Let The Debate Begin: The Great July 19 Showdown

This Saturday will be a special night in the history of Mixed Martial-Arts in America.

For the first time, two promotions will go head-to-head with live shows vying for supremacy in a place where supremacy isn’t to be won. The new Affliction promotion will have their first show, “Banned,” featuring Tim Sylvia and Fedor Emelianenko in a heavyweight super fight while UFC counters with Anderson Silva’s first fight in the light heavyweight division.

When The E and WCW went head-to-head on Monday night’s for six years it rejuvenated the wrestling business and allowed both companies to create new stars or at least put on a much better product out of the necessity created by the competition between promotions. What does this have to do with MMA and Saturday night? Nothing, or at least it shouldn’t.

MMA is a real sport—something a lot of the sports media in this country stupidly haven’t figured out yet—and two leagues in the same sport don’t intentionally compete against each other by putting games on the same day. Yes there are college basketball and NBA games on the same day as one another all season, but you don’t see NBA games on major networks during the Final Four and the NFL knows not to have games on January 1 (unless it’s a Sunday) and Arena Football is the summer alternative while we wait for the NFL to resume. What I’m getting at is that one league doesn’t go out and try to dismantle another league simply to create a monopoly because in sports—unlike pro wrestling—the product is the only factor involved; the better product will be watched by more people. Yes, there are examples where people will watch a lesser product because it’s been around longer, but MMA is still a new sport in America (age: 15 years) and thus that argument really can’t be made promotion to promotion.

When I say intentionally on UFC going out to destroy all competitors, I mean it. Look at May 31 with EliteXC and MMA in general’s national T.V. debut: Dana decides to air a Chuck Liddell documentary and the first televised showing of the Silva/Liddell fight from last December 29. The goal: try and divert viewers from the Kimbo Show to see a documentary and a match that took place six months prior. Now don’t get me wrong, the point of any business is to succeed and make as much money as possible and blah, blah, blah, but since this a SPORT we’re talking about—and a sport that isn’t as thriving as the other more accepted sports—it would seem more detrimental than helpful to the sport to try and take viewers away from a national T.V. broadcast for an MMA related show and a taped fight. And then there’s Saturday, a night the UFC had off until tickets went on sale for Affliction and Dana announced that UFC would have a show that night as well. This is blatant and wrong if Dana cares about the sport the way he would like people to think. Dana White cares more about UFC than he does about MMA in general and there’s nothing wrong with that since he is the figurehead president of UFC, but don’t lie every time you mention the sport (remember UFC only listed fighters’ UFC records as “MMA Record:” until after the PRIDE purchase). Am I saying that Dana would’ve been better off taking the night off? Considering the card he and Joe Silva have put together, I would have to say yes.

Anyone who thinks that the UFC card looks better on paper than the Affliction card on paper really need to take another look at things really, really badly. Yes Anderson Silva’s light heavyweight debut is a great attraction, but at the same time, couldn’t they have saved that for the August show in Minnesota? That show already has GSP/Fitch, Lesnar/Herring, and the return of Roger Huerta. Add Silva’s 205-lb. debut to the mix and you have a card that could really rake in the dough for Dana and company even more than it likely will as is. Instead, you’re giving it away on free T.V. with no guarantee that it’s going to do an above average rating for UFC’s Ultimate Fight Night broadcasts and at the same time are giving away a PPV-caliber match when the UFN shows are generally like Pride’s Bushido shows were: younger talent with less or no drawing power (due mainly to age and experience in the sport) given a chance to shine in an event strictly for them.

So what else is on slate for Saturday in UFC Country? Hermes Franca’s first fight in UFC since testing positive for steroids (so much for only Pride guys being on the juice), Jake O’Brien in action (I thought they fired him), Brandon Vera in action, and of course the C.B. Dollaway/Jesse Taylor showdown. This one is my personal favorite because apparently those “few months” Dana told Jesse to take off before he’d give him a call was really a few weeks or few days or maybe even few hours or maybe Dana and company planned the whole thing. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but doesn’t it seem strange that this whole string of events came full circle in such a short time? Any other promotion would’ve likely blackballed a relatively green fighter like Taylor for embarrassing their company like he did (NEVER use your company’s name as a way to get out of a drunken rampage), but instead he gets a few weeks off and is in a high-profile matchup on a now-important UFC card. The reason the word conspiracy even would come up here is because of the two things that sell better than anything in fight sports: controversy and storylines. Ortiz/Shamrock may be the best example of this and EliteXC is trying it with K.J. Noons and Nick Diaz, but think about it: Taylor’s drunken rampage brought more attention to the Ultimate Fighter Finale than it would’ve gotten if Taylor hadn’t done what he did and now he’s facing the guy who took his spot without beating him in the cage; right there both controversy and storylines are being used to create interest in an area of UFC’s product that doesn’t have the most to begin with.

Now to the Affliction card. First off, the main-event already makes this card better on paper than the UFC show because it is a marketable heavyweight fight and also is a fight that will have the entire MMA world’s attention because of the people involved and how the fight came to be. Then you have Barnett/Rizzo II, “Babalu” in action, Rothwell/Arlovski in Arlovski’s first non-UFC fight since 2000, and Matt Lindland’s first fight since the Fedor fight last year. What is there are entertaining fighters with entertaining personalities and the majority of the fighters on the main-card are big names in MMA—a valuable selling point for a promotion’s first show. Also, the undercard(s) have something for fight fans too; the Aleksander Emelianenko/Paul Buentello fight of FSN should be interesting and Nogueira’s brother is even in a preliminary match. Again, anyone who believes UFC’s card is better or believes that Anderson Silva’s light heavyweight debut trumps a whole card needs to take another look at things really, really badly.

What Saturday night means in the grand scheme of things won’t be known until days after when the buyrate and T.V. ratings info for the two shows are released. Of course, with MMA, no one day or show has the power to chance the face or direction of a sport. In reality, the face of something can only be changed in the world of wrestling by one event, in sports it usually takes something like a big, big scandal or a strike to change the face of a sport. With MMA, all Saturday night will show is if another promotion can draw big money both live and on pay-per-view other than UFC as EliteXC hasn’t proven that it can yet, and Strikeforce hasn’t been able to (or really tried) to draw outside of California.

And by the way, if you can’t guess what’s going to be the most DVR’d show on Saturday night, then re-read this article and guess again.

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