NEW YORK - MARCH 06: UFC lightweights Nate Diaz (L) and Jim Miller (R) pose with UFC president Dana White at a press conference at Radio City Music Hall on March 06, 2012 in New York City. UFC announced that their third event on the FOX network will take place on Saturday, May 5 from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
This Saturday, the UFC makes its third trip to primetime network television with UFC on Fox 3. Headlined by Jim Miller vs. Nate Diaz, this is a fascinating card with big title implications. There's talk of the Miller vs. Diaz winner moving on to face the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson for the UFC Lightweight title. We could also easily see the same scenario in the Welterweight division, with the Josh Koscheck vs. Johny Hendricks winner moving into the #1 contender slot. Add in a pair of fun fights in Rousimar Palhares vs. Alan Belcher and Pat Barry vs. Lavar Johnson, and you have a slam dunk of a card that I am very excited for.
The trouble is, despite these well put together fights, this card is lacking something. In a word: star power. And for the Fox broadcasts, that lack of star power could be critical.
Compare the recognition of fighters on this card to the last two Fox outings. First time up, the Heavyweight title was on the line, with two men who had seen a lot of media exposure. Velasquez won the title in a big PPV, and dos Santos was coming off TUF. The result? 8.8 million people turned in for the fight, making it the highest rated MMA event in the history of US network TV. It also pulled in a 4.3 rating in the coveted male 18-34 demographic, and a 5.7 million average viewership.
For the Fox return, we had Rashad Evans headlining - a former champion who had recently been in the big-selling Rampage fight. Beneath him, former PPV headliners Sonnen and Bisping (and, to be fair, Maia). That show did see a bit of a dip, with a 6+ million peak, 3.21 rating in that same demographic, and a 4.7 million average. Down, but still very strong.
So what can we expect this show?
Of all 8 main card fighters, only Koscheck has ever been in a PPV main event. There simply is not a name here that can be relied on to grab fan interest (except maybe "Diaz" if Nate can siphon off some of big brother Nick's publicity). Another dip from those last numbers seems inevitable, but the question is how much of a dip?
That answer will be very telling. Without a title fight or a proven name, this card will be a test of the strength of the UFC brand. Just how many fans are willing to turn in to the Fox shows no matter what? What is that baseline audience for these network shows? I suspect we will find out on Saturday.