In my opinion, a fight should only be labeled as a “co-main event” if either A: the winner of the fight is virtually guaranteed a title shot, or B: It is the lesser of two title fights on a card a la Ronda Rousey vs. Alexis Davis.
Let us use the upcoming Fox Sports 1 fight between Alistair Overeem and Ben Rothwell as an example. I understand that Overeem is popular as far as mixed martial artists go. However, his time has come and gone.
“The Demolition Man”, having a ton of hype coming in, was supposed to run the table and become the next UFC champ. This seemed inevitable after downing former UFC and WWE Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar with a well-placed kick to Lesnar’s diverticulitis at UFC 141 back in 2011.
Unfortunately, after the Lesnar fight Overeem he went on a bit of a skid–losing to underdogs Travis Browne and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva before rebounding with an uninspired decision victory over Frank Mir at UFC 169.
However, Rothwell does not (and never will) possess the name to justify his name being associated with a main event–co or otherwise. Rothwell is merely a middle of the road heavyweight who can pose an interesting challenge to mercurial fighters such as Overeem.
On the other hand, even if Overeem does win, he will have to pick up at least 2 more convincing UFC wins before he reestablishes himself as a legit title contender.
The best case scenario for either mixed martial artist would be a brutal knockout of the other. In which case, the winning fighter will still reside light-years from the nearest title shot.
Basically, fights like Overeem vs. Rothwell, as entertaining as they may be, do not have more title implications than practically any other main card fight.
Naturally, some co-main event fights do more than boost a fighter’s ego. Sometimes we get a fight that has serious title implications. For example, Jacare’s upcoming fight with Gegard Mousasi was designated the co-main event for UFC 176 before being moved to the main event of UFN 50.
While the two fighters in question are not household names by any stretch of the imagination–this former co-main event places the winner in the unenviable position of having a strong claim to challenge undefeated UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Accordingly, in this case the co-main event tag was warranted.
Calling a UFC fight a co-main event, especially when there is nothing special about the fight, detracts from other fighters on the main card who might actually be in title contention instead of merely being a has-been with a name.
It goes without saying (although I will say it anyway) that fights such as Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nico Musoke at UFC Fight Night 44 have no business being called a co-main event and are only designated as such arbitrarily. I am happy that fighters get to feel good about the designation. However, when this designation gets thrown around loosely it cheapens the experience for fighters such as Jacare and Mousasi who deserve this designation.