No one can dispute that 2017 has been a down year for the Ultimate Fighting Championship thus far.
There have been a few bright spots like UFC 211 and the highly anticipated battle between Jose Aldo and Max Holloway at UFC 212, but they largely been overshadowed by mediocre Fight Night cards, some with head scratching main events.
Things are finally looking up with the McGregor vs. Mayweather super-fight getting finalized. Next month’s UFC 213 also looks outstanding, with two title fights and a bevy of other exciting scraps.
But before the good times start rolling again, there will be another entry to the crappy event list added this weekend. With that in mind, let’s look back at the eight worst bookings of 2017 so far.
1. UFC Fight Night 103: Penn vs. Rodriguez
No list of cringe-worthy bookings would be complete without the epic mismatch between dynamic rising featherweight star Yair Rodriguez and all-time great BJ Penn. The two were set to do battle at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 15, but it wasn’t much of a fight.
Penn was making his return to fighting after a two-and-a-half-year retirement, taking his second-ever fight at featherweight. Various opponent switches, injuries, and suspensions delayed his return by nearly a year, and left him with “Pantera” as his comeback foe. Rodriguez, meanwhile, was undefeated in the UFC and regarded as one of the most promising prospects in the 145-pound division.
Penn looked better initially than he had in his last fight, an embarrassing and perplexing third loss to Frankie Edgar. But the positives wouldn’t last long. The high-flying “Pantera” hurt Penn with a kick to the body in the first round that seemed to sap the Hawaiian’s resolve. Free to unleash the full breadth of his arsenal, Rodriguez teed off, nearly finishing Penn at the end of the frame.
He would mop up Penn early in the second. Another kick dropped “The Prodigy”, and Rodriguez finished him off with ground and pound. The victory gave the exciting young Mexican the most high-profile scalp of his career but did little to test him. It also served as a humiliating setback for Penn. It was a predictable outcome that nevertheless did little to elevate either fighter, more sad than anything else.
2. UFC 208: Holm vs. De Randamie
The premiere MMA organization’s debut in Brooklyn was supposed to be a watershed moment for New York MMA and the UFC. Instead, it was a roundly mocked debacle.
With Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey on the sidelines for 2017, the UFC needed (and still needs) all of the star power it can acquire or manufacture. One star that had shown promise as a draw, particularly in her native Brazil, was Cris “Cyborg” Justino. The former Strikeforce and Invicta FC featherweight champion had two catchweight bouts in the UFC, winning each by first-round knockout, and the company planned to launch its own women’s 145-pound division to showcase her talents.
But negotiations with the cagey “Cyborg” broke down, with the Brazilian insisting that she would not be ready to fight on the Brooklyn card. Frustrated with Justino, and needing a headliner for the pay-per-view (PPV) UFC 208, the UFC brass decided to move forward with their featherweight plans without her.
Enter former bantamweight champion Holly Holm and fellow kickboxing champ Germaine de Randamie. The UFC hoped to cash in on the notoriety Holm still possessed following her earth-shattering knockout of Rousey, despite the fact that she had lost two straight since. De Randamie had little star power of her own. She simply had the good fortune of being a big bantamweight coming off a win with a striking-oriented style that would (in theory) provide a favorable matchup for Holm.
Fans and pundits jeered the fight and the card in general. A UFC women’s featherweight championship fight that did not involve “Cyborg” was laughable; the winner would never be regarded as the best 145er with Justino still lurking.
The fight and its aftermath only served to intensify the mockery. De Randamie won a controversial decision marred by multiple fouls for striking Holm after the bell, fouls that were not punished by the referee. She has since ducked and then flat out refused to accept “Cyborg” has her first challenger, risking having the belt stripped.
The entire farce has been a PR nightmare for the UFC.
3. UFC 209: Woodley vs. Thompson 2
The rematch between welterweight king Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson makes this list not because it was necessarily a bad booking, but because it produced a predictably awful 25-minute snoozefest. The only thing unforeseen about it was the degree to which the fight stunk; it was easily one of the worst bouts in recent memory.
Their first scrap at UFC 200 in July 2016 had its moments but also long stretches of tedious inactivity. Woodley took “Wonderboy” down in the first and landed damaging ground and pound. In the fourth, the champion landed several bombs that floored the South Carolinian and then trapped him in a vice-like guillotine choke. But Thompson would survive. The other three rounds were tepid affairs with little action, but most thought Thompson did a bit more. The tussle would end in an unsatisfying draw, forcing the pair to run it back.
They would seven months later as the headliner for UFC 209. The card itself took a devastating blow just days out, as co-headliner Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced out of his rabidly anticipated barnburner with Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title. The loss put even more pressure on the headliners to deliver an exciting show. In that, they failed miserably.
The bout played out as an even slower-paced version of the original. Virtually nothing of note happened until the very last minute, when Woodley finally flurried and dropped Thompson with power punches. Once again, however, he failed to finish “Wonderboy”. Woodley would escape with his title via majority decision, saving the masses from a potential third fight between the two.
