This is a guest editorial by Josh Nason.
The saying "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" wasn't meant for just shampoo commercials. It's sound advice that the UFC should take to heart when planning their debut on Fox this November.
In what will mark their biggest opportunity to pull new fans onto the UFC train to date, the November 12 show also puts the UFC in a slight conundrum. The event will be sandwiched between two other events: UFC 138 and UFC 139 -- adding up to three consecutive weeks and 33 fights that need to be filled up.
But with just one hour to fill on Fox (so as not to compete with Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez), what can they do to make a big enough impact and hook new viewers into being excited for the much-broader relationship in 2012?
With such a tight window of time, the UFC has to be smart about who they put in that slot. To me, there are two obvious fights and a promo video that should get the nod. One of my proposed fights would requiring some financial sacrifice but would make the most amount of sense given this extremely important scenario.
(And yes, my booking of this show would likely spill over an hour if both fights went the distance. However, we're talking live pro sports. I don't think they're going to pull the plug Heidi style.)
The Famed Baba O'Reilly Video
Anyone that has seen the highlight package video set to The Who's Baba O'Reilly that airs in the arena before the UFC's main card begins knows how impressive it is. The constantly updated montage has never made it to broadcast air and is essentially a bonus/must-see for those attending live events, a shared experience that gives people goosebumps even after seeing it several times.
It's time to show the rest of the world this five minutes of awesomeness to open the show. It's an education and history of the UFC done in music video format. It's incredible and if I was trying to introduce the product to a new fanbase, I'd start with this.
Following his dominant performance over Jim Miller at UFC On Versus 5, it felt like a universal call from all corners of the MMA world rang out wanting to see Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida next. Henderson couldn't have looked any better in staking his claim as an upper echelon 155'er, while Guida has been circling the wagons of superstardom with a four-fight win streak and off-the-charts charisma and popularity.
There's plenty of reasons people want to see both guys go at it. They're exciting. They're stars in the the deepest division in the UFC. It would be hard to imagine a boring 15-minute fight with them involved. They have distinctive looks that go against the assumption by casual fans that all fighters have shaved heads and are covered with tattoos. (Actually, they both are loaded with tattoos so let's focus on the wild hair instead.)
You put a shot at the 155-pound title on the line and that's a fight that will draw eyeballs. I can't think of a better fight to open the UFC on Fox era with.
To the casual fight fan, two things are constants: titles and heavyweights. Even if people don't understand the names or the circumstances, two heavyweights fighting for a belt is as damn near universal as you're going to get. Despite the U.S. marketability issues with boxing's current crop of heavyweights, people still understand how much fun two big guys slugging it out can potentially be.
While Velasquez and dos Santos aren't exactly household names, putting them in the main event spot on this show would help promote them to a much larger audience. They are both action fighters and this fight promises to be a hell of a battle. The story of Velasquez is an easy one to sell: undefeated, eight wins by T/KO, the Brock Lesnar slayer, the champ. The challenger has lost only once and has an eight-fight winning streak. He hits hard and also knocks people out. This is going to be a great fight.
The issue here, of course, is that Velasquez/dos Santos is expected to headline UFC 139 a week later in San Jose, California. Losing a high-profile title fight would no doubt hurt the show, but the decision comes down to what's right for business. If you can put the same fight on free TV a week earlier and potentially hook in new viewers (aka future pay-per-view buyers) or leave it and get 400k buys from the same group you already are marketing to, what is more important for the long-term health of the business?
The goal of the UFC/Fox relationship is to bring aboard new fans, people that may have an interest in seeing a big event but assume everything's on PPV. Just because this is a quick-hit "bonus" show doesn't meant the importance should be overlooked.
The UFC needs to bring it strong on November 12 and putting a heavyweight title fight and an explosive lightweight battle as headliners is the best way to do it.
Josh Nason is a New England-based MMA writer that contributes to Bloody Elbow, FIGHT! Magazine and Wrestling Observer/Figure 4 Online. He co-hosts the weekly MMA Show on New Hampshire ESPN Radio affiliate WGAM.