Ending the UFC “Drought”: Bader vs. St. Preux Perfect for Fox Sports 1 Eric Reinert August 12, 2014 Spotlight There was a time not so long ago when the UFC only put on about a dozen shows per year. For hardcore MMA fans of the time, each of these shows carried with it not only the excitement of the individual fights planned for the event, but also the anticipation of another fresh UFC card after a month or so with nothing to satisfy their appetite for caged combat. Times have changed, of course, and in 2014 we’re seeing the UFC on track to put on more than 40 events this year alone. These days, it’s common to have a live UFC show available to watch nearly every week, if not more frequently. On two occasions already this year we’ve seen single days that feature multiple UFC events, with two more double-headers planned for Aug. 23 and Oct. 4. With this glut of UFC programming now commonplace, a break of just a few weeks can seem like an eternity. This is the situation in which many MMA fans presently find themselves, with the most recent UFC card having taken place nearly three weeks ago on July 26th (and the cancellation of UFC 176, originally scheduled for Aug. 2). Personally, I cheered up a bit when I looked at my week’s calendar to discover, at long last, another UFC event coming up this Saturday. And sure, maybe Bader vs. St. Preux isn’t exactly a blockbuster main event, but looking at this card a little more closely reveals that it’s just perfect for Fox Sports 1. A few weeks back, I wrote what was probably way too long of a column criticizing the UFC for siphoning too many pay-per-view-quality fights for its many free cards. The unfortunate result was a drop in perceived pay-per-view quality and consequent drop in actual pay-per-view purchases (as well as the cancellation of the aforementioned UFC 176 after the main event was scrapped due to injury). Among my other proposals in that piece was a call for the UFC to make their free events markedly different than their pay-per-view events. Since fans pay nothing for the free shows and $50-60 for the pay-per-view cards, I reasoned, there should be a discernible difference in what the two varieties of UFC events look like. Pay-per-view events, I said, should feature at least two fights that fans are willing to spend extra to see. These sorts of fights would include title contests, elimination bouts to determine a division’s top contender or matches wherein one or both participants is especially well known. Free events have a bit more latitude, I argued, and should contain at least a semi-marketable headlining fight followed by a main card primarily meant to determine fighters’ places in their divisions (or whether they belong in the UFC at all). The UFC’s upcoming pay-per-view cards are, to the company’s credit, pretty darn attractive, with UFC 177 featuring two title fights and UFC 178’s stacked main card culminating with what is probably the most anticipated MMA fight of the year—the light heavyweight title bout between champion Jon Jones and challenger Daniel Cormier. We’ll see what the company’s premium events look like after that, but it seems like the UFC is at least making some effort to revive its pay-per-view product, rather than placing a single attractive fight at the top of a card, filling the rest out with whoever is available and crossing its proverbial fingers. In addition, though, the UFC should use this Saturday’s card as a model for future Fox Sports 1 events, since UFC Fight Night Bader vs. St. Preux reflects an ideal lineup for a free show on cable TV. At the top of the card is Ryan Bader vs. Ovince St. Preux, which might just be a perfect headliner for this event. For me, Ryan Bader and 205-pound champion Jon Jones will always be linked due to the close proximity of their UFC emergence. Both fighters began their UFC careers in 2008 and quickly proved they were two prospects with potentially very bright futures. Bader rattled off four straight wins before he would be paired with Jones at UFC 126 to determine which of them would advance to the next level at his weight class. Of course, Jones cinched up a choke and coaxed the tap from Bader in their fight’s second round, then went on to capture the light heavyweight title the very next month, a title he still holds more than three years later. Bader, meanwhile, has had mixed results in his post-Jones career. His 5-3 record does include losses to Tito Ortiz, Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira, but Bader has recently rebounded with two straight wins preceding his showdown with St. Preux. No doubt the most impressive thing about OSP is his recent record. St. Preux is thus far undefeated in the UFC since making his Octagon debut in 2013, with his last three wins coming by stoppage. Looking back a little further reveals that the Floridian is an astounding 13-1 since 2010, with the lone loss coming to the ultra-talented Gegard Mousasi. Needless to say, OSP could really give Bader some trouble on Saturday. I’ll leave predicting the fight’s outcome to my counterparts here at The MMA Corner, but on paper this is a wonderful main event for a Fox Sports 1 card. Both Bader and St. Preux are ranked in the top ten among the UFC’s light heavyweights and both have put together multiple consecutive wins. Bader is