If UFC 91 falls short of expectations, blame the undercard
Dana White predicted 1.2 million pay-per-view buys for UFC 91 on Saturday
His claim is simply outrageous given the event's lackluster undercard
Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson vie for a shot at the lightweight crown
UFC President Dana White is calling his shot. But he's not just pointing into the center field bleachers with his expectations for UFC 91. He's pointing to the parking lot.
White is predicting a record-breaker this weekend, estimating that the event headlined by Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar will sell 1.2 million pay-per-view buys. That's more than twice as many as Lesnar helped bring in with his UFC debut in February, which was considered a resounding pay-per-view success. It far outstrips the half-million range that most UFC events of 2008 have fallen into.
In other words, it's an outrageous claim. As with most such claims, it succeeds in getting attention for the man who makes it, but it isn't likely to come true.
White is betting on this fight's crossover appeal among pro wrestling fans, as well as among the existing MMA fans who have been eagerly awaiting Couture's return to action. With the intersecting storylines in this bout -- the ageless, prodigal champion against the flashy, beastly newcomer -- there's reason for optimism.
But the UFC's mistake is in pinning all its hopes on the main event, hoping fans won't notice the lackluster undercard. It's more like something you'd see on a boxing pay-per-view: one big fight, and the rest mostly filler. That's simply not the UFC at its best. It's the opposite of the strategy that got the organization to this point, one of stacking cards with compelling bouts like they've done with December's UFC 92 card.
That's why if UFC 91 doesn't live up to White's expectations (and it almost certainly won't) he can't blame Lesnar and Couture, but rather the mediocre lineup he's backing them with.
Another No. 1 Contender Bout?
The lightweight clash between Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson is the second-best fight at UFC 91, and White says the winner gets a shot at B.J. Penn's 155-pound title. Forgive me for sounding skeptical, but we've heard this before.
Stevenson already had a shot, and he fell very short. There's no reason to think a rematch would go any differently. As for Florian, didn't he establish himself as the No. 1 contender with the win over Roger Huerta? Since then he's been languishing in lightweight purgatory, waiting for Penn to finish his super-fight vision quest and come back to defend the title.
Florian-Stevenson should still be a good one to watch, but the penultimate bout on what's being billed as the year's biggest pay-per-view? Hardly.
Return of "The Rock"
The good news on the UFC 91 undercard is the Nate Quarry-Demian Maia matchup. Maia's submission skills are a thing of beauty, and Quarry always turns in an exciting performance (except for when he's forced to chase Kalib Starnes in circles).
Quarry's never been submitted in his pro career. He's also never gone up against anyone like Maia. Say what you will about "The Rock," but he's smart enough not to willingly go to the mat with the jiu-jitsu phenom the way Jason MacDonald did. So we should at least find out what else Maia has in his toolbox.
And Lastly ...
The two other televised bouts for UFC 91 aren't likely to be on anyone's list of must-sees. Fresh off a comeback win against Justin McCully, Gabriel Gonzaga gets the Octagon-newcomer Josh Hendricks. Hendricks is a big, tough kid who's been helping Couture prepare for Lesnar in recent weeks, but Gonzaga is a tough draw for him this early in his career.
In a bout that was bumped up from the dark portion of the card due to Amir Sadollah's injury withdrawal, loveable nerd Tamdan McCrory takes on Dustin Hazelett. Hazelett's the favorite, but McCrory keeps surprising people despite his geeky appearance. Don't be fooled, fight fans. A tiger lurks inside "The Barn Cat." It's just a question of which feline alter-ego shows up.