There's no point in beating up the UFC about the UFC 149 fight card anymore. Everyone's registered their complaints and they're all valid: the UFC was very unlucky with injuries; yet, the scheduling off fights is too fast and furious; despite a collection of what promise to be good, relevant scraps, this event will likely not do particularly well on pay-per-view.
That isn't to say any of this is unimportant. Even on the smallest tier UFC on FUEL events, the UFC finds ways to inject relevance. It's indisputable there's more talent in the UFC than ever before and that gives them leeway to place it at every location where they erect an Octagon and sell tickets.
The truth is also the live gate for tonight's event should be strong. The event sold out in May, albeit with a dramatically different card. Calgary is believed to be one of the UFC's top five pay-per-view markets, so it only makes sense to host a show in city limits and expect good financial returns.
It's just that there isn't much star power tonight. Fun, relevant fights do not sell pay-per-view buys after the fact. There's obviously action for several divisions' upper tiers, but not really in the specific criteria that appeal to wide swathes of the MMA consuming public. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from watching. Again, there's always going to be a lot to like on virtually any UFC card. But with a writing column where the objective is evaluate the size and impact of what can be gained and lost in a single fight, there isn't as much material here as there could be. All that said, let's take a closer look at what's at stake for each fighter on tonight's main card.
At stake: last chance glory. People keep saying this is Faber's last chance at a title. I've said it, too. I'm just not sure I believe it. In almost any other weight class, I'd be inclined to believe it, but in a space as thin as bantamweight it's a lot harder to accept. Recall that after losing to Cruz in their second fight, one win over Brian Bowles put Faber back in title contention. Still, at 33, time is not on Faber's side. He believes the third time against Cruz is the charm, but losing to Barao makes that entire discussion moot. Well, moot for the moment.
I'm less concerned about Barao. Certainly he doesn't want to fade into oblivion in the bantamweight division, but a loss isn't terrible for him. He's young and likely to be a perennial contender at bantamweight if not its future champion. I'm sure he's filled with nerves and anxiety over letting an opportunity like this pass by, but that same concern has to be on Faber's mind just as much. Probably a little more.
At stake: hype vs. reality. This doesn't apply solely to Lombard, even if it applies mostly to him. With a game that is a healthy dose of meat and potatoes, no one is under the impression Boetsch is someone we have failed to understand or properly appreciate. But a win over Lombard - overrated or not - is a good way to prove the move to middleweight was more than a lucky win over Yushin Okami. Eventually Boetsch will be stopped by another elite middleweight before he even gets a chance to face Anderson Silva, but beating Lombard is a good way to prove he belongs in all discussions of the best middleweight has to offer.
We all know what's at stake for Lombard. Is he the real deal or not? Is dispatching of Alexander Shlemenko and Falaniko Vatale significant of something larger or not? Beating Boetsch isn't the end of that line of questioning, especially if the win is precarious. But a dominant victory would send a strong message. At 34, if Lombard is to contend for a major title, now is the time to get that process started.
At stake: a chance to break out. I'm a big believer in Jordan and that faith will be tested this evening. He's a sensational athlete (he's the heavyweight who did the standing back flip after beating Oli Thompson), has the right training partners and team around him and is acclimating quickly to the fight game. He could fall on his face tonight and I can't pretend to be surprised with such an outcome, but after a few rough moments he should be able to impose his physical will on the aging Frenchman. Doing so would be a breakout performance and opportunity to launch himself into the upper end of the UFC heavyweight division.
Kongo, 37, is still a stern challenge, but not the fighter he was at his peak. His chin is somewhat sturdy, but more tappable than it once was. Kongo still posses what is arguably MMA's best physique, but it's not really clear what all those muscles really translates to in terms of functional ability. Kongo won't be cut if he loses two in a row, but the last time he dropped two in a row it was to Cain Velasquez and Mark Hunt. Doing that against Mark Hunt and Shawn Jordan could indicate the heavyweight striker's days as a top ten heavyweight are numbered.
At stake: chance to keep fighting in the UFC. There's admittedly a bit more to lose here for Ebersole. He's taking an extra risk fighting in such close proximity to his last bout. He hasn't lost in four years and following this bout has stated an intention of moving to lightweight. Losing here wouldn't be the worst of all worlds, but dropping a bout in a weight class where he is competitive generally and against opposition he should beat cleanly is hardly anyway to jump start a foray into the 155-pound division.
For Head, beating Ebersole would be a nice feather in his cap. His only UFC win came against a totally overrated Papy Abedi. Ebersole isn't exactly a household name, but his veteran experience and tough defensive skills make a win over him something to notice. Conversely, losing isn't exactly catastrophic for the Texan's MMA career, but dropping two of three UFC bouts could mean an early exit from the world's top fighting organization.
At stake: a paycheck. Let's just be honest with one another. This isn't to demean either fighter and what tonight can do for their career. However, we also cannot overstate matters. Neither Clements nor Riddle is ranked anywhere near the top of the division. A loss here probably won't result in either fighter being cut as they're both coming off of wins. A victory doesn't appreciably move them much further along, though. This is about earning money, having fun, maybe collecting a bonus check and little more. There's nothing wrong with that, but this is only about keeping the career alive and not going backward.
This bout also underscores one of the problems with this event generally: even on the main card there is pure filler.