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Opening Round: Fixing FOX Holes

The second UFC on FOX show is in the books and by all accounts their sophomore effort was a bit disappointing, an opinion reflected in the show apparently averaging more than a million less viewers this time around than was the case when Junior dos Santos won the heavyweight title in November. While it could be argued the impact of heavyweights and a championship bout caused the drop I’d agree but only to a minor extent. After all, UFC on FOX 2 featured three fights with two naming top divisional contenders, not to mention 45X as much in-ring action.

Of course that latter aspect was part of the problem since approximately 35-40 of those minutes likely put average or non fans to sleep instead of enticing them to watch more. Trying to sell undereducated but eager viewers on Saturday night’s main card being indicative of MMA’s entertainment value is probably about as easy as convincing Anderson Silva’s wife to cook you a steak. Thing about it – had any three of those fights been in place of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar years ago on TUF, would you be reading these words today or even watching UFC on FOX? That’s how disastrous they were, truly, at least where breaking out of the “hardcore” fanbase and into the mainstream is concerned.

Fortunately the agreement between UFC/FOX is set to last for years meaning there’s hope in terms of tweaking the production to make sure every event delivers the best possible product. Here are three things the companies can do to ensure UFC on FOX 3 goes off with a bang instead of a whimper:

Cater to the Audience

The one aspect inherently drawing new fans in when it comes to MMA is violence, not technique. Brutal knockouts, blood, and the occasional sick submission reel people in who then begin appreciating the finer points of the sport. Most folks aren’t going to sit down and watch their first fight understanding guard, leverage, and positioning. They want to see concepts they’re familiar with; that when a guy gets punched in the face really hard and goes down it’s over.

As such, UFC/FOX need to emphasize strikers when considering the core of their lineup. Having five grapplers and one striker, as was the case at UFC on FOX 2, carries far too much of a risk in producing the lackluster result people got on Saturday night. Had Michael Bisping been fighting Vitor Belfort instead of Chael Sonnen you would have seen an increase in ratings based purely on the buzz created by the guaranteed highlight reel finish it would involve. Even something like Paul Daley vs. Thiago Alves, while not completely worthy of a FOX broadcast from a divisional standpoint, would get people talking at the “water cooler” as it were because of the brutality. On that note, Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller, already booked for the May FOX event, is definitely a step in the right direction.

Highlight Preliminary Action When Appropriate

One of the genuinely unfortunate aspects of UFC on FOX 2 was the fact the superb prelims were seen by probably 4 million less people than their lackluster main card counterparts. Even with all three FOX fights running the distance there needed to be a way to highlight Charles Oliveira’s historic submission, Lavar Johnson’s knockout, as well as Cub Swanson’s finish of George Roop and the exchanges/end of Nik Lentz-Evan Dunham. It would have even let them show that MMA is not so brutal a guy with Lentz’s cut would be allowed to continue competing. Even if the show went over by fifteen minutes, would an NFL game go off the air with highlights still left to show?

Showing unknown guys is also a way to build stars for the future. If I was watching MMA as a new fan and saw any of those aforementioned results I would have wanted to know more about the people involved and see them fight again. Instead, people in that sort of situation still have no idea who any of those fighters are because they were glossed over.

Broadcast Team/Production

Randy Couture, no problem. Jay Glazer, endurable. However, whoever decided to let Jon Jones be on live television in the capacity he was deserves a stern chewing out or self-slap on the wrist if it was one of the chief producers. His constant reading of the script was embarrassing and something they should have noticed then nixed in pre-event practice sessions. The next fighter who is at that desk needs to be completely comfortable with either reading a teleprompter or knowing his lines. It lacked a professional feel and that’s a no-no because UFC/FOX is still at a “first impression” stage.

Also, it was a huge missed opportunity to not have Silva at the arena. I can’t imagine a scheduling conflict he had so far in advance of the event kept him out meaning he was either asked and declined or was never brought into the equation. Regardless of what happened, he’s a UFC employee and he should have been leaned on to show up. The potential exchange with Sonnen would have been a “must see” situation but alas the champion, his rival, was nowhere to be found.

The Kevin Harvick thing frightens me too. I understand the need for some cross-promotion but where does it stop? Are we going to see the cast of Glee sitting ringside or have Randy Jackson interviewed during a show? Other than perhaps Zoeey Deschanel donning the spandex of an Octagon girl I don’t want the FOX-ness rubbed in my face because at the end of the day it’s supposed to be about MMA/UFC, not the network showing it. The music/robots were bad enough reminders.

In closing, don’t misunderstand – there were some commendable things to be said about the card to be sure even outside of the preliminary fights. There just weren’t enough of them and the overwhelming blandness of things masked some of the evening’s better moments. A little more than three months from now we’ll find out if they learned a few lessons and improve upon things. If not the UFC and MMA fans in general might be FOX’d.

What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!

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