MMA Barometer: Is the Sport Becoming too Saturated?
MMA Barometer: Is the Sport Becoming too Saturated?

This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.

One issue new UFC management faces heading into 2017 is oversaturation. With so many events on the calendar (like two this weekend), the UFC puts themselves in place to have to deal with multiple difficult situations.

First, casual fans are unlikely to watch an event every weekend. Striking is something that will always catch the attention of fight fans, but many causal supporters don't understand nuances and complexities in grappling. As a result, many think that fights that take place mainly on the ground are boring. Whether or not that perception is fair, it's the TV ratings that could ultimately suffer. If an event featured fights that were mostly grappling contests, it would be hard to get a casual fan to tune back in the following evening.

Second, with so many scheduled events, it is difficult to find replacements for main events. Many of the top fighters are either recovering from a recent fight, or in camp for an upcoming major fight. This means if a fighter in a main event gets injured, it is hard to find a comparable replacement that can bring the same attention from fans, and that can lead to events getting cancelled.

Finally, there is not only a risk of having fewer options to replace top fighters in main events, but a risk of not having enough star power to support such a heavy schedule. This was evidenced by the cancellation of UFC 208 earlier this week.

The UFC made the decision to cancel UFC 208 in Anaheim on Jan. 21, shifting the UFC 208 title to a Feb. 11 event in Brooklyn (originally supposed to be UFC 209). When it's all said and done, this is probably a good sign, as it was the new management of the UFC made the decision to cancel the event. Looking ahead, the cancellation could point toward a trend of a slightly lighter schedule in the future.

The major roadblock here is that scheduling is done almost a year in advance, so the UFC is locked into their calendar for the foreseeable future. The company cannot make it a habit to cancel events, because that would stop fans from buying tickets. The heavy schedule will continue for now, but hopefully there has been a change in philosophy by management, resulting in fewer events. This would not only cater more to casual fans, but also help the overall quality of the cards, as less events would mean more elite fighters competing each time the UFC is in the spotlight.

As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.

Rising

Derrick Lewis, Heavyweight

After a five-month layoff, Derrick Lewis will return to the Octagon this Saturday to face Shamil Abdurakhimov at UFC 206. "The Black Beast" is riding a four-fight win streak, with three of those wins coming by KO/TKO. The other victory, in his previous fight, came via split decision against UFC stalwart Roy Nelson, who is nearly impossible to knock out. As the No. 10-ranked UFC heavyweight, Lewis will look to move into title contention with a win this weekend. Lewis has some of the most devastating power in the division, and will undoubtedly look to utilize his strikes this against Abdurakhimov.

Abdurakhimov is a great matchup for Lewis. The heavyweight from Dagestan has won his last two fights after a first-round knockout loss in his UFC debut against Timothy Johnson. However, Abdurakhimov won both of those fights by decision. The chances of going to a decision with Lewis are slim. Additionally, Abdurakhimov has been successful on only one takedown in eleven attempts in his three fight UFC career. As Roy Nelson showed in his fight with Lewis, takedowns and top control are the best chance to beat Lewis. Based on the above-mentioned statistics, Abdurakhimov will likely have trouble taking down Lewis, which will expose him to the knockout power of "The Black Beast." If he comes through Saturday, Lewis should get a fight with title implications in his next appearance.

Next Fight: Shamil Abdurakhimov, UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Abdurakhimov (Dec. 9, 2016)

Dooho Choi, Featherweight

Choi has dominated since entering the UFC in 2014. He has competed in three fights, and he won all of them in the first round via KO/TKO. His last two victories have earned him Performance of the Night awards. Choi's goal for each fight is to keep it standing, as he has eleven wins by KO/TKO and only one win by submission in fourteen professional victories. Choi has not attempted a takedown in his three UFC contests. Even though he has been successful up to this point, Choi needs to be prepared for every scenario this weekend against the well-rounded Cub Swanson.

Choi's fight with Swanson is a massive step up in competition. After facing unranked opponents in his first three UFC fights, Choi will face the No.4-ranked UFC featherweight. Swanson is a well-rounded fighter, and Choi was taken down twice in his last fight. Swanson has shown in the past that even though he trains heavily in boxing, he is not afraid to take the fight to the floor and utilize his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This will be a huge test for Choi, but based on his past performances, there is no reason to believe he can't pass it with flying colors.

