Posted 02/20/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 170 Preview

Rashad Evans’ knee injury left two UFC 170 fighters hanging: Daniel Cormier was left without an opponent and Ronda Rousey was left without a strong supporting act.

Evans is a solid, if inconsistent, draw for the UFC. He’s drawn a million buys twice: against Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114, plus big numbers with Lyoto Machida (635,000) and Jon Jones (700,000). He’s also been involved with some duds: 480,000 buys against Chuck Liddell when Liddell had done 475,000 against Keith Jardine a year prior; 300,000 with Thiago Silva three months after Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort pulled 375,000; and most recently at UFC 161, when he partnered with Dan Henderson to pull an astonishing 140,000 buys. That would have set a modern UFC record had a Wanderlei Silva-Rich Franklin rematch not done the same number a year prior.

Evans’ headline track record suggests he’s a solid draw in the right context: atop a stacked card, in an interesting/relevant title fight, or the conclusion of a high-profile rivalry. This fight didn’t have any of that…exactly. It’s not atop a stacked card, but it was a very good main event on a well-constructed pay-per-view event. It wasn’t for the title, though it had heavy implications on the championship picture. It wasn’t a Jackson or Jones blood-feud, but their wrestling pedigrees brought a natural competitiveness. It’s not unreasonable to suggest the UFC could have used this fight as a low-end PPV headliner or a great Fox main event.

With that fight off, and the replacement of replacement fighters stepping in to fight Cormier, Rousey’s drawing power will be put to the test for the first time in her UFC run. Her debut against Carmouche pulled in a solid 450,000, and her fight with Miesha Tate co-mained the first million-buy show since the Lesnar Era. Those results come with the obvious caveats: the Carmouche fight doubled as the historic first female fight in the UFC and the fight that main-evented UFC 168 involved some guy named Anderson Silva rematching the first man to ever knock him out. Rousey will have no such cushion this time around.

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There’s also the issue of Rousey’s opponent. Sara McMann is as worthy of a contender as Rousey’s seen in two years. Rousey is below -500 at the books, which marks the first time in the UFC and only the second time in her career according to Best Fight Odds archives. (She closed at a best-available line of -300 in the first Tate fight.) That’s a semantical point, though: the mean (average) line on Rousey (-473) is the difference of less than 1% on the implied break-even rates on those wagers.

And just who exactly is Sara McMann anyway? According to the official promo trailer, she, along with Rousey, is an Olympic medalist and also undefeated, which is half the same verbiage they use to sell Patrick Cummins. The fight poster features McMann as some bizarre apparition permeating from the side of Rousey’s hoodie, like if Obi-Wan appeared to Return of the Jedi to council Luke, but found himself stuck in the latter’s Jedi cloak.

None of this does anything to differentiate McMann from any of the other women at bantamweight (outside of Tate, anyway, who had history and a reality show on her side). Perhaps the UFC believes Rousey is a selling point all to herself. UFC President Dana White recently went as far as saying that Rousey is the company’s “biggest star [they've] ever had.” That’s a debatable statement given Brock Lesnar’s UFC run (in addition to a handful of other stars in the promotion’s past), and seems incredibly unlikely given the current ticket availability of the event. You might expect the company’s biggest star ever to sell a 12,000-seat venue well in advance of the fight.

We’ll have a better idea of Rousey’s individual drawing power this time next week. She has little support on the undercard and an opponent with almost zero exposure outside the hardcore fanbase. Should Rousey falter – say, a number south of 300,000 – Cris Cyborg becomes somewhat more appealing an opponent, though still highly unlikely given her history with Dana White. Which is unfortunate, because the Cyborg is an easy sell in so many ways: in addition to the horseshit beauty contrast*, she probably stands a better chance at beating Rousey than anyone currently under Zuffa contract.

* – Cris Cyborg is much more attractive than most people are willing to admit, though none of this would even need to be said if the beauty vs. beast storyline wasn’t an abject possibility.

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Cormier and Cummins have a fight to sell and fewer than two weeks to do it, but this spat between them comes off as the worst sort of pro-wrestling nonsense. Cummins bragged about making Cormier cry during Olympic training, which runs against the Wrestler’s Code, and Cormier responded on UFC Tonight (or whatever that UFC weekly show is called) in a remote promo, which is like Junkyard Dog spitting fire on “Iron” Mike Sharpe in advance of their big match on WWF Superstars the following week.

They’ll compete on Saturday, Cormier will handle him as expected, and they’ll shake hands afterwards and “clear the animosity.” Cool.

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Lost in all the hullaballo at the top is a Rory MacDonald-Demian Maia matchup that has quietly become the most interesting fight on the card. Both are coming off split-decision losses: MacDonald’s in an uninspired fight against Robbie Lawler and Maia’s in a close and controversial decision to Jake Shields. A (decisive) loss is a dagger for both. MacDonald further loses ground on fulfilling the hype that followed him into the UFC, while Maia, at 36, can probably kiss any chance at another title fight goodbye.

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