UFC’s Desperate Matchmaking

For years, the UFC followed a pretty transparent philosophy when it came to matchmaking. They tried to make fights where no matter what happens, they had a good direction they can go with in the future. This couldn’t always be the case, and there are a number of examples that go the other way, but a recent string of rumored matches strongly suggests that the UFC is compromising its successful matchmaking philosophy in order to fill out a growing number of shows.

Take Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera. This is a fight that makes a lot of sense for both fighters, but makes virtually no sense for the organization except for the fact that they desperately needed a main event and this was the best they could come up with. The UFC relies on its cadre of aging stars to boost pay per view numbers because they don’t have enough drawing stars in their prime to carry the company. They need guys like Couture, Ortiz, Hughes, and Liddell because there aren’t enough guys like Georges St. Pierre. Putting Couture in a fight against a dangerous unranked fighter is taking a huge risk for virtually no reward.

Will Brandon Vera really be a star if he beats Randy? Or will he just continue his streak of disappointing performances by immediately losing his next important fight? I think the latter is far more likely. The UFC found itself in this mess because it scheduled two big shows for November, and found itself without a main event for UFC 105 when Anderson Silva decided he was above fighting the top two contenders in his weight class. Couture stepped in and offered to fight again on short notice, and the UFC proposed a fight with Rashad Evans. Rashad Evans turned it down, and the only available light heavyweight willing to fight was Brandon Vera. This fight reeks of desperation, and it’s not the only fight emitting that odor.

Anderson Silva is supposedly fighting Vitor Belfort in the main event of the Ultimate 2009 in a fight that nobody seems to care about. Belfort scored a strange knockout of Rich Franklin at UFC 103, and Dana White leapt to schedule a fight between The Phenom and The Spider. The response from MMA fans was deafening silence, because nobody believes Belfort has a chance, and everyone knows this is being forced down our throats far too quickly. The reason? They have no other main event for their New Year’s show.

Rashad Evans recently signed a contract to fight Thiago Silva in a fight that makes no sense from the UFC’s perspective. The only reason it’s being made is they have a very weak New Year’s card and they want to claim to have a triple main event. Neither man is marketable against Lyoto Machida right now so soon after Machida blew them out, so all they will do here is knock out a future contender without creating one right now. Further, if Silva knocks Evans out, which is entirely possible, an April fight with Rampage Jackson will lose a lot of luster.

When Jackson pulled out of UFC 107 for The A-Team movie, the UFC should have regrouped by cancelling UFC 107 and simply doing one big December show, just like they’ve done for the past three years. A show with BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez and Vitor Belfort vs. Anderson Silva would certainly be strong enough for the final show of the year, and as a result they wouldn’t be forced into considering stupid fights like Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva.

They’d have none of these problems if they didn’t insist on doing two big shows in August, November, and December. They have more than enough talent for twelve major shows a year, but they do not have the main event stars to carry sixteen. Dana White has been saying for months now that they may do three shows a month next year. This nightmare they’re dealing with right now ought to give him pause.