When it comes to matchmaking a Mixed Martial Arts card, there is a specific science and algorithm to keep a card intact, while also doing many other things, like building talent for the future. But, if done incorrectly, it’s akin to receiving that knockout blow you never saw coming.
It’s a lesson experienced matchmakers have often had to learn the hard way. Load up a card with a big main event, yet have no backup plan to protect it. As opposed to having a fighter or two, in the same weight class as the main event on standby, many will simply add two or three fights, in that division, on the same card.
One such case was UFC 154 in Montreal, an epic event that saw Georges St-Pierre unify the welterweight title by defeating interim champion Carlos Condit. But, if a late, unforeseen injury would have taken one of those two gentlemen out of the main event, the backup plan was already in place.
The co-main event was basically a number one contender bout between Johny Hendricks and Martin Kampmann. If St-Pierre or Condit fell out, the UFC could have easily saved the card by sliding either Hendricks or Kampmann in to the main event.
I also covered another event a few years later where this exact scenario took place. And luckily the UFC was able to save the main event.
It was UFC 177 in Sacramento, California, where bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw was set to rematch and defend his title vs. Renan Barao. But on the day of the weigh-ins, Barao fell ill. His replacement was Joe Soto, who was already on the card, ready to fight Anthony Birchak. So to save the show, Soto stepped up, saved the event, and lasted four and a half rounds with the best in the world at the time. He may have lost via KO, but he won big time with the UFC.
Taking a look at this weekend’s Bellator and UFC events, we can see the matchmaker’s doing a fantastic job protecting their respective cards.
Friday night’s Bellator 184 will be headlined by a bantamweight title fight, as champion Eduardo Dantas will take on challenger Darion Caldwell. Also on the card, are bantamweights Joe Taimanglo and Leandro Higo, who are scheduled to compete in the opening bout of the main card.
Now, if something was to happen to one of the fighters in the main event, “no problem” - slide Taimanglo or Higo in there, and keep the show afloat.
The same ‘Plan B’ is available to the UFC on Saturday night, as the UFC 216 will have a title fight in the co-main event: flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson is set to take on Ray Borg, again. The were supposed to meet at UFC 215, but Borg fell ill, and was subsequently removed from the scrap.
This time around, there are two flyweight bouts on the card, with fighters that could step in if the unthinkable should happen again. On the prelims, we have John Moraga vs. Magomed Bibulatov as well as Matt Schnell vs. Marco Beltrán. Not the ideal scenario for the UFC and/or DJ, but a somewhat easy option to protect the bout.
Thankfully, both promotions are doing this to protect their marketing and event investments. In fact, I believe they should always do so, for every single show. If they do not, well, the blame can be put squarely upon their shoulders. But when they do, and it works out, we should all give them their rightful kudos.
Don’t forget, that Sean Ross Sapp and I will have a full recap of Bellator 184 and UFC 216, the moment the UFC’s pay per view has come to an end.