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Consider UFC 177, the card that downgraded the paywall

The MMA media made Dana White mad this weekend by dogging a bedraggled pay-per-view. White made the media mad last week by overstepping his bounds and plucking a judge from the rotation in Macau after two fights (made that much worse because, he later admitted, it was a case of mistaken identity). If you were just coming into this sport, and paying attention to these sore feelings, you’d swear that the two generally don’t get along. It didn’t help that GQ listed Dana among the world’s most sleazy inhabitants right smack dab in the middle of all this.

You know what? Maybe that’s why Danny Castillo was apologizing to everybody and his mother after his fight on Saturday; it’s been a sorry couple of weekends. Apologizing into any hot mic feels like something to do.

Where to begin on this?

UFC 177 was a dud, no matter how it played out. T.J. Dillashaw could have levitated and disintegrated Joe Soto with ridiculous red eye beams and we’d have been all, "yeah, but it was Joe freaking Soto." Any time the main course of drama becomes whether or not a person that nobody has ever thought about has the capacity to make it a storybook weekend…well, you know you’re in trouble. If White was mad at the media for using the vomit bags in the seat-backs on this one, then his judgment on the judging has been off for two weekends running.

UFC 177 was a dud, no matter how it played out.

Obviously, Soto-Dillashaw shouldn’t have carried a price tag to watch; but it’s also understandable that the UFC was helpless to remove it, having just cancelled UFC 176. This is why one side was screaming, "how dare you criticize this event" and the other was screaming "how dare you call this an event and charge money for it?" It would be more upsetting if the latter just rode shotgun the whole way screaming "weee!" But then again, Dana has never given much weight to objectivity. Promoters rarely do.

And speaking of weight, that’s another subject -- Soto was of course meant to be Renan Barao, who was meant to be the pound-for-pound champion of the known universe not long ago. Barao had (another) bad weight cut just like Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo had (another) bad weight cut, which forced both out at the last minute and made an already excessively thin card look as emaciated as Dillashaw appeared on weigh-in day. As White said, these things happen in the fight game. Until they show up without any shoes on fight night, all bouts are merely hypothetical, just agreed upon suggestions. It’s what keeps Burt Watson, the UFC’s "Babysitter to the Stars," up at night, worrying about everybody making weight and staying out of trouble.

But let’s be real here.

This UFC pay-per-view didn’t look special since Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN that Jon Jones would defend his title against Alexander Gustafsson as the main event without consent of one of the principals (Jon Jones). It has been on a steady spiral since then. Vegas became Sacramento. Sequels were exchanged; Gustafsson-Jones II became Barao-Dillashaw II. Chris Cariaso was plucked from a flyweight line-up and given a title shot against Demetrious Johnson, then reslotted for UFC 178 (as Daniel Cormier-Jones fell off). UFC 177 was the kind of card that raised philosophical wonderings, such as, "what designates a co-main event? Are they necessary? And do Danny Castillo-Tony Ferguson have anything in common with what we might call ‘an attraction?’"

(The answers are A] being "second to last," or "penultimate," B] no, and C] hey, it’s your disposable income).

The fact that UFC 177 played out as decent entertainment is moot; the UFC in the PPV model mode is based on prospect, not retrospect. Dillashaw came through and put Soto away spectacularly. Bethe Correia tenderized Shayna Baszler bodily and facially with her fists, and peeled back another finger to let everyone know another of the Four Horsewomen had been vanquished. Yancy Medeiros choked out Damon Jackson with a rarely seen reverse bulldog choke which sent jiu-jitsu aficionado Joe Rogan into the conniptions.

All fine, but not in the way that matters. The way that matters in the PPV game is, "do I have to see this?" Capital is a finicky bastard. And it’s a diminishing number of people who will purchase a PPV on the blind, because so much UFC is now available for free, and so many fights fill the calendar, and inundation, even when we skew our faces at it, is still an affiliate word of indifference. The paywall that used to feel like a privilege to peek behind (Chuck Liddell!) begins to feel like easy to figure out magic tricks on shows like UFC 177 (T.J. Dillashaw against Renan Ba…wait, Joe Soto!), just fun little fibs for ‘bout fitty bucks.

It’s a disturbing trend. And at some point you hope that the media and the UFC come to see eye-to-eye on that.

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