After what could be described as a relatively unspectacular first half of 2014 for the UFC, business is about to pick up in a major way. It all begins this weekend as part of International Fight Week in Las Vegas. The promotion is doing multiple shows with UFC 175 and the TUF 19 Finale.
With speculation that the recent UFC 174 event in Vancouver may have had a buy rate of less than 100,000, it appears fans are sending a pretty clear message these days. They’re not willing to fork out $50-60 dollars for an average PPV event that’s lacking in star power.
This weekend’s UFC 175 offering should raise the bar substantially with the highly anticipated middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida and the return of women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, who defends her belt against Alexis Davis.
The event would have been even more enticing if not for the entire Wanderlei Silva–Chael Sonnen–Vitor Belfort mess. All three were pulled from the card after Silva refused a random drug test, Sonnen failed his, and a late replacement couldn’t be found for Belfort.
The B.J. Penn–Frankie Edgar trilogy bout this coming weekend at the TUF 19 finale shapes up as an intriguing featherweight matchup. All eyes will be on “The Prodigy” as he makes his 145-pound debut in the hopes of avenging two prior lightweight title fight losses to “The Answer.” The two served as head coaches on the latest season of the reality show.
There are a number of other exciting PPV main event matchups already in place for the second half of this year, including title rematches at UFC 176 between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes and a potential Fight of the Year at UFC 178 between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Their first encounter at UFC 165 was one of the best light heavyweight title affairs in Octagon history. Newly minted bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw will make his first title defense later in the year and a rematch against former champion Renan Barao is a strong possibility. Dillashaw’s victory over Barao at UFC 173 has been the Upset for the Year so far and “The Viper” is the current front-runner for Fighter of the Year.
Other highlights will include the return of heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and the expected return in the fall of new welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Velasquez will face Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City at UFC 180, while “Bigg Rigg” is likely to face the winner of the Robbie Lawler–Matt Brown battle at an event that’s still to be determined. Hendricks defeated Lawler to win the vacant 170-pound title at UFC 171 in what is the front-runner for Fight of the Year.
The injury bug has been a major storyline in 2014 with Velasquez and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis sidelined for lengthy periods and unable to defend their belts. Velasquez hasn’t fought since his win over Junior dos Santos at UFC 166. When “Showtime” finally defends his title against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 182, it will have been 16 months since he first won the belt at UFC 164 from Benson Henderson. A Pettis knee injury and the promotion’s decision to have him coach opposite “El Nino” on TUF Season 20 are to blame.
There’s no denying that the promotion has also been hit hard by the absence of superstars Georges St.Pierre and Anderson Silva. Both are likely to return in 2015, which would be a major boost to lagging PPV sales.
While there have been some highly entertaining fights so far this year, 2014 has for the most part proven tough sledding for the organization. The PPV numbers don’t lie and unfortunately, a number of those events have underwhelmed when it comes to entertainment value. Hopefully, things start to turn around in the second half of the year when Weidman and Machida square off this coming weekend and Rousey makes her return against Davis.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports.