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Is The UFC Selling A Brand or The Fights?

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First off, happy Thanksgiving to everyone, I was with the in laws and didn't have much internet access but I'm back to the workplace today.  Anyways, let's just take a look at 2008's end of year shows compared to 2009's end of year shows.  Last year we were treated to the mega-sell-itself main event of Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar with the UFC heavyweight title on the line.  That fight alone was all Zuffa needed to get that event plenty of exposure and hype.  Now if that was not enough, their last event of the year, UFC 92, had not one, not two, but THREE main event worthy match ups on one card.  How many times do you see names like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Frank Mir, Quinton Jackson, and Wanderlei Silva on one card.  Not often.  Fast forward nearly a year later and due to several circumstances, 2009 will end with a little less than a bang and in some people's minds a massive 'ehhhh'.

Continued after the jump.

While the UFC has had to endure a series of unfortunate events, they've pieced together some decent shows as of late but how long will they be able to survive on the UFC brand name before buyrates and interest begin to drop.  Now before I continue I understand that in any sports there's no guarantee that any player/fighter will be healthy or available at any given time, especially in combat sports but the high volume of injuries, sicknesses, and outside business ventures seem to be rising on a daily basis.  Last year, we were treated to names like Anderson Silva, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Quinton Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Forrest Griffin, and Rashad Evans in the year ending events (Silva fought at UFC 90 in October).  In 2009 though, it's a different group of names leading us into the next year.  Lyoto Machida, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, Forrest Griffin, Tito Ortiz, Josh Koshcheck, Anthony Johnson, Randy Couture (coming off two losses), Brandon Vera, BJ Penn, Diego Sanchez, Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Rashad Evans, and Thiago Silva are the guys that have been pieced together throughout these last months to carry the flagship.  While a few of the same names from '08 are sprinkled in there, most are either coming off losses eariler in the year or are in their position of top spot based on circumstance rather than accomplishment.  However, just look at the list of injuries and problems the UFC has had to endure:  Brock Lesnar (intestine problem), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (staph infection), Quinton Jackson (acting bug), Anderson Silva (elbow surgery), Georges St. Pierre (groin muscle), Shane Carwin (not even sure) and with that many three of those names being champions it's only right that things have had to be tacked together as of lately. 

So with that said, is the UFC strictly running off the fumes of their brand as they go forward?  Look at UFC 106 for instance.  You have two guys fighting in the main event that were both coming off consecutive losses in Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz.  Sure, the fight sold itself as people will tune in to see Tito Ortiz lose, but during these tough economic times it was hard to separate with that $45 simply to see Ortiz lose and while the card was VERY good, it lacked the star power of last year's November blockbuster.  At UFC 107 and 108 we have two main events that are very intriguing and good fights but probably aren't going to have those people fresh off of spending their hard earned money for their loved ones.  BJ Penn, the lightweight champion, will put his title on the line against Ultimate Fighter season 1 winner Diego Sanchez.  The co-main event is a heavyweight clash between former champ Frank Mir and Cheick Kongo, fresh off a Cain Velasquez beatdown.  Both of those are interesting and I am sure there's plenty out there that want to see them but neither has that 'must-see' appeal to them.  Then UFC 108 will be headlined by former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans (who actually won the title at last year's end of the year event) and Thiago Silva and I have no idea which fight is considered the co-main event on that card.  Now this would be a very intriguing match up if the current light heavyweight champion hadn't absolutely schooled the both of them earlier this very year.  Both remain top contenders in a light heavyweight division that is deep but lacking true contenders at the moment but I am not sure how interested Zuffa can get people in a Machida/Evans 2 or Machida/T. Silva 2, assuming Machida gets past Shogun (which he will). 

Meanwhile, I have heard from other sources that the UFC actually want to put on more events in 2010, possibly having three events per month (got this from one of the Sherdog radio shows).  That means something like two pay-per-views each month and a Fight Night (I'm just assuming that is what they'd do in this scenario).  So if, on the average, there are at least ten fights per card, that's thirty fights in one month which means sixty fighters.  If you're like me, that does not look feasible at all and with the amount of star quality fighters aging and young up and comers pushing themselves to higher limits to get on the big stage and succumbing to injuries, it is going to be near impossible for Zuffa to pull this off without either buying out a few of the smaller promotions out there or raiding several of the foreign markets for fighters.  Of course, the other option is merging the WEC in with the UFC, which will almost definitely have to happen for them to be able to run that many shows and keep the quality at least respectable. 

So in the end, it seems in my opinion the UFC is flipping the switch and going into WWE mode as of late, selling their brand name rather than the fights or fighters on the respective cards.  If this continues, do you think fans (hardcore or non) will begin to grow tired of the UFC and look elsewhere for their MMA fix?  Will the $45 they have to shell out each month and possibly now $90 become more of a burden than a joy?  Can the UFC continue to push it's product more and more even with dwindling star power with older guys starting to be on the decline?  You tell me.