Written by: Daniel Donnelly
As we learned following yesterday’s announcement from Dana White, UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St Pierre (22-2) has been forced to pull out of his UFC 137 title defense against the number one contender, Carlos Condit (27-5) due to a knee injury sustained in training.
GSP’s injury throws up interesting repercussions not only for Condit, but for the UFC itself.
With the fight postponed until “early 2012″, Condit’s camp made the decision that their fighter will wait out UFC 137, despite a last minute offer from Josh Koscheck to take St Pierre’s place. Malki Kawa (Condit’s manager) stated that as the #1 contender, there is no sense in the former WEC champion gambling his title shot and risking injury to himself in an impromptu replacement fight.
Both Condit and Kawa have to be fully aware of the recent drama in the light heavyweight division involving Rashad Evans and his woes with then-champion Shogun Rua. With a title fight booked following Rua’s return from injury, Evans elected to sit out any additional fights while waiting for Shogun to recover. In a cruel twist, by the time the champion healed up, Evans himself went down with an injury and was forced to pull out of the fight. The fight was scrapped completely, and Rashad’s title shot was then handed to Jon “Bones” Jones, who successfully went on to win the belt.
As a result, Evans has spent the majority of the past year on the bench, as well as arguably damaging his credibility as a legit top contender for the belt.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Junior Dos Santos, number one contender for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, chose to remain consistently active after champion Cain Valasquez was injured. Taking fights while waiting for the champion to heal enabled JDS to build additional credibility and legitimacy as a top contender in the eyes of fans.
Condit has chosen the Evans route, but only time will tell if that was the right decision for himself, his career, and his reputation as an active contender.
As for Dana White and UFC officials, they are once again confronted with the biggest challenge with promoting the sport of Mixed Martial Arts: the unpredictability factor.
Cancelled fights, replaced opponents and rearranged main events are never a good thing for UFC, especially now as the company attempts to break into mainstream America once and for all with an upcoming stacked card on the FOX network. Will a regular audience be forgiving of a fight that has been built up and hyped for weeks, only to be scratched or reshuffled a week before showtime?
In sports such as football or baseball, while there are standout big name players that fans love to follow, overall it’s the team itself that draws the interest and sells the tickets. Not too many Cowboys fans would sell their ticket if Tony Romo was unable to play in a particular game. But in UFC, when the marquee fights rest squarely on the shoulders of individuals and not teams, the risk is much higher when that individual is unable to perform. This is a sport where the individual fighters, and the specific match ups with other individual fighters, are the attractions. One guy getting hurt ultimately can change everything.
In a full contact combat-based sport like MMA, such problems are difficult to resolve, and impossible to avoid. In 2011 alone, over ten marquee fights have been cancelled or shuffled due to injury.
With St Pierre no longer a selling point for UFC 137, will Penn vs Diaz be enough to grab those same PPV dollars that fans were preparing to hand over to see the champion in action? What about the fans who have already bought tickets and incurred travel expenses to see “Rush” fight live in front of their eyes? Will they be satisfied with a replacement? Hardcore MMA fans are likely to enjoy a card regardless of “big names”, but it can be a different situation for the larger, and less understanding, mainstream audience.
While seemingly unavoidable, one has to wonder if White and his team are looking at ways to avoid this in the future as they continue to grow their business.
In an ironic twist, this now pushes the BJ Penn vs Nick Diaz into the main event slot of UFC 137. Diaz was previously in the main event as GSP’s original opponent and number one contender for the title, before some bizarre press conference no-shows forced White to revoke Diaz’s title shot and award it to Carlos Condit.
UFC 137 will take place next Saturday night, October 29, at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The night’s main card airs on pay-per-view, with prelims to air free on Spike TV and Facebook. Look for our breakdown of the card next week as well as my predictions for each fight. For up to date information about the event, head over to UFC.com.