MMA Commentary

UFC 142 Takes On the Patriots, Broncos … and Tim Tebow

Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes

When it comes to topping the NFL, UFC has a long climb

What is so mesmerizing about Tim Tebow?

I hope I don’t need to answer that at this point.

The former Florida Gators QB rode into the NFL and, at the start of the season, found himself behind the brutally average Kyle Orton and brutally underachieving Brady Quinn on the depth chart. But somehow, he shot his way into a starting gig – only to blow the Broncos’ chances at a bid for Andrew Luck by turning them into a playoff team, much to the dismay of John Elway.

Just when it seemed the unlikely ride was going to come to an end against the league’s top defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tebow did the incredible. On the first play of overtime, he hooked up with Demariyus Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown to secure the improbable victory.

John Elway became a believer. He now joins the many who simply can’t turn away from the television when Tebow – love him or hate him – is behind center. With Tebow, much like a train wreck or the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show, you just can’t look away.

Come Saturday night, many more people will tune into the NFL playoffs to see if No. 15 can burn a helpless Patriots defense, keep up with Tom Brady and advance to the AFC Championship. Problem is, us mixed martial arts enthusiasts have a prior engagement – UFC 142.

The highly anticipated event, which takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, begins in the middle of the Patriots-Broncos game. The preliminary card of UFC 142 starts a couple hours earlier on FX. What’s a sports’ fan to do?

For me, that answer is simple. Don’t get me wrong, if not for the fights, I would still post up on my coach this Saturday night, alone or not, and watch the game in its entirety with no regrets of missing the Saturday nightlife. But as much interest as I have in watching a Tebow playoff game, there really is no comparison to a UFC event – especially one in Brazil.

But even though I am somewhat gladly skipping what could be another miracle win for the Broncos to watch top-level mixed martial arts, there are many who will regrettably not make the same decision. Why? Simple. UFC 142 does not have a draw to match the Broncos star when it comes to this cross-sport conundrum.

Now, you could argue that featherweight champion Jose Aldo is going to get plenty to tune in as a headliner. But it’s hard to believe that will happen after his last performance, which, well, was far from his best and even further from his most exciting fight. The challenger, Chad Mendes, should help grab some fans, as well, considering the possibility that he could wrestle his way to a title, but it’s not like he is much of a draw at all. And before anyone tries to tell me otherwise, first remind me of how many UFC main cards Mendes has competed on. If the promotion elected against putting him on a pay-per-view up until this point, there really is no reason to believe that he suddenly has become a fighter fans absolutely are willing to pay $44.99 to see, is there?

As I mentioned briefly, however, the matchup is one that certainly does bolster this card and is one definitely not worth missing, much like the second matchup on the card.

In a middleweight bout between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and former top contender Vitor Belfort, sparks will certainly fly. This tilt is one of the more intriguing ones that I can remember, as you don’t see a striker vs. striker contest like this one all that often. But as exciting as the fight will most certainly be, neither Belfort nor Johnson have the star power to really drive a card anywhere close to the 750,000 buy range that UFC 141 allegedly fell into. Not even remotely close to that ballpark.

And looking further down the main card, it’s difficult to find any guy that has really much star power at the moment at all. There are several top prospects competing on the pay-per-view, most notably Erick Silva, as well as a savvy submission ace in Rousimar Palhares, but those two are a long ways away from becoming pay-per-view draws in North America. And I think it’s safe to say with his controversial past in the cage, Palhares never comes remotely close to the level that Silva will one day in terms of popularity and promise.

Analyzing a main card like this, one which, for the record, I do think is completely underrated, it’s hard to keep the hopes too high in terms of mainstream attention. On Saturday night, regardless of how exciting or successful the event ends up being, every major sports outlet will have their front pages plastered with one of three images: A) A picture of a victorious Tom Brady pumping his fist and giving a battle cry of victory, B) Tim Tebow elated at another seemingly impossible victory, or C) Tebow looking down into the turf in agony after a disappointing loss. You can throw that guarantee in with death and taxes, because one of those three scenarios will grace ESPN’s front page in all its photographic glory. It’s a certainty.

Yet, it’s not like being brushed aside is something new for this sport. MMA is still a long way from the exposure and attention the NBA, NFL, NCAA football, NCAA basketball and countless other sports receive. And it should not be all that shocking. Just look at these numbers from last weekend.

The Broncos-Steelers wild card game was the highest rated in 24 years. The Broncos-Patriots game will not just draw more viewers than UFC 142, it will draw tens of millions more. That’s a fact. Not only that, but during the Broncos’ victory Sunday, Tebow set a sports Twitter record for Tweets per second at 9,420. Take a minute to think about that and you’ll quickly come to the realization that no MMA fighter is coming anywhere remotely close to that mark. I’d be thrilled if a guy like Erick Silva was able to score that many Tweets in 15 minutes, let alone every second.

It’s a tall order to compete with an athlete/personality/borderline cult figure who can garner that kind of attention, especially given the fighters competing Saturday night. Save for the main and co-main event fighters, the remainder of the card consists of relatively under-the-radar competitors, except to the hardcore fans. While I am in no way taking anything away from their skill set and ability to compete at the highest level (I mean, the featherweight champion is competing, and that’s always a big deal), there really is no pure draw to power this card up against an NFL playoff game, much less one featuring arguably the NFL’s best quarterback against a man who should have the nickname of “Savior.” There is no household name like Brock Lesnar on this card. A hype man like Chael Sonnen is nowhere to be found. Not that either could help much against these odds.

Though a true drawing power does not really exist on this card, it’s hard to say that even the biggest names could have done much in an effort to persuade someone from skipping an NFL playoff game to drop 50 bucks on a UFC pay-per-view, especially if friends and family members are going to be focused on the former, which, realistically, is likely the case. Lesnar would certainly have drawn plenty, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones would have done the same, but the fact of the matter is the NFL is still decades ahead of the UFC in terms of exposure, and regardless of who is fighting in the main event, the biggest event in America this Saturday would still be Patriots vs. Broncos – and it’s not even close.

At the end of the day, this time of year will always be a bit tougher for the UFC. The NFL playoffs will always take a front seat to any MMA event, no matter how stacked the card or how great the implications, and this weekend just happens to be worse than most. This Saturday the NFL features what will be one of the most watched games in the 2012 playoffs and perhaps one of the most successful in years, ratings-wise, making the UFC 142 vs. Tim Tebow situation an easy one to analyze. In terms of cross-sport debates, the biggest draw will always garner the most attention, and come Saturday night, the NFL has that won by a landslide.

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