EA Sports and the UFC announced that Ronda Rousey would be one of two fighters on the cover of EA Sports UFC 2. Less than a week later Rousey was famously (and brutally) knocked out by Holly Holm.
Now it seems as though the UFC and EA Sports are thinking along different lines. Instead of placing their own bet, why not let the fighters themselves um... fight for the privilege of being on the cover?
Here's some context to the whole situation: the biggest stars in the UFC right now are Ronda Rousey (despite her defeat) and Conor McGregor — an enigmatic, bombastic Irish striker with +99 charisma. In a perfect world both of these fighters would be on the cover of EA Sports UFC 2. Because of course right? You put your biggest stars on the cover of your sports video games.
But, look at what happened to Ronda.
Ronda got knocked out in one of the biggest upsets in Mixed Martial Arts history. Not only was Ronda knocked out, Ronda was outclassed — exposed some might say — by a superior striker. There's a rematch on the way, but that won't happen until mid-2016 and the Rousey mystique has evaporated. Her appeal has taken a helluva hit.
Next Sunday (Australian time) Conor McGregor fights against current Featherweight champion Jose Aldo. In many ways it's the biggest fight in UFC history. Jose Aldo is the only featherweight champion the UFC has ever known. He hasn't lost in a decade and has looked all but unbeatable. Conor's rise, on the other hand, has been meteoric and he has looked mercurial in his ascent. Incredibly, Conor is the current betting favourite despite facing off against one of the most dominant champions the UFC has ever seen.
Well there are a few reasons. The main one: Conor's knockout power combined with an ability to find his opponent's chin from practically anywhere. Conor hasn't just beaten his opponents, he's crushed them. He has predicted when and how he will beat opponents, then strolled to the Octagon and fulfilled his own prophecies. He has a self-belief that borders on the supernatural. So when Conor McGregor tells me he is going to go out there and knockout the current number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world in less than one round — I believe him.
There are many interesting facets of this fight: there's been the colossal (articulate, hilarious) shit talk in the lead up to the fight. There's the style match-up, which is almost impossible to dissect (will Aldo try and take McGregor to the ground? Can Aldo take Conor's power shots? Will McGregor's wide, karate-stance leave him open to Aldo's notoriously brutal leg kicks?). But now the UFC and EA Sports have added a new wrinkle to an already fascinating tapestry: the winner of this fight will make the cover of EA Sports UFC 2.
It's an incredibly smart move. Clearly the UFC and EA Sports is hoping for a McGregor victory. Aldo's inability (and refusal) to learn English makes him a far less marketable option compared to Conor, who alternates wildly between incredible smack-talk and mystical soliloquies on the intricacies of human movement. He's part rock star part Yogi and you want him on the cover of your video game.
But you probably don't want him on the cover of your video game if he loses to Jose Aldo next Sunday. And that is a very real possibility. Particularly in a fight with four-ounce gloves where almost anything can happen. Anyone can lose in the Octagon — Ronda Rousey has proved this.
And EA Sports and the UFC has already made a game of this, setting up a mini-site that allows people to predict the outcome of the upcoming fight, and have their prediction play out in an early build of EA Sports UFC. A cool idea indeed. And one that plays into the unpredictability of Mixed Martial Arts as opposed to the previous choice — Ronda — which banked on her invincibility.
For the record, I chose Conor by KO in the first round. You'd have to be crazy to bet against Mystic Mac. He predicts these things.