Fox Sports 1 debuted last weekend to strong expectations on which it intended to deliver. And deliver, it did.

The sports world witnessed FS1’s brand of programming, and although some argued that the channel shied away from presenting any direct form of competition to ESPN, the network nevertheless saw incredible ratings for UFC Fight Night 26 on Saturday night. The event, headlined by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Chael Sonnen, combined for an average total of 1.78 million viewers for a 1.33 household rating. That average reflected a higher total audience than the 141,000 viewers which Speed, Fuel and Fox Soccer collectively drew last year on Aug. 17. Immediately, the focus turned to what seemed like Fox’s incredibly smart decision to use the UFC as a means to raise awareness for its new sports channel.

As “America’s New Sports Network,” Fox Sports 1 promises to bring viewers the best of the sports world. With Fox Sports Live, as well as the variety of UFC programming that resides on the network, Fox Sports 1 delivers on that promise by actually providing its viewers with up-to-the-minute coverage of news and events from every sport, ranging from the “Big Four” of the sports world all the way to NASCAR, the motorsports world and, of course, the sport of MMA.

In contrast, rivals NBC Sports and CBS Sports, despite their respective successes, still struggle to get their similar networks noticed. What made the difference between these two and the even newer Fox Sports 1? An understanding of the Fox Networks’ approach to the Fox Sports 1 launch, as well as the primary focus of the NBC Sports and CBS Sports cable networks, best defines the key factor that helped Fox Sports 1 swim where its opposition sank.

To firmly comprehend how NBC Sports and CBS Sports still struggle, let’s delve into how they got where they are right now.

NBC Sports Network first surfaced as the Outdoor Life Network, and then became the Versus Network. Versus served as the home of the now-defunct WEC, as well as the home of UFC programming until the UFC’s August 2011 announcement of its deal with the Fox networks. In 2012, Comcast re-launched the Versus network as the NBC Sports Network and looked to debut in emphatic fashion.

NBC Sports Network, like its competition, strove to focus on providing a credible source of coverage to sports fans. Accomplishing this task in the fashion it desired meant changing its coverage to reflect a standard NBC Sports program, and it intended to let that shine through when NBC Sports Network delivered post-game coverage of the 2012 Winter Classic. However, very little advertising came in the announcement of the channel’s debut or programming, and the Winter Classic on “big NBC” scored low ratings.

Like its NBC-based competitor, CBS Sports Network started off under a different name before evolving into its current form. The network, under the leadership of former CEO Brian Beidol, started off as the National College Sports Network in 2002 and changed its name to the College Sports Television Network. CBS acquired CSTV Networks Inc. in 2005, re-launched the channel as CBS College Sports Network in 2008, and simply dropped “College” from the name in 2011 to give the world the “CBS Sports Network.”

Even before CBS’s acquisition of CSTV Networks, the channel focused strongly on college sports. Much like its competitors, though, it re-branded with intentions of delivering a premier quality of coverage for every sport, aside from just its initial specialty. This caused the network to incorporate lacrosse, select games in the PGA Tour, NBA D-League games, World’s Strongest Man competitions and even Professional Bull Rider competitions into its lineup.

The network’s launch coincided with CBS’ coverage of the 2008 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, which began on March 15, 2008. The CBS-televised coverage of the championship finals of the tournament only drew 19.5 million viewers, and CBS Sports Network’s coverage flew under people’s radars.

Fox Sports 1 knew NBC Sports and CBS Sports promised to differ from other new stations upon re-branding, but despite the success of NHL programming on NBC Sports and college sports programming on CBS Sports, Fox also realized that they didn’t try to break out with both guns blazing. The Fox effort needed to break out in a way the others didn’t, and it needed something to secure its long-term success as the new home for sports, even if it simply created an alternative to ESPN.

The UFC, the premier MMA promotion in the world, provided Fox Sports 1 with that something. Despite its beginnings in 1993 and its own struggle to reach a complete sense of mainstream acceptance, the UFC provided Fox with a marketable sport which holds ground as, far and away, the fastest growing sport in the world. Also, with the personalities that exist in the UFC, Fox Sports 1 could deliver on its promise of showcasing a fun atmosphere, just as most Fox Sports broadcasts do, because, again, Fox can market those personalities and promote them at will in order to attract newer audiences to its brand of sports programming.

UFC Fight Night 27 in Indianapolis continues this trend with an action-packed event headlined by a rematch between Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann. Nothing about the card has resulted in a negative reaction from fans, but let us not forget that this event takes place on a Wednesday night, and UFC Fight Night 28 in Brazil takes place just one week later, so the UFC does not get a whole lot of time to promote these cards.

Yes, this certainly does suggest a letdown, especially given the lack of actual promotion for the event, but will it prove to be one? No, it won’t. The promotion faced high expectations to deliver a big hit during last weekend’s debut, and with the sophomore effort on Fox Sports 1, the promotion will pick up where last weekend left off, making any chance of a potential “letdown” obsolete

“America’s New Sports Network” will enjoy the pleasure of showcasing more of these athletes as the UFC continues to cement itself as one of the key staples of the new network. After all, the channel promised to deliver the type of hard-hitting sports action that no sports fan will witness anywhere else, and whether anyone admits it out loud or not, very few brands know how to hit hard and make a statement when it counts quite like the UFC.

Don’t believe it? Look at the hit the promotion delivered on the new network last weekend, and then look at what NBC Sports and CBS Sports turned in. It stands to reason, especially with next weekend’s fight card on the horizon, that the UFC will continue to hit in areas where NBC Sports and CBS Sports miss. Those still skeptical must eventually find a moment to grow accustomed to what lies ahead for the new network on the block, because even if it merely provides an alternative to “the big dogs” at ESPN, Fox Sports 1 will stick around for a long, long time, and it will have a great time in the process.

Photo: Carlos Condit (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)