The UFC made its triumphant and long awaited debut on network TV Saturday with a single fight to offer FOX viewers a taste of what the organization has to offer prior to the launch of their long term broadcasting deal beginning next year. The UFC put its most prestigious title on the line between two of its most dominant and exciting fighters as “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (14-1) took on Cain Velasquez (9-1) for the UFC Heavyweight Championship of the World and in just 64 short seconds the bout was over. UFC President Dana White had said before the event that this was the greatest moment in MMA history and he was very correct in calling it that, a moment. JDS landed a brutal right hook behind the ear of the now former champion and pounced, finishing the undefeated heavyweight in short order with a stunning first-round KO. Despite FOX Sports CEO David Hill reporting that “It delivered everything I hoped it would”, the fight, or to be more accurate, its brevity, has drawn mixed responses from the MMA community as a whole. The ratings fell short of what fans had expected and despite managing to pull 5.7 million viewers, more than any previous UFC bout, losing out in the 18-49 year old ratings war only to a major NCAA football game between top ten ranked teams Stanford and Oregon, it left many fans complaining that it was the wrong bout to introduce the UFC to the massive casual fan base hidden within the tens of millions that watch sports on FOX every week. While it certainly is easy to give critique through the rose colored lenses of 20/20 hindsight, the fact of the matter is that the resounding success of the event has been totally eclipsed by the “what ifs” “how wills” and “Should’ve could’ve would’ves” of the perennially pessimistic MMA fan base.
One of the more common and more easily dismissed comments regarding the evening’s entertainment is that the UFC should have instead aired “Smooth” Ben Henderson’s (14-2) three-round decision win over “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-12). While it was clearly the best example of everything MMA on the card if not the past several cards, not one of the loud mouthed proclaimers of this point would have made, or supported, the same call prior to the event. The perfection of hindsight has shown everyone that it was an amazing fight but it was predicted by almost every pundit and analyst to be the kind of uneventful ground battle that puts all but the most hardcore wrestling and BJJ fans to sleep or at least in a foul mood. The two men also hadn’t benefited from the months of hype, personal fame, or title draw that Cain and JDS had. While some have combated this point with a “results are what matter, look at Bonnar vs. Griffin” argument, they conveniently gloss over the fact that the TUF Season 1 Finale that put the UFC and MMA back on the map had an entire season of a widely broadcast, popular reality show leading into it to build ratings. Could Henderson/Guida have done better than the 64-second title fight? Maybe. Only because it was exciting and would have had roughly 20 minutes of air time to draw in an audience. It certainly wouldn’t have had the initial viewership, the numbers after only one minute, or the fan support leading into the event, making it a discussion that is clearly relevant only in retrospect. Cain vs. JDS was, all things considered, the best fight for the job. It had the most prestigious title on the line between two proven performers who were easy to bill to a totally uneducated audience.
Another common complaint from the MMA fan base was that the bout was an entirely stand-up affair and that it will lead to causal viewers believing that MMA is “just boxing with smaller gloves”. Aside from the obvious flaw in this position’s assumption that the new fans don’t have the internet or other means to find out that MMA consists of a good deal more than just boxing in 4oz. gloves, the simple fact of the matter is that this is again an entirely retrospective argument. Supporters of this argument claim that it was obvious from the start that it would be a stand-up fight, brushing the fact that Cain Velasquez is a wrestler and had never failed to take his opponent to the mat in a UFC bout prior to his championship affair with JDS under the rug. While this bout will have that effect on some viewers, old head boxing fans in particular, any prediction that Cain wouldn’t even attempt a takedown in the first round would have been viewed with skepticism to say the very least. On paper and in film, the only two ways this bout could be assessed prior to its happening, this fight was clearly a match between two extremely exciting fighters, one who would bring the heat from the outside with outstanding boxing and KO power and the other who would drive the action into the cage and onto the mat with a high powered wrestling and ground-and-pound game. On paper, it was the perfect fight to capture the attention of the casual fan base and while it didn’t play out that way, to try and fault the UFC brass for making the call to bill that fight based entirely on hindsight is unfair to say the least.
“There was only one fight.” Dana White’s response says it best “You should have bought tickets, then, if you want to see all the fights and you don’t want to watch it on Facebook.” This fight was not part of the UFC/FOX deal, it was a single bout that was there only as a teaser or an introduction to the UFC for FOX viewers. In fact, the FOX deal will only provide fans with more free fights as live broadcast events replace several of the Pay-Per-View events that fans currently pay between $45 and $55 dollars for, so complaining about getting only one free heavyweight title fight on TV is beyond ungrateful, especially considering that every other bout was streamed without cost on the internet from not one but two websites. Fans have complained of a myriad of other issues as well ranging from the absurd to the legitimate, the shame is that is the norm for MMA fans. The UFC puts together a card with some of the biggest names and they complain that the bouts didn’t measure up to the hype. The UFC books several mid-level fighters and they complain that it doesn’t justify a $55 price tag. The UFC gives out free fights and they complain that there aren’t enough free fights. Then the UFC puts one bout live on FOX, tops the ratings for the 18-49 year old demographic, and draws 5.7 million viewers in a minute and four seconds and still they complain about every aspect they get the opportunity to. It’s a sad truth, but the MMA fans may have been given too many free hand outs from the UFC. Like spoiled children, they can never be satisfied with or even see the good that is done for the sport as a whole unless they get exactly what they want, for free, in its entirety. MMA has matured, it’s time for the fans to grow up as well.
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