Like the other two million reported viewers, I tuned in for the debut of UFC Primetime: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos on Fox last Sunday. Admittedly, my expectations for the show were soured by the constant stream of UFC-themed shows I've watched over the years, most notably the similar message the UFC Countdown shows attempted to convey to their audience. Personal triumph over tragedy or succeeding against adversity are common themes, and UFC Primetime: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos was no different.
What stuck out the most about the show was the lack of personality that both men exhibited. Surprisingly, the Brazilian Junior dos Santos was the more candid participant in the feature, showing off a personality that got him labeled as the gym's clown by his coaches and teammates.
Velasquez, on the other hand, was portrayed as the family man who has a vested interest in his Mexican heritage. While the show pushed images of Velasquez spending time with his daughter and wife, signing autographs with his adoring fans, and training, there wasn't a lot of focus on Velasquez's personality. In many moments, he seemed like a robot, so engulfed in the task at hand that he was comatose to the outside world.
Personalities sell fights. The more drama one can create in the lead-up to a fight, the better. If the UFC can promote a fight for four to six months without having the bout get dismantled by injury, it will undoubtedly sell more pay-per-views if the participants are jawing at each other. Fans who think Chael Sonnen won't sell with the proper timeframe and a slot on a Fox show are crazy.
Without that type of hype, what exactly can the UFC and Fox expect Velasquez and Dos Santos to produce in terms of ratings? What about in the context of creating new fans that enjoy the product for 20 years? Ideally, that's what Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White want to happen. They want fans to enjoy the fight so much that they become consumers like most of us, buying up pay-per-views and watching UFC content at every opportunity. Are these the two fighters to do that?
The excitement of such a monumental step toward becoming a mainstream sport, in my opinion, has blinded some of the analysis of this event. Obviously, the fact that the UFC is debuting on Fox with a heavyweight title showdown between two sure-fire heavyweight finishers is a huge plus to start, but am I to believe the fighters' bland personalities and the non-existent drama are going to sell this event to non-UFC fans?
I suppose the more pertinent question to ask is whether one of these fighters can transcend that line of logic and win fans over purely based on performance. Who's the last fighter who has done that? One could make the argument that Anderson Silva is progressing to that level without the help of a personality that connects with the larger American fanbase, but it isn't quite on par with a guy like Brock Lesnar. Lesnar had the help of crossover appeal, Georges St. Pierre was assisted by nationalism.
Interestingly enough, my line of thinking has circled around into one final thought. The UFC made the right choice in pitting Velasquez vs. Dos Santos in their debut on Fox. Neither guy has the personality to play the heel or connect emotionally with an enormous fanbase in one hour on a Sunday afternoon. So, why attempt to promote these guys when other options possess those traits?
That's the experiment. Can the additional marketing power of Fox produce stars out of Velasquez and Dos Santos despite their inability to "talk smack" or "play the heel"? We won't know for months after the fight goes down this Saturday, but the results could prove what many of us have been asking for years -- can the UFC produce stars quicker? They are now in a position to find out.