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By Matt Pelkey, MMATorch Columnist
Back in August of last year, when the UFC announced their multi-year, multi-platform, multi-million dollar deal with the Fox network, many, myself included, had dreams of a cheaper future as an MMA fan. "They're on network TV now", we thought, "pretty soon we won't have to order pay-per-views and spend $50-$100 per month to enjoy our great sport. We'll be able to watch big fights for free for the low, low price of lots and LOTS of commercials!" Well, we were half right. We do get to watch big fights for free on Fox. Saturday's card from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey - headlined by a fantastic lightweight bout between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz - is living proof of that. And yes, there are all sorts of commercials to fast forward through.
Where we were wrong is the first part, and Saturday's card is unfortunately also proof of that. The pay-per-view model is alive and well for the UFC, and, in hindsight, the Fox deal may have only served to strengthen it. The events on the various platforms (Fox, FX, Fuel), while solid from an action, star-power, and importance perspective, have served as glorified infomercials for UFC pay-per-views headlined by bigger, more important fights.
Sure, the first event post-Fox deal was the heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, but a) it was the first fight on Fox and the UFC obviously wanted to make a splash, b) it was a one-hour, one-fight card, and c) even that was just one week before UFC 139 headlined by the five round classic between Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. UFC on FX 1 and UFC on Fox 2 pimped the Interim Welterweight Title fight between Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz at UFC 143. The first UFC on Fuel gave the hard-sell for UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson in Japan. And Saturday's card on Fox, while positioned three weeks before instead of one, is sure to have plenty of commercials, video promos, and interviews designed to sell the heavyweight title fight between Junior Dos Santos and Frank Mir at UFC 146.
Its unfortunately the nature of the beast. The UFC makes more money on pay-per-views. They have roughly two dozen fighters under contract with cuts of the pay-per-view revenues built into their deals. Fights like Cain Velasquez-Junior Dos Santos will be the exception to the rule. No fighter is going to want to give up their pay-per-view bonus to fight on free television. Thus we get cards like this Saturday's. Its our first four-fight card on a Fox event (after the one-shot first show there was the triple bill of Rashad Evans-Phil Davis, Chael Sonnen-Brian Stann, and Chris Weidman-Demian Maia), and it should be a good one. Aside from the Miller-Diaz main event, there's also a welterweight contender fight between fellow top-10'ers Johnny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck, the return (why does every one of his fights feel like a "return" fight?) of middleweight Alan Belcher against leg-lock wizard and general psychopath (and I mean that in a flattering way) Rousimar Palhares, as well as your guaranteed fireworks fight between heavyweights Pat Barry and the debuting Lavar Johnson.
There's a lot to like about this card. It features four different weight classes. The top three fights are all quite relevant to their division (Nate Diaz would be the #1 contender at lightweight with a win, the Hendricks-Koscheck winner will be right up there with Jake Ellenberger at the top of the welterweight heap waiting for GSP to heal or to get a crack at interim champ Carlos Condit, and the winner of Belcher-Palhares will have announced himself as a new, exciting player in the middleweight title chase). And, um, Pat Barry.
But look at it from another perspective. There's no title fight. There's not even a real #1 contender fight (Jim Miller was trounced by current champ Ben Henderson not that long ago. No one is clamoring for that rematch. He's already been stated as being "two or three fights away" with a win). There's not one single fight on the card that the UFC would consider a fight people would see as "worth paying for." But that wasn't the purpose of the Fox deal. In hindsight, its purpose was to expand exposure of the UFC "brand" to a larger, more mainstream audience, and...to get that new audience to order the pay-per-views. So enjoy the event on Saturday, it looks like a fun card on paper. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself subconsciously muttering the phrase "must see Dos Santos-Mir..." to yourself afterwards, and be even less surprised when your wallet is $50 lighter next month.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
Frank Hyden - Rich Hansen
Chris Park - Matt Pelkey
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