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UFC 163 fight card: What's at stake?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Let's not overthink this. I don't know if the Brazilian market is as raging hot as it's made out to be and certainly UFC has made plenty of visits to Rio de Janeiro, specifically. But from all present indications, there's enthusiasm about this show and Jose Aldo in particular. If there's a risk the UFC is burning out this market too quickly, it's not so great the show is not worth staging.

But that's Brazil. This is the U.S. or at least North America. If I have a worry about this market - the pay-per-view buying market - it's that this is going to continue to erode the baseline for UFC buys. This is not a strong card for generating interest on those terms.

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After UFC 108 in 2010, many believed the floor for any UFC pay-per-view was 300,000. After UFC 147 and UFC 161, we know it can sink to below 150,000. That's a 50 percent drop off in three years.

Keeping perspective, 150,000 as a baseline is not insignificant. It'd be more than a minor miracle if Bellator's Quinton Jackson vs. Tito Oritz even crosses 100,000. To have a baseline as high as the UFC does is a testament to their product.

But the floor is mobile. Just because it's 150,000 now does not mean that is it's fixed position. It is certainly possible it can sink further. The problem with UFC 163 is not that the card lacks quality, but that it likely lacks any of the muscle it needs to drive a decent buyrate. It tells a real portion UFC pay-per-view buying audience to not purchase it. That further tells this audience the UFC logo itself is not enough to create interest in a card.

The UFC has one hell of an ending to 2013 in terms of sensational pay-per-view events. The sky is by no means falling. And even if the floor sinks, it doesn't bring the ceiling with it. Yet, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Putting on events behind a paywall that much of the UFC buying public likely deems not worth purchasing makes picking and choosing in the future more likely. Whatever else one thinks of this card and the UFC's international expansion, that's hardly ideal for business.


Jose Aldo vs. Chan Sung Jung

At stake: the title with a moment in history. This one is fairly obvious: the featherweight title is up for grabs. There's a lot to be gained by picking up that trophy, but I doubt the benefits of such a unique achievement need to be delineated. Instead, let's focus on the Korean Zombie.

Should Aldo win, well, Aldo wins. That's a tautology, but the point is he'd be beating a respected opponent, albeit one who came in on relatively short notice. It's a nice addition to Aldo's already spectacular collection of scalps, but doesn't have any broader implications.

That's not true for Jung. No one in any Zuffa organization has ever defeated Aldo, for starters. Being the rough equivalent of featherweight's Chris Weidman is not a negligible place to be. Beating Aldo at all puts one in the record books. But more than that, there's a chance to boost the division. Aldo is beloved, but not as much as he could (or should) be. Jung is beloved, but even he can raise his profile. Any sort of rivalry between the two could help lift the division's profile altogether. The same could be said for, say, Ricardo Lamas if he ever faces Aldo and, for the sake of argument, emerges victorious. Aldo needs a foil. But the Korean Zombie is adored by fans in the know. He has a certain pull over the UFC fanbase Lamas has not (yet) established. I'm not suggesting it is Jung and only Jung who can help Aldo raise the interest for 145-pounders everywhere, but the two are uniquely situated more than other featherweights to help the cause of the entire division.

Lyoto Machida vs. Phil Davis

At stake: legitimate number one contender spot. If Jon Jones is going to stick around light heavyweight to break records, he'll need opponents. That's on obvious statement, but it's not so obvious who he can fight. He's got Alexander Gustaffson first. Glover Teixeira is on the shortlist, too. But then what? Maybe Jones goes to heavyweight, but maybe he doesn't.

If he doesn't, then one of these two men could be in luck (although I suppose they could fight whomever is the champion at that point). The problem, though, isn't just winning. In this business, the complexion of your victory matters. If Machida wins but does so unimpressively, will anyone be clamoring to see him fight Jones again? If there's a new champion because Jones has departed for a new weight class, I suppose that won't matter as much. But as long as Jones rules the roost, it's going to be hard to justify a chance to face him when you're eeking by in close, uninspiring performances against contemporaries.

Thales Leites vs. Tom Watson

At stake: securing a UFC future. Without being disparaging, it's probably fair to say neither fighter is particularly close now to a title shot. It's also probably a fair argument to make (but we never know for sure) that neither fighter will contend for a title during their UFC tenure. I admit the latter is a tougher argument to make. I'm just trying to point out that while Leites and Watson are tough, credible talents, they also don't occupy the upper echelon of the division. There's an open question if they ever will.

For me, this is more about securing employment. That doesn't just mean winning, but obviously that's the essential ingredient. It's being more valuable generally. Watson as a Brit and Leites as a Brazilian hold value for the UFC as draws or fight card place holders in their respective countries. Neither needs to necessarily be a world beater to still be a strong value add for the UFC. Having the ability to draw in key international markets by virtue of nationality and a measure of hometown fan allegiance is nothing to dismiss. Add winning to the equation and you can become a very important part of the UFC's promotional plans.

Cezar Ferreira vs. Thiago Santos

At stake: moving on up. If we discount the normal stakes of any UFC bout for just a moment and ask what's unique beyond that about this particular fight, not much stands out. Sure, Ferreira won The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. He's important for that market as a potential headlining lynchpin. But even then he's got a bit of a way to go. The same can be said, if not even more so, for Santos. Santos also has the added benefit on knocking off a favorite should he emerge victorious. But this fight isn't so much about the opponent as it is buttressing the early portion of a longer UFC resume.

John Lineker vs. Jose Maria

At stake: distance from a title shot. John Moraga fought twice on the Facebook/YouTube preliminary portion of UFC cards before being granted a title shot. Knowing that, how far can Lineker and Maria really be from the same spot? That's especially true for Lineker. He rebounded from a loss in his UFC debut and has begun to attract attention for his wild style of fighting. Maria hasn't had as much exposure, but if can score the upset, he'll move the needle, too. I'm not saying a win tonight means either gets a title shot, but I do know if you keep winning at flyweight, you're never really very far away from a chance to face Demetrious Johnson.