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USA TODAY: As with UFC on FOX 6,UFC moving more toward free TV for title bouts
USA TODAY: As with UFC on FOX 6, UFC moving more toward free TV for title bouts
by Ben Fowlkes on Jan 24, 2013 at 8:00 am ET
(This story originally appeared on usatoday.com.)
Before the UFC's landmark TV deal with the FOX network began in earnest in 2012, UFC President Dana White kept assuring fans and media that we would see "some good fights" on network TV.
At the time, that phrase seemed both intentionally vague and yet strangely telling. Notice he didn't say title fights. Those, it seemed, would still be reserved for pay-per-view. FOX would get the stuff that the UFC didn't mind giving away for free, much like Spike TV had before the UFC's contract with the cable network expired in 2011.
But if you take a look at this weekend's UFC on FOX 6 fight card, you'll see that change is in the air, and that's good news for mixed martial arts fans.
Saturday's event at Chicago's United Center (8 p.m. ET) featured a main event between flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson (16-2-1 MMA, 4-1-1 UFC) and challenger John Dodson (14-5 MMA, 3-0 UFC), which makes it the second FOX fight card in a row to include a title bout. The UFC's next FOX event in April also includes a championship bout, UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson vs. final Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez.
That marks a significant upgrade from the first three full FOX events, none of which included a title fight. (The first FOX event included a heavyweight title fight – but no other bouts – in November 2011). Instead we saw former champs, would-be contenders and mid-level up-and-comers. We saw the kind of "good fights" White had promised, but we didn't see major ones. In turn, FOX saw decent ratings from its UFC broadcasts, but perhaps not the great numbers it had hoped for.
And that, maybe more than any other factor, might explain why the UFC's concept of what a FOX event looks like appears to be evolving – and just in time, too.
After drawing mediocre FOX ratings in May and August of 2012, the lightweight title bout in December propelled the UFC to its best numbers since its first full FOX event in January. The December fight card averaged 4.4 million viewers – an 83% increase from the previous FOX event – with a peak of 5.7 million during the championship main event.
The message encoded in those figures is apparently not lost on the UFC, or on FOX. If either thought fans would show up in droves for any MMA broadcast with the UFC brand name on it, they seemed to have realized their error after a ratings lull. It's still unclear how far the UFC is willing to go with this approach. Ratings success is nice, but it might be small consolation if the UFC has to give up PPV cash in order to achieve it.
But then, that's the thing about going from basic cable to network TV. As expectations climb, good fights may not always be good enough.