ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported on Wednesday that UFC 233, scheduled for Jan. 26 from Anaheim, CA is being “moved to a later date.” This is the right move for the promotion, but the messaging surrounding it is silly.
UFC 233 had a decent main event at one point between Henry Cejudo and TJ Dillashaw. Dillashaw would be coming down to challenge Cejudo for his flyweight championship. It’s an interesting fight that seemed unlikely to ever happen at one point, but managed to come together. UFC moved it to bolster the lineup for their Jan. 16 debut on ESPN+. Now fans in the U.S. can see that fight for $5 instead of $65, so in that sense it’s a win-win for everybody.
That move, of course, left a gaping hole at the top of the PPV card the following week. The undercard had come together nicely with Ben Askren set to debut against Robbie Lawler and Dominick Cruz scheduled against John Lineker. Then the Cruz fight appeared to fall apart and there have been mixed messages surrounding welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and his willingness to fight on that card. With nothing UFC could pull out of its hat, the opted to ‘move’ the show to a later date.
UFC as a fight promotion can call it a ‘move’ or ‘rescheduling’ if they wish in order to save face. But having the reporting arm of their new broadcast partner echo that language may be a bad omen of what is to come. This is nothing short of a cancellation. Just because UFC will still hold an event called “UFC 233” does not make this any different than when UFC 151 was cancelled in 2012 a week before the show. UFC couldn’t put together a pay-per-view worthy card on the scheduled date, so they scrapped the show. In the case of UFC 151, it was so close to the show date, that they opted not to re-do all of the ticketing and marketing materials for upcoming shows so they just skipped 151 and continued on. UFC 233 is no different. There’s no quality main event so they’ll scrap the show, only this time re-name the upcoming events.
It’s no secret that UFC likes to control the media covering them as much as possible. In fact, it just happened this past weekend at UFC 231. Reporters were asked to only ask questions at a pre-fight press conference concerning the fights on that particular show. This came on the same day that news broke of Greg Hardy fighting on the same card as Rachael Ostovich.
It’s also no secret that ESPN will be gentle in their coverage of a promotion they are in bed with. For a stretch of time, ESPN was featuring WWE performers on SportsCenter for softball interviews, while simultaneously ignoring scandals or other newsworthy items that may have cast WWE in an unfavorable light.
ESPN has become home to two of MMA’s most notable and reliable reporters, Okamoto and Ariel Helwani. Helwani used to be employed by UFC’s soon to be former broadcast partner, FOX, before being let go at UFC’s behest after breaking a story on Brock Lesnar’s return when UFC didn’t want that out.
The language used in Okamoto’s report of the cancellation of UFC 233 sounds more like how UFC would like to have things framed than an account of what actually happened. What exactly is being moved here? Unless UFC plans to do a show called “UFC 233” sometime in the two weeks between Jan. 26 and Feb. 9 or do a show called “UFC 233” in Anaheim after UFC 234, nothing is being moved.
UFC 233 is cancelled, and that’s fine. It’s the right move. So let’s talk about it that way.