After outgrowing the Spike TV partnership that helped put the them on the map seven years ago, watching the UFC traverse new waters on the Fox family of networks is certainly interesting. Thus far, the Fox network has broadcast four UFC fights and not one of them has even come close to capturing the excitement that a quality mixed martial arts contest has to offer. In fact, in one way or another, they’ve all been pretty terrible.
If you and your dog locked eyes for any length of time, you probably missed a good portion of the Cain Velasquez-Junior dos Santos fight. Demian Maia vs. Chris Weidman displayed all the technique and cardiovascular conditioning of a King of the Cage heavyweight bout. Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping didn’t exactly light the world on fire and, while Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis wasn’t the worse fight ever, it was still pretty awful.
Obviously, the expectations that we all carry into these UFC on Fox events may inform the way that we see them after the fact, but that doesn’t excuse the UFC’s poor strategy when it comes to selecting matchups to air on “big Fox,” as UFC President Dana White likes to call it.
Granted, putting the heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos on Fox was as brilliant a choice for a main event as the UFC could have made, but in hindsight Fox’s choice to not air the Benson Henderson-Clay Guida co-main event really hurt the flow of the UFC’s first effort on network television.
Looking back at the first four fights on Fox, I think it’s safe to say that what the UFC really needs to deliver on network television is action. The regular mixed martial arts audience is going to watch UFC on Fox events regardless of the names at the top of the card, but the MMA neophytes the UFC is trying to capture don’t recoginize those names anyway.
Mixed martial arts is a volatile sport. Sometimes you get quick knockouts like the one we saw on the first fight on Fox between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, and sometimes you get slow paced, uninspired performances like the ones we saw on the UFC’s second effort on Fox. However, if the UFC wants to almost guarantee relevant, action fights then they need to use the Fox plattform and make stars out of the guaranteed action fighters at 155 pounds and below.
Aside from B.J. Penn, who really became famous at 170 pounds, no fighter competing at lightweight and below has ever really broken out as a big star in mixed martial arts. Those divisions are simply too new for pay-per-view consumers to feel comfortable risking their dollar on them.
However, in terms of action, lighter weight fighters blow everyone else away. To properly put things into perspective, look at the tepid performances against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian that UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo was criticized for last year. Were they not were leagues above any fight that’s taken place on Fox thus far?
Looking back on it, the fact that the UFC chose guys like Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans, and Phil Davis to showcase grappling to the masses was ridiculous, considering that it’s the lower weight fighters that are executing submissions never before seen in the Octagon. Is the extent to which people respect and are familiar with the middleweight division really worth trading Charles Olivera’s calf slicer submission for the Demian Maia-Chris Weidman bout? I don’t think so.
Mixed martial arts is a volatile sport with a lot of variables; however, if the UFC’s intent is to bring exciting fights to a mass audience, then perhaps the UFC would be best served not to take chances on heavyweight, light heavyweight, and middleweight fights that have a 50/50 chance of devolving into something grotesque and unappealing.
If the UFC is truly looking at the big picture, then perhaps they should begin to think a bit smaller.
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