This weekend the UFC makes the huge leap to network television, bringing their unique brand of cage fighting to the mainstream public on Fox. The promotion has gone all out for their network debut, booking a live heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, the first free heavyweight title fight in UFC history.
But there are potential stormy waters ahead - lurking just stage right is a 147 pound man who casts an enormous shadow.
Starpower: No contest.
The UFC's heavyweights aren't major stars yet. That's one of the hidden reasons the promotion was willing to gamble with a title fight on free television. The bout was unlikely to draw serious money on pay per view - they are hoping that a great fight on Fox will change the trajectory of the winners career- and create a new star. Neither man is quite there yet. Advantage: Boxing (Big Time).
Fight Quality: Velasquez and dos Santos are at the top of the heap, clearly the top two heavyweights in the world at this moment in time. It should be a tremendous fight. Velasquez is skilled in all areas, and while we still haven't seen Junior's ground game tested in any significant way, his boxing is dangerous almost beyond reason. The wild card is Velasquez's injured shoulder. This will be his first bout back after rotator cuff surgery. How it will affect his game is an open question.
Promotional Muscle: If you're a football fans, you've already seen the UFC's Fox debut advertised dozens of times before a captive audience of sport's fans. The UFC has been focused like a lazer on this event - to the point the company let UFC 138 sink or swim on its own in the marketplace. How the UFC is placed and promoted on Fox going forward depends a lot on how well this event does. It's important and the UFC is treating it as such.
Advantage: UFC (Traditional marketing can't match the power of free network TV ads)
Bells and Whistles:
For UFC fans, Saturday's card is living history. The promotion, a true underdog that once battled the power of the government and cable conglomerates, is finally taking its rightful place on the mainstream stage. Advantage: UFC.
Although it seems like a full fight card would be to boxing's advantage, the undercard is tepid to say the least. Bloody Elbow's Managing Editor Brent Brookhouse sums it up nicely: "The undercard is a bit of a turd."
In the end, both events are one fight shows. For fight fans, it will be a matter of preference. Will fans continue to choose Manny in droves? Or will Fox's siren song attract millions of new viewers to the UFC? Either choice is a good one - both promise to deliver memorable and exciting fights.
I'll be watching the UFC make history, enjoying the culmination of 18 years of hard work. It's been a long road for the UFC. It's amazing to see them finally make it. Manny? Manny can wait for HBO next week.