HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: UFC President Dana White speaks as UFC Fighters Junior dos Santos (R) and Cain Velasquez (L) during the UFC on Fox: Velasquez v Dos Santos - Press Conference at W Hollywood on September 20, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Matt Roth - With the UFC finally making their network tv debut, is it safe to say that Velasquez vs Dos Santos is more important for the UFC than Griffin vs Bonnar at the first Ultimate Fighter Finale?
Leland Roling - No. Without the significance of Griffin-Bonnar, we probably aren't where we are at today in terms of opportunity.
Tim Burke - I agree with Leland. Griffin/Bonnar was the culmination of a 10 million dollar experiment that very nearly bankrupted the company. If that fight wasn't what it was, the UFC likely wouldn't be owned by the Fertittas anymore. Even if Cain/JDS is somehow a colossal failure, there's a lot more cushioning in place, financially and otherwise for Zuffa to bounce back and try again. It's an important fight. But nothing will ever be as important as Griffin/Bonnar was for the organization long-term.
KJ Gould - I think it could be as important, but I'm not sure if it's more. Griffin vs Bonnar was Zuffa UFC's breakthrough moment ending the dark ages of Western MMA and turned the company around from a losing effort into a profitable enterprise. I think Dos Santos vs Velasquez is the UFC's chance to legitimise itself among casual sports fans and the general public at large. At least I think that's what the plan is and what is hoped for. We'll have to wait and see what kind of impact it actually has.
Fraser Cofeen - KJ has it right on the "wait and see" part. Griffin vs. Bonnar became more important as it happened because it was such a fantastic fight. This one? If it's amazing and turns on a ton of new fans, then yes, it could end up being more important. If it's a total bust, that too could be massively important. But if it's just OK then it won't have a huge impact. I mean, what kind of impact did Smith vs. Lawler II have on EliteXC, you know?
Tim Burke - I think the difference though is that the UFC had nothing going for them when Griffin/Bonnar went down. They were out 10 mil, Spike wasn't willing to pay for season 2, and all looked lost. That fight card (and that fight in particular) is what made Spike change their mind, and they produced the show for season two and continued to show programming. In the case of Cain/JDS, the UFC has already signed the mega-deal. There just isn't as much riding on this in those terms. When it comes to more casual viewership and expanding the sport, for sure it's important. But it's not do-or-die, so it can't possibly be AS important as the TUF 1 Finale.
Matt Roth - I think this is possibly more important just because of what's at stake. The UFC has been trying to "legitimize" the sport for years. They finally have the chance to pull in an audience that doesn't know anything about the sport, who most likely still call it cage fighting. If the fight is a complete bust, this could force the UFC and Fox to reevaluate their plan. They're planning to interview the fighters much in the same way they do with the Superbowl. Even the format could negatively affect the fight.
Josh Nason - This is a hard question to answer as no one expected Griffin/Bonnar to be that good or that important to the company. The end result ended up starting something that the UFC and Spike were more than happy to capitalize and build on. Velasquez/dos Santos is the result of long-term planning and finding the right broadcast partner and deal that would make this possible.
Perhaps the more accurate question is whether in five years,will the Velsaquez/dos Santos fight will do as much positives for UFC business as Griffin/Bonnar did in its subsequent five years. My gut instinct is to say no because I think the UFC's insistence on 30+ events per year will lessen the demand on pay-per-view. I don't think the business has peaked, but I can't get past the notion that if people wanted to watch UFC, they would have tried it out by now and already been on board.
Leland Roling - Honestly, I don't even know why we are comparing the two. If you take into account the fact that Griffin-Bonnar had to have the success it had in order to propel the UFC to where it is today, it's the obvious choice. It saved the UFC for inevitable death in my mind.
The UFC on Fox deal doesn't have to be a major success for the UFC to continue to live on and make a profit. The circumstances aren't the same, nor are the consequences of a monumental failure.