Next Fight: Cub Swanson, UFC 206: Holloway vs. Pettis (Dec. 10, 2016)

Robert Whittaker, Middleweight

Since moving to middleweight, Robert Whittaker is on a five-fight win streak. The New Zealand-born fighter has used great striking and strong takedown defense to be successful. As shown in his previous fight with Derek Brunson, Whittaker possesses a lot of power, and he has defended 94 percent of the takedowns attempted against him in the UFC.

Another attribute Whittaker has is his ability to stay calm and technical. In Whittaker's last fight, Brunson came out at a sprint from the opening bell with no intention of fighting five rounds. Whittaker withstood the storm, didn't engage in a brawl, and eventually finished Brunson late in the first round with a head kick. Composure in the Octagon will continue to be vital as Whittaker moves up to face the elite fighters in the division
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After his win two weeks ago, "The Reaper" has risen to the No. 6-ranked UFC middleweight. He should get a top-five matchup for his next fight. If he can win that fight, a six-fight win streak could absolutely put him in the conversation for a title shot. At just 25 years old, the future looks bright for Whittaker.

Next fight: TBA

Check Status

Anthony Pettis, Featherweight

Edit: Pettis has missed weight for Saturday's fight against Max Holloway. Although the fight will go on as planned, Pettis will no longer be able to earn the interim featherweight title with a victory.

On Saturday, Anthony Pettis will compete for the second time as a featherweight. After three straight losses at lightweight, Pettis snapped his losing streak in his UFC featherweight debut against Charles Oliveira. "Showtime" was able to come away with a victory via third-round submission, but his performance still left questions about whether featherweight is the right fit for him. Over the course of the figh,t it seemed as if the larger weight cut was affecting Pettis's gas tank. He also didn't have the same explosive striking UFC fans have become accustomed to while watching "Showtime," but in his defense, the four successful takedowns by Oliveira may have caused Pettis to be hesitant to unload. Even though the more substantial cut for Pettis may have affected him in his first fight, he will likely be more accustomed to the cut the second time around.

This weekend's fight with Max Holloway for the interim UFC featherweight title will be a huge test for both fighters, but it will be particularly telling for Pettis's future in the division. Holloway is red-hot and on a nine-fight win streak, and he is one of the young stars in the division. If Pettis can beat him, it will prove Pettis can beat anybody in the division. If Pettis loses convincingly, however, it will be hard to imagine Showtime making another run at the featherweight title. Holloway is a good matchup for Pettis, one of the sport's best strikers, because Holloway generally wants to fight on the feet too. No matter who comes out on top, this should be a fun fight that certainly has an opportunity to be fight of the night.

Next Fight: Max Holloway, UFC 206: Holloway vs. Pettis (Dec. 10, 2016)

Falling

Khalil Rountree, Light Heavyweight

Rountree was part of team Joanna on The Ultimate Fighter Season 23, and he lost in the finale to Andrew Sanchez. He is a good striker with devastating power, as evidenced by his vicious knockout to get into the house on The Ultimate Fighter. As exciting as Rountree might be, however, he has major holes in his game. This was shown in his first fight in the house on The Ultimate Fighter when Rountree was taken down and easily submitted. Takedowns are a trend for fighters facing Rountree, as Andrew Sanchez took him down six times en route to a unanimous decision, and Tyson Pedro took him down twice before submitting him in the first round in Rountree's last fight. The bottom line is Rountree's grappling deficiencies will make it difficult for him to compete with most UFC fighters. Even though any fighters on the roster are dangerous, Rountree's two losses came to fighters making their UFC debut. If he fights UFC veterans, it is hard to imagine the fights going much different than his first two. Hopefully he takes some time off and puts in a lot of time on the mat so he can avoid having his striking stymied by opponents' takedowns and grappling.

Next Fight: TBA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Dahl
Evan Dahl is a law student who has been a die-hard MMA fan for over a decade. Outside of MMA, he roots for the Broncos, Brewers and Bucks.
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