The UFC fight on Nov. 12 in Anaheim, Calif., is going to be big. Huge. Gigantic.
Those are the superlatives being tossed around in anticipation of the heavyweight title clash between UFC champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos, and not just because the two combatants tip the scales at a combined weight of 480 pounds.
No, this fight is big for another reason: For the first time in the history of the organization, the UFC is beaming its product live and for free into homes across the United States on a major network.
Velasquez (9-0-0) will defend his crown against dos Santos (13-1-0) at the Honda Center two Saturdays from now and the fight will be carried on the FOX network as part of a seven-year deal that was recently worked out. The bout also will air live in 15 other countries, including Canada where it can be watched on Sportsnet.
The significance of this event is palpable; it’s the first salvo in what the UFC hopes will be a successful campaign to capture an even greater portion of the almighty sports buck; the final step in transforming mixed martial arts into a legitimate mainstream sport.
It won’t come without a cost, though. Dana White, the UFC’s ringmaster, says his company will take a huge financial hit in the short term for taking this fight off the pay-per-view format.
“In no way shape or form do we come anywhere close to making our money back,” White told a conference call on Wednesday. “You don’t go on free television and make your money; it’s not how it works. We’re going to get smashed on this fight, but it’s an investment in the future of the business.”
And it seems a little bit of the past figured into White’s desire to get MMA on free TV.
The dynamic White, a boxing fan from way back, reminisced fondly about how he used to watch boxing matches on Wide World of Sports when he was a kid and said pay-per-view helped to damage boxing.
“Our goal has always been to bring big free fights back to television,” White said. “We’re thinking long term for the future of the sport and making the sport bigger. That’s why we’re going to do it and will continue to do it.”
On this ground-breaking broadcast, White says viewers can expect the usual fight breakdowns, features and at least one new twist: “Interviews with the guys (heavyweights) before they come out (to fight).”
With so much at stake, then, it’s interesting that the UFC chose to showcase Velasquez and dos Santos, two relatively unknown names to the general public, when it had Lesnar, St. Pierre, and Silva at its disposal.
But White has no doubt he picked the right fight.
Velasquez and dos Santos are both strikers, dos Santos at a rate of 85%, the champ somewhat less at 40%. So this fight promises to be a smack down, something the less knowledgeable fan can appreciate.
“I’m confident in Junior and Cain. We made this fight the first fight on free TV for a reason,” White said. “These guys stylistically, both are aggressive, that’s why we made this fight. This is going to be an awesome fight. The fight is the least of my worries. That’s why these two are in the spotlight.”
Since knocking out Fabricio Werdum in the first round of his first UFC fight, dos Santos has gone on a tear. He’s 7-0 in the organization and deserved a title shot.
Velasquez also has been impressive, taking the crown from Brock Lesnar on Oct. 23 of last year, and having to wait until now to defend it.
The bout airs at 9 p.m. Eastern. There are nine fights on the undercard that will only be shown on Facebook and FoxSports.com. The weigh-ins for the heavyweight title bout will air live on Fuel TV at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
Meanwhile, let’s not forget that UFC 138, taking place this weekend from LG Arena in Birmingham, England, tape delayed and free on Spike TV, kicks off three straight Saturday’s of UFC action. The event features the first five-round non-title fight in the promotion’s history, with Chris Leben taking on Mark Munoz in a middleweight matchup. The co-main event has Brad Pickett facing Renan Barao in a bantamweight bout.
The main events certainly don’t have the cache of some recent and future fights, but Munoz has slowly been working his way up the middleweight ranks since joining the UFC in 2009 and a win over Leben could put him in the conversation for a title fight.
Brandon Vera and Bart Palaszewski were suspended until April 28, 2012 after being injured at last weekend’s UFC 137 card. Main event combatants Nick Diaz and B.J. Penn were suspended until Nov. 29 and Dec. 29, respectively, due to injuries … Diaz earned $200,000 US for the fight, while Penn pulled in $150,000 … UFC 141 on Dec. 30 continues to take shape. After announcing a lightweight fight between Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz on Sunday night, the promotion announced a pair of featherweight bouts. Former WEC featherweight title challenger Manny Gamburyan will face Diego Nunes, a bout rescheduled from UFC 135. And Junior Assuncao will take on Ultimate Fighter winner Ross Pearson … Chad Mendes will finally get a crack at the UFC featherweight title, but he’ll have to step into hostile territory to do it. UFC president White confirmed Monday that Mendes will face champion Jose Aldo on Jan. 14 at UFC 142 in Brazil.