The concept of Murphy’s law is real in Sacramento. UFC 177, already the whipping post of all pay-per-view events that stood before it, has become the fight game’s version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." And now Joe Soto, who woke up on Friday morning expecting to face Anthony Birchak five fathoms deep on the prelims, has a chance to become the story of the year with a single, well-timed punch.
(Cue the gladiator music).
Soto will stand in against T.J. Dillashaw tonight in a pay-per-view main event. Soto has never fought in the UFC before. But the breaks fell his way when Renan Barao passed out trying to make weight. Weight has been an issue for the Brazilian, and is at least a small part of why he was granted an immediate rematch with Dillashaw, who took the bantamweight belt from him at UFC 173 in the biggest upset of the year. Barao had a bad weight cut back in May. He had a disastrous weight cut in August.
And now Soto gets a chance to sneak in through the back window and heist a belt he was at least two years from ever trying on. He has a chance to move off the four-digit show money and into "my agents calling your agents" territory. He has a chance to send an already depressed Sacramento crowd -- a fan base that is getting one of the wobblier cards in UFC history, and this after enduring Vlade Divac for all those years -- home just a little bit sadder. Soto has no bandwagon; he has a Sleep Train.
As they say in showbiz, only in the UFC!
Let’s face it -- this game is a strange one because the sidewalks are always moving under our feet. Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier came to blows a full seven weeks out of their fight to make UFC 178 feel like the greatest card ever imagined by mortal men, only to see Jones suffer an injury and pull out. Fans, perhaps more than the fighters themselves, are accustomed to rolling with the punches. Any astonishment when a fighter falls off a card is just for astonishment’s sake. It’s just to tweet loud "oh no’s" and talk about curses being brought down by the MMA gods.
The comedy (and the underdog romance) comes in the shuffling, though.
Woodwork characters like Patrick Cummins get plucked from coffeehouse obscurity to fight Cormier at UFC 170 on just a couple of day’s notice. That time Rashad Evans busted up his knee. The narrative that emerged was that Cummins made Cormier cry once in wrestling practice, a leaked bit of information that gave us a mere thread to grasp at just before they swung for each other’s faces. Cummins was obliterated. Before him Ilir Latifi emerged from the woodwork of Sweden to stand in against Gegard Mousasi, and Charlie Brenneman filled in for Nate Marquardt in Pittsburgh on 24 hour’s notice.
Now it’s Soto’s turn. He’s the latest to be ushered to the front of the line due to a set of otherwise dire straits. It’s now in his power to turn the year’s most forgettable PPV into his own private road to glory. Soto becomes the greatest piece of drama going in Sacramento.
Is there a path that he beats Dillashaw, who has never defended his belt before? Of course! It’s easy to see he’s on a more even playing field than we are giving him credit for.
Think of it this way…Dillashaw lost to John Dodson, who later fled to the flyweight division. Dodson lost to Yasuhiro Urushitani, and Urushitani just lost his last fight against Adriano Moraes. Moraes didn’t stand a chance against "The Maestro," Yusup Saadulaev, and Saadulaev himself was no match for Rodolfo Diniz. It was Diniz, you might recall, that lost to Alex Volkanovski. And if I had to wager a guess, Volkanovski would be a heavy underdog against Soto, should they be paired.
It’s really just that obvious. Volkanovski isn’t ready for Joe Soto.
In this light, Soto belongs where he is. And in a game where fluctuations and revampings and rejiggerings are forever the case, he finds himself at the right place at the right time. It’s not a PPV event, not by a long shot. But it becomes a very zeroed in kind of human curiosity; can the anonymous man score an upset over the guy who scored this year’s biggest upset?
Doesn’t exactly have a ring to it. The UFC was forced to improvise, like they’ve done so many times before…but fifty bucks is a lot to spend on a last ditch bit of matchmaking, for a fight that never crossed our minds until 12 hours ago.