UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz is preparing to make the first live basic cable TV UFC title defense in history when he faces Demetrious Johnson at UFC Live: Cruz vs. Johnson aka UFC on Versus 6 in October. Cruz' previous title defence headlined UFC 132 against Urijah Faber.
MMA Nation talked to Cruz about the whys and wherefores of a champ being "demoted" from PPV to free cable:
His two World Extreme Cagefighting headlining appearances averaged just 344,500 viewers and his UFC main event against WEC poster boy Urijah Faber barely cleared 300,000 buys on pay per view, just over half of the UFC's average event in 2010.
Nobody knows Cruz, despite his glorified status as one of the sport's best. The UFC is looking to change that, putting his next fight on free television, the headliner for a Versus event in October. Cruz's opponent will be Demetrius Johnson, a lightning quick grappler even more anonymous than he is. While some fighters, especially a champion of Cruz's caliber, would be crushed by the status downgrade, Cruz is taking it all in stride.
"Let the UFC do their job," Cruz told MMA Nation's Luke Thomas. "Their job is to market us. At the same time, our job is to do the best we can to market ourselves at the highest levels so we can make their job easier. I'm doing what I can to do that on Twitter, Facebook, as much media as I can. Getting out there doing seminars. Doing everything I can to put myself out there...If they want to put me on free TV to do it - let's do it. The UFC is smart. They have a plan. They obviously know what they are doing."
Some attribute Cruz' lack of proven drawing power to the small size of the bantamweight division fighters. It's true that many fans just can't get pumped about seeing fighters smaller than the ring girls headlining a card. But that hasn't held back boxing fans from going crazy for Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and other fighters in the >150lbs range.
I'll concede size is a factor but I would hold that fighting style and a lot of change all at once is holding back the UFC bantamweights. Cruz is infamous for fighting for decisions. That's not how you please MMA fans. He's a talented fighter with a unique style, but leave the point fighting exhibitions for boxing please.
On top of Cruz' style, he's also joining the UFC at the same time they are adding not one, but two divisions of little guys from the WEC. Featherweight champ Jose Aldo has a more compelling style but he's been injured and unavailable for most of his UFC tenure so far. UFC fans are trying to keep up with all the new featherweights and bantamweights they're seeing on the PPV and Spike and Facebook cards but it doesn't help when no one is really jumping out at fans and declaring themselves capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses) in the division.
The UFC is definitely making the right play by introducing Cruz to fans on free TV, the problem is will seeing 5 rounds of Cruz "cruz-ing" to a decision sell anyone on buying a pay-per-view?
The full Dominick Cruz interview is after the jump.