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Brock Or Bust: Does The UFC Need Lesnar For Its Fox Debut?

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The MMA press has been insistent that the UFC "must use" Brock Lesnar to headline their Nov. 12th debut on Fox TV. Do they really?

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Kevin Iole said in his Yahoo! Mailbag column that it was a "must" for the UFC to "use" former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar on their network TV debut with Fox on November 12. Iole believes the UFC has to be "big out of the box" for the network and that with so many fighters already committed to other events, Lesnar is the only man for the job.

Before last weekend's UFC 134, rumors were flying that the UFC wanted to book Anderson Silva against Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Dan Henderson. But if Dave Meltzer's early estimates of the UFC 134 pay-per-view buy numbers are correct they'll want to do something different.

Dana White has already dismissed both possibilities. But there's nothing less likely to stop rumors of a possible big fight than the denials of a fight promoter, so let's speculate a bit.

Does the UFC absolutely need Brock Lesnar for a "big" show on Fox on November 12? Here are three possible answers:

  1. Yes, they can't do it without their biggest star.
    MMA Payout did a fairly exhaustive study of the UFC's biggest draws last year and Lesnar came out on top by a wide margin. Despite his serious health issues and, even worse to fight fans, back-to-back fights that together stripped the aura of invincibility off Lesnar, Lesnar remains the biggest draw the promotion has. To put their best foot forward on Fox TV, it's imperative they fire off their biggest gun.

  2. No, they won't use him because they can't. 
    To try to understand the UFC's options here, keep in mind that "serious health issues" is a nice way ofsaying they had to cut a foot out of his colon due to diverticulitis. Lesnar's been recovering for most of this year but he just won't be ready to fight in time.  

  3. No, they can't afford to use their top pay-per-view draw on free TV
    As lucrative and high profile as the UFC's Fox TV deal is, the brutal economic fact remains that the UFC will make considerably more money by reserving Brock for pay-per-view.  When Brock Lesnar fights, the UFC can expect to sell in the neighborhood of 700,000 to 1,000,000 buys at around $55 a pop. Giving away the kind of scratch that earns just doesn't make business sense. 
The UFC will need to get creative to make the most of their November 12th opportunity on Fox, but it seems unlikely that Brock will be leading the charge. 

The more interesting issue is whether or not Iole is right that the UFC's Fox debut will be seriously lacking without Lesnar. We've seen a year or more of eroding pay-per-view numbers and TV ratings from the promotion, largely because they've been spread too thin with too many events. 

With so many events on the calendar, they have much less bench strength to jump on short-notice opportunities like November 12 on Fox. On the other hand, they've always viewed the UFC brand as the fundamental asset they are marketing, not any individual fighter. We'll find out in November if the UFC brand alone can carry them on network TV.