For years the Ultimate Fighting Championship flirted with the idea of joining a major television network and it was officially etched into stone a little under a year ago when they linked with media conglomerate FOX, thus ending their long-term romance with Spike TV.
UFC had been in bed with Viacom’s top property Spike TV since the early shades of 2005 as their station became the one-stop shop for UFC content aside from pay-per-view with live events, highlight specials and the hit reality series The Ultimate Fighter frequently on the tubes.
On paper, joining with the near three decade old television network and their sister stations seemed to be a perfect fit for the UFC as they joined forces for the next seven years but it hasn’t gone exactly to plan thus far.
Capturing lightning in a bottle, similar to how Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin did in 2005 was what we wanted for their first effort on FOX last November, instead we got more of a powerful thunder strike focused at the skull of Cain Velasquez, giving us 64-seconds of action on their debut on the network.
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The second offering was almost a modern day replica of UFC 33, the first event under the Zuffa charge that was stacked with star-power with a trio of title fights that left a lot to be desired inside the cage and the viewers at home didn’t even get to see most of the final three rounds when the event ran too long.
While it wasn’t a disaster on that level, we got three fights where action-packed moments were few and far between as a fatigued Chris Weidman bettering Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen barely escaping the onslaught of British poster-boy Michael Bisping and Rashad Evans dry humping world-class wrestler Phil Davis for 25 minutes.
Their last event on FOX was a smashing success in terms of exciting fights to capture the imagination of some new fight fans, the only issue was only 2.4 million people tuned in for the prime time event, far down from the 5.7 million and 4.7 million for the previous two.
Next weekend is slated to be lucky number four for FOX and might be their worst number to date as they have a less than captivating main event with Brandon Vera meeting Mauricio “Shogun” Rua while they go head-to-head with the Olympics in London.
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And it hasn’t just been a string of bad luck on the major platform; it seems that everything in terms of their television is on a steady decline with far fewer people watching their product with The Ultimate Fighter crashing to its all-time low rating last series.
A major issue here is that Fuel TV has taken over the role of Spike TV as the base for most UFC content but only a handful of households are able to watch the station.
With an event like UFC on Fuel TV 4 that took place last Wednesday Chris Weidman silenced his critics with a dominate performance against two-time NCAA champ Mark Munoz before finishing him in cringe-worthy fashion.
If this happened when they were paired on Spike this would be a star-making performance for the Matt Serra-Ray Longo product because 1.2-1.5 million people on average would have witnessed him obliterate one of the best in the world.
Instead, the evening peaked it’s viewership with 291,000 people watching, while this is their second best number on the Fuel TV platform they are dealing with a far smaller slice of the pie here.
If you speak with any Zuffa detractor they will always tell you that the top-ranked MMA organization has over-saturated the market with UFC content right now and they are hurting because of it, and it’s hard to disagree.
Between pay-per-view, FOX, FX and Fuel TV they are going to host 32 events in 2012 with no signs of slowing down as they look to expand more and more internationally so on almost any given Saturday night you can witness a UFC event.
When they signed this deal they jumped in with both feet, looking to make this sport bigger and better than ever but a lack of star-power has really hurt them, not to mention the dreaded injury bug that has caused more than a headache or two for Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.
But you cannot say that this deal hasn’t worked out great for FOX, they are getting hours and hours of hard-hitting, bone crunching action for a reasonable price as they use the UFC brand to piggyback their sister stations.
While I am confident that UFC figurehead Dana White will stand at a future UFC press conference as he boasts about the long-term success of the UFC since bridging the gap with FOX and laughs at us poor minions for questioning this deal, as of one year into this relationship they haven’t got a fair shake.
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