UFC 209: Why the prelims are a better slate than the main card.

Ever since the date was announced and then postponed, UFC 209 was a card that many people were interested in. That’s even before a single fight was scheduled for it, due to the number itself. You see, 209 is the area code for the Central Valley in California, which includes a bevy of cities. Amongst those cities? None other than Stockton, which is home to both Nick and Nate Diaz.

Surely, at least one, if not both of the Diaz brothers would be past of the card where the number reflects the area code both men proudly exude on a daily basis, right? Even if not, then it would still be a stacked card!

Well, the card is stacked alright. Even without either Diaz brother, or the fact that it’s not happening in California, or even the fact that the highly anticipated co-main event between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, an interim Lightweight title bout between two of the best Lightweights in the world, got scrapped yesterday afternoon. Even then, this is a great card.

However, this is a weird one. Why? Because in my opinion, the prelim card is better than the main card, for many reasons. Allow me to explain why.

Let’s start off with the four bouts that were originally scheduled for the main card aside from Khabib vs. Ferguson. The main event, an immediate Welterweight title rematch between Stephen Thompson and Tyrone Woodley, is fine. It was a fun fight the first time around, ended in a majority draw, and an immediate rematch makes sense.

The rest of the main card includes Rashad Evans’ Middleweight debut against former Judo Olympian, 4th dan Judo black belt and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Dan Kelly, as well as a great battle of prospects in David Teymur vs. Lando Vannata. Opening the main card is a long-awaited Heavyweight tilt between legendary K1 strikers Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt.

By all means, the main card is fine. The prelims, however, are damn good too. Marcin Tybura vs. Luis Henrique aside, it’s a damn good slate. The two Fight Pass bouts are excellent, with former CES Bantamweight champion Andre Soukhamthath’s battle against Albert Morales being a surefire way to ensure a great start. The final Fight Pass bout between  unbeaten Light Heavyweight submission specialists Tyson Pedro and Paul Craig should be very intriguing, as both men tend to finish fights early via submission, and have never gone the distance. Long story short, both Fight Pass bouts are must-watch for hardcore MMA fans.

As for the televised prelim slate, there’s a lot to care about too. The opening FS1 bout between Mark Godbeer and Daniel Spitz is guaranteed to be a Heavyweight slugfest. Of Godbeer’s 14 career fights, 11 have ended via knockout, while none have gone the distance. The follow-up bout between unbeaten prospect Luke Sanders and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Iuri Alcantara is a timeless tale we here about too often. Sanders is unbeaten and hungry, having not fought since January 2016 due to recovery from surgery. Alcantara has fought 42 times, finished 27 of his 33 wins, but is inconsistent and has lost to prospects before. The result of this fight can be anything, and it’s a fight that mandates live viewing. Then, there’s the co-main of the prelims, in which unbeaten Featherweight prospect Mirsad Bektic faces gatekeeper Darren Elkins, in what will be a litmus test to see whether or not Bektic is ready to face top 10 competition.

All in all, with Khabib vs. Ferguson off the table the first five prelim bouts and the four remaining original main card bouts are pretty even, in terms of entertainment level and fight quality.

So, what makes the prelim card more appealing than the main card? A few factors.

Calvillo vs. Cooper 

Notice how I only mentioned ten of the eleven scheduled fights of the card above. Which one did I not mention until now? Cynthia Calvillo vs. Amanda Cooper. Before I go any further, allow me to say I’m a fan of both these women. They’ve fought a combined seven times professionally, I’ve seen many of their fights, I like them both, and I root for both of them. I figured all of that should be mentioned ahead of time, so that I can keep it real with how I feel about this bout and its placement.

This fight was originally the second of three scheduled Fight Pass bouts. Unlike Soukhamthath vs. Morales and Pedro vs. Craig, both of which should at least be televised bouts, this one clearly should’ve remained on the Fight Pass portion. Both women have potential and can be fun. However, they’ve been in a combined seven professional fights, are very green, and have work a lot of work to do to even be worthy of a televised spot.

Now, they’re on pay-per-view? What does that say about the company today, as well as how they view the main card, that they put  this fight on the main card? The least qualified bout on the card, one which would best be served on an Invicta, regional MMA card, or Fight Pass portion of a UFC card, is now one of the five fights that the UFC expects people to shell over $60 for? That devalues the main card, and makes the prelim portion all the more appealing.

Cost

Going back to my final point above, cost plays a role here. Of course, the Fight Pass portion can be viewed if you have a Fight Pass account, which costs $10 a month if you have a subscription, or is free if you use your free month to view it. Both of tonight’s Fight Pass bouts are worth spending $10 bucks for, if you don’t want to use up your free month for them. Then again, there is a good Invicta card in a few weeks that would also be free if you activated your free month tonight, so maybe it is worth it.

