Photo by Tracy Lee via Cagewriter
Last night mixed martial arts (MMA) fans were treated to an extremely fun night of fights capped off with a fantastic title bout which saw Dominick Cruz defend his bantamweight championship against a very game Demetrious Johnson.
Cruz's performance was particularly impressive as his usual strategy of using his unorthodox striking to take control of the bout was stifled by "Mighty Mouse's" quicker hands. Having to adjust on the fly, the champion began to outgrapple the wrestler and proceeded to earn a shutout on two of the three judge's scorecards en route to a unanimous decision victory.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the two beautiful belly-to-back suplexes "The Dominator" busted out that would have made Mitsuharu Misawa proud.
The evening saw a little bit of everything that makes up the sport we all love: highlight reel head kicks, slick submissions, and wars of attrition.
It's just too bad that not many people actually saw it. And that may be the UFC's fault.
How? Well, read on!
The buzz going into UFC on Versus 6: "Cruz vs. Johnson" was minimal; its pulse was like that of a man on his last legs. There were a lot of factors going into this. Historically, cards on the Versus network haven't exactly glued eyeballs to TV sets.
The first and second Versus events were able to pull in a little over and a bit under one million viewers respectively but the ratings dropped dramatically soon after. The lowest point was only 681,000 people watching Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann's Fight of the Year candidate.
The ratings aren't helped by the constantly rotating schedule the UFC Live series receives. Last night's event obviously took place on a Saturday while the two events that preceded it were held on Sundays. The aforementioned Sanchez/Kampmann bout was mid-week on a Thursday.
Another problem is the network itself. Almost every basic cable package includes Spike -- which would get fight fans access to Fight Nights, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), and at least a couple of pay-per-view (PPV) prelims -- but often, Versus is part of an additional sports package that adds another five or 10 dollars to the cable bill.
For hockey fans and bull riding fans (are there any?), this might seem like a sound investment. For someone who is only interested in watching the UFC, forking over that dough for one event every two months might end up being the deal breaker.
The biggest reason for the anemic ratings on UFC on Versus, though, has to be oversaturation. This is the third event in a four week stretch that has live UFC fights each and every Saturday. Beginning with UFC Fight Night 24: "Shields vs. Ellenberger" and ending with next weekend's (Oct. 8) UFC 136: "Edgar vs. Maynard III" event, we've had MMA crammed down our fight holes whether we like it or not.
It's not a matter of finance either. Two of the four cards were free (or free-ish), only the numbered events were on PPV. It's simply a matter of perspective. Last night's fights just didn't feel important. And that's a shame especially for Cruz and Johnson.
Several of my friends who I had watched the fights with last week weren't tuned in last night. Baseball playoffs, date night with the wife, or not having the Versus channel were all culprits in their absences. Their line of thinking was likely that they saw the fights last week and they'll see the fights next week so missing one card won't be too bad.
With this many events airing, casual fans begin to pick and choose which events they want to see. PPV has already been a problem -- especially in this economy -- with that train of thought but now it's extending to the cable TV events.
And despite a title bout headlining the show, there was little to no promotional push from the UFC. The last Fight Night suffered the same fate but that was more because Dana White and company wanted to stick it to soon to be ex-partner Spike. Even though their contract doesn't end until the end of the year, Spike recently started airing Bellator Fighting Championships prelim fights on its website. Not exactly the most subtle move to indicate its desire to bring the young promotion under its umbrella.
Perhaps -- after signing a multi-year deal with Fox -- this is more of the same. Versus' parent company NBC is a direct competitor of UFC's new bedfellow.
What's the solution?
As odd as it may sound, more events.
But I'm not talking random Fight Nights or UFC Live cards. I'm thinking about a weekly fight show that airs live at the same time of the same day every week.
UFC is all about brand recognition. If you walk into a bar on fight night, using the phrase "MMA" will likely only get you blank stares. What they need to do is have one day a week become synonymous with fighting much like they've had their company become the de facto term for the sport.
That way, fans will know exactly when and where they can see fights. Promotion for the most part won't be necessary. The appeal of an important fight will almost be totally lost -- the fights are every single week, after all -- and the ratings would likely reflect that but that's actually a good thing.
The UFC wouldn't need to dump title fights on those cards in order to boost ratings and instead could save them for a PPV or a Fox card. A fight like last week's main card title between Travis Browne and Rob Broughton wouldn't even sniff a numbered PPV. No longer having to spread out "headliners" over numbered events, Fight Nights, and UFC Live cards, every single time you pay 50 or 60 dollars for fights, you'll see a card chock full of fights that could serve as the main event.
The idea isn't entirely new. Boxing already did it with Tuesday Night Fights for nearly two decades. It helped that sport reach new heights during that period. A similar concept could do the same for UFC.