Why McGregor-Aldo showdown at UFC 194 is going to be bigger than just ‘Fight of the Year’
This week’s MMA column looks at some of the reasons, beyond the fight, why Aldo v McGregor is the biggest deal in the UFC’s calendar.
1) - A career defining moment regardless of who wins
Heading into their originally scheduled UFC 189 fight last July, Jose Aldo was heralded as THE greatest fighter in UFC and up there with Anderson Silva and Georges St.-Pierre as maybe one of the greatest ever.
Conor McGregor had been backing up everything he said with dominant performance after dominant performance. No sooner had his hand been raised in Boston in January than he was installed as the next challenger to Aldo’s crown.
With the fight set the UFC poured more money and promotion into hyping Aldo v McGregor at UFC 189, including a 12 city global press tour. The pinnacle of the whole press tour was the now infamous belt snatch in the Conference Centre in Dublin
Woody Allen once said ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans’. Clearly the MMA gods operate in the same manner.
Only weeks away from UFC 189 Jose Aldo was forced to withdraw with a broken rib sustained in training. From being lauded as ‘one of the greatest ever’ Aldo quickly found out he may be off the UFC’s Christmas card list.
Questions arose as to whether his ribs were actually broken. Media started to piece together a history of Aldo pull-outs from title fights and the UFC reacted by upgrading McGregor v Mendes to an interim title fight.
The label ‘interim’ does not sit well with The Notorious; he turned up for work, Aldo didn’t.
It is safe to say the UFC are very much in the Conor McGregor business. Should he unify the titles he will take Aldo’s place atop the featherweight division and cement his status as THE star in the UFC.
The ascendency of McGregor won’t be lost on Aldo. A win for Aldo would cement his legacy as one of the greatest ever and remove the stink associated with UFC 189 by retaining his title.
From the UFC’s point of view, a win for Conor justifies their investment in him. A win for Aldo proves they do genuinely have the greatest MMA fighters in their number. And, if its close enough don’t rule out a rematch in 2016
Regardless of the winner, greatness awaits.
2) – This is what a stacked card looks like
The phrase ‘stacked’ gets thrown around a lot when talking about UFC events; maybe, a little too often.
This time though, it’s true. The UFC 194 card is stacked! So much so, that the co-main event is the middleweight title fight, which on any or night would be a massive draw in its own right.
If you drift further down the main card you find middleweight contenders Yoel Romero v Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Jiu Jitsu wizards Demain Maia v Gunni Nelson. Both these bouts would be worthy of at least ‘Fight Night’ main event status but more importantly are fantastic contests for the true MMA fan.
This main card is the UFC’s equivalent to football’s Champions League and rugby’s Champions Cup finals with a couple of national league deciders all being played in the same stadium on the same night.
3) – Numbers and Money
The biggest earner for the UFC is the US pay-per-view market. While they roll out their product around the world these are called ‘Fight Night’ events and typically have local interest fighters and contenders on the card. The ‘numbered’ events, like UFC 194, generally have higher calibre match-ups and more often than not a title fight or #1 contender eliminator as the main events.
In truth, there is no formula to PPV success.
First and foremost there is a level that will buy the PPV purely because it’s a UFC event. The product is the draw in many cases. The challenge then is to create compelling match-ups to encourage more people to buy it.
The UFC puts a lot of energy into marketing some fighters. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Some noticeable PPV misses have featured flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson defending his title (UFC 174 – 115,000 buys, UFC - 178 205,000 buys and UFC 191 – 115,000 buys).
The flip side of that is the incredible rise of former ladies bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. Her last three main event fights brought 600,000, 900,000 and over 1,000,000 buys respectively.
In addition to Ronda other noticeable PPV draws were champions Anderson Silva, Georges St.-Pierre and Jon Jones. All the aforementioned have relinquished their titles in one way or another leaving the UFC with an awkward PPV vacuum to deal with.
If you run your finger down the list of champions, not many would be considered massive PPV draws. While Ronda still may draw she may have lost some PPV clout after losing her title.
Given that Jose Aldo has never been a big PPV draw (his last fight with Chad Mendes, voted ‘Fight of the Year’ only attracted 180,000 buys) the bean counters at UFC headquarters will be hoping for a McGregor win.
His debut main event on PPV brought in 825,000 buys. It helped that the card also featured Rory McDonald v Robbie Lawler’s epic welterweight title fight. But there’s no doubting Conor’s star power.
With an absence of real stars in the UFC that can cross over to main stream media, Conor McGregor as undisputed featherweight champion will be a huge boost to the UFC’s PPV numbers in 2016.
And, more importantly as Conor gets a slice of the PPV action he’ll be rewarded handsomely for his promotional efforts.