The upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship 126 falls on Super Bowl eve, and with a large number of fans in Las Vegas for the big Steelers vs. Packers game, the demand is through the roof, causing the price of UFC 126 tickets to skyrocket. The average price of a ticket at Mandalay Bay is $577, well over twice the amount of recent UFC events. The fight card for this event is stacked with some of the best talent in Mixed Martial Arts and has potential to be remembered as one of the top UFC events in 2011.
Anderson Silva is often considered the best pound-for-pound fighter; Vitor Belfort has incredible knock out power; Griffin and Franklin are both former champions and each fighter has a huge fan base; Jon Jones and Ryan Bader are both highly praised young prospects in the light heavyweight division. There is no question that this highly demanded event will set a record for UFC tickets, further driving demand for future events around the country.
The problem with Vitor Belfort is that his allure draws from his past, from nostalgia. He needs to finally turn the corner here and write the final chapters of what could still be a hall-of-fame career. His moniker as 'the Phenom' has endeared him to diehards who remember his record-breaking finishes, but his current streak of knockout wins (3) is bringing in a legion of new followers. Although Belfort has historically folded in the past whenever nearing the pinnacle of the sport, a victory over one of MMA's best in Silva could establish him with fans for years to come.
That being said, there are concerns. Belfort hasn't competed in almost 17 months and ring rust will undoubtedly be an issue. I also worry about him being able maintain a competitive pace in the championship rounds after moving down 20 pounds to the middleweight division. Belfort reportedly had a difficult time even making the 195 pound catchweight fight with Rich Franklin at UFC 103. Hopefully his recent work with weight cutting guru and nutritionist Mike Dolce can help quell those concerns.
After an embarrassing display at UFC 112 against Demian Maia, fans turned on Silva in droves. Silva has never sold well to begin with -- bringing in well below the average pay per view buys of other UFC events -- but his fight with Maia brought his lack of selling power to a forefront. He is easily the most despised current UFC champion, which may actually help improve his numbers. Many MMA fans will order this fight just hoping to witness Silva being dethroned firsthand. Not exactly a viable long term marketing strategy for the UFC, but it's something.
Silva also suffers from a weight class devoid of star power. Anyone who can manage it has avoided or left the division, most notably former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin. After two devastating finishes at the hands of Silva, 'Ace' packed it on and headed north to join the light heavyweight ranks. Talent doesn't always translate into profits, so the UFC needs to find Silva more notable opponents. Forrest Griffin may have only lasted a few moments against Silva back at UFC 101, but he also managed to contribute towards 850,000 pay per view buys.
It's no secret who the UFC brass will be cheering for on Saturday night. With the potential of a 'Silva vs. St. Pierre' superfight looming over Dana White's head, the UFC can't afford to lose the luster and selling power that matchup assures.
The rest of this card is stacked from top to bottom. It can't be said the UFC isn't doing the best it can to help Silva. UFC 126 is being bolstered primarily by two huge matchups. Fan favorites and former UFC champions Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin will jockey for position in a crowded light heavyweight division while undefeated phenoms Jon Jones and Ryan Bader edge towards the No. 1 contender position. These signature fights are exactly what the UFC needs pull in the PPV buys.
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