WEC 51 viewing figures are a disgrace, not a triumph

As you may have read WEC 51 boasted improved viewing figures with viewership increased by 54% from the record low 316,000 that watched WEC 50. But the fact that 486,000 watched one of the best MMA shows in recent months is not a cause for celebration but for consternation.

WEC 51 was a stacked show, with a world title fight between a legitimate P4P contender and a former TUF finalist as the main event by no means the only selling point. In addition to Manny Gamburyan’s doomed challenge against Jose Aldo, WEC 51 also featured former longtime World Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres’ comeback fight, and fresh off their FOTY contender at WEC 48 the return of the Leonard Garcia and Chung Sung Yung. Along with the lightweight grudge fight between Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner it made for the best Zuffa event of September, with world class fighters performing at the top of their divisions in high stakes matches.

And yet only 486,000 people watched it. That’s less than watched a mediocre Fight Night on September 15th headlined by Nate Marquardt and Rousimar Palhares, that’s less than half the number that watched the UFC 119 pre-lims and is barely more than those who paid to watch Frank Mir and Mirko Cro Cop stink up the joint in Indiana. Not a single one of the fights on either UFC event was fought at the pace of Gracia vs. Mark Hominick. Not one of the fights had a knockout as stunning as the headkick from George Roop that felled the Korean Zombie. And not one of those fights showcased a fighter as brilliant and dominant as Jose Aldo.

Its one thing to hide in obscruity inferior events, but for Zuffa to deliberately sell its best event of the month short is not only inexplicable but also inexcusable.

The reason why so few people watched WEC 51 or any of the other high quality fights that have been contested in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions is because they are very clearly told to treat the most exciting, dynamic divisions in all of mixed martial arts as inferior to the heavier weight classes. Other than a few isolated exceptions, they are denied the chance to appear in the videogames, on the big arena shows, on Spike TV or on pay per view. Not only does such exclusion deny them the chance to win over casual fans and earn paydays on a par with their UFC colleagues, its also completely self defeating for the UFC as a whole. As I explained last year:

The UFC would also benefit from having two additional world championships to showcase on its shows – as the past few months have shown the days of the UFC being able to rely on its five champions fighting three times a year are over. With the stakes always getting higher, champions are less willing to rush into championship fights with injuries or without the time to properly prepare. In 2009 there have been only nine title fights across the five weight classes and there have been five major UFC PPVs that have had a non-championship main event. Those five PPVs were all met with apathy by a fanbase conditioned to expect a championship fight to headline all important shows. As the pressures on their schedule intensify the UFC could really use an extra four or five title fights to headline its pay per views. The successful reintroduction of a lightweight championship in the UFC shows how quickly a weight class can be established in the UFC and its championship accepted as legitimate by the fans.

And just as former welterweight contender such as BJ Penn moved down to lightweight when the two weight classes were put on a level playing field integrating the featherweight and bantamweight weight-classes into the UFC would encourage smaller lightweight fights to move down to their natural weight. An obvious candidate to move down would be Clay Guida, a popular fighter who despite his wrestling ability struggles to control larger opponents on the ground.

Can anyone deny that the UFC would have had done better business on pay per view September if it had been able to present a UFC 119 headlined by a World Featherweight Match between Jose Aldo and Clay Guida with Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop and a Miguel Torres comeback fight in support? Or that Ultimate Fight Night 22 wouldn’t have done a better rating than 0.9 (a record low) if they had been able to promote the return of the two fighters who contested the consensus Fight of the Year in April?

Zuffa’s treatment of those fighters below 155Ibs is an absolute disgrace. The featherweights and bantamweights have performed brilliantly on WEC shows but both divisions will only continue to grow in profile and improve in quality if their fighters are allowed to appear on the grandest stage of them all – the UFC. Until that happens, we are going to see more the pathetic attempts to pretend that 150,000 purchasing a Zuffa pay per view or 486,000 watching one of their live television events is somehow a triumph.

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