UFC Misses Golden Opportunity With UFC 137 Opening

Scott Jorgensen

Bantamweight bout features two former WEC title challengers

How did Scott Jorgensen and Jeff Curran not get elevated to the UFC 137 main card?

In the fallout from Tuesday’s bombshell announcement that UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre injured his knee and his bout with Carlos Condit was off the card, middleweights Brad Tavares and Dustin Jacoby were moved into the opening.

I can’t understand the decision. My best guess goes something like this:

Tavares is an Ultimate Fighter alum, so there could be some name recognition. He’s proven to have solid hands, and Jacoby looks like a bit of a banger on paper, so there is the potential for an explosive ending to this middleweight contest.

But here’s the thing: the chances of whatever fight the UFC picked to fill the void left by the GSP-Condit scratch isn’t going to be responsible for moving many pay-per-view units, so why not give the opening to the preliminary card fighter with the most upward potential?

That would have to be Jorgensen, the 29-year-old who was riding a five-fight winning streak and preparing to face Dominick Cruz for the WEC bantamweight title this time last year.

While he lost to Cruz, Jorgensen came back with a first round knockout of Ken Stone at June’s TUF 13 Finale, and remains a top 10 bantamweight. Tavares doesn’t crack the top 25 of the middleweight ranks, and Jacoby wasn’t on anyone’s radar until he stepped up to take this fight.

Curran’s credentials aren’t too shabby, either.

Though this is Curran’s first trip into the Octagon — which puts him on par with Jacoby — this will be his 48th professional fight. He’s battled some of the very best in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions over the years, including challenging Urijah Faber for the WEC featherweight title once upon a time.

Perhaps more importantly, while the potential is there for Tavares and Jacoby to pair off in a slobber-knocker that ends with someone looking up at the lights, there are fewer concerns about what you’re going to get from Jorgensen and Curran.

The lighter weight classes consistently deliver the most exciting fights at each event, with both recent history (see: UFC 136) and the 2011 Fight Night Bonus list going to support this statement.

Even when the featherweights and bantamweights go to a decision, fans are generally treated to 15 minutes of entertainment. Knockouts, submissions, back-and-forth bout fought all over the cage; those things are hallmarks of the lighter weight classes, with the fighters rarely running out of gas.

While Tavares and Jacoby could produce fireworks, it could also turn into a replay of Tavares’ last fight, and no one wants to see that again. As much as the former TUF cast member had one explosive finish in the Octagon, it came against a fighter whose expiry date had passed; his other two fights have been uneventful decisions.

Jorgensen’s last three decisions — victories over Brad Pickett, Antonio Banuelos, and Takeya Mizugaki — all came in spirited affairs that saw non-stop action for the full 15 minutes.

Stepping away from specific fights and looking at the bigger picture, this was a chance for the UFC to give a little love to one of the new divisions in the company and they missed the boat.

Save for the odd fight here and there, the bantamweights and featherweights have more than delivered in the last year, with the vast majority of their fights being exciting, even when they last the full 15 minutes.

Including next weekend’s event, there have been 99 main card fights this year, with only 13 of those coming from the bantamweight and featherweight divisions combined. That’s roughly 14-percent; no other division accounts for less than that amount on their own.

Heavyweights Ben Rothwell and Mark Hunt get to stand in the cage doubled-over, gasping for air at UFC 135, but well-conditioned, consistently entertaining featherweights and bantamweights can’t find their way onto the main card unless they’re (1) in a title fight, (2) a previously established star like Urijah Faber or (3) a former TUF winner dropping down in weight like Jonathan Brookins.

Removing those instances, that leaves seven fights that have been on the main card, and one of those — Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia II from UFC 136 — only made it to the main card when the heavyweight scrap between Dave Herman and Mike Russow was scrapped. By the way, Garcia and Phan won Fight of the Night in Houston.

I know that the fans aren’t as connected to the lighter weight fighters yet, but they’re never going to build an interest in some of these fighters if they’re constantly stuck as part of the free preliminary card streams on Facebook.

This was a chance to give a former title contender who is still ranked in the top five in the division a turn in the spotlight. Instead, the opportunity went to an Ultimate Fighter grad who is a little less anonymous, but far less accomplished and nowhere near title contention.

Dana White has said numerous times how much he loves the lighter weight fighters; that they always deliver and the fans that don’t recognize that are crazy.

So why didn’t they get the main card opportunity next weekend?