Earlier this week I called Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos the biggest fight in UFC history. But will viewers respond? I asked each of SB Nation's MMA sites to sound off on how they think the UFC's debut on Fox will do in the ratings. Their answers might surprise you.
Luke Thomas (MMA Nation): Earlier in the week I was more pessimistic about UFC's chances to topple Kimbo Slice's number. Now that we are closer to fight day, I'm leaning towards the idea the biggest brand in MMA might be able to reach what are honestly pretty lofty heights. There are still four items of concern, though.
First, Slice's fight with Thompson didn't happen without build-up. Gina Carano, frankly one of MMA's biggest stars, also fought on that card and added a million viewers to the broadcast by the time her bout ended. Second, Slice's fight ran long, over into a timeslot CBS normally reserved for nightly news. Many viewers clicked over expecting something else, unaware Slice's fight would still be on. Third, MMA lacks the same curiosity factor it had in 2008. Lastly, while Velasquez and dos Santos are insuperably talented, they very much lack Slice's starpower.
Those in the know in TV suggest the fight needs to go longer to really build ratings. A window of an hour is not long and they'll need Velasquez and dos Santos to go to war for more than two rounds to truly bring in viewers. If that happens, I suspect 8 million is not out of reach. A lot of things have to go right for UFC for that to happen, but fortune favors the bold.
Michael David Smith (MMA Fighting): I'm predicting 6.5 million viewers, an audience that will be right around the same as the audience Kimbo Slice drew for EliteXC's first appearance on network television. Velasquez-Dos Santos is a better fight, of course, but there was an aura around Kimbo that I'm not sure either of these two heavyweights have. I think a more interesting question than total viewers might be how the UFC does against the Oregon-Stanford game on ABC at the same time. My guess is that Oregon-Stanford will have more viewers but that the UFC will beat college football with the young male demographic that FOX is really targeting with its UFC deal.
Thomas Myers (MMA Mania): Unsurprisingly, UFC President Dana White boldly predicted that the championship fight between Velasquez and dos Santos on FOX would be a bonafide ratings monster, saying he expected to blow CBS's 6 million MMA viewer record "out of the water." It's hard to quantify exactly what that means, but conservatively let's estimate that he expects to double those ratings and register 12 million or more on fight night.
Based on the steady drumbeat of teasers during major sports broadcasts, as well as all the pre-fight, red carpet pomp and circumstance scheduled to air on other FOX properties such as FUEL TV, FOX Deportes and FOX Sports radio, it's simple to understand White's confidence. He's also a promoter who is super excited about a major title fight airing for the first-time ever on a major television network deal years in the making. Several factors come into play in regard to ratings, including other programming (college football), fight quality/duration and general awareness/interest, among others.
In addition, Velasquez and dos Santos, who are fantastic, talented and well-deserving of the historic opportunity, unfortunately do not have the same name recognition and/or cache as a Brock Lesnar or even, gasp, Kimbo Slice. At least not prior to Saturday's primetime telecast, anyway. Nonetheless, I expect the pre-fight show on FOX to gradually draw folks in and the fight, which will likely be very competitive and exciting, to have viewers pouring in to see what all their friends are raving about. Factor in all the promotional groundwork that has already been laid, as well as the promotion's large existing fan base of mixed martial arts (MMA) enthusiasts (and vocal ambassadors) and I think this will fall somewhere in the middle between 6 and 12 million, sniffing the 10 million mark when the
Brent Brookhouse (Bloody Elbow): I think the show tops out around 7 million viewers. Which is about half a million viewers more than EliteXC: Primetime which was the network debut with Kimbo vs. James Thompson. Between only one fight, college football, Manny Pacquaio it just doesn't seem like it's realistic to expect much more than that.
Donna Hurrle (Gals Guide To MMA): I think that the ratings for UFC on Fox are completely dependent on how Fox markets the fight. We can assume that the Fox event will have the regular MMA fans watching. So, the key here is to bring in new viewers who aren't typical UFC fans but are interested enough to tune in for the fight. The Velasquez vs. Dos Santos fight comes on after two new episodes of COPS, which is a consistent Saturday night ratings draw for the male demographic. If Fox successfully markets the fights during COPS, I think its safe to assume there will be a healthy spillover of viewers that stay on to watch the fight. 6 million.
David Castillo (Head Kick Legend): If there are any factors in favor of the UFC, it's that this November weekend is truly fight week. I'm not so sure the Pacquiao fight will hinder FOX numbers: it's not like boxing fans watch MMA when boxing isn't on. If anything, with the convenient timeslot, the Pacquiao fight may help in the sense that fight fans in general will be in a tizzy. Maybe the timeslot prompts the curiosity of some boxing fans. Not in any meaningful way, but conversely, I don't expect the boxing match to meaningfully affect the UFC fight in a negative way. Zuffa's opponent this weekend is probably Andrew Luck, not Pacman. I expect a decent enough outcome: ever the optimist, put me down for a rating of five million and just a smidgen over.