Is UFC trying to recreate the magic of Starrcade 1985 over 16 years later?

Joe Silva is attempting to follow in Dusty Rhodes' footsteps by successfully running two major televised events on the same night, but he's missing several ingredients from Dusty's winning formula. Via upload.wikimedia.org.

UFC's highly successful matchmaker Joe Silva grew up watching wrestling in the Carolinas in the late 1970s and it's clear that he was highly influenced by what he saw.  The latest example of this is the recent shocking news that UFC ambitiously plans to hold two televised events in different parts of the world on the same day in February 2012.  The show in Tokyo at the Saitama Super Arena has been known for some time, but not their plans to hold an event in Las Vegas simultaneously.  According to Dana White (see the interview footage after the jump) both cards will be "stacked" and when probed about it again went on a passionate defence about how they never put "shitty fights" on free TV, having learnt their lesson from boxing.  If we take White at face value, then this idea harkens back to the heyday of Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) where they successfully split their biggest show of the year, Starrcade, between two arenas in both 1985 and 1986.

The parallels don't end there, as JCP got tremendous momentum from acquiring national TV exposure in 1985 by paying Vince McMahon $1 million for his Saturday evening TBS time slot, at a time when the WWF was struggling on the network and Ted Turner was looking for a way to get out of their deal together.  The promotion already hot, was set on fire by a classic angle, which can also be seen after the jump, where Dusty Rhodes saved Ric Flair after a cage match with Nikita Koloff from being double teamed by the Russians, only for Flair to turn on Dusty, lock the cage door and break Dusty's leg with Ole and Arn Anderson's help.  

With both Greensboro and the recently taken over Atlanta market having long running traditions of major Thanksgiving wrestling shows, and the promotion being so hot, JCP decided to simulcast Starrcade on closed circuit from the two big arenas in those cities.  Thanks to matches of Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair at The Omni and Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard in an I Quit match and The Rock N Roll Express vs. The Koloffs in the Greensboro Coliseum, they drew 30,000 fans in live arena attendance, 31,000 more on closed circuit and $936,000.  The WWF four months later tried to outdo JCP by holding WrestleMania II in the three biggest markets in the country, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but didn't have enough hot feuds to fill all the arenas and was a logistical nightmare, which was obviously a major disappointment, as the company never attempted anything similar ever again.  

Unperturbed, JCP booked the same two arenas for Starrcade 1986 - The Night of the Skywalkers and even slightly beat the prior year's numbers due to their four main events of Tully Blanchard vs. Dusty Rhodes in a first blood match, The Rock N Roll Express vs. Ole & Arn Anderson, The Road Warriors vs. The Midnight Express in a scaffold match and Ric Flair vs. Nikita Koloff.  Despite the increased success, JCP deviated from their winning formula with Starrcade 1987, deciding instead to hold the event in Chicago to combat the negative perception that they were merely a Southern rasslin' promotion, which backfired as Greensboro fans never forgave the company for taking the event away from their city.  They even managed to kill the Chicago market too by failing to put JCP's local draws The Road Warriors over Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard for the NWA Tag Team Championships in their billed home town and doing a Dusty finish instead.  The concept of a promotion holding two major live televised shows from different arenas at the same time was then consigned to the dustbin of combat entertainment history, until now.

So for UFC will this turn out more like JCP's Starrcades 1985 and 1986, or the WWF's WrestleMania II?  I believe, like Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com, the online expert on the Japanese fight industry, that this will fall into the latter category, due to how absolutely dead the Japanese market is for MMA, the exact polar opposite to how alive the Carolinas market was for pro wrestling in the mid 1980s.  Even before the news that the Tokyo event would merely serve as a lead in for a higher profile PPV show from Las Vegas, Zach was criticising how Zuffa was failing to cater to the local fans with their U.S. centric decision making:

Think about how insulting it is to the Japanese fans to tell them that this show is going to start at 10 AM in the morning.  The kind of people willing to show up for an event like that for that time frame are really hardcore fans.  UFC does not have a substantial hardcore MMA fan base to work with in Japan and the hardcore MMA fans remaining in Japan have a very mixed opinion about UFC as a product.

Let me frame it to you this way - imagine if DREAM held a press conference in Los Angeles and announced that they were going to book the Staples Center, have no network/cable television deal to speak of, and that the card will start at 3 AM in the morning so that the Japanese fans could watch it live on network TV back home at 8 PM.  American fans would either laugh their asses off or be horribly & rightfully insulted at the fact that the promoters are treating them as an afterthought.

Now, he thinks they're intentionally trying to minimise expectations for the Japanese event and questions UFC's bold gamble to go all-in on their foolhardy plans to run weekly shows around the globe:

By UFC running a show in Las Vegas on the same day as their Japanese event, it will allow them to give the media a cue to bury the importance of the Japanese event and to hype the Vegas show as the A-show.  The flip-side of this, of course, is that the Japanese fans are smart customers.  Already telling them to show up for a main card at 10 AM at Saitama Super Arena is a joke and now telling them that the Japanese show is essentially a B-level show is basically waving the white flag at this point....

The immediate impact of this decision to run multiple shows in different locations on the same night is the amount of stress it will put on the UFC production teams.  They are already overworked and stretched to capacity.  The more workload you place on them, the less variety there will be in the way the shows are produced.  Just like WWE shows today largely look the same as they did a decade ago, UFC could fall right into that same trap.  This opens the door up for mistakes being made.

 


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