Saturday marks the first time the UFC has ever been on network television - have you gotten sick of hearing that yet? Perhaps you've gotten sick of reading it over and over, but it really is worth noting for many reasons. The biggest reason is the fact that the sport of MMA almost took off in a huge, huge way not too long ago, when the backyard brawler Kimbo Slice took on the virtual unknown James Thompson in the main event of EliteXC: PRIMETIME On CBS in May 2008.
That fight was mostly looked at with a good deal or scorn by MMA fans, since Slice, at the time, wasn't taking the sport seriously and was only on television due to his rise to internet stardom beating up bums and jocks in backyards, alleys and venues of equal stature. But the event drew an estimated average viewership of 4.3 million, with a peak of just over 6.5 million, easily the most watched MMA event in history. Another EliteXC show in October of the same year would draw an average of 4.5 million viewers, but marked the last time they were on air, as Slice was knocked out by late replacement Seth Petruzelli, a fighter who has flunked his way out of the UFC multiple times.
A Strikeforce event on CBS in November of 2009 drew an average of 4 million viewers, peaking at just above five million. But it all goes back to that event featuring Kimbo Slice - the peak of 6,510,000 viewers on CBS. The UFC wants to usher in a new era for not just the company, but the sport in general. And while Strikeforce's event had one of the greatest fighters in MMA history in Fedor Emelianenko, he was going up against a fighter far overmatched in Brett Rogers ... so the UFC really can claim to be doing this the "right" way.
UFC on Fox 1: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos isn't just the promotion's debut on network television, it's the first time that two legitimate fighters who are at the top of their respective divisions are squaring off against one another on free television - network television, that is. Cain Velasquez is most definitely the top heavyweight fighter in the world, and Junior dos Santos can easily make an argument for number two - they are the sport's very best at that weight class - the weight class that generally appeals the most to the general public.
It's hard to say whether or not the UFC is legitimized in the eyes of the casual viewer, but the one thing that is certain is that watching Slice beat down on cans is not the thing that would have been able to do it. This is a fight between two hard-working, passionate fighters at the top of the game in what they day. For the UFC, they have to be hoping they can beat the EliteXC numbers. The UFC Primetime special for the fight on Fox already did more than any other Primetime before it, reaching nearly two million viewers, which is more than a half million more than the next best.
This writer is going to say the upwards of seven million viewers will be the peak.