What: UFC 109
When: Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010, at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view (PPV)
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Zuffa brass must have felt that expecting Couture's name to anchor three of the last eight UFC cards, along with UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira and UFC 105: Couture vs. Vera, was a bit too risky. It is likely that they also feared Coleman's name would not carry enough impact to sell the card effectively. UFC 109's poster, featuring six fighters in almost equal prominence, further implies that the UFC is concerned about the lack of a bankable main event.
The strategic use of the term "Relentless" is significant given that four fighters on the main card are over thirty-five years of age: Matt Serra (35.5 yrs), Frank Trigg (37.7 yrs), Mark Coleman (45.1 yrs), and Randy Couture (46.5 yrs). The word, which, in this case, can be taken to mean battling constantly against rising odds, suggests the UFC believes the storyline of four aging fighters searching for continued MMA relevance is the card's strongest selling point. While that's definitely debatable, it is certainly true that the losers of those legends' fights will have a tough time getting back to being featured prominently on UFC main cards.
Despite all their skillful verbal jabbing, Matt "The Terra" Serra (9-6) and Frank "Twinkle Toes" Trigg (19-7), whose fight opens the PPV card, realize that staying afloat in the UFC really takes constant activity and, above all, wins against tough, hungry competitors-- both of which are fairly tall orders for fighter's at their respective ages.
For Mark Coleman, this is truly the biggest fight of his career in terms of mainstream relevance. Judging by his comments in recent weeks, "The Hammer" understands that a win here would instantly change his life, increasing his fame more than any other victory of his storied career, while a one-sided loss would allow his critics the leeway needed to write him off almost completely. Knowing this, he has drastically changed his approach to training, adding a personal strength-and-conditioning coach for the first time. Whether that will be enough to best "The Natural," who has long been known to use cutting-edge training techniques, remains very much to be seen, but the altered routine is a great sign Coleman is taking this fight seriously.
Though it is a bit odd, given that he is the most aged fighter in the UFC, Randy Couture is easily the best insulated of the night's old dogs from being cut after UFC 109. He will likely receive one more shot at a big-name fighter even if he loses this fight. Conversely, with a win over Coleman, Couture could even be looking at a light-heavyweight title shot against the winner of May's Machida vs. "Shogun" II. That is a testament both to "The Natural's" immense marketability and his incredible career successes in fights that have occurred past age forty, which currently account for just over %40 of his professional career.
The co-main event at UFC 109: Relentless features former UFC title challenger Nate "The Great" Marquardt (29-8-2) who finds himself one win away from another crack at Anderson Silva (25-4-0)'s long-held middleweight belt, which, by then, may actually be held by Vitor Belfort (19-8). Before Nate can worry about any of that, he must first defeat Chael Sonnen (23-10-1) who makes up for anything he lacks in natural ability with grittiness, hard work, and a lightning quick wit. He has used the latter to great effect in recent weeks, constantly hyping this fight to the media, while criticizing both Anderson Silva and Mark Coleman. As a result, Chael has raised his profile with MMA fans, which very effectively made this fight significantly more compelling. Sonnen's silver tongue won't help him when the octagon closes, however. Luckily for Sonnen, he'll have his grittiness and strong work-ethic to fall back on-- just ask Yushin Okami (23-5), who was handily upset by Sonnen over three full rounds at UFC 104.
The PPV card also features the return of welterweight Mike "Quick" Swick (14-3) from his stunningly one-sided loss to current title-challenger Dan Hardy (23-6) at UFC 105. Swick will look to return to the winners' circle as he faces Paulo Thiago (12-1), who, despite having already fought three times in the UFC, remains best known as the guy who, in his octagon debut at UFC 95, TKO'ed veteran Josh Koscheck (14-4) with a surprise, first-round uppercut. It is an interesting style clash because Swick is known mostly for his dynamic striking, while Thiago is often touted for his ground skills. We already know that Thiago can swing a bit, but fans should get a much-welcomed opportunity at UFC 109: Relentless to learn if Swick's grappling is up to snuff for elite competition.
The other main card fight on Saturday is between a pair of middleweights who each recently lost to one of the night's co-main even fighters. Dan Miller (11-2), who was soundly routed over three rounds at UFC 98 by Chael Sonnen, will face Brazilian submissions-master Demian Maia (11-1), was knocked out by Nate Marquardt in 21-seconds at UFC 102. The winner of this fight will be back in the title hunt, while the loser can likely look forward to fighting a scrappy up-and-comer on Spike broadcasts or PPV undercards. Speaking of which, a pair of excellent lightweight battles [ [Mac Danzig (18-7-1) vs Justin Buchholz (8-4) and Melvn Guillard (22-8-2) vs. Ronys Torres (14-1)] will air live on SpikeTV starting at 6:00pm PST (9:00pm EST) prior to Saturday's PPV broadcast.
UFC 109: Relentless comes directly after one of the worst-selling cards in recent UFC history, UFC 108: Evans vs. Silva, which sold in the neighborhood of 300,000 buys, as compared to well over 600,000 for UFC 107: Penn vs. Sanchez. For this weekend's UFC 109 Zuffa would likely be satisfied with a number that evenly splits the difference between those last two, which would mean something in the range of 450,000 buys. There's a good chance they'll achieve that, too.
Even more importantly, however, is that, after Saturday's event, the UFC will enter a long stretch of extremely marketable cards including: UFC 110-- their Australian debut; UFC 111-- featuring a welterweight title fight and an interim heavyweight title fight; UFC 112-- their debut in Abu Dhabi, which features two title fights; UFC 113-- from Montreal and featuring the LHW title rematch of Machida vs. Shogun II, plus the PPV debut of "Kimbo Slice;" UFC 114-- featuring the unexpectedly delayed TUF 10 blockbuster fight "Rampage" Jackson vs. Rashad Evans; and, of course, UFC 115-- the octagon's likely debut in Vancouver, B.C.
So, basically, even if UFC 109: Relentless doesn't capture MMA fans' attention much more than the disappointing UFC 108 did, its positioning means this Saturday's card will likely be remembered fondly as the quiet before the storm... or, you know, like that really great garlic toast they give you while you're waiting at restaurants, but that you can never quite make right at home. Yeah, it will be like that for sure.
Full Card For UFC 109: Relentless:
205 lbs.: Mark Coleman vs. Randy Couture
Main card (Televised):
185 lbs.: Nate Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen
170 lbs.: Paulo Thiago vs. Mike Swick
185 lbs.: Demian Maia vs. Dan Miller
170 lbs.: Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg
155 lbs.: Mac Danzig vs. Justin Buchholz
155 lbs.: Melvin Guillard vs. Ronnys Torres
185 lbs.: Rob Emerson vs. Phillipe Nover
205 lbs.: Brian Stann vs. Phil Davis
265 lbs.: Tim Hague [CAN] vs. Chris Tuchscherer
265 lbs.: Rolles Gracie vs. Joey Beltran
Stay tuned for our UFC 109: Relentless predictions, which will include lots of information on the preliminary bouts.