Traditionally, summer is the off-season for most major American sports. Athletes and coaches in the NFL, NBA and NHL are all out of action until their seasons resume in the fall, and while there is Major League Baseball, it’s usually only the diehard fans who closely follow teams playing game 93 of 162. Instead, many folks take advantage of the weather by occupying their free nights and weekends with cookouts, bike rides and other activities that don’t involve the television.

If, however, you’re one of those people who’s still looking for your sporting fix this summer and won’t be satisfied with training camp reports and mid-season baseball, the UFC has the cure for what ails you. In a three-month span beginning next Saturday with UFC 162 and ending on Sept. 21 with UFC 165, the UFC will air a total of eight televised cards this summer. The weeks between July 27 and Sept. 4 will be the busiest of this period, with five events occurring in as many weeks.

While this influx of MMA programming is encouraging for most fans of the sport, there are probably a few out there who question whether packing in so many events in such a short amount of time could lead to a degraded quality for any specific card. In 2012, the UFC planned to run seven shows in approximately the same period. Unfortunately, injuries and other factors led to the outright cancellation of one of them (UFC 151) and left fans with events headlined by fights like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Brandon Vera and Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort—fine match-ups, I suppose, but not ones that are going to draw in a significant number of viewers.

This year, things are a little different, though. A significant reason behind the UFC’s summer programming push likely has a lot to do with the launch of Fox Sports 1, a Fox-owned cable network that all signs indicate will serve as the UFC’s primary non-pay-per-view broadcast partner in the years to come. Three of the eight UFC events this summer, all of which air between Aug. 17 and Sept. 4, are on that new network, which puts a bit less pressure on the UFC to bring a plate full of stacked cards to the table. Since Fox Sports 1 has very little in the way of programming to match the attractiveness of the UFC’s product, it can air less star-studded events without worrying so much about whether they’ll bring in a large number of viewers. With its other partnerships, and particularly on pay-per-view, the UFC is expected to match the quality of the card to the significance of the broadcaster. That is, if fans are paying $45 to watch a single UFC event or if Fox is blocking out two hours of primetime network programming to showcase a UFC card, it better damn well deliver. On Fox Sports 1, there is a little more flexibility.

That being said, however, the UFC’s summer offerings in 2013 do all contain intriguing fights, especially at the tops of the cards. Let’s take a moment to examine which of the eight events will likely draw the most viewers and which might end up on the other end of the spectrum.

First and foremost among these is UFC 162 on July 6. The intrigue surrounding this card has mainly to do with the return of UFC middleweight champion and longtime pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva, who has not defended his belt in nearly a year, and his fight against undefeated top middleweight contender Chris Weidman. The only time fans have seen Silva in any risk of losing his belt was in his 2010 fight with Chael Sonnen during which the challenger repeatedly took Silva to the ground and controlled him with superior wrestling. Few middleweights have displayed greater wrestling acumen than Weidman, and while he might not be able to finish Silva on the ground, the champion’s past performance against Sonnen might cast a small amount of doubt on his chances of retaining the belt yet again against such an accomplished ground fighter. In addition, Silva is 38 years old and has been fighting professionally for nearly half his life. It’s only a matter of time before it all catches up to him, and Weidman’s past success makes UFC 162 an event worth buying.

In addition to the title fight headlining the card, though, UFC 162 also features the return of Frankie Edgar, who will battle fellow featherweight Charles Oliveira in Edgar’s first non-title contest since 2009, and that of former middleweight contender Mark Muñoz, who enters the Octagon for the first time since his July 2012 loss to Weidman. Throw in a preliminary fight with UFC veteran Chris Leben and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice card to kick off the UFC’s summer package.

Next Saturday’s pay-per-view card is far from the only UFC event worth watching this summer, though. Those folks who are wary of purchasing a pay-per-view card will get their fill on July 27 for UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga. The card is headlined by a flyweight title contest between champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga. Johnson has not been defeated as a UFC flyweight, despite taking on nothing but the promotion’s top 125-pound competition. Moraga is similarly skilled with a 13-1 professional record, and the fact that he’s a newcomer to the UFC’s flyweight title scene makes him an intriguing opponent for “Mighty Mouse.”

The free Fox card will also feature a great welterweight contest between Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger, both of whom are in the UFC’s welterweight top-five. The winner will likely find himself facing the welterweight champion in his next fight, which is reason enough to watch this co-main event contest. A win for MacDonald would potentially set up a fight with current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who also happens to be one of MacDonald’s training partners, so the aftermath of MacDonald/Ellenberger could provide some interesting news coverage as well. Finally, the main card also features the return of Liz Carmouche, who will face Jessica Andrade in the first UFC women’s fight airing on Fox. At a cost of zero dollars, and with a pretty nice-looking card, it’d be hard for any fan to pass up UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga.

If there are going to be any of the eight UFC events this summer that get fewer eyes watching them, they’ll probably be the UFC on Fox Sports 1 cards. For starters, not every cable package will include Fox Sports 1. This is the case where I live and is likely to be that way elsewhere as well. The lower availability of the channel will likely lead to lower numbers, and the UFC has planned accordingly, placing well-known fighters at the tops of the cards without sacrificing its main draws for shows on a lesser-watched cable network.

Shogun vs. Sonnen is an intriguing enough fight to headline the first UFC on Fox Sports 1 event, but Sonnen’s days as a title contender in any division are likely over and Rua will certainly need at least one additional win over a top-five light heavyweight to secure himself another shot at the belt. The UFC has done a good job of loading that card with other potentially entertaining fights (Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne, Matt Brown vs. Thiago Alves), though, and is trotting out one of its bigger stars in Urijah Faber to help bolster its attractiveness.

If I had to pick one UFC event this summer that was probably not going to do so well in the ratings, however, it’s the second UFC on Fox Sports 1 card. For starters, it’s headlined by a rematch between Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann. This would be a significant draw for fans if not for the fact that both fighters are currently out of title contention thanks to losses to Johny Hendricks. At best, Condit/Kampmann II is a title eliminator between two good welterweights, but a win on Aug. 28 will by no means guarantee either of them a shot at the 170-pound belt. There is a co-main-event contest between Donald Cerrone and Rafael dos Anjos that could provide some fireworks, but beyond that the card probably looks a little thin to the average fan.

To be clear, there probably isn’t a single event of the eight coming to us this summer that even moderate MMA fans would not watch. Despite its comparative quality, UFC on Fox Sports 1: Condit vs. Kampmann II is going to be better than the vast majority of whatever else is on television on Aug. 28, and the other seven cards only get better from there. Of course, injuries and other potential changes could throw some or all of these events into flux, as we’ve seen before, but as it stands, the UFC has put together a fantastic summer series that should keep current fans watching and draw in some new followers in the process. We’ll start next weekend with UFC 162, and see what happens from there.

Photo: Anderson Silva (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.