The UFC is gearing up for it’s most hectic fight schedule ever this week with three events scheduled for three consecutive days in Las Vegas and there’s a huge amount at stake for the company with a number of their biggest stars, both present and future, set to compete on the sport’s biggest stage.
The importance of this three day stretch to come cannot be overstated for the UFC, especially since they are just a few weeks removed from witnessing their biggest star, Ronda Rousey’s shock knockout loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193.
The UFC has enjoyed a huge wave of popularity this year, and much of that is down to the unprecedented interest in Rousey as she rose to celebrity status around the world, but it remains to be seen whether the huge numbers she was able to pull for her last couple of fights will remain now that her unbeaten record has been shattered in such destructive fashion.
However, the UFC brass will no doubt have been taking comfort from the fact that another huge star has really broken through this year in the shape of outspoken Irish superstar Conor McGregor.
2015 was the year that he really lived up to the hype, becoming the interim featherweight champion while also proving he’s a major draw, with his TKO victory against Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59 being watched by a record breaking 2.7 million viewers on FOX Sports 1, while his TKO win over Chad Mendes at UFC 189 drew over 800,000 pay-per-view buys.
So, like Rousey, McGregor is another blockbuster star for the UFC, but his hype train could quickly derail on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 194 when he finally has to back up all the trash-talking in a showdown with the man who currently sits on top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings list, featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Coming so soon after Rousey’s loss, a defeat for McGregor – particularly if it’s in such a definitive manner – would be a devastating blow for the company. They have waited for years to finally replace their previous superstar attractions like Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar, and the though of both of their new standard-bearers losing in the space of a month will surely give some UFC execs sleepless nights over the course of the next week.
Some will rightly point out that Rousey and McGregor haven’t been the only bright spots for the UFC this year though. There’s also been a promising rise in young, fresh faced talent rising up through the ranks that could prove to be the next generation of superstars.
The likes of 21 year-old Paige VanZant and 19 year-old Sage Northcutt have already experienced the kind of promotional push that we’ve not seen since Rousey and McGregor emerged on the scene which indicates that the UFC have very high hopes for them, and it just so happens that they will also both compete this week at UFC Fight Night 80 on Thursday night.
With that in mind, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that in a weeks time McGregor, VanZant and Northcutt will have joined Rousey in tasting defeat in the Octagon for the first time.
That would be a soul-crushing way for the UFC to end what’s been a banner year for the promotion, though on the other hand there’s also the likelihood they may all emerge victorious which would enable them to put Rousey’s loss firmly into the rear-view miror and head into the New Year on a high.
It’s perhaps fitting then that the forthcoming festival of fights is taking place in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas, as this is the kind of high stakes action that the likes of UFC President Dana White thrives on, and it makes an already stellar line-up of fights all the more compelling for fight fans watching across the world.