Written By: Barry Laminack
Photos Courtesy: Heavy MMA
Bruce Buffer said it best (and he must have been speaking to the hard core MMA fans) when he said, “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…”
The UFC’s long awaited debut on mainstream television was indeed the moment a lot of hard core MMA fans had been waiting for. The time had finally come for MMA enthusiast to be able to mix up the sports talk at the water cooler on Monday with the guys who presumably didn’t know the difference between an arm tackle and an arm bar. It was finally time for the sport we love so much to have it’s moment to shine.
The debut of the UFC on Fox was Scheduled for 1 hour. In reality, it lasted one minute. 1:04 to be exact.
Dana White and the UFC were confident that the match-up they had chosen to be their lead horse in the race for mainstream acceptance would live up to expectations and win over the casual fans in the process. That match-up was between then current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and number one contender Junior Dos Santos. The good news is the fight lived up to expectations, mostly because nobody expected it to last very long. The bad news is, it didn’t last long enough for the casual fan to decide if this was a sport worth investing their time into learning.
I’ll admit I was baffled (like many others) when I found out that the UFC’s debut on Fox was only going to show one fight, that fight being the main event between Dos Santos and Velasquez. Later though, I found out that this was Fox’s call, not the UFC’s. It’s hard to say why they wanted to only show one fight but based off of the feedback so far (included fan comments on our Facebook page) the hardcore fans aren’t happy with the decision.
With growth and success comes some loss of control. It happens to all the major sports. Fox and ESPN have a lot of say in many facits of the NFL, NBA and MLB. In fact, scheduling is almost done exclusively to meet the needs and demands of the networks that carry the games. It would be unreasonable to think MMA would be any different.
The problem is that is that the fight that could have won over more fans and created more interest in the sport was only available on Facebook. I’m speaking of the match-up between Clay Guida and Benson Henderson. By the way, did I miss the memo that we had to now start calling Ben, Benson?
This was the fight that many hardcore fans wanted to see on Fox and after watching it, they were right. Guida and Henderson put on show for three rounds and if ever there was a fight that could have been used as a “teaching moment” for the casual fan, this was it. The fight had a little bit of everything in it. What we saw on Facebook (when it wasn’t “buffering”) was a good mix of stand up, wrestling, clench work and jiu-jitsu; and with Joe Rogan’s knack for being able to not only describe what’s going on but break it down, explain it and teach it to the fans, this was the fight that could have not only educated the masses but won them over. To further prove the point, the fight was chosen as fight of the night, earning both Guida and Henderson a $65,000 bonus for their efforts. It also earned the winner of the fight, Henderson, a title shot against current lightweight champion Franky Edgar.
Speaking of awards bonuses, it was no surprise that Knockout of the Night went to Junior dos Santos for his efforts and Submission of the Night went to Ricardo Lamas after forcing Cub Swanson to tap to an arm triangle in the second round of their fight. Both Dos Santos and Lamas also earned $65,000 each for the awards.
As for the main event itself? As previously mentioned it didn’t last very long. After working on Velasquez’s lead leg with a steady diet of kicks, Dos Santos caught him with an over hand right on the ear that wobbled and toppled the champion. Dos Santos quickly pounced and after peppering the grounded Velasquez with shots to the face, he began landing thunderous blows to the side of his head. Moments later referee “Big” John McCarthy intervened and stopped the fight and with that the UFC had a new heavy weight champion in Dos Santos.
“I have no words to say what I’m feeling,” Dos Santos told Joe Rogan in the center of the Octagon after the fight. “It’s amazing, my life. I have a lot of good people around me. I think Cain Velasquez was for sure my toughest opponent. I was afraid to fight with him, because he’s very tough. I was not 100 percent for this fight, so I was scared.”
That may have been true, but Dos Santos made it look easy.
“I just want to say sorry to all my fans, family and friends; I disappointed you,” Velasquez said. “I’m much more than this. I will be back, and I will get that belt back.”
Dos Santos will have to wait to find out who his next opponent is. White said during the broadcast the the new heavyweight champion will get the winner of the upcoming Brock Lesner vs Allistair Overeem fight at UFC 141 on December 30, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
While I think the debut of the UFC to a mainstream, prime time audience didn’t pack the punch they had hoped (sorry for the horrible pun but it’s late), it probably could have been worse. Fox got what they wanted in an early TKO stoppage in dramatic fashion, but would that be enough to keep the casual fans coming back for more? Maybe not according to Maggie Hendricks. In her pice titled “UFC on Fox: Judging the first network broadcast” on Yahoo Sports Hendricks wrote, “…CNBC sports business Darren Rovell did an unscientific Twitter poll to ask non-MMA fans if they would watch again based on Saturday night’s broadcast. He has nearly 20,000 followers, and 46.2 percent of those who replied said that they are less likely to watch.”
Let’s hope that’s not the case, but if it is, at least White and the UFC have 7 years left on their contract with Fox to figure things out. Given their track record of success and growth thus far, their’s no reason to doubt that they won’t.