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UFC Newark: Is the Shallow Card a Victim of Circumstance, or Indicative of a Larger Problem?

“UFC on ESPN 5 takes place in Newark on Saturday afternoon. The card is headlined by a potential welterweight title eliminator between former interim champion, 2nd-ranked Colby Covington and former undisputed champ, 11th-ranked Robbie Lawler. The co-main event features two longtime UFC lightweight staples, Jim Miller and Clay Guida. And the featured bout on the card is a…lightweight bout between well…uhh…well-known lightweights Nasrat Haqparast and…Joaquim Silva. Okay…what now? This is on ESPN, correct? *checks guide* Okay, yeah ESPN this weekend. Huh? What else is on the card? Middleweights Trevin Giles and Gerald Meerschaert. Okay decent fight, I guess I can see why that’s on the main card. Scott Holtzman and Dong Hyun Ma…this is in Jersey, I thought, not Korea. And the card opens up with Darko Stosic and Kennedy Nzechukwu. Awesome, I know about those guys two exciting light heavyweight prospects both…coming off of a loss. Well what about the prelims, they’ve gotta have some good fights on the undercard, right? Ah, yes, look here. Mickey Gall is fighting…Salim Touahri. Hmmm. What else, oh ranked flyweights, Jordan Espinosa and Matt Schnell, that should be decent, as well as Lauren Murphy and Mara Romero Borella. Two somewhat big fights at men’s and women’s flyweight, I guess. Again, I ask, this is on ESPN?”

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Aug 2, 2019 at 7:30am PDT

That little hypothetical scenario I so graciously recited above is an internal monologue that a great many UFC fans are probably having about this weekend’s card. Now, I’m about as hardcore an MMA fan there is, so I’ll watch no matter what, but even for someone like me looking at this card, there honestly isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. The main event is fantastic, and the co-main event is between two recognizable faces of UFC lore. And then, the card dips, and dips hard. Nasrat Haqparast and Joaquim Silva is a great fight stylistically and should be a lot of fun. But is it worthy of being the featured bout on the card? Even for my money, that’s a bit high. And this isn’t the only fight like that. I’d even go as far as to say Saturday’s co-main event, in 2019, is worthy of a PPV featured prelim, at best, and that would just be based off of name value alone, not recent performances.

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Aug 2, 2019 at 8:45am PDT

Cards like this one and UFC 240 last weekend have reignited the long-had conversation that is seemingly never ending among MMA and, more specifically, UFC fans. The issue of oversaturation, the question being, “does the UFC put on too many events, so much so that it really depleted the product?” Now, I’ve always been on the side of the UFC putting on 40 or more events per-year, being a friendly neighborhood cage fighting-loving savage who gets goosebumps for every UFC event, pay-per-view or otherwise. But when cards like this, that are this shallow even make me start asking that question, then Houston, or should I say Newark, we have a problem.

UFC Newark is the second card in as many weeks to feature a great main event, an intriguing co-main event, and…a lot of other fights on the undercard that as a whole have little to no impact on the future whatsoever. While many people will say this is how most UFC cards have become in recent memory, there are few instances where they are as egregious as this Newark card. European cards tend to feature some lesser known names, but they’re practically always on ESPN+, or used to be on UFC Fight Pass. With this upcoming card on ESPN, it seems like a grave oversight on the part of the UFC to not at least try to build this into a cable-worthy card. UFC San Antonio a couple of weeks ago was the last ESPN card prior to this one, and while it wasn’t exactly the most exciting event in terms of finishes, the card carried many high profile fighters in high stakes, rank-impacting bouts, which is what to be expected of a card taking place on a channel which the vast majority of sports (not just MMA, sports) fans have on a Saturday afternoon despite whatever may actually be on, whether they’re a fan or not.

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jul 20, 2019 at 9:31pm PDT

Which now brings us to the question asked above, does the UFC oversaturate and put on too many events? Events like this certainly contribute to the argument that they do. It is worth keeping in mind that the planned co-main event was supposed to be a top 10 light heavyweight matchup between Volkan Oezdemir and Ilir Latifi, but it got moved to UFC Uruguay next week due to Latifi having issues obtaining a US work visa. But even then, with that fight still on this card, how anticipated would this card still be? So, there would’ve been three compelling fights as opposed to one, maybe two like there are now.

The alternate argument, at least for this card, is that it was the victim of circumstance. Between losing the Latifi fight and having to be sandwiched directly in between another ESPN event and a pay-per-view in the two events prior, and a title fight-headlined fight night and a pay-per-view in the two events afterward, and all of a sudden, it’s easy to see that maybe the UFC just put this one in the back seat, and worried more about what was coming before and afterward while this one was just tossed aside.

It’s understandable given the current structure of the UFC that they need plenty of events to feed all the mouths on the roster. The UFC needs these events to satisfy all 600 or more fighters that currently call themselves UFC fighters, but even then, there has to be a way to avoid instances like the one we face on Saturday night. The promotion is scheduled to have 42 total events this year, maybe a drop to 38 or 36 would alleviate this, take a week off every month, try to build a bit of anticipation for the next event, etc. Many people think the UFC should drop to less than 20 events and just have 6 awesome pay-per-views over the course of a year. Plain and simple, that’s an unrealistic wish or thought. But perhaps a narrowing of the number of events, or perhaps shortening the number of fights on any given card. Maybe max out at 12 for a pay-per-view and 10 for a fight night. These are just ideas.

I love this sport, and I’ll always watch, but most people aren’t like me. The least the UFC can do is make it easier for the hardcore fan base, and give these cards just a little bit more luster.

It’s hard to build a strong fan base when you take the ones you already have for granted.

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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