Jon Jones (L) raises his arms (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson II: A Golden Opportunity for the UFC Trey Downey April 30, 2014 Spotlight The UFC has a golden opportunity on its hands. This past Saturday, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones put on a five-round clinic against a game Glover Teixeira. That victory sets up a fight that is an abundance of things for the UFC. The fight is a rematch of what some consider the greatest fight in the 20-plus year history of the sport. The fight is probably the biggest rematch in the history of the sport. It pits the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport against his greatest rival. It could fill a 50,000- to 60,000-seat stadium. The fight gives the promotion the biggest fight it could possibly put on this year while many of its other stars sit out with injuries. It could come close to a million pay-per-view buys. Of course, that fight is one in which Jon Jones defends his light heavyweight title for a second time against No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson. Now, granted, the fight could garner close to one million buys on pay-per-view. But here’s the thing: the fight shouldn’t take place on pay-per-view. That’s where the golden opportunity comes into play. This fight should be on the UFC’s network broadcast partner, Fox. It certainly seems like a no-brainer once all of the factors are laid out on the table. UFC President Dana White mentioned after Jones’ fight on Saturday that the UFC is considering putting this fight in a stadium in Sweden. This stadium is presumably the new Friends Arena. Located in a suburb of Gustafsson’s home town of Stockholm, the venue routinely hosts soccer matches and holds close to 60,000 people. White also said the fight could still take place on pay-per-view, despite the time difference. If the show aired at a normal time of 10 p.m. ET here in the United States, then the main card would kick off at around 4 a.m. in Sweden. That means the competitors in the title fight would be walking to the cage at around 6 a.m. That’s insane. Most people moan and groan about waking up at that time. On this card, all of the fighters would be walking out to try to be at their athletic peaks anywhere from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Call me crazy, but I think that five-hour window is probably the time least likely for someone to be at their best. However, White said it would be possible to do the fights at that time because of a phenomenon where in certain parts of the year there are nearly 23 hours of daylight. That may be true, but just because it is only dark for an hour doesn’t mean people only sleep for an hour. White and the promotion will say that they are throwing the European market a huge bone by even taking a fight of this caliber across the pond. They are—this would be by far the biggest fight the UFC has ever brought to Europe—but in the end, it would be a disservice to put on the fights in the wee hours of the morning. The solution to all of this is pretty simple. Put the fight on Fox here in the states. That way everyone wins. The fans in Sweden and Europe don’t have to set their alarm clocks. The fighters will be able to fight at a normal time because, if it is on network television here, it could air on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on Fox. The UFC will claim that this fight is too big and the promotion will lose too much money by not putting the fight on pay-per-view. The UFC would lose some money, but it cannot pass up this chance. There is no better way to gauge where the sport is than putting this fight on Fox. A lot of people were shaking their heads a little over a week ago when UFC on FOX 11, which featured one of the most stacked cards in the history of the events, garnered the lowest ratings in the history of the UFC on Fox series of events. This caused many people to re-emphasize the point that the sport’s popularity has plateaued or that the UFC is oversaturating the market so much that fans are confused about the significance of the fights and when and where they can watch them. Let’s face it, that Fox card was smack in the middle of a stretch of four cards in two weeks. That is a crazy amount when just a few years ago the UFC would host only a card or so per month. The UFC’s staff is only so big, and there is only so much room in the marketplace for promotion. A fight like Jones and Gustafsson could be just what the UFC and Fox need to jolt that extra popularity back in the machine and send it upwards, rather than just spinning their wheels in the two- to three-million viewer range. Most people project the rematch between Jones and Gustafsson will do between 800,000 and a million buys on pay-per-view. That’s already halfway to the number of people who watched the last Fox event. If that many people are willing to shell out $55 dollars for the event, then at least five times that amount would tune in for the fight on free television if it were marketed correctly. That number might even be a bit modest. UFC’s first event on Fox, featuring a heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, peaked at nearly nine million viewers. If this Jones-Gustafsson fight is anything like the last one, then the number could be eclipsed. The UFC has been looking for its next Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar moment for almost 10 years now. The fight between the two The Ultimate Fighter finalists did more for the popularity of the sport than any other. The UFC almost got that moment again late last summer. The first fight between Jones and Gustafsson was intended to headline the UFC’s show in Boston last year on the launch day of Fox Sports 1. Jones wouldn’t have been ready for that date, however, so the fight was pushed back a few weeks. If that fight had taken place that night on Fox Sports 1, there’s no doubt that Fox Sports 1 and the UFC would be much further along than they are right now. That’s not to say that the card wasn’t awesome—it was—but one of the top five most recognizable names in the sport going through the toughest fight of his life on free television would have instantly made Fox Sports 1 a destination for MMA. The other big thing about all of this is how it will make the sport look like a big deal. Having 60,000 screaming fans in a state-of-the-art stadium tends to have that effect. The crowds and how full the stadiums are on television has played a huge role in the rising popularity of soccer here in the states. That sport is also routinely aired on Sunday afternoon by Fox and garners big ratings. The UFC is starting to try to model itself as a league like the NFL more and more. The NFL thrives through television contracts and the fact that all of the big events are on network television. If the UFC wants to really see where it stands alongside the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, MLB and NHL, then this is the way to do it. Fox’s NASCAR schedule ends in May and the NFL doesn’t start its season until September. That leaves a big gap without many good ratings on Sunday. Therefore, the UFC and Fox should team up to air this card on the Sunday before the NFL season begins. Market it as the biggest week in the history of Fox Sports. That way, one Sunday, you have the biggest fight in the history of MMA, and the next week you have the opening Sunday of the NFL season. Dual commercials will also pay off—the NFL is the biggest sport in the United States. The fact that the UFC garners its best ratings for the Fox events during football season provides evidence to support that theory. The UFC must cash in on this chance. Sometimes, in order to garner big rewards, you have to take big risks. This certainly is a big risk. The UFC will lose pay-per-view revenue if it goes this route, but it could gain so much more in the long run. The ratings and results of this event, good or bad, would have a major impact on the future programming strategy of the UFC. And hey, doesn’t Dana still owe the fans something for that thing that went down in Abu Dhabi a few years back?