His defense made the difference.

Cheick Kongo vs. Shawn Jordan took the Octagon minutes later and fans had high expectations for what was to come. They left disappointed as both fighters clinched for a majority of the 15 minutes. Kongo won by unanimous decision.

Kongo: At the time, I couldn't have expected anything better. He was pretty dangerous. He had a good ground game and wrestling, so it was a good matchup. The goal was to keep pressuring, keep going to him. I knew I could do better, but it got me back on track.

Dana White (to media post-fight): I think Cheick Kongo and [Shawn] Jordan pushed against the fence for three rounds, and the ref let them do it. This isn't the ultimate clinching championship. It's the fighting championship. And when you see two guys just clinching for three rounds -- and in the third round they clinched for an entire five minutes -- and this idiot is just standing around looking at them.... As the referee, your job is to enforce the rules and make sure these guys fight. If they are not fighting, you break them up and make them fight.

Tim Boetsch and Hector Lombard followed this poor performance, and they did their best to top it. Similar to Kongo and Jordan, both fighters had a reputation for hard-hitting fights with a lot of action. White certainly felt that way.

White (to media post-fight): It wasn't the fight that I expected at all. Whether it was Boetsch or Lombard winning, I was expecting a war. As the card was going on, I thought, "Thank god Boetsch and Lombard are coming out right now because this is going to save the show." When that was was over, I was like, "Oh my god."

The fight was horrible.

Faber vs. Barao closed out the night in similar fashion. Barao stuffed all six takedown attempts from Faber and kept the entire fight on the feet. He controlled throughout due to his reach and speed advantages, and neither fighter truly produced that "wow" moment that fans in attendance hoped for.

Faber: It was kind of a lackluster fight. Barao is obviously pretty tough, and at the time it was hard for me to get up for that fight after the scenario I was put in. I tried not to focus on that, but when you're getting forced into a fight like that, there just wasn't a lot of fire. I didn't do anything spectacular. He didn't do anything spectacular. It was kind of a ho-hum performance all the way around.


After the card

Despite the bad fights, UFC 149 drew an announced attendance of 16,089 and a live gate of $4.1 million, setting the venue record once held by the Rolling Stones.

Wright: Looking back on that, we were proud we delivered on our end, but we were really disappointed for the fans because we didn't deliver on that end. There were five fights on the main card, and quite honestly, all of them were duds.

The results could largely be based on the injuries fighters had in the weeks prior. Some threw around the word "cursed" when more and more people started getting taken off the card.

Kongo: It's not cursed. It was different before. The way we used to train, it was more severe and brutal for the body. We used to push too much. We kept doing, doing, doing. Now it's more professional with people taking better care of themselves.

Bahadurzada: It's the fight game. I'm not going to say it was cursed. I don't believe in that. It definitely was one of those cards where people were waiting and saying, "When is that other guy going to get injured?" Or "When will that fight fall off because of injuries?"

Wright: There was a confluence of unfortunate events that happened. In the course of the year, if you have 50 fights and averages of 11 or 12 fights per card, that's 600 fights you're going to hold in a year. That's a lot of fights. I guarantee you that there's going to be injuries. Are there going to be 500 injuries? No. There might be 50 injuries or one in every 10 fights. In this case, 10 of those 50 happened on one card. How do you control that? I don't call that cursed, I just call it bad timing.

These things happen. It's different from traditional team sports. If you're a fan of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady gets hurt, the Patriots are still going to play. It's not like they are not going to show up. In the UFC, if one of the fighters on the main card gets injured, that fight just doesn't happen. These things happen in our sport and you just learn to put up with it.