KJ Gould - For all intents and purposes, MMA is still a niche sport with UFC being the premier brand. Many were hoping UFC 100 would take the sport in general to the next level and while it was a landmark event I don't think it had any long term impact. The good that show did has been largely negated by factors such as Brock Lesnar appearing to be a shell of his former self and a host of other injuries that have sidelined marquee fighters which has prevented cards from selling as well as they could have.
Yes, UFC can continue to make a profit at the top of this niche, but I think success on Fox with the first show acting as a catalyst is paramount to their growth and expansion. A bad showing this weekend could potentially be a setback that might take years to overcome, but a great showing could well lead to another boom period.
Josh Nason - KJ, you reminded me about something that I really noticed with UFC 100: ESPN attention. Perhaps because of the Fox deal or other issues, I don't notice any ESPN televised coverage other than results on the scroller and MMA Live. I'll be interested to see if this gets any coverage on the Worldwide Leader this week, but my assumption is that it doesn't. Getting ESPN to validate your existence is a big thing with the casual fans they're looking to attract.
Leland Roling - I'm willing to bet it gets ESPN play.
KJ Gould - Dana White needs to 'play the game just a little bit' to get ESPN to cover the UFC properly. ESPN were supposedly not too pleased with Dana White choosing MMA Fighting over them to break the news of the Strikeforce buyout, and it doesn't help that White easily gets into internet bust-ups with them from time to time as well. Maybe Dana hopes Fox Sports can give him the coverage he feels ESPN never afforded the UFC but I'd like to think he's not arrogant enough to completely cut them off. Of course, he did just practically poach Jon Anik from them recently. Who knows what their relationship is like at the moment.
Ben Thapa - My perspective, if it's worth anything: This is the single best chance for Zuffa to continue the process of minor reinventions that all truly successful organizations and companies go through to stay dominant. Without that process of slow conceptual and production turnover, Zuffa stagnates and we're stuck with the gladiator intro for yet another decade. A dominant and highly entertaining bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos makes for a happy Fox network team. A fully enthusiastic and cooperative Fox team can help turn the Zuffa broadcasts into productions that are far more composed, less reliant upon the fighter's personal brand and more appealing to the masses - where the big money waits.
In many ways, this particular title bout is perfect for Zuffa's purposes. The unstated goal of White and the Fertita brothers has been to push the brand of the UFC over the mega-star fighters like Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre. This is a smart business idea as stars can dim due to age and injuries that sideline those stars for too long. Boxing has seen itself shrink down to a handful of mega-stars with alphabet soup belts in play around the world. By dint of success, constant self-promotion and the collapse of other rivals, the UFC stands alone as the premier fight organization in the world and the biggest stars fight within its cages. Zuffa puts on the UFC show, creates the PPV market and pays the money to promote. They've reaped the rewards thus far, but the sport has plateaued of late and the need for a strong brand that extends beyond the fighters themselves is clear.
Cain and Junior are incredibly talented mixed martial artists. The odds are high that these two men are going to put on a brilliant and explosive fight that can convert fence-sitters in droves. However, neither has yet been able to build a personal brand with the fans that is stronger than Zuffa's. If the fight fails to fully live up to its staggering potential for exquisite controlled violence, that might be alright for Zuffa. Any positives that result from the UFC on Fox show will be shared equally between the fighters and the UFC. Any negatives can be explained away by pointing out the non-megastardom of Cain and Junior. The best part is that this is done while preserving the "mega-stars on PPV" model that got them this far. A truly disastrous show can perhaps be redeemed by promising Jon Jones for the next fight.
This is the golden opportunity for the UFC to discard the nu-metal trappings of Griffin/Bonnar, seize the attention of a bigger audience and enter a time of stability that UFC 100 failed to deliver. Griffin/Bonnar let the UFC survive and figure out by iterative process what sort of worked for their audience. I believe this to be the one big chance for the UFC to grow up, access professional knowledge built over successful decades of multi-sport broadcasting and move this sport beyond the realm of highly passionate hardcore fans into the mainstream.
