Ben Fowlkes: UFC's breakneck schedule to blame for UFC 140's lackluster title bout - Sports Illustrated

UFC's breakneck schedule to blame for UFC 140's lackluster title bout

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TORONTO -- If you ask Jon Jones, he'll tell you that his light heavyweight title defense at UFC 140 is at least a little bit of a relief. You might think the same thing if you'd gone from having Quinton "Rampage" Jackson poking at you in the press to fighting a guy who barely speaks English, and isn't inclined to talk much trash even in his native Portuguese.

Jackson called Jones everything from an arrogant kid to a disrespectful phony, even accusing the champ and his team of a peculiar kind of fight-gym espionage before their title fight at UFC 135 in September. After all that, it must be nice to deal with a challenger like Lyoto Machida, who does most of his talking through his manager and translator, Ed Soares.

At least this time around, Jones said at Wednesday's open workouts, "no one's talking junk, everyone's being respectful to one another, everyone's focusing on why we really should be here."

And why we should be here, at least according to most outside observers, is to witness the next chapter of the Jon Jones story. Machida? He's the supporting cast: a little surprised at the opportunity, by his own admission, but mostly just happy to be here.

And maybe that, more so than the lack of personal animosity, explains why the UFC hasn't been able to build up much buzz for this headlining bout.

Just look at the way Machida stumbled into it. Sure, he's a former UFC champ. Like Jones, he was once thought to be an inscrutable master at the top of the division, though that didn't last long. After dropping his belt to "Shogun" Rua, he lost a decision to "Rampage" Jackson, then won all of one fight -- against Randy Couture, who by that point was a retired man walking -- before the UFC tapped him to fight for the belt.

And how, exactly, did one win against a 47-year-old man qualify Machida as his division's top contender? In short, he was healthy and available when the UFC needed a warm body to fill out the other half of a main event. Career opportunities have been built on frailer ground, I suppose.

The fact that this fight is even happening is a sign that the UFC's breakneck schedule has consequences. The organization needed a main event for its next Toronto fight card, and more or less decided that it would book Jon Jones versus somebody, with the details to be worked out later.

Ideally, it would have been former Jones teammate and current Jones archenemy Rashad Evans getting a shot, except that Evans was too hurt to fight. At least, he was too hurt to fight on this card. That he is apparently healthy enough to fight Phil Davis in January doesn't seem to matter to the UFC, since it doesn't help fill out this particular pay-per-view.

The show must go on, after all. Even if it means shoving an understudy out onto the stage.

Is it any wonder that fans haven't been drooling over this matchup all week? Jones is a nearly 6-1 favorite according to many oddsmakers, and even Machida seems unsure if he belongs in there with the boy wonder. It's a fight for fighting's sake. Just because the belt is on the line, that doesn't make it must-see TV.

Of course, Machida could always win. He could do the old "shock-the-world" thing on Saturday night, and it would almost be a fitting punishment for the UFC's decision to insist on prioritizing dates and event schedules over putting together the fights its fans most want to see.

But it's more likely that the punishment will come in a different form. In all probability, Jones will win another one-sided fight, and this time fans will be slightly less interested and/or amazed. This time, they might even wonder why the champ was in there against a guy with a one-fight winning streak to begin with. This time, the Jon Jones saga might start to seem a little bit like a one-man show.

On the right night, that has a certain appeal. Just not over and over again. And not when there are new acts that could still be written, with just a little bit of patience and long-term planning.