The UFC and Fox certainly hit a homerun with the three blockbuster bouts they have booked for their year-end card scheduled for December 8th. The first year of this historic partnership has certainly had its share of growing pains, but it looks as though the duo is finally starting to understand what fights the fans want to see on these events.
Beginning with last Novembers one bout debut pitting Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, the ratings have seemingly been a disappointment, depending of course on who you ask.
In January the UFC stacked the deck with former champions and championship contenders. There were three bouts televised featuring a main event of former light heavyweight title holder Rashad Evans battling the undefeated Phil Davis. Fans were treated to five rounds of Evans controlling the pace and not offering up very much offense.
All three fights went the distance and were devoid of any real excitement or any near finishes. Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping put on a competitive bout for the right to face Anderson Silva, but a barnburner it was not. Chris Weidman stepped up on very short notice, cut an insane amount of weight and defeated former middleweight number one contender in a fight that saw both participants gas early in the second round.
In May the UFC and Fox partnered up on Cinco de Mayo with a four fight card that had an exciting heavyweight contest between Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson, a welterweight scrap featuring Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks, Alan Belcher defeating Rousimar Palhares and Nate Diaz becoming the first man to ever finish Jim Miller. The combination of the holiday, March Madness and the absence of a true star caused the ratings to slide, but the quality of the fights was a step in the right direction.
Then less than two weeks ago from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, fans were treated to a pay-per-view quality event. Leading off, Mike Swick made his return to the cage after 30 months of battling illness and injury to defeat DaMarques Johnson in a back and forth fight that ended with a devastating knockout in the second round.
Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner won the Fight of the Night and earned every penny of the $50,000 bonus the UFC paid them. For two and a half rounds they battled on the ground and on the feet with neither man giving an inch. Lauzon took home the Submission of the Night bonus after catching Varner in a fight ending triangle choke.
Lyoto Machida knocked Ryan Bader out with a crushing right hand in the second round and in the process earned himself a shot at the winner of the Jon Jones-Dan Henderson match-up at UFC 151 and another opportunity to regain the light heavyweight title. Last, but certainly not least in a main event that was widely criticized when it was first announced, Maurico “Shogun” Rua and Brandon Vera slugged it out for nearly four rounds. Vera stepped up to the plate against the former champion and gave him all he could handle before succumbing to a late fourth round knockout. Four fights, four finishes and the fans went to bed happy.
You can see the improvements in each event, step by step the cards have gotten better. It will be hard to top the August 4th show, but the UFC is damn sure going to try. Although no announcement has been made regarding the location of the next event, the three fights that will be shown on national television, during primetime already has fans impatiently waiting for fight night to arrive.
Two division champion and sure fire future Hall of Famer BJ Penn will make his return to the Octagon after a 13 month absence to meet the challenge laid out by 23-year-old Canadian Rory MacDonald. The two were scheduled to face off at UFC 152 in November, but a cut sustained during training has put MacDonald on the shelf for the time being.
Shogun will make his second appearance on Fox to take on the 205lb. divisions other young stud, Alexander Gustafsson. The 25-year-old Swede will face his toughest opponent to date in an attempt to continue his rapid ascension up the light heavyweight division ladder while Shogun is looking to earn another shot at the title he lost to Jones at UFC 128 in March of 2011.
Nate Diaz will attempt to capture the UFC lightweight title from Benson Henderson in what should be a five round war. This fight has Fight of the Year written all over it and is the perfect way to end the first year of the UFC-Fox relationship. This is what fans expected to see when the partnership was announced. Star power, title bouts and fighters willing to leave it all in the cage to entertain the fans, theis is the recipe that will boost ratings and help bring in new fans.
Saturday night December 8, 2012 is sure to go down as a historic night in UFC history. It isn’t every day that fans get to see fighters like Penn fight on free television. Title fights have for the most part been reserved for pay-per-view cards, save for a few exceptions. Let’s not forget that there will more than likely be one more fight announced. The UFC is giving us an early Christmas present and let’s hope this is just the beginning.Tags: "bj Penn", Alexander Gustafsson, benson henderson, Brandon Vera, DaMarques Johnson, Dan Henderson, Jamie Varner, Joe Lauzon, jon jones, lyoto machida, Mike Swick, nate diaz, Rory MacDonald, ryan bader, Shogun Rua, UFC 151, ufc on fox 5