A great fight leaves the UFC in the catbird seat with the world at their fingertips. A bad fight makes it a hard struggle that might cripple their chances of true growth.
Ben Thapa - Another take, as I'm bored at work. I've never understood why Griffin/Bonnar has been adopted by the mixed martial arts media as the fulcrum by which mixed martial arts in America was saved.
PRIDE was where the best fighters were in 2005, the WEC had been in business for four years and the various Brazilian shows were bubbling up now and then. Griffin/Bonnar was a tipping point for the continued survival of Zuffa alone and blind luck let the right combination of grit, determination and unpolished skill occur at the right time for the UFC. To Zuffa's credit, Spike and the UFC quickly capitalized on that fight and things began to look up for Zuffa. At the same time, if Zuffa had died shortly afterwards, we would likely still have a strong MMA scene here in the U.S. as other organizations expanded into the void.
Somehow the UFC has managed to continue the process of not screwing up too much or deeply to get this opportunity with Fox. This is their shot at legitimacy. This is the time to leave behind the nu-metal trappings that won over all the wrestling fans and to embrace a more mass-appeal vibe. This fight determines whether that transition process from niche sport to mainstream institution gets off to a roaring start. A slow start can be overcome, but the last slow start on Spike had to be rescued by Griffin/Bonnar.
The importance of breaking through to the big money of the mainstream is why this fight and this Fox deal is the most important moment in Zuffa history. If it fails, mixed martial arts is doomed to stagnate for another decade until another network builds the courage and resources to make the failed attempts at CBS and Fox a distant memory - like Griffin/Bonnar should be in the minds of MMA fans.
Leland Roling - "The importance of breaking through to the big money of the mainstream is why this fight and this Fox deal is the most important moment in Zuffa history. If it fails, mixed martial arts is doomed to stagnate for another decade until another network builds the courage and resources to make the failed attempts at CBS and Fox a distant memory - like Griffin/Bonnar should be in the minds of MMA fans."
I don't agree. What's more important? Stacking more money on top of the revenue they've already made, or creating a "Golden Age" of growth at a low point that could have potentially led to their death? In my mind, there's no debate. The reality series plus Bonnar-Griffin helped the UFC get where it is today. It's a cause that had the effect.
KJ Gould - I think it's a matter of expectations, which has been touched on a little bit. UFC weren't expecting what they got out of Griffin vs Bonnar and what it snowballed into. Going into the first Fox show I'd imagine they have lofty expectations of what it can do for the UFC so in that respect they may have a greater sense of importance about this show then they did at the time of the first live TUF finale on Spike.
Ben Thapa - I'm doing my best to pull a Snowden - plausible stance that can easily be shredded if you have the right knowledge.
Dallas Winston - It's just another very pivotal stage.
Griffin x Bonnar was the initial step that brought MMA into a larger spotlight. The purchase of Pride vanquished their only legit competitor and extended their range to the entire globe instead of just the US. Acquiring Strikeforce was another huge stride because it seemed to put the MMA world on notice that, as hard as it is to just survive or turn a profit as an alternative brand, even if you succeed you are likely to be taken over and counter-programmed all the way there.
With any legit competition being absorbed and the overall momentum of the company and its roster at an all time high, this is just another potential for further advancement in the market. It's hard to compare it with what got them there in the first place.
Ben Thapa - But if the narrative of Griffin/Bonnar is to be believed, then the UFC basically had nothing to do with anything other than creating a situation which spit out the one perfect fight at the perfect time. If it didn't work, they were out of business. PRIDE, WEC and perhaps Strikeforce would have picked up the reins and become the brightest stage.
Why it is so important that Zuffa succeeds is that PRIDE and Strikeforce were run with much uncertainty regarding fights, fighters, negotiations and pay. To be fully fair, the UFC has some of that, but it's not a business crippling problem as it was for PRIDE and perhaps for Strikeforce as well. Zuffa is the cleanest and if it fails to stick with Fox, then what incentive do they have for staying clean?