Friday afternoon UFC president Dana White and a slew of Fox officials announced that Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos would square off for the UFC heavyweight championship as the sole featured bout on the promotion's Fox debut. Needless to say, the news traveled across the global media sphere like wildfire, with "Cain Velasquez" even trending on Twitter fifteen minutes into the joint conference call.
As one would expect with such a landmark announcement, the mixed marital arts community has flocked to support the decision. Without question, both UFC on Fox and Velasquez vs. dos Santos have the potential to raise the profile of the sport to a level most fans could have only dreamed about. The heavyweight title is a universally understood entity, and one that drives public fascination, regardless of prior knowledge.
Ben Fowlkes of MMA Fighting explains.
UFC's Choice for First FOX Fight a Bold Move, but Not Without Risks | MMA FIghting
With a heavyweight title fight, at least White and company are signaling their willingness to put some of their best material on free TV. At least they aren't saving it for pay-per-view, hoping the network audience will be content with action more suited to a Spike TV Fight Night event. Instead, the UFC is kicking in America's door with its first fight on network TV. It's putting everything on the table and relying on the fighters to bring it home. And really, what else can you ask for?
Though it's not like this is a new match-up. Velasquez vs. dos Santos was announced months ago as the headlining attraction of UFC 139. In truth, the November 19th card looks much bleaker with the bout removed from its ranks. Thus is the the concern of some who claim the promotion's decision was made too hastily and could signal the end of the UFC's focus on a quality pay-per-view product. Leland Rolling of Bloody Elbow explains how that may not be the case.
Will the fight's absence hurt UFC 139 significantly? Take your pick of fantasy match-ups from the laundry list of suggestions fans made this week and add it to the card. How about we add Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida and Alistair Overeem vs. Frank Mir? What about Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua? Promote a combination of those fights during the UFC on Fox broadcast, and I'm willing to bet UFC 139 gets a nice bump in viewership.
Still, as the weight of implications riding on this one bout continues to grow, it becomes easier to see where White was coming from when he exclaimed, "I'm literally betting everything on this," during Friday's conference call.
Indeed, the fight could eventually be seen as the promotion's shining moment; the point where everything came together to legitimatize the decades of hard work. Yet there is also a very real chance that all the hype could lead to unfathomable disappointment. That is the dangerous ledge that the UFC teeters on with this gamble.
But haven't they been there before? When Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar met at the finale of 'The Ultimate Fighter' weren't the exact same stakes at hand, just on much a smaller scale? John Morgan of MMAJunkie.com explains.
Velasquez and Dos Santos now each have an opportunity to etch themselves into the annals of UFC history. Griffin and Bonnar's epic clash made them instant fan-favorites, and White remains so enamored with the bout he's promised each of the fighters jobs for life. Now it's time for the heavyweights to hoist the promotion on their shoulders, and White believes he's picked the right two men for the job.
Regardless of speculation, the prevailing theme around the community is that this event will be successful beyond measure. With the aid of Fox's resources -- and a planned "Super Bowl-style tailgate-party, red-carpet production" featuring all the celebrity bells and whistles that come with network primetime -- the UFC's broadcast debut is guaranteed to steal the attention from any other event that has the misfortune of being scheduled on the same night, even if they aren't in directly competing time slots. (via MMA Mania's AintNoSunshine.)
The UFC and FOX, even if not intentionally, are stealing the buzz around one of boxing's premier fights and, by extension, fighters. They wont be making a dent on the PPV numbers by competing in the same time slot but they could very well effect it by taking some of the media attention and fan interest.