As yet another indication that Mixed Martial Arts has become part of mainstream entertainment, tonight the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its prime-time debut. This is the first time anything like this has aired on a major network and most people in the industry are watching breathlessly for the results.
It's to be expected as well for a lot rides on how well this program does. Not only is this a heavyweight title match but the UFC has varied their usual format in order to appeal to the wider audience and comply with Fox.
To begin with, there will only be one fight out of the whole night that will be broadcasted on Fox. The main (and only) event to air is a heavyweight title match between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Velasquez has a large following after his win in UFC 121. His opponent, dos Santos, will probably not lie down easily and give up his undefeated record.
While it's wonderful they have focused the show just on this one, major fight, the unpredictability of the fight could leave Fox scratching its head. For anyone who watches the fights regularly, at any moment a knockout could come and the fight be called. If the fight concludes before the full 25-minute limit, the producers will have to be ready to fill the airtime with enough material round out the hour show.
As is, the producers are going to be filled the rest of the hour with a mix of styles between the UFC model and the Fox sports model. Each have had extensive experience but very different ways of handling events. It will be curious to see what sort of standards they will be setting with tonight's show.
And standards they will set! The success (or failure) of tonight's event will probably dictate how MMA in general will be judged for several years to come. Failure and it will be that much harder for MMA to be considered a real sport. There will be others that will try but low ratings and thus low desire for other networks to attempt this make it all that much harder for MMA to enter the prime-time schedule. However, success could mean a whole new arena for MMA. Imagine a world where mixed martial artists are regarded as great athletes just like football or baseball or basketball stars.
Praise should be given to the hard work that Dana White has put to propel this sport forward. Over the last decade, he has worked hard to legitimize the sport and build its popularity and acceptance. He has faced many challenges and criticisms, on both sides of the fence. But because of his vision and direction, UFC, and MMA in general, are at the heights they are today. I see no reason to doubt this next step will be any less successful for White.
In his own words, "I think that's what makes me the happiest, to finally see these guys on the same level as all the other athletes…" [The Canadian Press].