For the UFC, Saturday’s heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos is about more than a belt and bragging rights.
That’s the night that UFC will enter the homes of many viewers for the first time as the mixed-martial arts league will have its match air on Fox, the first time a UFC-sanctioned event will air on broadcast television.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, UFC heads Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta, along with Fox Sports Media Group chairman David Hill, Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks and Fuel TV GM and executive VP George Greenberg expressed their optimism for Saturday’s event, as well as the UFC-Fox deal that begins in January.
White was bullish about the fact that a heavyweight title fight will be seen on over-the-air TV, something that doesn’t happen anymore ever since the pay-per-view model was introduced. “[Fox execs] came to us and said how about we kick this thing off right and do a big fight and say ‘Hey, the UFC is on Fox.’”
With so many first-time viewers, Hill said that he was not worried about any sort of backlash from those who may see UFC as “too violent.”"If you look at the popularity of the sport, and its dramatic growth not only here but around the world, I think it’s moved from a niche to a mainstream,” said Hill. “I don’t expect any backlash at all.”
Another hurdle to clear for UFC is that with first-time viewers comes a less-than-stellar understanding of the rules and nuances of the sport. “There is going to be storytelling, there is going to be some explaining on who we are and what this is,” said White. “This [fight] is going to be different.”
Fuel TV, which will air the bulk of the coverage surrounding Saturday’s fight, seems poised to benefit greatly from the increased exposure. On the decision to air the pre- and post-fight coverage of Fuel instead of FX, which has a much larger reach, Shanks said that “it’s a way to raise awareness for Fuel.” Once the deal kicks in, Greenberg said his network is planning for 2,000 hours of UFC-themed programming, with 100 of them live events.
Roughly three months after Fox and UFC announced their multi-year pact, White has no second thoughts. “This has been an amazing working partnership,” said White. “These guys are the best at what they do in sports.”