It's probably fair to say most reasonable people are expecting ratings for tonight's fights to be relatively low. It's also probably fair to say few care that the numbers won't be great.
It's true the card has been hurt by injuries, which has lowered its profile. Yet, this was always an event headlined by a flyweight title fight. In the right time of year, that's not necessarily an issue. In the dog days of summer and with a card that's a cheap facsimile of its original self, that's a set-up for mediocre returns.
But that's sort of the point here. The UFC and FOX know when the tide turns and football is back on television, the ratings are likely to climb back to where we know they can be. Even if tonight's event doesn't turn in a great number, it isn't part of a pattern of decline. Theese things shift seasonally. There's no real reason to panic.
And what else is the UFC supposed to do with the flyweight title? They can't sell it on pay-per-view, at least not yet. Give it away for free. I have no idea if John Moraga is the guy to give champion Demetrious Johnson a tough fight, but it's the right call to experiment the possibility on this platform. Part of MMA matchmaking is engineering. Part of it is luck. The other part is gambling. If Moraga turns out to be out of his depth, so what? All the better to have a champion they can continue to push. And if he's the killer he's looked like so far in the UFC, that's a massive win for them.
Is this the best UFC event of the year? Not by a long shot. It's ok, certainly not bad, but far from great. So what? It's good enough for right now, which is really all that matters.
At stake: a chance to standout. I don't think flyweight is boring necessarily, but I'm not going to say you're wrong if you do. And no matter one's position on the issue of 125-pound men fighting one another, it's basically impossible to argue this division is as exciting as the others.
Moraga has a real chance to shake things up. If he bodies Johnson - a tough task, but let's just talk in hypotheticals for the moment - he could finally begin the process of getting a wide swathe of folks interested in the division. Is a rivalry or a finisher at the top of the heap the worst thing that could happen?
Johnson maintaining his place wouldn't be so terrible either. He is an incredibly intelligent tactician and nothing speaks to popularity quite like dominance. Still, he's held back a tad by not being a finisher. Crushing Moraga could go a long way towards developing his reputation as one of the UFC's best fighters.
At stake: welterweight title shot shortlist. Everyone knows what's on the line here. Neither fighter is likely to get a title shot anytime soon with a loss tonight. The winner will automatically move into close position for a chance at the winner of Johny Hendricks vs. Georges St-Pierre.
But there's something more to the story, too. MacDonald is trying to correct for what went wrong in his hiccup against Carlos Condit. He is capable of proving the media hype and belief in his ability isn't just manufactured nonsense. It's not necessarily there are lingering doubts about him, but a win over a competitor as respected as Ellenberger is almost as emphatic a statement as one can make in the weight class.
For Ellenberger - and I could be wrong here - I detect a bit of fatigue. He's openly said he isn't sure he's the best in the world (although he believes he can beat anyone on his best day) and that he's only competing to win a world title. What happens if he loses tonight? Does that mean he's willing to keep going to muster a title shot chance sometime down the line? I'm assuming so as retirement at this stage seems awfully premature. Still, there's something unusually conditional about his stated interest in MMA. It will be curious to see how he progresses should he come up short.
At stake: a moment to build momentum. This is an odd bout, but in a pleasant and exciting way. In the case of Voelker, a win over an established, respected and somewhat adored veteran in Robbie Lawler on a platform like FOX could wonders for his career. I'm not suggesting he'll be headlining cards anytime soon, but he'll get his name out there enough to get a big fight on a big show in the future, which could mean better sponsors and bigger paydays. There's absolutely nothing for him to lose as well since he's taking this fight on short notice, something I'm sure the UFC appreciates.
For Lawler, people are looking to see the guy who put out Tiki Ghosn's lights out with extreme ferocity. Power punching is mesmerizing and Lawler's developed a well-earned reputation for weilding it. Even though he's widely expected to beat Voelker, doing so on FOX in a manner fans love to see could elevate his stock while cementing fan adoration.
At stake: Ronda Rousey sweepstakes. Some have been dismissive of Carmouche's contention that a win at tonight's event could put her right back in the title shot shortlist, but it's really true. Rousey has Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano in front of her, but it's not so clear what's after once those tasks are completed. That's really what this is about. It's not about proving anything about women's MMA or making some sort of statement of personal identity. Andrade has a chance to catapult her name into future headlines while Carmouche faces the possibility of getting back to what she had before.