On its eighteenth birthday, the UFC graduated.  The promotion is finally grown up.  Gone are the “Dark Ages” when the sport was
banned from even showing on pay-per-view.  Gone are the days of fans trading tapes just to follow the sport.  Gone are the days of the UFC begging for small cable stations to air the sport.  Gone are the days of lesser promotions masquerading as the best on network television.  The UFC had finally grown up and was ready for its debut on network television.

Fox and the UFC signed a well-publicized deal covering seven years beginning in 2012.  But Fox agreed to kick things off with a preview this month.  The network was going to air one fight to introduce the sport to its audience.  The heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos this past weekend was selected to usher the sport into a new era.

As with anything new, there were some good, some bad, and some truly ugly things on this first foray to bring the UFC to the masses.

The Good:
  • UFC on network TV.  Just seeing the UFC on network television was a dream come true for many fans.  It was the culmination of the remarkable rise of the sport and was a celebration for those who have followed the rise through tougher times.
  • A free title fight.  Fans may complain about the 35 minute pre-fight hype for a one-minute battle.  However, this is a fight many fans would have shelled out $45 to $55 to see on pay-per-view that we instead got for free.
  • Junior dos Santos.  This fight was expected to be about as even as you can get.  MMA pundits were split on who would win and dos Santos was a slight underdog on betting lines.  But none of that mattered when the steel door shut and he crushed the reigning champion in just over a minute.
  • The production changes.  I know I am bucking the trend here, as many MMA critics are down on the production, but I thought it was a great change.  From the replacement of the gladiator with a montage of old fights, to the overall feel that comes with all other Fox sports programming, I thought the production was slick and a nice, long-needed change.
  • Brock Lesnar.  When I heard Lesnar was going to be part of the pre- and post-fight analysis team, I thought this was a disaster waiting to happen.  I was sure a WWE-inspired moment was going to come out, but I was wrong.  Lesnar came across as both knowledgeable and likeable.  He was successful in promoting not only his upcoming fight, but also the potential match-up with the champion in the future.
The Bad:
  • Cain Velasquez.  The former champion looked tentative and unsure.  Maybe if the fight went longer he would have found his pace and range, but in the time we saw him, he did not look like one of the best fighters in the world.
  • The use of the UFC Primetime special as pre-fight hype.  I don’t mind a 35-minute pre-fight analysis and discussion of a fight.  However to take about 25 minutes of that directly from the Primetime special was pointless.  The time could have been used for a discussion about the fight, the use of video packages to break down the strength and weaknesses of the fighters, and maybe interview other UFC stars making predictions to highlight how close the fight was expected to be.
  • MMA media, pundits and fans.  It was astonishing to see so many complaints about a historic free fight.  They complained about production, they complained that there was too much hype for such a short fight, they complained more fights weren’t aired on Fox and, as far as I can tell, they complained about anything and everything.  It seems spoiled fans and pundits have gotten to the point where they just like to complain and any legitimate points are getting lost in the rest of the noise of constant complaining.
  • Education.  The UFC promised they were going to educate the new fans on Fox.  I did not see much education happening.  Instead, they aired a portion of the Primetime special to hype the fight but not really educate the fans.  A video package used to break down the strengths or weaknesses of the fighters would have served a dual purpose of educating fans on skills and techniques in MMA.  The way it was done, the international broadcast that aired in Canada, the UK, Sweden and Australia that showed three fights in a format similar to Spike TV events would have been more effective in educating new fans than the pre-fight fluff aired on Fox.

The Ugly:

  • Dana White as an analyst.  White’s post-fight criticism of his fighters was uncomfortable and confusing.  A few minutes earlier, White was praising both fighters as the best in the world and then suddenly he was attacking Velasquez’s game plan and his new champion’s cardio.  He should have used the time to continue to build both fighters, selling them to the new audience.  Instead, he buried them.  I understand White was frustrated and angry at the quick ending that did not allow them to showcase what the UFC is all about to new fans, but his anger seemed out of place to those very fans and also hurts the future marketability of two of the best heavyweights.  I suspect White regrets his choice today, but if he can’t control his emotions and remember he is the president of the UFC, he needs to step out of the role of an analyst.

While there are obviously some areas for improvement, I thought it was a strong start.  I am excited for the future and to see what comes next.

Top Photo: Junior dos Santos (R) battles Cain Velasquez (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

About The Author

Richard Wilcoxon
Staff Writer

An East Coast native, Richard Wilcoxon grew up a die hard fan of traditional team sports. In the early 1990's, he stumbled onto the sport of MMA and has been hooked ever since. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2005 where he worked to spread his passion for the sport. He eventually became an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog before joining The MMA Corner.