Brett Okamoto has reported that flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo will be defending his new belt against none other than Cody Garbrandt at UFC 255 on November 21st. It will be a double flyweight title card, as the women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will also be defending her belt against… someone.
Much talk has been made about the merits of Garbrandt getting a title shot after going 1-3 in his last four fights and having never even fought at 125lbs. I myself am of the view that it does not matter at all what we may think about the merits of this matchup. It does not matter that Cody, before his highlight reel knockout of Raphael Assuncao, was on a three-fight losing skid.
The fight business is, and always has been, sports entertainment; not just sport. Whatever flaws the UFC has as a company, they are incredibly smart in understanding this dynamic and knowing how to make fights happen that appeal to both hard core and casual fans.
Sport, in principle, is about the best facing the best. But in sports entertainment, there are other considerations alongside this. And to make sports entertainment work, you need to bring in the casuals. Casuals bring in the PPV revenue; more so than the Affliction t-shirt wearing hard core fans.
This is an ecosystem that exists, and we have to recognize it. Hard cores are the ones watching the Fight Night cards and are keeping their interest in the sport year-round. This is an important part of the MMA economy, because we’re the ones watching the less prominent cards, we’re the ones subscribing to Fight Pass or DAZN, we are reading the MMA news websites and generating ad revenue for them. This is all important.
PPV, however, is the realm where the casuals play a more important role. We are not going to sustain that economy on our own; it’s not possible.
This is something we need to keep in mind any time a match is made with which we find a problem on the basis of merit. Cody Garbrandt has never fought at 125lbs. If he had lost his last fight at 135lbs, many of us would be calling for his retirement. And despite winning that fight, he showed many of the tendencies which got him into that three-fight losing skid in the first place.
But here is the question that matters: Does Figueiredo vs. Moreno or Figueiredo vs. Askarov sound like something that can be a viable PPV main event or co-main event? We have to be honest: no. Those fights do not move the needle.
Garbrandt is one of the few fighters in the smaller weight divisions with a sizable fanbase. A lot of people like him and like to watch him fight. Thus, the UFC has now set up what will be a win-win scenario. If Garbrandt wins, then one of their few needle-moving smaller fighters becomes the belt-holder. And if he loses, that can give Figueiredo a huge marketing push, especially if he puts up a performance anywhere close to the caliber of his performance against Benavidez.