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Things have changed greatly, but if not for UFC 100, UFC 200 wouldn't be a big deal

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If you were hoping UFC 200 would be wild and unpredictable, with twists and turns that nobody could imagine, you’ve had all that and more.

And all that’s happened well before the event has had a chance to play out.

UFC 100, held on July 11, 2009, was a watershed event for the promotion. It was, by far, the biggest show in its history up to that point. The pressure was on the "double 0" show to go above and beyond the usual "big" show. Unlike in major sports, the "double 0" comes closer to being a generational event. UFC 100 took place this weekend seven years ago. UFC 300 will most likely take place sometime in late 2024.

By contrast, the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA playoffs and Final Four occur every year. The World Cup and the Summer Olympics may come every four years, but the "double 0" is pretty much once for every generation of fighters.

Yet, for a brief period of time, it appeared UFC 200 and UFC 100 were going to have something in common -- that is, Brock Lesnar in the main event.

No matter what the order of the matches are (or were), while so many things are different at UFC 200 compared to 100, the key similarities are Las Vegas as the host city, and Lesnar as the biggest drawing personality.

Then again, even for Las Vegas and Lesnar things are a little different, starting with the setting. The UFC has its first show in the new T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.

Lesnar, who lived in Alexandria, Minn., when UFC 100 occurred, comes in this time with dual citizenship, both personally and professionally. The human tank raised on a South Dakota farm is now a resident of a hidden place in Saskatchewan, known to only his closest friends, and for the last month, to USADA officials which have been paying him regular visits. This time he'll be representing the Canadian flag.

But his dual citizenship isn’t limited to countries. Lesnar’s got one foot in UFC on Saturday, as the biggest mainstream star on the show. He’s got the other foot in World Wrestling Entertainment, which has him under contract as its second biggest active mainstream star.

In 2009, he talked like he would never return to WWE. In 2011 -- and again in 2015 -- Lesnar said he would never compete in mixed martial arts again. So today, in vintage Brock Lesnar form, he’s doing both.

Few remember, but Lesnar vs. Frank Mir was not even scheduled as the main event of UFC 100. The company’s biggest heavyweight fight in history, at least based on money and interest level, was actually set to headline UFC 98. But Mir suffered a minor knee injury, which ended up being one of the luckiest injuries that could have happened in terms of timing in company history. It was rescheduled for the centennial event.

The original plan was for a Rashad Evans light heavyweight title match against Lyoto Machida. Had that happened, UFC 100 wouldn’t have been anywhere near the colossal event that it became, and -- with that precedent -- perhaps UFC 200 would've ended up being just another monthly show.

Lesnar vs. Mir was the unexpected final match of a four-man tournament to crown the company’s best heavyweight. Randy Couture had been the champion, but quit the promotion and, hoping to compete elsewhere, ended up in a complicated legal battle with Zuffa. For reasons that had to do with strengthening the company’s legal case against him, the UFC never stripped Couture of his championship.

An interim title was created, which ended up in the hands of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. When Couture gave up his legal battle, because UFC had already filmed a season of The Ultimate Fighter to build a Nogueira vs. Mir fight, the decision was made to create a tournament.

Couture’s opponent was Lesnar, who was 1-1 in the UFC at the time, but because of his name from pro wrestling he was already the company’s biggest drawing card. The general belief heading in was that Lesnar had a chance against Couture, but would probably lose given the huge difference in experience. But Mir was figured to have very little chance against Nogueira.

That's not how things played out, though. Lesnar and Mir both won conclusively. And Lesnar versus Mir had a story behind it. Mir submitted Lesnar in his UFC debut in 90 seconds. In that small space of time, referee Steve Mazzagatti docked Lesnar a point for a foul and ordered a stand-up as Lesnar was pounding on Mir. Moments later, Mir locked in a kneebar and that was that.

To build up UFC 100, Mir continually incited Lesnar. He made fun of his lack of knowledge of submissions, and pushed the idea he was a blockhead weightlifter who was a fake pro wrestler.

