Back in December, the UFC announced that they had struck a deal with cable sports television network Versus to air two Fight Night style events in 2010. The initial thought among most fans and writers was that this was a way in which Zuffa could use the UFC's brand power to lure fans over to Versus to increase the exposure that Zuffa's smaller promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), was receiving. Not only would it give the WEC a chance to advertise during a major UFC event airing on their home station, but it would also give the channel some exposure to casual MMA fans who may have never visited the channel in the past. And the UFC is making sure we'll all be watching.
Scheduled for March 21st from The Odeum in Broomfield, Colorado, UFC on Versus I will feature a main event card that could be worthy of UFC PPV status. The explosive and powerful Jon "Bones" Jones will battle long-time UFC fighter Brandon Vera in the main event along with a phenomenal heavyweight tilt between Brazilian striker Junior Dos Santos and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Gabriel Gonzaga that could put the victor within reach of contention. Both fights should be compelling to UFC fans, but the UFC has also lined up appearances for Cheick Kongo, Anthony Johnson, and possibly Clay Guida. Furthermore, the preliminary card has been rumored to feature some potential knockout of the night and fight of the night specials in James Irvin vs. Alessio Sakara and Spencer Fisher vs. Duane Ludwig.
While the lineup has some match-ups that look to be fairly lopsided, there is the potential for some exciting finishes mixed in with some quality fights. This should be an event in which the UFC meets their expectations in giving Versus a much larger audience to push their product. After all, the UFC drew in nearly 2 million viewers on Spike at UFN 18, and they've drawn roughly 3-5 million viewers on some of their past pay-per-view style shows that aired for free on Spike. The numbers will likely be different on Versus as Spike reaches nearly 100 million viewers while Versus has the capacity to reach nearly 75 million homes if they are a part of DirecTV's roughly 18-20 million subscribers. Right now, DirecTV customers are in the dark.
Dana White and company will be likely be hoping for an end to the stand-off as the ratings can only improve with the potential for a larger fanbase. While high ratings are the quantifiable goal in the short term, the UFC likely has a long term goal that most fans haven't really thought or cared to think about. The WEC could use the boost in their viewership, but the NBC-Comcast merger is a much more likely catalyst to such a deal.
Why? This could be a way for the UFC to emerge as an option for NBC in the future if they happen to re-brand Versus into a standard sports cable network. The promise of 2-4 events per year with the highest grossing MMA promotion and a sister promotion that can put on a show per month with some of the more exciting weight classes in the sport is some good leverage to start.
With deals already in place with the WEC and the UFC, the merger between the media giants has put Zuffa in prime position to explode onto network television and as a possible regular on a cable sports network that could sit on a basic cable package next to ESPN. There is much more at stake than the WEC's ratings, and the lineup of fights for the first UFC event on Versus should be an indication of how much more important this really is than just the WEC.