Leo Santa Cruz - Josh Hedges
UFC on Fox 5 will mark the first of three consecutive weekends with fight sports featured on network TV. December 15 sees Leo Santa Cruz defend his IBF bantamweight title on CBS while December 22 will have NBC featuring the rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham.
Saturday night will see the start of something that is incredible to see as a fan of both MMA and boxing. When the UFC's Fox broadcast kicks off, it will mark the first of three consecutive weeks of combat sports on network TV.
While readers of Bloody Elbow are likely very familiar with the UFC's stacked offering, headlined by a lightweight title bout between champion Ben Henderson and challenger Nate Diaz, they may be unaware that boxing will be back on network TV for consecutive weekends to follow.
December 15 will see Golden Boy Promotions put on a card on CBS in the afternoon. Golden Boy is going all out to try to get some big attention on Leo Santa Cruz, the IBF bantamweight champion and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Santa Cruz (22-0-1, 13 KO) will be defending his title against Alberto Guevara. Santa Cruz should win the fight and it is clearly designed as a showcase for him, but he's the kind of fighter who should be showcased, blending technical skills with a relentless workrate and a seemingly tireless drive to compete. He's already gone 4-0 in 2012 and is in the running for plenty of "Fighter of the Year" awards, all while seeming to want to fight as often as he can.
So getting him on TV in front of a network audience is a smart move. In addition, Golden Boy has also decided to give away tickets for free. No doubt a good portion of that is to ensure that the Los Angeles Sports Arena doesn't look empty on network TV, but it's also another play to get more eyes on Santa Cruz.
The opening bout of the TV broadcast will see 2012 Olympian Joseph Diaz Jr. make his pro debut. Diaz was the guy on the American team that I thought looked the most like a "future pro star" given his style, so I'm excited for the debut. But it should be noted that Showtime recently aired a card featuring the debuts of several Olympians that was almost unwatchable in its lack of competitiveness. Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook made the point during the broadcast that they were the kind of fights that should happen in a young fighter's career as he turns pro, but they aren't necessarily the kind of fights we need to watch on TV. So it'll be interesting to see just how much of a "test" they give Diaz in his first fight.
That card serves as a lead-in to a Showtime triple-header in the evening, also from the Los Angeles Sports Arena. That card will be headlined by Amir Khan's return to action against Carlos Molina. This all makes for an interesting effort by CBS/Showtime and Golden Boy as they try to use different platforms and put on multiple cards in their continuing relationship.
Then, on December 22, NBC will air a card headlined by a rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham. Adamek and Cunningham put on one of the best fights of 2008, both men were cuiserweights at the time. Now they meet at heavyweight, a weight where Adamek has established himself as a legitimate title contender level fighter.
While the CBS card the weekend before is in the afternoon as the lead-in to the Showtime card, the NBC event will air in the afternoon in large part because Adamek is a Polish superstar and the timeslot allows the fight to be shown in Poland, bringing in a lot of TV revenue through that.
While Santa Cruz on CBS features an almost sure-fire superstar in a showcase that should still bring a lot of excitement, Adamek/Cunningham brings the fight that is expected to be another thriller.
Of course, the three week run of fights on network TV starts this Saturday when the UFC puts everything it can be expected to into it's Fox effort. Diaz vs. Henderson is a spectacular fight on paper and the addition of a world title only makes it more appealing. Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson is a great match-up of a proven light heavyweight contender and an up-and-coming star, B.J. Penn vs. Rory MacDonald keeps the "wow, that's a great fight" streak running and then there's a solid action fight between Mike Swick and Matt Brown.
With the UFC putting on a show on FX on December 15, the TUF Finale on December 16 and UFC 155 on the 29th as well as Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO PPV this Saturday and a smattering of other solid fights in the coming weeks, December is one of the best I can remember for fans of fight sports.