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UFC 177 fight card: What's at stake?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There is no debate about over saturation any longer. Not simply about its existence, anyway. It's real and there's no room for argument about it. There is space to discuss and uncertainty about what its effects will be, but it isn't the phlogiston of MMA. It's a real phenomenon happening in front of us all with real-world, measurable implications. The conversation about whether we are all imagining things is now over.

Here is the fact: the UFC simply doesn't have the roster, as enormous as it is, to meet their current business objectives. Global expansion, an aggressive schedule and injuries do not preclude the UFC from putting on a good show, but it does stop them from doing it consistently. That's true both in terms of being a premium product upholding the value of the brand and as a popular attraction.

What has happened to UFC 177 and the product generally is not a function of injuries. Injuries played a role, to be sure. They damage even the best of products, UFC 178 being a clear example. It is fair to acknowledge UFC 177 has suffered because of this. However, the product was of debatable value prior to any injury affecting any bout. There were already groans about the card as the UFC had intended it. Injury has dramatically affected it, but we could be having this conversation had it not, although perhaps with less urgency.

More Coverage: UFC 177 Results | UFC news
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What UFC 177 evidences is that a premium product cannot be grown at scale, at least not this quickly. International expansion is a viable idea, but on the current timeline? Does it really make sense to revive Japan, break into China, develop Singapore, crack South Korea, open up larger Latin America, convert Mexico, kickstart Germany, move into France, push Ireland and Sweden while concurrently maintaining an already busy schedule in the United States and Canada (FOX shows, Fox Sports 1 and 2 events, The Ultimate Fighter and more)? If it does, the evidence for it is not clear. It is certainly not without negative consequence.

Nothing that is happening here is solely or even predominately an injury issue. Nothing is without a discernible cause. The dots have to be connected. No, the Dublin card or the upcoming Mexico debut didn't cause what's wrong with the UFC 177 card on a one-to-one basis. Nor did the continuation of TUF stateside. Yet, they are not exempt either. There is only so much premium product to go around. There is only so much fertile soil. In the wider practice of how that land is tilled, it is impossible to avoid situations like this if the world's leader in mixed martial arts is intent on pushing in so many other directions at once.

Latin America will likely be a big win for the UFC, as it should be. Parts of Asia and Europe will be as well. UFC will deserve the spoils when those markets are ready to convert. They're the ones doing all the investing. When that will happen, though, no one knows for sure. What investment that will take could be enormous and far beyond current projections. As it stands, other segments of the UFC product are suffering as a consequence. In the case of UFC 177, it's on the pay-per-view end. Given pay-per-view's still hugely important role as a revenue driver for the UFC, it seems, at best, imprudent to not treat the space more attentively.

We are not imagining over saturation. How it will shape things moving forward is hard to predict. Perhaps matters will stay the same or, more positively, move in a more benign direction. However it moves, though, it moves. It's here. The best outcome possible with UFC 177 is that it leads to steps being taken to address it.

Star-divide

T.J. Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto

At stake: everything and nothing. What a bizarre contest. On the one hand, Dillashaw has to defend his title against an opponent he should thrash, but hasn't properly prepared for. In a chaotic sport like MMA, that's a perilous place to be. In addition, if he wins, there's very little glory to be had. He'll be showered with appreciation for going through the motions, but Soto's scalp is not a prized one. Not yet, anyway.

As for Soto, this is a dream come true. He is at a technical and athletic deficit opposite Dillashaw, but the wind is still at his back. He can fight comfortably, both in a literal and abstract way. He has the ability to fight in the way he prefers knowing he has essentially nothing to lose. Moreover, he's helped UFC brass avoid an event's implosion. Being in their good graces always pays dividends.

So, either the result will be utterly expected or will turn what is already a strange event into an historically strange one.

Tony Ferguson vs. Danny Castillo

At stake: moving into the top 15. Nothing is guaranteed in terms of rankings, especially since many of those voting haven't the slightest clue how to evaluate talent or effectively rank fighters. That said, some calls are easier than others and a big win here by either competitor could put them in a space where they either crack the top 15 of place themselves directly at the precipice of them. Both fighters are capable of throttling lesser lightweights and have given upper-level talent difficult fights, but they lack consistency there. This bout is about establish themselves (or the winner, anyway) as a fighter who deserves consideration as one of the division's best.

Bethe Correia vs. Shayna Baszler

At stake: title implications, bragging rights and a bit more. These fighters meet in this bout in very different positions. Correira is doing quite well. She's also manage to market herself interestingly by positioning herself against Ronda Rousey and her training partners. By attaching herself to them, she's not only increased her visibility, but upped the stakes of each bout considerably, at least on the positive end of things. If she gets past Baszler, it's not inconceivable she could claim a title shot in what is a relatively weak women's bantamweight division. The merit is there as is the storyline. It's a clever play on the part of the Brazilian.

As for Baszler, this is a fight she needs essentially to stay relevant. That's true both in terms of being an accomplished fighter and promotable entity. After an underwhelming run on The Ultimate Fighter but with the backing of Rousey, Baszler needs to show up here if she is leverage the wind at her back and maintain her reputation.

Ramsey Nijem vs. Diego Ferreira

At stake: main card placement. Neither of these fighters are necessarily knocking on the door of much in terms of being elite, but Nijem is usable as a main card competitor. He has tenure in the UFC as well as awareness built from his run on The Ultimate Fighter. If he'd like to compete in spaces where there are more eyeballs, winning here is relatively critical. As for Ferreira, he had a sensational finish of Colton Smith, but beyond those who've scouted his previous fights on YouTube or watched live on AXSTV, not much is known about him. This is his chance to begin developing his own identity and stake his claim in terms of where he is in the pecking order in the UFC's lightweight division.

Yancy Medeiros vs. Damon Jackson

At stake: a roster spot. There's not much to this bout. When I say what's at stake is a roster spot, I'm not necessarily suggesting the loser will be cut, especially since this is Jackson's UFC debut. Instead, this is about winning long enough and well enough to merit a fulfillment of their contract. Medeiros, though, is coming off of a loss. Losing two in a row in the UFC isn't necessarily a death sentence, but it also places him in a very unenviable position moving forward even if he stays in the organization.