Either way, you get to watch six fights, five of which will be worth watching for sure, either entirely for free, or $10 if you pay for the Fight Pass bouts. Even if you don’t watch the Fight Pass portion, there’s four fights on FS1, three of which should be worth a watch.

Meanwhile, the PPV features a terrific championship main event, and a bout between Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem that is very appealing to open the $60 slate. Between those two fights is a prospect battle that would be best served on free tv, a battle between aging veterans who don’t tend to put on the most fan-friendly bouts, and a women’s bout that I’ve already addressed above.

 

Given the choice, does it make more sense to pay pay $60 for the five fights I addressed on the paragraph above, or to watch the six prelim bouts for either $10 or free? The more one  thinks about it, the more appealing the prelim slate will be than the main card.

 

Bout order

This last point might not be at the same level of the previous two, but it’s worth addressing regardless. Long story short, PPVs are expensive. The UFC is asking people to pay $60 for five fights on PPV. If the UFC expects people to pay that much, then they should at least make the bout order worth it. Of course, the loss of Khabib and Ferguson makes it hard to shell out $60 for five fights. However, it’s not an improbable task to make it a card worth paying for.

The main event would obviously be the championship fight. At the very least, have the co-main event be Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem. Two K-1 legends, both of whom have become legends in MMA, can still put on great fight, partaking in what is, essentially, a dream fight. It’s a bout that can still easily headline any FS1 Fight Night, and the star power/legacies of these two men is polarizing enough to at least be a short-notice PPV co-main. Instead, they’re opening the main card, because the UFC is using the whole Lesnar/UFC 200 fallout to be petty.

The middle fight of Kelly vs. Evans makes sense, since both men have interesting legacies. Rashad Evans is a shell of his former self, but he’s still a future Hall of Famer. He’s a former champion, still is enough of a draw to be on PPV, and is facing an opponent with multiple black belts in a new weight class. There’s enough intrigue to parlay this as a fight that can serve as the middle bout of a PPV.

Now then, we’ve established that with the absence of Khabib vs. Ferguson, the main event would unquestionably stay the same, the new co-main should be Overeem vs. Hunt, and Evans vs. Kelly should be the middle bout. As for the opening PPV bouts, there’s a bevy of choices that could fit. With all of the original seven prelim bouts still intact, and four of them guaranteed to be fun, any two of them could work. Heck, even having Elkins vs. Bektic, a bout that may not be very fun, would work as the second main card bout. Trying to sell a litmus test for a prime prospect in the second main card bout has been a long-standing and easily defensible tactic, and it could work here.

The main card opener could be any of the following: Teymur vs. Vannata, Sanders vs. Alcantara, Soukhamthath vs. Morales, Godbeer vs. Spitz or Paul vs. Craig. Some of them would be best served on the prelims, hell all of them would. However, since there would need to be an emergency move-up to the main card, any of these could suffice on short notice.

 

Instead, Calvillo vs. Cooper is on the main card, Overeem vs. Hunt is still the opener, the other prelim bouts are still the same, and Vannata vs. Teymur is the co-main event of a PPV where the card is still loaded.

That said, Vannata vs. Teymur is a great fight between prospects who are a combined 14-2, with  most of their fights ending via finish. It’s fine as a PPV prelim bout, or even a main card bout on FOX or an FS1 Fight Night. As a co-main for a FOX or FS1 card, it would be questionable at best. As a co-main for PPV though? As a PPV co-main event, it’s a cheap, nonsensical cop out by the UFC that devalues the PPV.

It’s a fight that would serve as a great addition to the prelims of a PPV card or any main card of a free card, but should not be a bout slated for a section that the UFC is asking $60 for. Maybe this sort of tactic would work 5-10 years ago, when PPVs regularly had a prospect bout here and there on the PPV portion. To do that in a day and age where PPVs cost $60, and there are more tv cards than ever before though? That’s blasphemous. Add in Calvillo vs. Cooper, which is essentially a regional or Invicta MMA bout disguised as a Fight Pass bout, but is now scheduled to be on the PPV portion, and you have a card that’s not worth paying $60 for.

With everything being said, UFC 209 is a card with a lot of fun, great bouts. Sadly, all of the company’s actions since the cancellation of Khabib vs. Ferguson have been disheartening. From the way they handled the case with Ferguson, to their way of addressing the situation with Khabib, to how they’ve made the main card feel cheapened and not worthy of a $60 tag, despite the card as a whole being worth a watch. There’s a lot that can be said about the card-some good, some bad. However, at this point, it seems pretty clear that at this point, the prelims outweight the main card, based on the reasons listed above, as well as many others. Let’s hope that future cards, whether they are Fight Pass cards, FS1 Fight Nights, FOX cards or PPVs are not handled as poorly as UFC 209 has been.

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