In the climactic scene after three weeks of hype shows (which drew more viewers than most televised fight nights these days), Lesnar watched a tape of the first fight, and got so mad that he punched the wall. He punched it so hard that down the hall one of the doors in his house collapsed from the hinges.

UFC 100 was built around three matches: The rematch of Lesnar vs. Mir, a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Thiago Alves, and Dan Henderson against Michael Bisping. Bisping had goaded Henderson for six weeks while taping TUF leading up, which gave that fight added allure. Those three fights on a single card was epic at the time.

Of the dynamics and long-term build-up of those three fights, UFC 200 has no match. Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones was the closest in comparison, given their history, but it fell off the show. That led to a 24-hour span of twists and turns, where the main event changed twice -- from Lesnar versus Mark Hunt, to Miesha Tate versus Amanda Nunes -- and Anderson Silva became the biggest name last minute replacement in UFC history.

But what UFC 200 does have that UFC 100 didn't is the deepest fight card on record. UFC 100 had four current or former UFC champions -- Lesnar, Mir, St-Pierre and Mark Coleman -- along with a former Pride champion in Henderson. UFC 200 has nine current or former UFC champions: T.J Dillashaw, Johny Hendricks, Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo, Tate, Lesnar, Anderson Silva and Cormier, as well as a former Pride champion in Takanori Gomi, a former Strikeforce champion in Gegard Mousasi, and a former K-1 champion in Mark Hunt.

Nearly every fight on UFC 200 is a bigger fight than all but the top three fights were at UFC 100. And few remember that with the announcement of Tate vs. Nunes as the main event and all the complaints about it, that the last fight at UFC 100 was not Lesnar vs. Mir, but Jon Fitch vs. Paulo Thiago.

The show featured Henderson’s vicious knockout of Bisping, one of the most famous in history, GSP’s dominance and Lesnar’s brutal TKO win, followed by a post-fight pro wrestling-style interview that made a number of sportswriters wondering if the UFC had blown its one chance at becoming a mainstream sport.

If anything, UFC 100 was the springboard for 2010, the company’s most successful year up to that point. And that led to the FOX contract which changed the UFC from being a primarily pay-per-view based company to one that ran shows on television almost weekly.

There are some shared participants other than Lesnar. Jim Miller will have the dual distinction of fighting at both 100 and 200. Jones would have been the third, had he not been yanked from the card on Wednesday. At UFC 100, Jones fought on the prelims against Jake O'Brien on the prelims. It was just his third fight.

UFC 100 captured the public’s interest like few events in company history. Perhaps the only shows comparable would be Anderson Silva’s ghastly leg injury against Chris Weidman at UFC 168, Ronda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, and Conor McGregor’s last few fights.

Of the 20 most searched items on the Internet in the United States on July 11, 2009, nine were related to the show, including such offshoots of the fights as "Rena Mero," (Lesnar’s wife, a former Playboy cover girl/pro wrestling star), "Fedor" (as in Emelianenko, who people wanted to see face Lesnar at the top, a fight that actually nearly happened a few years ago) and "Henderson knockout."

In 2009, the UFC was on Spike TV, a male-oriented entertainment cable station. Today, UFC is on FOX and FS1, a major network and a sports channel. In 2009, women would never, ever, be allowed to set foot in the Octagon. Tate was a 22-year-old woman known only to hardcore fans — and even there, more for her looks than her fighting ability — who had only been on one televised fight.

In 2016, Tate will be the last person to walk to the ring in the main event, after a career where her legacy had been the girl Ronda Rousey hated and always beat up.

UFC 100 was held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, a building that was far too small for the demand of the show. There were closed-circuit locations all over town for the overflow.

UFC 200, with far more seats to fill and at far higher prices, isn’t sold out, but the gate will be substantially higher.
Whether UFC 200 beats 100 in pay-per-view buys, given the significant increase in price, remains to be seen, but it will almost surely take in far more money than ever before. Instead of just being a single event like at 100, UFC 200 is the climax to three straight nights of shows and events all over town.

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