Michael Bisping, Thales Leites, Joanna Calderwood and the rest of the gang at yesterday’s UFC Fight Night: “Bisping vs. Leites” did a fantastic job thrilling us, but let’s not pretend for even a second that what they did in the cage matters. Sure, they fought hard and impressed, and some of them even brought home wins. It wasn’t a big UFC pay-per-view, though. It was just a Fight Night, a throwaway event that could’ve aired on FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, Fight Pass or on the UFC’s Periscope account. In the grand scheme of things, it was just one level up from an exhibition bout on TUF. But that’s fine, and it’s great that the Bispings, Leites and Calderwoods of the world have a platform that will maximize their ability and potential as stars and earners. We live in a three-UFC world, and they – and so many others like them who’ll never break into the uppermost reaches of the sport – have managed to thrive in it.
If you’ll recall, the folks at the UFC have divided up their content into three tiers. At the top of this pyramid structure is the premium stuff – the pay-per-views and events on FOX proper. The middle tier consists of the Fight Nights. Meanwhile, at the bottom are the TUFs. Because industry- and company growth lay in international expansion, the UFC long ago began seeding markets with TUFs. When those seeds grew sufficiently into viable revenue vegetation, those markets were watered with Fight Nights. The markets that blossomed into flowers could then host pay-per-views. That’s the business, folks. That’s how it’s broken down and seen by the Powers That Be, and that’s how the money is made.
Those three levels of UFC product are what’s keeping most fighters in dough.
Take Calderwood for example. She crapped out of TUF 20, but the fact that her division is new and shallow and anemic on talent the audience can connect with has meant she’s been able to keep her job. It also means that when the UFC comes to a market where she’s got fans – like her native Scotland – she will be fed a can that will highlight her strengths. Calderwood will never be good enough to beat champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk, nor will she likely ever get past Rose Namajunas or Carla Esparza or the rest of the elite of the UFC’s strawweight division. But none of the thousands of screaming fans in Glasgow gave a single crap about that yesterday when she slugged it out with Cortney Casey, a nobody who was brought in simply to throw down (as opposed to win). Calderwood was there to thrill. Which she did.
Bisping will never, ever get a whiff of a championship title fight. He’s proven that. Neither will Leites. Or Ilir Latifi. Or many of the others on yesterday’s Fight Night card. A good portion of them will be lucky if they ever get put on a pay-per-view. However, at the end of the day that’s irrelevant.
In this three-UFC world we live in, there’s plenty of room for the mediocre and second-best to be stars in their own way.