attempting to remain relevant at 205, and a win over OSP could secure him one last fight with possible title-picture implications. St. Preux, meanwhile, wants to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that his success in the UFC has been no fluke, and a win over someone like Ryan Bader will certainly increase his reputation as a dangerous fighter. Are these two the most marketable names in the UFC? Hardly. Since Saturday’s card is a free one, though, all that really matters is that the headlining fight carries with it some sense of importance. A battle between two athletic light heavyweights in the UFC top ten satisfies that requirement nicely. Below the Bader/St. Preux fight on Saturday’s six-fight main card, though, fans can also find other fights that are definitely worth a watch despite lacking immediate title-picture implications. The co-main event of UFN 47 is a lightweight showdown between Gray Maynard and Ross Pearson that, given the participants’ respective fighting histories, could sneak up on viewers as Saturday’s best fight. Maynard blazed an unbeaten trail through the 155 pound division, including wins over Frank Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and Kenny Florian earlier in his career. His pair of subsequent title fights with Edgar are two of the more memorable championship affairs in UFC history, despite Maynard escaping neither with the lightweight belt. Since then, Maynard has gone just 1-2, and was uncharacteristically thrashed in his last two fights by Nate Diaz and T.J. Grant, respectively. Pearson is another UFC fighter looking to right the ship after a split-decision loss to Diego Sanchez in June. Pearson has put together an impressive 7-3 record in the UFC (with one No Contest as well), but never has been able to break through to the upper echelon of the lightweight division. A win over Maynard would do precisely that, given Maynard’s previous standing as an elite member of the 155-pound class, where a win for Maynard could do its part to at least somewhat re-ignite any remaining title prospects that might still exist in the latter stages of his professional career. Beyond the top two fights on Saturday’s card are four other pretty decent contests. We’ve got a middleweight bout between Tim Boetsch, who has as many impressive recent wins (Yushin Okami, Hector Lombard, C.B. Dollaway) as disappointing defeats (Costa Phillippou, Mark Muñoz, Luke Rockhold) since 2012, and Brad Tavares, who strung together five straight UFC wins before dropping his last fight to Yoel Romero in April. Both of these 185ers have had just enough success to warrant featured placement on a Fox Sports 1 main card, but not quite enough to be considered true contenders. Boetch, at 33, has to know that his fighting prime is likely behind him but will still battle to remain relevant in the division in front of what should be a friendly crowd for the Maine native. Tavares, meanwhile, will seek to validate his 7-2 UFC record with a win over someone who was recently considered one of the division’s notable fighters. Will the winner automatically be considered a title challenger? Definitely not, but this fight’s loser will almost certainly take a tumble in the rankings. Sometimes negative motivation works best. Not a bad trio of fights on free TV right there, and that’s only half of the main card. We’ll also see UFC veteran Seth Baczynski try to return to the winning ways of his earlier career after going just 1-3 in his last four fights. He’ll take on the debuting Alan Jouban, owner of a 9-2 pro record that includes six wins by knockout or TKO. Thiago Tavares will fight in the UFC for the 15th time on Saturday when he takes on Robbie Peralta. Both lightweights were successful in their previous Octagon outings, and this one looks to be your classic striker vs. grappler match-up, with Peralta holding 13 wins by knockout or TKO to Tavares’s 12 submission victories. Should be a good clash of styles. And finally, who doesn’t like a good heavyweight slugfest? Shawn Jordan and Jack May own a combined 22 professional MMA wins, and 17 of them have come by knockout or TKO. Both fighters will look to rebound from recent knockout losses, and by all indications this one probably won’t go past the first round. Even if the fights preceding this heavyweight match don’t live up to their potential, Jordan vs. May should bring the crowd right back in, regardless of who wins. In the last week or so, the attention of most MMA fans has been correctly trained on the ongoing conflict between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier and the very attractive UFC 178 card overall, but let’s not forget that there are seven (yes, seven) of the company’s cards between now and Sept. 27. Three of these cards will be shown for free on Fox Sports 1, and each seems to smartly follow the format I suggested in my last long-winded column about this topic. That is, a decently marketable main-event followed by a list of fights that either hold some measure of importance for the fighters involved or just plain have the potential for excitement, without sacrificing a potential pay-per-view contest for the cause. This Saturday’s UFC Fight Night: Bader vs. St. Preux is just one example, and after three weeks with no UFC fights I can’t wait to watch.