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UFC On Fox 1: A Love Letter To Dana White And The Men Who Saved A Sport

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The UFC makes its debut on Fox Saturday night with the UFC heavyweight championship between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos on the line. MMA historian Jonathan Snowden gives credit where it is due - to the near flawless execution of Dana White, Joe Silva, and a committed ownership group.

Joe Silva and Dana White, the architects of the UFC's success. Photo by Esther Lin.
Joe Silva and Dana White, the architects of the UFC's success. Photo by Esther Lin.

In Trading Places, Eddie Murphy makes all the right moves. A street hustler, the motor mouthed Murphy out maneuvered the cream of the Wall Street crop with the help of a hooker, a gorilla, and a phony crop report. If it sounds wacky, it's because it was. Only Murphy, at the height of his powers, and two walking, breathing versions of Statler and Waldorf could make something so ludicrous seem so wonderfully plausible.

In real life, things never work out so easily. The son of a single mother, a wild Irish American kid who made his name as a boxercise instructor in Las Vegas, doesn't become the President of the most important sports franchise to come around since NASCAR. He doesn't outsmart agents, television execs, and major players in the business world at every turn. His consigliere certainly isn't the former manager of a video game store who got his start writing fan mail and making fight suggestions to the newly created UFC back in 1993.

No one would buy that story. Its "feel good" quotient is through the roof. Underdogs just don't make it that big in America. We've all seen the figures and statistics. The rich get richer and video game store managers don't live their dreams. They struggle to make their mortgage and hope and pray not to get laid off. That's the America most of us know. The UFC, by contrast, seemingly exists on another plane, one with a pot of gold behind every rainbow, every good decision rewarded with a giant check - even some of the bad decisions rewarded against all reason.

It's all too real, truth trumping fiction. Dana White and Joe Silva have made the UFC a creative and financial monster. Against all the odds, cage fighting has taken the stage alongside heavy hitters like football and basketball. Mixed martial arts, it finally seems safe to say, is here to stay.

Since crashing onto cable television in 2005 with The Ultimate Fighter, UFC President Dana White and principal owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta have almost flawlessly created a billion dollar empire. The three men took a struggling sport, one that had been banned from coast to coast and pulled even from the anything goes world of pay per view, and made it one of the hottest and fastest growing entertainment properties in the world.

Now the UFC treads unfamiliar waters - the true mainstream. If you're a sports fan you can't have missed the fact that the UFC invades Fox this weekend. The ads have been everywhere. After a decade, the UFC has finally hit the big time. And boy are they ready.

White, often stretched to wits end with the minutiae of running a staggeringly multifaceted business, is focused like a sniper on this event. He and the television executives at Fox are making all the right moves. For their debut event, they made the choice to concentrate on a single fight, a heavyweight title bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. The message is unmistakable - "Come and give us a try," it seems to scream. "We're giving you our best on a 52 inch big screen platter."

The rest of the time on a one hour broadcast will be devoted to explaining exactly what the audience is seeing and promoting the UFC's next mega fight: the winner of this bout against the winner of the Alistair Overeem-Brock Lesnar showdown in December. It's smart business.

The temptation to promote next week's UFC 139 was surely there at all times, the proverbial devil on Dana's shoulder. But Lesnar and Overeem is the smarter play. The two behemoths, no matter which man runs over the other, are box office manna. The UFC doesn't play for tomorrow. They are playing for next year and beyond. That disciplined decision making has been a big part of the promotion's success.

The Fox experiment is just beginning. We'll all know soon enough if the average sports fan will love this sport the way hardcore fans do. For most of us, the UFC is more religion than sport. It's what we live and breathe. Once you get it in your blood, every other sport pales in comparison.

The future of MMA is now - we've been on a roller coaster ride together for 18 years. Saturday we finally take the plunge down that first giant hill. The mainstream might end up rejecting our beloved. But it won't be because of Dana White and the UFC. They've done everything we could have possibly dreamed to get us here, to this pivotal moment. I'll be watching. I hope ten million more are by my virtual side.