While the sports world has been distracted by the World Cup, UFC 174 went down in Vancouver this weekend, featuring a flyweight title fight and what will most likely prove to be a welterweight title eliminator, won comfortably by Rory McDonald. The event wasn’t hugely remarkable, but a few storylines that have been bubbling under for the last little while raised head this weekend.
1. TUF Brazil completely failed to unearth any talent
While the UFC seemed to make a very big deal of it’s The Ultimate Fighter reality TV talent-search going global, the positive impact on the sport has been absolutely negligible, and considering that the show was at best a very moderate commercial success, one has to wonder what the point has been. Nobody from the first season has found success in the UFC, and nobody from the current season has indicated that they will either. At UFC 174 Daniel Sarafian became the latest alumnus of the show to lose against mediocre competition, and look bad in the process. Sarafian was supposedly the second best middleweight on the show (after Cezar Ferreira, who recently suffered a loss to the ever-unimpressive CB Dollaway), yet he was controlled and then choked out by Japanese veteran Kiichi “Strasser” Kunimoto.
If the UFC want to keep selling TUF as a global platform for unearthing hidden gems, they really need to scout better talent than this. “Strasser” is an experienced fighter, but he is old and doesn’t possess anything close to an impressive resume. Simply put, if TUF Brazil cannot find people capable of defeating fighters of that calibre, it is difficult to see it as anything other than a marketing stunt, an attempt to push the brand abroad without any concern for the fact that it is diluting the talent pool by rewarding unremarkable fighters. Last night provided a reminder of this failure of direction for the show.
2. Bringing back old, broken-down veterans achieves nothing either
Andrei Arlovski made his return to the UFC after a six-year absence this weekend. On the face of it, it was an odd decision to bring him back in the first place. Following an ugly four-fight losing streak against decent competition, Arlovski has been fighting – and admittedly beating – poor competition, with the exception being a shellacking at the hands of the also recently-rehabilitated-to-the-UFC Anthony Johnson. Arlovski is past his best, but that isn’t the main issue – the issue is that the game has passed him by. He was a top-level fighter back when that meant a lot less than it does now. He is nowhere near the level of the current level of top heavyweights, and has done nothing recently to indicate that he is. That showed last night as he beat Brendan Schaub – who is much worse a fighter than his record suggests – via split decision, in an ugly, dull fight in which neither man seemed to have the tools to pose a significant threat to the other.
If this is anything to go by, Arlovski will get battered once he goes up against a more powerful, technical fighter than Schaub – and there are a few of those at heavyweight. So what was the point of this? Arlovski adds little to the division. The UFC can try to sell him based on past glory, but he clearly hasn’t got the ability to push the top level. He hardly adds to the depth or quality of the roster, and critically, because of his age and the wear on his body, the only direction he can go is down.
3. Demetrious Johnson is a beast, and the UFC need to realise what he can do for them
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has very quietly become one of the most dominant champions in the UFC. He is incredibly quick, never gets tired and fights in an aggressive, high-energy style – basically, not only is he very good, he’s very, very entertaining. He dominated his challenger last night to successfully defend his title for the fourth time. Yet he holds no appeal for a large swathe of the fanbase because he’s a flyweight – in a sport that by its nature tends to focus on the biggest, baddest people, a guy who is 5’3″ and 125lbs is seen as less physically imposing and thus, less of a representation of the peak of fighting. In addition to this, the division he fights in is quite thin. It’s not an impossible situation though – the UFC simply don’t seem to be pushing him all that hard – and they should start.
Since GSP’s retirement and Anderson Silva’s defeat and injury, the organisation has been lacking genuine superstars. They’ve put a huge amount into pushing another exciting, dominant champion who doesn’t fit the traditional mould – and one who fights in a shallow division – Ronda Rousey.
If the UFC believes it can make Rousey a star, there’s no reason they can’t do the same for Mighty Mouse. Women in the UFC also faced significant inertia at the outset, but it’s a credit to the UFC – and to the fighters themselves – that it has become something they can sell effectively and people now want to watch. Rousey, in spite of her erratic public persona, is on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough and is a powerful tool for an organisation that describes it’s business plan as “World Domination”. In Johnson, they have the potential to add another tool to help them achieve that aim – and they need to start pushing him as hard as possible while he is on top of his game. Why they have seemed so gun-shy in this regard is a mystery. The PPV model needs big names to get buys and thrive, especially as the UFC’s expansion results in more events, more fighters and ultimately less familiar names. By giving Johnson the kind of attention they are giving Rousey, they have the potential to not only create a bona fide star, but also to drag a weight division that less people follow into the spotlight. If this isn’t the time to start doing that, I don’t know when will be.
Harry McEvansoneya, Pundit Arena.