Out of the gate, UFC on Fox is looking very much like a hot stock.
Initial ratings from Saturday’s broadcast indicated a modest success in viewership with an audience of 4.64 million viewers, a figure in the ballpark of the second CBS-televised fight-night that featured Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson. But Fox issued a release on Sunday stating 5.7 million households tuned in to watch Junior Dos Santos club Cain Velasquez to win the heavyweight title.
The initial numbers for FOX said Saturday’s event was only second to ABC’s broadcast of the college football game between Oregon vs. Stanford in adults 18-49 and tied the game with a 7 share in that age group. FOX’s revised numbers projected it to win its time slot in adults 18-34, adults 18-49 and men 18-34. UFC on FOX also beat the numbers for the first MMA event on network television, the Kimbo Slice-led “EliteXC: Primetime,” FOX said.
These are the demographics for which advertisers pay, and they complement FOX’s track record of success in attracting young viewers. The network said it didn’t have much trouble selling ad time for UFC on FOX, same as CBS didn’t for EliteXC when Slice or Fedor Emelianenko or Gina Carano was involved. They were sellouts, and that spells longevity.
But it also brings us to a key question moving forward. Will the numbers garnered by a high-profile fight such as Velasquez vs. Dos Santos still hold when a title isn’t at stake, or when the wattage of an event’s marquee stars is lower? CBS saw a steep drop-off in ratings in cards not packaged with bankable properties such as Slice and Fedor.
This much is sure: The promotion leading into UFC on FOX is a tremendously encouraging sign. The network pushed the show in a big way. What we’ll find out now is whether FOX’s stellar support is enough to drive viewers to future UFC events broadcast on the network. It’s a tough market out there. MMA fans have become choosy with all the product to watch.
There’s also the question of what, if anything, the UFC and FOX plan to do to bring ratings up in older demographics and women.
The UFC and FOX have seven years to figure all this out, of course, with a seven-year broadcast deal that takes effect in January 2012, barring any performance clauses that give the network the option to bail if numbers dive. (FOX and UFC executives say the seven years is seven years, period.) But Saturday’s event is without question a great first step.
And now, a stock-watch for the face-punchers and limb-twisters we love:
Junior dos Santos (14-1): The Brazilian was stunning in taking care of Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds. Dos Santos was walking around on crutches 10 days before the fight with a torn-up meniscus, per his mentor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. That’s no boost to pre-fight confidence. Dos Santos worried that Velasquez would kick him and the house would come crumbling down. And Velasquez did kick him at least a few times, but the victor’s powerful overhand right put his worries to rest. The winner of UFC 141′s headliner, Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem, will present different but equally compelling problems for the new champ. Can’t wait.
Ben Henderson (15-2): The thing that’s really special about the former WEC lightweight champ is his physicality. That was on full display Saturday when Henderson outgrappled the bouncy Clay Guida to win a decision and a title shot. Henderson’s frame is hard to get a hold of; he’s long, and his balance and flexibility work to get him out of bad situations and into good ones. Guida had to get the takedown and be on top to make the fight work, and “Bendo” largely put the kibosh on that. Is the former WEC champ the guy to beat Frankie Edgar? I’m not so sure. Edgar’s speedy hands, unpredictable takedowns and sprawl are three things that could give Henderson big trouble. We’ll see when they meet at UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan.
Dustin Poirer (11-1): It’s a scary prospect to get punched by Poirer, or so impressed a retreating Pablo Garza during their preliminary-card meeting. There were no flying triangles or knees from Garza — he almost seemed to check out when he got a good taste of Poirer’s southern leather, and things got worse on the mat. Poirer took quick advantage of a bad position choice and ended the fight in the second with a D’Arce choke. Impressive stuff. In the featherweight class, the 22-year-old certainly looks like he has the makings of a champion. Along with Erik Koch and Bart Palaszewski, he’s an impressive striker with a question mark lingering in the wrestling department. Right now, he’s not ready for guys like Chad Mendes or Jose Aldo, but he may be within a year.
Ricardo Lamas (11-2): Fighting for his recently passed grandmother, Lamas found himself going unconscious in the first round when Cub Swanson slapped a guillotine on in a scramble. Somehow, the Chicago-based featherweight powered through it, and next round, he expertly capitalized when Swanson foolishly exposed his back. In the subsequent scramble, Lamas locked in an arm-triangle and finished the fight.