4. UFC Fight Night 106: Belfort vs. Gastelum
The main event of the UFC’s latest trip to Fortaleza, Brazil, falls squarely in the cringe-worthy category of this list. Old Lion (or Young Dinosaur, or whatever he was calling himself that week) Vitor Belfort was coming off two demoralizing beatdowns when he was booked opposite Kelvin Gastelum. The surging Mexican
Old Lion (or Young Dinosaur, or whatever he was calling himself that week) Vitor Belfort was coming off two demoralizing beatdowns when he was booked opposite Kelvin Gastelum. The surging Mexican-American, by contrast, was riding a two-fight win streak and had just picked up the most significant victory of his career, a thorough dissection of contender Tim Kennedy.
Belfort’s name and star power in Brazil is what got him the headlining spot, but he had no business sharing a cage with the younger, faster, tougher Gastelum. The former “Ultimate Fighter” winner blew Belfort away in less than four minutes, silencing the Brazilian crowd and leaving many to wonder why the mismatch was ever scheduled in the first place.
5. UFC Fight Night 107: Manuwa vs. Anderson
This entry to the worst bookings list is more an indictment of the card itself than the headliner specifically.
Like this weekend’s event from Singapore, this Fight Night card was Fight Pass-exclusive coming from London, England. It featured several exciting action fights and Brad Pickett’s retirement fight, but not much else outside of the headliner. While Jimi Manuwa scored an impressive highlight-reel knockout of Corey Anderson in the headliner, the card as a whole drew unfavorable comparisons to Bellator’s impending show in the same city.
Bellator 179 would be headlined by former UFC talents turned Bellator stars Rory MacDonald and Paul Daley. It would also feature the exciting and dynamic Michael “Venom” Page and Liam McGeary, hometown heros raised in the Bellator cage. Many believed the Bellator slate to be superior in terms of fan interest, especially locally. The fact that the world’s clear number two promotion could be compared favorably to the UFC is enough for Fight Night 107 to make the list of bad bookings for the year.
6. UFC 210: Mousasi vs. Weidman
The main event of UFC 210 was a rematch between light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and the uber-powerful Anthony Johnson, and that was a great fight on paper. It was the co-headliner that was a bad booking by the world’s premiere MMA outfit.
Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman was on a two-fight losing streak, both of them devastating knockouts, when he squared off with Gegard Mousasi. If any fighter had ever been in need of a bounceback fight to get his confidence back, it was “The All-American”. Instead, he met Mousasi, a streaking contender on the cusp of a title shot in the stacked 185-pound weight class.
The bout was likely to be competitive and exciting, but just didn’t make sense at the time. The highly-motivated and suddenly vicious knockout artist Mousasi would be favored over Weidman going in. According to oddsmakers, a win for the Dutchman was the most likely outcome. But that outcome would do little for Mousasi and potentially crush a possible return to contendership for Weidman, one of the most marketable fighters in the division. A win for “The Dreamcatcher” would mean he had just defeated an opponent on a three-fight losing streak, not exactly an impressive feat on paper.
The controversial way the fight ended only magnified the disappointment and ugly aftermath.
7. UFC Fight Night 108: Swanson vs. Lobov
The UFC’s latest stop in Nashville, TN, was highlighted a bevy of fun action fights, but the main event was another head-scratching one bordering on irrelevance.
Top-five featherweight Cub Swanson would look to continue his climb toward an as-yet elusive title shot, but he would do so against unranked Artem Lobov. “The Irish Hammer’s” claim to fame was being a finalist on season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter” – and being friends and training partners with the sport’s biggest star, Conor McGregor. That proved to be enough to enable Lobov to talk his way into a main event slot.
Lobov did better than many expected, but that still amounted to merely surviving the fight. Swanson handled him over 25 minutes to take a clear-cut decision in a fight with little intrigue and even less divisional impact.
8. UFC Fight Night 111: Holm vs. Correia
Holly Holm makes a second appearance on this list when she meets former title challenger Bethe Correia in tomorrow’s UFC Fight Night 111 main event live from Singapore on UFC Fight Pass.
Unfortunately for Holm, she will be looking to turn around a three-fight skid, making her a questionable candidate for a headlining spot. Her victory over Rousey still affords her name value, but she is unlikely to reach those heights again.
Her style of outfighting and counterpunching means that she is often in close fights. Prior to her title shot, she was able to eke out a couple of victories. Those, along with the titles she won in boxing and kickboxing, were enough to earn her her shot. But those close fights have since started going against her. Her win over Rousey is looking more and more like a favorable stylistic matchup against a poor striker unable to make adjustments rather than the birth of a new world-beating superstar.
Correia is not as dynamic or talented as Valentina Shevchenko and de Randamie, so Holm is likely to get a much-needed victory. The Brazilian’s own plodding, countering style does not spell fireworks, however, and with Holm coming in as a -600 favorite, there is little suspense attached to the outcome.
The UFC will have to hope the card over-delivers because there isn’t much to get excited about here. Hopefully, the second half of 2017 will provide better matchups and more action than we’ve seen thus far.