I can’t help but feel a little bit bad for the fans who snapped up tickets to UFC 149 back when they first went on sale in early May. Knowing how passionate Canadian MMA fans are, especially when it’s the UFC’s first trip to their home city, I can’t help but imagine hordes of Calgarians (Calgaryites?) eagerly coughing up their credit card numbers for the chance to see a major UFC event live and up close. And, at least at the time, it was a major UFC event. Now it’s more of a patchwork quilt, though one not without some limited appeal.
I don’t know about you, but I’d almost forgotten that, at one point in the not so distant past, Thiago Alves and Yoshihiro Akiyama were slated for a UFC 149 bout. So were "Shogun" Rua and Thiago Silva, and so were Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping. It’s easy to remember that this card used to be headlined by a title fight between Jose Aldo and Erik Koch (we were so young and so innocent back then), but who among you still recalls the time when we thought we’d see Bibiano Fernandes on this fight card? Or Siyar Bahadurzada? Oh, how wrong we were.
After that emotional rollercoaster, I’m not sure how ticket-holders are supposed to feel about their purchase now. They went from a featherweight title fight to a bantamweight interim title fight, all while every single main card fight got switched around at least once. It makes you wonder, are they still getting what they paid for? And at what point does the phrase ‘fight card subject to change’ start to feel like a threat rather than a disclaimer?
The good news for the fight fans of Alberta is that, while this card has undoubtedly lost some firepower, it’s still got a genuinely compelling main event. Urijah Faber taking on Renan Barao (who is, according to the commercials that ran on a maddening loop during last week’s UFC on FUEL TV 4 event, "a monster") is definitely a fight worth paying for. That’s true even without the completely fabricated interim belt on the line, which in the context of this event feels even more like an unnecessary marketing gimmick than usual.
I’m no fan of interim titles in general, mostly because I was always under the impression that the great thing about a championship belt was the fact that only one existed in each weight class. To get it, you typically had to take it from the champion, creating a clean, satisfying little timeline of dominance. Once you start creating extra titles for the sake of convenience, you almost defeat the entire purpose of having a championship belt. And if the interim champ is just going to hold onto his title until the real champ is healthy enough to put the genuine article back into circulation (and let’s be honest, that’s what’s most likely to happen with the Faber-Barao winner) it only makes the entire exercise feel even more ridiculous.
The worst part is, in this instance, you really don’t need it. Anyone who isn’t already upset over the many, many changes to this fight card probably doesn’t need a fake title to keep them interested. And anyone who is bummed out about all the great fights that have evaporated in the two months since tickets went on sale is probably not going to have their enthusiasm restored by a pretty meaningless hunk of metal and leather. Seriously, do you think the winner of the Barao-Faber fight is going to party it up in the Calgary bars that night, declaring himself the UFC bantamweight champ? Or do you think he’s going to nod politely at the belt and put it in a closet somewhere until he gets the chance to fight Dominick Cruz for the real one?
UFC 149 might be, in many ways, one of the UFC’s most cursed fight cards. Injuries and bizarre contractual situations prompted one reshuffling after another. The product that fans will get to see on Saturday night bears only a vague resemblance to the one they originally paid for. Then again, maybe the people who show up to see it won’t even care all that much. Maybe they don’t need to be tricked with fake belts and shouted promises. Maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they can tell the difference between a stacked card and a pieced together one, just like they can tell the difference between a title fight and a number one contender bout.
The citizens of Calgary might not be getting exactly what they thought they paid for on Saturday night, but they ought to still get something worth their money once Faber and Barao step in the cage. If only we could stop pretending and call it what it is, we might discover that we appreciate it a little more.