Darren Uyenoyama (7-3): Did anyone expect a 6-3 guy to be more than the switch to put Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto’s train back on course? Hey, this MMA. The guy who trains hard and fights without doubt is the guy who pulls off the upset, and Uyenoyama proved himself a dangerous guy from his back. I’d like to see more of his striking game, but he’s gotten a heck of a start.
Alex Caceres (6-4): What poise for the class clown. There were hardly any of the goofy smiles that characterized Caceres’ turn on “The Ultimate Fighter 12.” But there was a serious show when he completely outstruck and outclassed Cole Escovedo. Caceres won’t get past middle of class in the bantamweight division — there are too many guys that can hold him down, grind him out or submit him. But he’s entertaining opposite a striker, and by the boos that follow him, pretty marketable.
Cain Velasquez (9-1): The unflappable Velasquez had it right from the moment he collected his senses and sat down at the post-fight podium. He waited too long to press the action against Junior Dos Santos. He gave too much space for Dos Santos to work, and he didn’t fully commit to the one takedown he attempted. Good on him for knowing exactly what was wrong. Now he can go to work on doing things right.
There’s still nothing to suggest that he couldn’t put Dos Santo’s head through the mat if he scooped up the Brazilian. Was it all the little injuries he dealt with in camp, the 13 months on the bench courtesy of a torn rotator cuff, or the pressure of the fight? Probably all of them, to varying degrees. But Velasquez now knows what it’s like to be humbled, and I have no doubt he’ll work his way back to a rematch with Dos Santos — the division is, and will always be, wide open. As for what’s next, Jon Olav Einemo sounds like a good pick-me-up.
Clay Guida (29-12): After so many exhilarating but ultimately unsuccessful showings inside the octagon, Guida started fighting smart and turned his career around. He used his wrestling, he didn’t brawl without purpose, and he game planned with the renowned Greg Jackson. He won four consecutive fights and put himself in the conversation for a title shot. Guida just always seems to fall a tad short.
He brawled with Henderson from the get-go, and hurled himself into dicey positions that played into Henderson’s strengths as a grappler. All those flying knees and spinning backfists were phenomenally entertaining, but they didn’t always suit him on the scorecards. It looks like Guida is destined to be a lightweight bridesmaid for the rest of his UFC career. The promotion should never cut him — he almost always makes things exciting inside the octagon. But his glass ceiling is pretty solid at this point.
Robert Peralta (16-3): After getting dropped in the first round of his fight with featherweight Mackens Semerizer, Peralta gamely charged back to earn his own knockdown in the second. It’s a shame that his inadvertent headbutt brought an inconclusive end to an otherwise exciting fight, but Peralta, who made quite a big-show debut with a win over DREAM featherweight champ Hiroyuki Takeya, is a prospect to watch.
Clay Harvison (9-4): Harvison hustled his way to a decision over Justin Edwards at The Ultmate Fighter 13 Finale, but he looks far too limited a fighter to make a go of it on the big stage. With back-to-back losses against Seth Baczynski and DaMarques Johnson, he probably won’t get another chance.
Norifumi Yamamoto (18-5): How far the mighty fall. Four years ago, Yamamoto was one of those prizes on the mantle for every American fighter under 155 pounds. Now, he’s just another notch on the belt for the up-and-coming. He officially segued into that distinction when he was outclassed and outpointed by the unheralded and vastly less experienced Darren Uyenoyama. Not much else to do other than to write him off as yet another overseas investment that didn’t pay off.
Cole Escovedo (17-9): Escovedo proved he could take a punch from Alex Caceres, and a kick, and knee, and whatever else Caceres fancied over three rounds of largely one-sided action. Escovedo barely got a shot off over 15 minutes, to the point where he looked like he was watching a movie of himself inside the cage — one he barely wanted to watch and couldn’t find the remote to change. That’s three strikes now. He’s out.
Matt Lucas (14-3): A plodding decision loss to Aaron Rosa in which Lucas spit out his mouthpiece three times left little doubt that he is ready for the big show.
– Steven Marrocco