Thus far, the UFC’s network broadcast deal with Fox has been hit-or-miss. There was the 64-second title bout to kick things off last fall, decision-filled fights early in the year, an under-the-radar card in late spring, and the most action-packed event thus far just weeks ago.
After some growing pains, it appears the promotion has found a perfect recipe for its fifth installment.
Announced for an early December card is a lightweight title fight between champion Benson Henderson and No. 1 contender Nate Diaz. Also on deck is a light heavyweight bout between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Alexander Gustafsson, as well as a welterweight clash between B.J. Penn and Rory MacDonald.
The event will mark yet another title fight on free television, but the first since Junior dos Santos claimed the heavyweight strap with the aforementioned knockout of Cain Velasquez. By adding former champions Rua and Penn, the star power is there to draw in a big rating.
Undoubtedly, the decision to put Henderson-Diaz on free TV comes on the heels of a poor gate at UFC 150. While it may not be the only factor, UFC President Dana White revealed that Henderson’s title rematch with Frankie Edgar on Aug. 11 produced the lowest live gate of the last five years for a pay-per-view event. And although Diaz has already appeared on Fox—demolishing Jim Miller to earn his title shot—a match-up between him and Henderson on PPV is likely to pull in similar numbers as the Edgar fight.
It’s also no surprise that Rua appears on the card following his headline billing at UFC on Fox 4 earlier in the month. The Brazilian is known for being one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Despite his TKO win over Brandon Vera, he missed out on another chance at UFC gold after Lyoto Machida embarrassed Ryan Bader on the same card. Now, Rua will face the towering Swede, Gustafsson, and his five-fight winning streak in what should be a title eliminator.
If that wasn’t enough, the card will take advantage of the misfortune of September’s UFC 152 event. Former lightweight and welterweight champion Penn was slated to face rising Canadian Rory MacDonald at the event, but a massive 38-stitch cut suffered by MacDonald in training derailed those plans. Now, the pair will complement the Fox card by adding even more name value.
Although the promotion has yet to officially announce a location for the event, there are signs pointing toward the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Since UFC parent company Zuffa purchased rival promotion Strikeforce, the company has visited the venue multiple times, including UFC 139 (which also featured Rua) and UFC on Fuel 4 earlier this year. Considering the fact that Diaz trains in nearby Stockton and Penn previously trained with members of American Kickboxing Academy in his early career, the location would make sense geographically.
Even if the event is held elsewhere, there’s no question that fans will flock to a card featuring a title fight and multiple former champions. While the ratings may not top the promotion’s first card on Fox, the UFC is showing commitment to its fans by delivering another free title fight. Coupled with the coy matchmaking of Rua-Gustafsson and Penn-MacDonald, UFC on Fox 5 on paper may very well be the best card of the year.
Photo: Benson Henderson (James Law/Heavy MMA)