I think the UFC is struggling to put together main events. The reality is that there are not many guys who in an of themselves can carry a card. A main event calibur fighter does not necessarily mean that they are the best fighter, but it does mean that they are a viewer draw. For example, I do not think Tito Ortiz is by any means a top 5 light heavyweight right now, but he is a fan draw. On the other hand there are guys like Yushin Okami who are top 10 in the world, but are barely enough draw to make the main card.
There are 6 things that go into making a fighter main event worthy…
1. Fighter’s Skill/Ability – We like watching B.J. Penn, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Peirre because of their skills.
2. Title or Divisonal Implications – A title fight is always a big draw. If the bout is not a title fight a main event needs to have title implications such as a number one contender match-up. There are the rare exceptions (Nogueira vs. Couture).
3. Personality/Marketability – Charisma has a huge impact of whether someone is a main eventer. The reality is some fighters are just not very marketable and it hurts their careers and their wallets. Promoters market personalities as much as they do skill. It maybe should not be that way, but it is. Guys like Forrest Griffin have come a long way on charisma and personality.
4. Polarizing Figure – I don’t like this, but it is true. Fans will tune it to watch guys we love to hate. There are some fighters who have as many people who hate them as love them. Guys like Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Kimbo Slice, and Matt Hughes are polarizing and they draw viewers. The moral of the story is that if people hate you they will watch you.
5. Exciting Fighters – It is no secret that fans would rather watch two guys sluf it out than two people clinch the whole time. Some fighter’s style make them main event calibur guys. Wanderlei Silv is the best example. He has struggled in his last 5-6 fights, but fans still love him because he brings it and is always exciting.
6. Name Recognition – Some people can stay main eventers based on their name and what they have done in their past. Guys like Cro Cop can still draw fans because he is a legend. I personally love the legendary match-ups and these type match-ups can headline a card (i.e. Couture vs. Nogueira or Matt Hughes vs. Renzo/Royce Gracie). Right or wrong names like Kimbo Slice and Brock Lesnar draw viewers based on name recognition and a promoter would be dumb not to tap into that.
7. A Storyline – A comeback/return fight is exciting. Tito Ortiz returning from surgery will draw viewers. Randy Couture coming out of retirement to face Tim Sylvia drew fans. Rivals Matt Hughes and Matt Serra finally squaring off draws fans. The promoters job is to build a storyline or a way viewers can relate so they want to watch. Rags to riches stories and the like draw viewers. This is the purpose of the coutndown show. Some fights hoiwever are harder to market.
The Guys who can carry a card and always be a draw…
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Georges St. Pierre
The Guys Who With the Right Match-Up Can Be A Main Eventer or Solid Co-Main Event Regardless…
Mirko Cro Cop
Junior Dos Santos
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Fight Night Main Eventers
A few conclusions can be drawn from this…
1. Talent and ranking does not necessarily make one a main event calibur fighter
2. The Heavier weight classes are more of a draw even if the lighter weight classes put on equally as exciting fights
3. There are some match-ups which fans have no interest in seeing, therefore match making is a key
4. Exciting fighters get higher billing (i.e. Wanderlei Silva)
5. With all this said finding a main event is not an exact science. Two guys could fit all the above categories and the fight would still not be compelling. I think that is what we see in the upcoming Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz fight as well as the Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva fight.