UFC 126 had the whole galaxy of stars competing on it. Demetrious Johnson, Chad Mendes and Donald Cerrone all fought on the card…and those folks were on the prelims. Then there was Jake Ellenberger, Jon Jones, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, Vitor Belfort and the man who punted his head into the fifth row, Anderson Silva, the single greatest mixed martial artist in that era (and all eras that stood before it).
That’s how deep and luscious the cards were back in those days, just running over with stars, champions, future champions, contenders, global brands, icons and Old West gunslingers.
Twenty-five cards later, at UFC 151, Jones was supposed to fight Dan Henderson in the main event. A couple of weeks beforehand, Henderson was put out of commission while training with his Team Quest partner Sokoudjou, the card was cancelled, and Jones’ trainer Greg Jackson was tried for "murdering the sport" when Jones refused to meet stand-in Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice.
It was all very Cold Case.
But that’s how shallow UFC 151 was. Without a main event, it was a chessboard with missing queens. That time, with only a little over a week to go, the card was nixed and all the other fights were disseminated across other cards. Pretty soon there were events with 13 and 14 fights on them to support the overflow. This is when the odd complaints of oversaturation really turned into an off-key choir.
Twenty-five cards later, UFC 176 just became the next great Vanishing.
This time, with a little over a month out from the Aug. 2 date, it was learned that featherweight champion Jose Aldo had injured his shoulder and would be unable to defend against Chad Mendes. This set UFC matchmakers ascramble. With the vacancy, Joe Rogan was even using a live mic to ask Ronda Rousey if she’d be willing to turn around and fight just minutes after her thrashing of Alexis Davis. This became known as "The Man in the Truck" incident, which Dana called the single greatest "f--- up of all times."
And even with a pretty solid co-main in Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo Souza, the UFC opted to "postpone" the UFC 176 pay-per-view event (a euphemism that drew some loud snickers; Mendes-Aldo II was postponed until the fall, according to UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta, but the card itself is obviously headed for the milk carton).
If there’s a difference in these cancellations, it’s this: While UFC 151 felt like a travesty, UFC 176 feels more like a sacrifice.
The silver lining this time is that all the cards surrounding UFC 176 -- which was supposed to take place in Los Angeles -- got stronger. Now Bobby Green and Abel Trujillo, two batterers of the most sordid ilk, are headed for Bangor, Maine on Aug. 16. Same with flyweights Zach Makowsky and Jussier Formiga. Mousasi and "Jacare" are headed for Foxwoods in Connecticut, the most cryptically underbooked show on the calendar. And Shayna Baszler will fight Bethe Correia at UFC 177, which takes place in Sacramento on August 30.
Those cards were in need of fortification, and they are getting it at the expense of a fallout. In the words of Alanis Morissette in her opus "Thank U," thank you frailty, thank you consequence…and all those other gratitudes she rattles on about. And thank you Los Angeles for your continued generosity after coughing up the Rams and Raiders. Too kind.
That somebody else’s pain becomes a silver lining should say something about dialing back the amount of events by a notch or two, but "should" is always a tricky word. Before these announcements the only thing we knew about Maine were that A) that Dana White has a residence there, in which he likes to shoot guns, get drunk and buy smart cars, and B) that Ryan Bader versus Ovince St. Preux, though a good fight, needed strong accompaniment to seem "event-like."
Suddenly the August and September cards have a little more sustenance. They feel more like the cards from back in UFC 126’s day, all the way back in 2011, though not entirely. Not to the point that "Cowboy" Cerrone and Demetrious Johnson are fighting on the prelims because there just aren’t enough main card spots. Of course, in three years maybe it will seem equally absurd that Beneil Dariush and Walmir Lazaro -- both immense stars in 2017 -- were slated for the UFC 176 prelims. (Note: I am not clairvoyant).
It just seems like a long shot, though.
No, for whatever it’s worth, there’s upside to UFC 176 getting scotched, at least for those of us who appreciate card density. Unlike with UFC 151 when it felt like a hole had been blown in the timeline of neatly numbered cards, this time it’s more like, "one card sacrificed to strengthen three? That sucks, but hell yes!"