ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ben Henderson
said before Saturday's fight that his goal was to make UFC
president Dana White feel like he absolutely had to get the bout on primetime TV "some how, some way." With his Fight of the Night performance in a winning effort against fellow lightweight Clay Guida
, he may have done even better than that.
As Henderson and Guida hurled themselves across every square inch of the Octagon in a thrilling three-round battle before the main event, it was hard not to feel like the UFC was going to regret not getting this fight on live network. But then, there were network obligations to meet. FOX wanted the UFC to do just one fight -- the heavyweight championship of the world -- and so all the eggs were placed delicately in that one basket.
64 seconds after the start of the main event, well, you already know the fate of that particular basket.
We could argue about whether having a title fight that was over quicker than viewers could microwave their popcorn was a good thing for the sport and for the UFC, and I'm sure we will. What seems less debatable, at least to those of us who saw the Henderson-Guida bout, is that it was the lightweights who stole the show on Saturday night, even if they did it in the relative shadows of a live web stream.
White, somewhat understandably, was in no mood for criticism of the way the FOX broadcast was structured to focus only on the title fight.
"For anybody to bitch about this fight and how they didn't get to see that fight -- shut up," he said in the post-fight press conference. "You should have bought tickets if you wanted to see all the fights and you don't like to watch it on Facebook. Seriously, shut up. I don't even want to hear it."
In a way, he has a point. It's not like the fight wasn't available at all. If you have internet access and a Facebook account, you had every opportunity to watch Henderson and Guida beat the follicles off of one another for the full 15 minutes. If you were technologically incapable or simply felt like you couldn't be bothered to sit down and watch a fight on a different glowing screen, you only have yourself to blame for missing a great fight.
But hindsight being what it is, one can imagine White waking up on Sunday morning and wondering, what if?
What if they'd decided to kick things off with the Henderson-Guida bout? What if they'd given the nation's network TV audience a chance to flip out over the two high-energy lightweights, and given ratings a chance to build along with the intensity in the cage? What if Guida and Henderson had served as the night's dramatic appetizer, and Junior dos Santos' TKO of Cain Velasquez
had been the swift and definitive grand finale?
It would have necessitated a very different broadcast, but it also would have resulted in a more successful one. Then again, it's easy to be genius on Sunday morning, once you know the ratings
and the results.
At the post-fight press conference a disappointed Guida had trouble finding much consolation in the fact that his was the most exciting fight on the card, and even the $65,000 bonus for Fight of the Night didn't appear to cheer him up all the much after the decision loss.
However, he noted, "The reason I fight is to put smiles on people's faces and get people cheering. I feel my fans with every punch I throw, and every time I get punched in the face I feel my fans."
On Saturday night he gave his fans plenty to cheer about, even if they had to do it in front of a computer screen.
In a way, that's almost fitting for MMA
and the UFC. After getting kicked off TV the sport and the company survived largely thanks to a small but passionate fan base on the internet. Those message-board fans helped keep the sport alive until it could get back in the public eye, and the UFC has since embraced every conceivable platform for getting as many fights to as many fans as possible.
On Saturday night the big story might have been network TV and the heavyweight championship, but it was the little guys on an internet stream that delivered the real bang for the buck. The good news is, once the UFC's deal with FOX begins in earnest in 2012, it can give the mainstream a chance to find out that in MMA, unlike in boxing, it isn't just the main event that matters.