Posted 01/22/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC on Fox 10 Preview

Saturday marks the UFC’s third straight trip to Chicago in January for a Fox show, and, whoa, this is starting to become a very strange tradition. Chicago. In January. At the United Center. Where the Bulls and Blackhawks play. In January. When it’s cold and snowy and windy. At the United Center. Which is two miles west of the Loop and kind of a hassle to get to. Especially in January when it’s cold and snowy and…

So, you get the point. The UFC made their first appearance in Chicago in October of 2008, headlined by Anderson Silva and Patrick Cote. It took two years to come back; this time for the first “official”/second actual Fox card with Rashad Evans and Phil Davis main eventing. They repeated last year, the same “last Saturday in January for Fox” date with Demetrious Johnson defending his flyweight title against John Dodson. This year is the threepeat, with Benson Henderson substituting for Anthony Pettis against Josh Thomson, who himself is substituting for T.J. Grant.

Do you notice the trend? Anderson Silva wasn’t the draw he would become in 2008, but he had started blossoming into a dominant middleweight champion with back-to-back-to-back defenses over Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin, and Dan Henderson. Evans (a “local draw”) and Davis was a step down, sans title, but one marquee name and a talented young fighter in a marquee division. Last year brought back a title fight, though a title fight in an iceberg division. There are other variables at play, but the gate numbers reflect this:

UFC 90: 15,359 in attendance for $2,850,000 gate
UFC on Fox 2: 16,963 in attendance for $1,270,960 gate
UFC on Fox 6: 16,091 in attendance for $1,270,000 gate

Anthony Pettis was supposed to defend his lightweight title for the first time against Josh Thomson, but Pettis, shockingly, came down with an injury, and Benson Henderson stepped in. So, you think, you can’t really blame the UFC for this one. But then you remember the UFC originally scheduled Pettis and T.J. Grant for Fox 9 in Sacramento, and you wonder, What was the UFC going to give Chicago?

Dana White’s called Chicago a “great fight town.” I’m not sure that’s true. It used to be a great fight town. It’s still a great pro wrestling town. But if he views in that way – and even if he’s wrong; Chicago is the second largest market where the UFC can legally run a show in the U.S. – why is the UFC shafting us? The UFC (maybe in partnership with Fox) has a clear strategy for these Fox shows: showcase the lighter weight champs and try to pack the undercard with action fights. That ain’t a bad strategy! But why run that show, in consecutive years, in a market that can support a big-time fight?

Because I can tell you – and I hate using this term – there’s no buzz in Chicago for Saturday. I haven’t seen any billboards. I don’t have friends or family asking about the fights. The MMA fans at my gym are all ambivalent about attending. (“I’ll go if I can get in free or cheap.”) StubHub has less than 500 tickets available and the upper level seats are going for $20 over face and so you think, Hey maybe this show is selling well. But then you hop over to Ticketmaster and you see that you can get tickets in every section of the upper deck, half the mezzanine, and 95% of the lower bowl (as of the Wednesday morning before the fight!) It’s only the floor seats that you might need to check the secondary market, as Ticketmaster lists only three individual floor seats available.

I expect a full house on Saturday, at least for the main card. There’s no way the UFC allows that building in this market for this level of an event to fill up halfway. But I’ll be shocked if they match the $1.27M gate number they’ve done the last few years, because holy hell who wants to pay money to trudge through this weather to attend this show?

* * *

Josh Thomson, for the fleetest of moments, somehow found himself in a UFC title fight. Why? Thomson is 2-2 in his last four and 4-3 in his last seven, and yeah I’m cherry picking a bit because you could say, “Well, Michael, he’s 4-2 in his last six! And 12-3 in his last fifteen!” And I’d tell you to fuck off.

You look at those recent wins, though, and you tell me. He beat Pat Healy when Pat Healy was coming off big wins against Bryan Travers, Sidney Silva, and Sal Woods. He decisioned the ghost of J.Z. Cavalcante. He beat K.J. Noons, who is better than his recent 2-5 record would indicate, but not by much. He did finish Nate Diaz, which was great and surprising and surged him up the rankings, but into a title shot? The Diaz and Noons wins are checked with losses to ol’ Gilbert Melendez and Tatsuya Kawajiri.

I know Grant’s injury buttsexed the UFC, but let’s look at the lightweight tiers right now:

Tier I


Tier I/II


Tier II

dos Anjos

Tier III


Pettis, Henderson, and Melendez up top. I don’t think that’s debatable. Either one of Henderson or Melendez should have fought Pettis when Grant pulled out. Grant’s in a special tier because he’s a Tier I fighter on merit (though low Tier I, the Maynard fight doesn’t look as hot in retrospect), but his time off raises some questions. Tier II, though, is mostly a jumbled group of quality fighters who’ve had up and down results. The exception, of course, being Khabib Nurmagomedov, who apparently no one wants to fight. And THIS would have been the perfect fight for Thomson. A win for either guy would have made a great case for their inclusion low in that Tier I group and a title shot.

* * *

That said, Thomson and Henderson should be a fun fight. Henderson is comparable to Melendez; his wrestling is a little better, his striking a little worse, and we’ve seen Thomson in three great fights with Melendez. So, this should be fun, though it’s not a great main event. Co-main. A great co-main event. Or a Fox Sports 1 headliner.

Same thing with Stipe Miocic and Gabriel Gonzaga. This is a fun, smart, relevant heavyweight fight. But it’s not a good co-main event (for a Fox card). And Donald Cerrone vs. Adriano Martins? Darren Elkins? Are we sure Jeremy Stephens doesn’t have any other assault issues in Iowa?

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter

Mike Fagan