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Nine Ways of Looking at the UFC on FOX: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos

Cain Velasquez and Junior dos SantosThe UFC's debut on FOX is almost here and the talking is (thankfully) almost done. Before we all grab our popcorn and settle in for the big night, some thoughts, questions, predictions, and meandering musings for a Saturday afternoon.

I. Best-case scenario for the UFC on Saturday night? Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos go back and forth in a seesaw bout that lasts at least three rounds, giving viewers the chance to freak out over Twitter and in emails/text messages/barely coherent phone calls to friends, thus driving up the ratings with each round. Worst-case scenario? The fight ends via questionable stoppage/injury/accidental foul 30 seconds in, and everybody goes to bed angry. Hey, this is MMA. Anything can happen.

II. But imagine the worst-case scenario does happen.
What then? FOX executives probably won't tear up their contract with the UFC and leave it in tiny pieces in the parking lot of the Honda Center. Fight fans will recognize that sometimes this stuff just happens, and they won't stay mad for long. Maybe these "millions of new viewers" we keep hearing about will smirk to one another as they change the channel. Maybe it will take a while to convince those people to give this another go, but it won't be impossible. My point is, while the stakes are certainly high here, this isn't make-or-break for the UFC. It's more like make-or-bummer. Even if the fight goes as badly as it can possibly go, the sport and the UFC will survive. It's not that first impressions don't matter -- they do. But then again, we've all heard stories where couples had disastrous first dates before eventually finding themselves in long, happy marriages.

III. There's a lot of talk about what kind of ratings this show needs to do in order to be considered a true success.
Odds are we'll still be arguing over the numbers and what they mean for weeks to come, but the way I see it there's really only one true benchmark this show: you've got to beat Kimbo. EliteXC: Primetime averaged a little over 4 million viewers and peaked with about 6.5 million. Just for the sake of self-respect, not to mention bragging rights, the UFC has to beat the internet brawler and his off-brand employers.

IV. Just getting to fight day with both combatants healthy has to feel like a victory in itself.
After all the plugs for the "heavyweight championship of the world" during every quarter of every NFL game on FOX, can you imagine if one of these guys had pulled out with an injury last week? That would have been disastrous, and we can probably assume that the UFC took the time to impress that point upon both fighters. Now there are rumors that Velasquez suffered some injuries in training camp and you have to wonder if he might be soldiering through them even when it isn't a good idea, all just to please his boss. If that results in a diminished performance against dos Santos, neither Velasquez's nor the UFC's interests will be served by it.

V. The response from the weigh-in crowd yesterday suggests that plenty of fans are aware of and interested in the Clay Guida-Ben Henderson bout on this card, but what about the rest of the fights?
If you're Dustin Poirier or DaMarques Johnson, is anyone but your friends and family thinking about you on Saturday night? Honestly, probably not. While the undercard is decent, there sure isn't much star power there. That, combined with the 1:45 p.m. local start time could mean a lot of empty seats for guys who are still fighting their hearts out, regardless of whether anyone is watching.

VI. While we're on the subject of collateral damage from this unique fight night situation, how about the poor souls on UFC 139 next weekend? Sure, the hardcores are looking forward to Dan Henderson and "Shogun" Rua going at it, but for the most part it's been drowned out by the big media push for the FOX debut. UFC officials just haven't had the time or energy to do much promotional work on it lately, and who can blame them? This event has understandably gotten the full-court press from the UFC's PR staff, but that leaves next weekend's pay-per-view standing in the shadows.

VII. On Thursday the UFC sent out a list of red carpet attendees who will lend their air of celebrity to this event by smiling and waving on their way into the arena. The list contained the names of a bunch of actors, most of whom I'd never heard of, and in parenthesis next to their names were the FOX TV shows that they're on. Again, most of which I'd never heard of. One familiar name did make the list, however: Gina Carano. And in parenthesis next to the former "face of women's MMA"? Haywire. As in, the upcoming Steven Soderbergh flick that has kept her away from the sport ever since her loss to "Cyborg" Santos. Sure, that's what we all know Carano from. That movie none of us have seen yet.

VIII. Henderson and Guida are dealing with their network TV snub in the exact right way.
Every time it's come up in interviews this week -- and it's come up a lot -- they've both insisted that they aren't disappointed by the lack of major TV exposure for their fight. That's the kind of team player the UFC likes to see. But lest they be too easy-going and end up as doormats, they've both indicated that they want to hold the UFC president to his promise to get their fight on TV as soon as possible. Guida praised his boss as a "a magician" who will find a way to make it happen. Henderson put the responsibility on himself, saying that, "Some way, some how, this fight's going to make it to air. ...Dana White's going to want to put this one on primetime television." In other words, we won't scream and cry about being slightly overlooked, but we won't be ignored either.

IX. If you're expecting to wake up to a brave new world of MMA awareness and appreciation on Sunday morning, don't. Even if this event is as huge as White has repeatedly promised, the impact probably won't be immediately apparent beyond the insulated walls of the MMA community. Why? Frankly, there's kind of a lot going on across the sports news landscape right now. The Penn State child abuse scandal has dominated headlines this week, the NFL gets back to work on Sunday, and the Pacquiao-Marquez fight could potentially upstage the UFC by going last and closing out this fight night with a bang. That's not to say that a great fight won't bring MMA a few new converts, but the benefit with this FOX deal is long-term mainstream exposure. As White said, it's about "investing in the future" and indoctrinating new fans. It's bigger than one night or one fight. Let's not forget that.

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