Las Vegas - Is mixed-martial arts just a passing fad? Is the UFC the XFL of today? From Saturday's UFC 67 at the Mandalay Bay Event Center, you gotta wonder.
Last month's event was clearly a success. It was the highest grossing pay-per-view TV event of the year. The Los Angeles Times did a two-part series on MMA. 60 Minutes had a story. A sell out crowd at the MGM Grand. Celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio were in attendance.
Then Saturday happened. The main event was a Brazilian fighter named Anderson Silva, who speaks no English, against a guy who's reputation is made from a Spike TV reality show. And to top it off, the fighter, Travis Lutter failed to make weight, rendering the fight an exhibition contest. No offense to Silva, who is a great fighter and is well known in MMA circles, but you can't put fannies in the seats with a guy with a personality of a soccer ball.
The other attraction was this guy Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic from Croatia. If there were good guys and bad guys in MMA, this guy would be wearing a black hat. He is best described as looking like an ex-KGB henchman from the former Soviet Republic. One with the weird speedo-type swim trunks. Dana White, the president of the UFC, paid him like $300,000 to show up and he didn't do any press, whatsoever. Oh, by the way, his music on entrance to the octagon, was the theme from the competing MMA group, Pride. Nice touch.
The UFC bought up the World Fighting Alliance and closed its operations. They got from the WFA Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. He was one of the few bright spots on Saturday's card. Jackson is a pit-bull of a man whose trademark is a huge chain he wears around his neck. He dominated the post-fight press conference with his energy and probably because he was one of the few who actually spoke English. But his fight was pretty unremarkable, both he and Filipovic were given relatively easy opponents that they could dispatch for their debut at a UFC show.
Actually there wasn't much for fans to cheer about. One fan favorite, Georges St. Pierre, was scheduled to fight but had to withdraw because of a knee injury suffered during training.
Dana White was visibly upset after Saturday night. All the traction that UFC gained in the last month came to a grinding halt. All the equity spent and nothing to show for it. He has dragged out Randy Couture out of retirement for a fight next month in Columbus, Ohio. St. Pierre is headlining a card in Houston the month after that.
The die-hard MMA fan is going to watch UFC and the other leagues, no matter what. To lure the mainstream public is going to be a lot harder. The one thing they have failed to focus on is story line. The guy on the street needs that to get interested in the fighter and root for them. Most of the public know very little about the fighters except for their nicknames.
The reputation of the UFC is of a renegade band of "cage" fighters with no rules. When fans show up and there is little or no action, like in many of Saturday's fight, they boo. They want to see blood. The UFC has little promos up on the jumbotron before matches of the fighters wearing Roman gladiators garb. Well if you advertise it, you have to deliver. Currently MMA is relying on the dissatisfaction of boxing fans to convert. It's not enough to bash boxing to lure fans.
Has MMA reached a critical mass and plateaued? Will it just be a peripheral sport like hockey and the NHL?
UFC 67:All or Nothing? Well it wasn't all.