I understand that fighting is a money business – combat sport has exploded in modern times, making prize fighting a lucrative industry for all. There are a lot of people who watch PPV boxing cards or UFC main events and quip ‘I’d do that for less than they get paid’ or the likes; a) you wouldn’t and b) you couldn’t.
The paying public often dictates when it comes to match-making in Boxing, MMA and the likes; if the public don’t like the look of the card, they’re likely not going to pay the £19.95 (some American PPVs cost more than $100). Take Matchroom Sport head of boxing Eddie Hearn for example. As the promoter for boxing’s brightest star Anthony Joshua, Hearn needs to make sure that AJ is well-matched in 2018 or he won’t be able to continue selling out national stadiums and clearing 1 million in PPV for his fights; if it isn’t Joseph Parker or Deontay Wilder next, Hearn better have a damn good excuse ready for the public as to why they should fork out for a run-out rather than wait for the mega-fights.
Hearn and AJ aren’t the focus of this post.
Many fans of combat sports follow MMA as well as boxing, with the leading mixed-martial arts promotion being the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Dana White is the head of promotional affairs, and with a now global reach, the UFC promotion takes ‘Fight Night’ around the world, intertwining their mini-cards with their numerically sequenced PPV main events. On the 4th November 2017, the UFC hosted their second PPV card at the world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York City. The headline fight was for the UFC Middleweight World Title – Manchester’s Michael Bisping V George St-Pierre, Canada’s returning superstar after a near 4-year hiatus. GSP won the fight via 3rd round submission – a rear-naked choke – and a battered, title-less Bisping announced in the post-fight press conference that he felt he was coming to the end of his career, with the March date booked in London for a Fight Night card would likely be his last appearance in the UFC.
Fast forward 6 days – 10th November 2017 – and MMA superstar Anderson Silva was pulled from a fight with Kelvin Gastelum after failing an out of competition drugs test. The Silva-Gastelum fight was slated as the main-event for the first ever UFC card to be held in mainland China at the Mercedes-Benz arena on 25th November. At risk of losing their big opportunity to capture the Chinese audience, who could the UFC possibly ask to fight in Shanghai to save the Fight Night card? Surely not the man serving a medical suspension issued by the New York State Athletic Commission?
One day after losing Silva, the UFC announced Bisping as he new main event opponent for Gastelum. One week after being choked out, the Manchester man had another fight lined up. With China not governed by the Association of Boxing Commissions, Bisping’s medical suspension was able to be neglected and Bisping was boking a flight to Shanghai.
Less than three weeks after his 217 showdown with GSP, Bisping walked to the Octagon in Shanghai to fight the TUF17 winner, Gastelum. 2 minutes and 30 seconds after the opening bell, the fight was waved off with Bisping flat-out on the floor thanks to a heavy left hand from the American.
Without taking anything away from Gastelum, or making any predictions about how a healthy Bisping would have fared – what on earth were the UFC thinking letting Bisping sign that contract? There are the obvious medical concerns about the decision to let him fight – there are reasons he medically suspended by NYSAC. Surely there are also business and image implications from allowing Bisping to travel and fight – however much he wanted to himself.
Bisping has made a name for himself for taking all-comers. He would have been forgiven by most had he said no to the Shanghai trip and waited until the new year to bow out in his home country. The image of Bisping will no doubt be tainted – many will have missed the fact he was fighting again so soon – it wasn’t a main card and most would not have even considered fighting again in the same month a possibility – thought the now viral clip of him being laid out by Gastelum will ensure everyone knows what’s been going on. As one of the figureheads of UFC in recent years, and having made it clear he was ‘feeling old’, surely the UFC would have been better to look after their superstar by setting him up for a co-headliner fight against a ‘somebody’ in March to bow-out on. Economically, the UFC would have been able to find a cheaper contender to fill the slot, but also they risk Bisping bowing-out before the UFC reaches London – back-to-back defeats and age may make the Brit think about just working commentary from now on rather than making the octagon walk. How would a UFC event in London go down without Bisping? There are other Brits that may fight such as Darren Till – forget about Conor McGregor turning out – but the whole card was being billed, especially since UFC 217, as Bisping’s retirement party If the UFC have retired him prematurely by being overly keen to fill a lesser card with an injured, non-medically cleared, fighter – they deserve the economic downturn London could turn into.
As alluded to, fighting is a business, and all about making the right moves and being able to promote a card properly. After his defeat at 217, it was tailor-made for the UFC to use London as a swansong – they would hardly have to promote the card themselves, they probably wouldn’t need a decent undercard if it had a few lesser-known Brits on – but shrewd planning and being over-eager, the UFC may have just backed the wrong horse.
Hold tight, James Dawne.