Should the UFC 133 PPV Lineup Be Shuffled?

Johny Hendricks

Changing the lineup could bolster sales

Injuries have ravaged the UFC 133 fight card. Outside of the main event, overall fan interest in this card resides somewhere between “I’ve got nothing else better to do on Saturday night” and “You really want me to pay $50 for this?”

Expectations for the card have been lowered across the board. It feels like the “lost cause” pay-per-view; an event that is doomed to fall well short of the UFC average with no way to change its trajectory on such a short timetable. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead of sticking to the fight card order planned before injuries ripped through this event like the Black Plague, change the lineup. What is there to lose at this point? Even if this event ends up delivering more entertainment than most people anticipate, glowing comments don’t do anything to increase pay-per-view sales after it’s over. The only thing that could possibly do that at this point is making some changes to the order of the fight card.

Is it an unexpected move at this stage, just a handful of days before the event takes place? Absolutely, and that might not be a bad thing. It’s certainly not going to do any more harm, that’s for sure.

Here’s the way I would have reshuffled the deck if it were mine to play with:

Johnny Hendricks and Mike Pierce to PPV, Dennis Hallman and Brian Ebersole to Spike TV

When the proposed co-main event between Rich Franklin and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira came unhinged, Dennis Hallman and Brian Ebersole were picked to fill the void on the pay-per-view event. Why?

I’m curious to see the fight because Ebersole is several miles south of normal and shaves fun patterns into his Pete Sampras chest before every fight, but pushing this fight to the main card seems a little bit much. On most cards, this fight is Facebook fodder, and even with the myriad of injuries impacting this card, it’s still only Spike TV at best.

Hallman is 35 and coming off back-to-back wins over fighters who have been bounced from the organization in Karo Parisyan and Ben Saunders. Ebersole became a quirky cult figure after beating Chris Lytle at UFC 127 in February, but it was his first good win in four-plus years. Neither really has the makings of a potential contender, and contenders are who the UFC should be showcasing.

One of the reason the UFC has had trouble creating new stars is because they keep guys like Hendricks and Pierce buried on Facebook while giving veterans with limited futures prime real estate to work with.

Charlie Brenneman is garnering all kinds of attention right now following his win over Rick Story amidst the whole Nate Marquardt scandal. Hendricks starched him three fights back, stopping him under a hail of punches in the second round.

Hendricks went the distance in a good scrap with Story right after that too, then bounced back from the loss by walloping TJ Waldburger with one punch in March. He’s 5-1 in the UFC and while everyone is tripping over themselves to shower praise on Story and Brenneman, Hendricks continues to languish in anonymity on Facebook.

Pierce garnered a little attention for his debut win over Brock Larson and testing Jon Fitch on short notice at UFC 107, but since then, he’s been a first-fight-of-the-night fixture. He’s 4-1 overall in the UFC, the winner of three-straight and has finished each of his last two opponents.

Unlike Hallman-Ebersole, one of these two has a future in the division, if not both.

The winner comes away in thick of the chase, and with another win or two could be a serious contender. I can envision a future where Hendricks is facing Fitch or Josh Koscheck sometime next year while Pierce is stepping in with Martin Kampmann or Anthony Johnson. In both scenarios, I see the UFC 133 participants holding their own; I can’t say the same for either Hallman or Ebersole.

Matt Hamill and Alexander Gustafsson to PPV, Jorge Rivera and Costa Philippou to Facebook

So the UFC was okay with Gustafsson moving to the main card if Franklin was up for fighting him, but not when he’s paired with the guy who just headlined UFC 130 two months ago? I know that was due to a late scratch, but still. Hamill steps in and does the UFC a solid taking on a tough kid on short notice and he’s skipped over for a place on the PPV by Rivera vs. Philippou?

I love Jorge — he’s a tremendous interview and a good dude in my books — but now that he’s facing Costantinos Philippou instead of Alessio Sakara, he shouldn’t be fighting on the main card. I could see it sticking around on Spike, but just barely.

The lure of Rivera-Sakara as a main card match-up was that while neither was a marquee name, they’re both known bangers and we would probably be treated to some fireworks. Since it is impossible for them to actually fight each other and the bout has been scrapped for the third time in two years, we’ll never know if it would have played out that way. Unless there is something in the wording of Rivera’s contract that ties him to the pay-per-view portion of the event, facing a last-minute replacement is more Facebook than one-fifth of a $50 investment.

You might be wondering why I would choose to move Hendricks and Pierce onto the PPV over the featherweight fight between Chad Mendes and Rani Yahya. There is already a welterweight contest on the broadcast and a win for Mendes puts him next in line for a shot at the title, both of which sound like reasons for a promotion from cable to the pay per view.

The answer is the same as why it makes perfect sense for the UFC to have Dominick Cruz defend his bantamweight title against Demetrious Johnson on Versus in October: maximum exposure.

Cruz and the bantamweight division are a their highest point right now, so you roll him out on cable where far more eyes are more likely to tune in and get treated to another high-energy 135 pound title fight, rather than slide them into the co-main event of a later PPV and have them get overshadowed by the headliners.

The logic with Mendes/Yahya is the same. Keeping Mendes on Spike gives the UFC the greatest chance to showcase your next featherweight title contender to a sizable audience, as more people will see the free show than will purchase the pay per view.

You could potentially extend the same “Spike vs. PPV” comparison to the card as a whole — why reload what many feels is a lame duck PPV with better fights — but it doesn’t quite fit. At the end of the day, the UFC is still fueled by PPV sales, so you need to have some reason for fans to spend $50 this Saturday. With the current line-up, I’m not sure if most fans will feel they’ve got that.

A couple little tweaks makes this a solid main card and gives a few emerging talents a chance to gain some extra exposure. Unfortunately, the UFC appears set on the current lineup.

It’s hard to build stars and sell pay-per-views when you’re not giving either a fighting chance.