UFC 161 takes place tomorrow night in Winnipeg, but many fans are already unhappy with the quality of the fight card. Although Rashad Evans vs Dan Henderson and Roy Nelson vs Stipe Miocic could turn out to be great fights, there’s an argument to be made that in terms of UFC title implications or battles for contendership, this show is one of the weakest the UFC has put on in recent memory.
Maybe 161 deserves a pass, as it was bitten especially hard by the injury bug. UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Isaac Vallie-Flagg were all forced off the card after training accidents, which also resulted in the removal of Eddie Wineland and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Still, many fans have complained about what they perceive as a general decline in the UFC product, often with claims of “watered down” cards. UFC President Dana White has rebuffed these accusations in the past, but then again, he’s hardly an unbiased source.
There are a number of reasons why the average UFC card may be on the skids, but the most obvious one is a simple case of supply and demand. As MMA’s popularity has grown, the UFC has increased its number of shows, resulting in a thinner spread of talent on a per-show basis. Now, this does not necessarily have to be the case; if the growth in the talent base is at least equal to the growth in the UFC’s schedule, the quality of the average fight card should stay roughly the same. But it’s not clear that this is happening. Many of the fighters who helped bring the sport into the public consciousness (like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Matt Hughes) are retired or will be likely be retiring in the next 2-3 years. Are there enough talented up-and-coming fighters to replace the first generation of mainstream UFC stars?
Perhaps the jury is still out at this point. We may be on the verge of losing Anderson Silva and Georges St Pierre, but we’ve gained Jon Jones and Jose Aldo, and there are a number of great young fighters climbing the ranks of each division. One thing we can count be certain of is White and the Fertitta brothers will not be pressured to take serious action as long as fans continue to shell out for UFC pay-per-views. Nonetheless, I hope the UFC brass is keeping an eye on the longer time horizon; the last thing MMA fans should want is for the UFC to go the way of boxing.