I've heard all the excuses already. I know many of you don't get FUEL TV. I know many of you don't get FUEL TV in high definition. And yes, even among you mixed martial arts (MMA) faithful, you haven't heard about many of the fighters competing on Wednesday's UFC on FUEL TV card.
What's so great about this card, then? A lot, actually.
I'm not going to pretend this card is can't-miss UFC action. This isn't the card of the year even if there is much to admire here. If it were, it wouldn't be on FUEL TV. But there's more than enough of the good stuff that if you can find a way to watch, you should.
The obvious elephant in the room is access to Fuel. The channel is only in 35 million homes. However, for many cable packages that carry the channel, standard definition is offered. I'll admit as a DirecTV subscriber, my enthusiasm being higher for this card is probably directly related to my ability to get the channel in high definition (HD). Either way, this is clearly a problem that's dampening enthusiasm.
So let me offer a few reasons why you should find a way - go over to a friend's house, irately call your cable provider - to watch Wednesday night's fights:
1. The main event. Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez is a fantastic scrap. Ellenberger is one or two wins away from a title shot, a particularly physical fighter and well-rounded, experienced competitor. Diego Sanchez, I suspect, is going to have his hands full with Ellenberger, but is borderline impossible to put away, psychotically driven and supremely experienced against two division's top talent. This fight has fireworks written all over it. Both also have a lot to lose should they falter and neither is particularly known for retreating when the stakes were high.
2. The co-main event. I'd like to see Stefan Struve exercise better risk management in his fights and expect to see that as he matures in age. Against Dave Herman, though, I suspect he will attempt to joust more than jab. If you're into wild exchanges, there's something here for you. And if you're like me and believe Herman is a terribly underrated heavyweight talent, this is also a good benchmark to evaluate his progress.
3. Free prelims. Even if you don't have Fuel, you likely have a Facebook account. That means you can catch the prelims as easily as the next guy. No excuses here.
Ronny Markes' middleweight debut. This Nova Uniao beast holds a win over Paulo Filho and notched a victory in his UFC debut over Karlos Vemola. While he wasn't wildly impressive, he did show a wide array of talents and poise over three hard-fought rounds. He's re-tooling now by dropping to middleweight, which is incontestably a thinner division than light heavyweight. He'll face the talented Aaron Simpson, who despite his age is still a sturdy challenge for any rising prospect. This is one fighter whose growth deserves closer attention.
Stipe Miocic returns. Another prospect who just needs some seasoning to show us the true depth of his talents. Miocic is former Division I wrestler and Golden Gloves champion who is undefeated in his MMA run at heavyweight. How far he can go is anyone's guess, but the Strong Style Fight Team product has many of tools to make a big impact in the heavyweight division.
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Walel Watson. When Urijah Faber was in town for UFC on Versus 6 in Washington, D.C., he told me (and could not have been more emphatic) that Dillashaw was a force to be reckoned with. Sure, the Team Alpha Male bantamweight fell short against John Dodson, but there's no shame in that loss. He's aggressive, naturally gifted and fights with a mean streak. Watson, on the other hand, has commanded attention in his two UFC bouts. He blasted through Joseph Sandoval at UFC on Versus 6 and lost a very controversial split decision a UFC 140 to Yves Jabouin. Both of these bantamweights fight aggressively and have hugely contrasting styles. It's an excellent pairing of two noteworthy prospects who need wins over the each other to make the next move up the promotional ladder.
7. Two preliminary card bouts. I'm not going to pretend every fight on this card is a sensational pairing. But there are two that stand out on the preliminary card: Ivan Menjivar vs. John Albert and Jonathan Brookins vs. Vagner Rohca. Menjivar is a bit of an aging veteran, but also a sleeper in the bantamweight division. Albert has his hands full. Brookins vs. Rocha offers a good contrast in styles and another loss for either fighter could be disastrous. Both have to bring it.
8. Wednesday night fights. Listen, Saturday will always be the best night for fights, but I can't imagine I'm alone in thinking weekday fights with a talented roster of prospects is boatloads of fun. In part, that's what made WEC fights on Versus such a welcome departure from the typical Saturday night routine. Perhaps most importantly, prospect fight cards like this (the Ellenberger vs. Sanchez fight itself notwithstanding) don't require the same media churn a UFC 143 does. Sure, the results are meaningful, but they don't have to be analyzed and over analyzed again. There's a lot on the line, but not nearly as much. Frankly, that's a good thing. Throw in the fact the fights also end earlier in the evening and it's hard to see how any of this could be a bad thing.
No one can know in advance if fights will deliver. All we can ask is that promoters line up a fight card with reasonably meaningful bouts with the appropriate, available talent in match-ups that have likelihood to deliver. If we're measuring this fight card by that standard, the inaugural UFC fight night on FUEL TV is one not to miss.