Swanson the biggest name on UFC twinbill in San Antonio, New Zealand
Stay hydrated. Get some sleep.
There you go, mixed martial arts fans, a couple of free wellness tips in advance of Saturday’s UFC doubleheader, the promotion’s second such blitz of two fight cards in a day. Those survival suggestions are pretty obvious, but here’s one that hardcore followers of the tough-it-out sport might not have considered: Stick to just the second tip, and don’t worry if you happen to snooze through a fight worth seeing.
This might seem like a sacrilege to the most reverent MMA acolytes, but it has to be what the UFC had in mind when it scheduled one of its dual Fight Night cards to begin at 2:30 a.m. ET on Saturday morning. That’s the event in Auckland, where the local time will be 6:30 p.m. when Gian Villante and Sean O’Connell climb into the octagon to get things started at Vector Arena.
By the time the promotion’s first visit to New Zealand is over, at the conclusion of a main event between James Te Huna and Nate Marquardt, it’ll be only a little after 7 a.m., time to get some breakfast and flop down for a well-earned nap. The UFC gets rolling again around 12 hours later in San Antonio, Texas.
But why would you be watching through the middle of the night, really? The event in the land of the kiwi is on the UFC’s streaming subscription service, Fight Pass, which has an on-demand feature that was invented for days like this. That’s assuming you can’t bring yourself to fully ignore a card headlined by a middleweight bout between a faded former contender on a three-fight welterweight losing streak (Marquardt) and a fellow who’s dropping down from light heavyweight following two losses in a row (Te Huna). It’s not just the marquee matchup that’s more worthy of the shadows than the spotlight. No one on the 10-bout card is in his weight division’s Top 10 in the SI.com fighter rankings. On this day the operative word in “Fight Pass” might be “pass.”
The evening’s event -- the UFC’s first in the second-most-populated Texas city -- is marginally better, with at least a couple of fights that’ll play in the sport’s big picture (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Still, while historians will always “Remember the Alamo!” you might find much of what goes down at the AT&T Center to be forgettable. The main event at the AT&T Center features Cub Swanson, who sits on the cusp of a featherweight title shot, but he’ll be competing against a guy who’s not in position to elevate him. Jeremy Stephens has won three in a row since dropping down from lightweight, where he’d dropped three straight, but he’s not a top-10 competitor.
Ricardo Lamas is, at No. 4 in the SI.com tally, but rather than pitting him against No. 5 Swanson, he’ll be on the undercard against unranked Hacran Dias. The UFC’s thinking in making these two matches likely revolves around Lamas’s failed challenge of José Aldo in his last fight. If Ricardo had been matched up with Cub and beat him, he’d still be at a dead end. If Stephens pulls the upset of Swanson, a new contender is born.
Those are the only fights with Top 10 ramifications, but we do get to see the next step in the emergence of welterweight Kevin Gastelum. The Season 17 winner of The Ultimate Fighter is unbeaten and coming off a win over a time-tested tough guy, Rick Story. Problem is, a bout with Nicholas Musoke isn’t exactly a step up in competition for the 22-year-old. So this will be a showcase more than a proving ground.
At least that’s how things shape up now, before a punch has been thrown. As always, both of Saturday’s fight cards are destined to bring surprises for those who devote the time to unwrap them. How often has a much-anticipated bout disappointed us? About as often as an overlooked one has turned thriller. The only thing we can do is watch. Or not.
The UFC is forging ahead with his world takeover, and it’s not about to wait for us to get out of bed and have breakfast before pushing onward. That’s because we’re not necessarily part of the global plan, at least not this element of it. Saturday’s fights in Auckland are playing out for New Zealanders, not us. If they were for us, they’d be starting at noon on Sunday, local time -- also known as Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
None of this is to suggest that MMA fans from this side of the world aren’t invited to the party. It’s just that we’re going to have to get our own early-morning ride there, or watch a replay later in the day, all while trying not to sap our energy or enthusiasm before the day’s other event jumps into our lap, deep in the heart of Texas.