Tonight is a weird night for the UFC. They're the cornerstone of the launch day of Fox Sports 1, the first primetime live sport broadcast on this new major sports network. And I don't think anyone knows what would be considered a success in this situation.
All the major providers are carrying the station, and it appears to be not buried on the ass-end of the dial. So there are viewership numbers that are so low that they'd obviously be disappointing, but I have no clue exactly what is "expected" as far as viewership.
I do think we've seen some of the usual overselling of Chael Sonnen's "drawing power" ahead of tonight's bout with Mauricio Rua. The entire narrative is based around three fights (two with Anderson Silva, one with Jon Jones), all three of which saw Sonnen as the B-side. The first Silva fight did good numbers, but still was only the sixth biggest of 2010, Silva's next fight (with Vitor Belfort) did considerably better. The rematch was big business, of course aided by Sonnen seeming to find his trash talking muse in Silva. And the Jones fight was only a slight bump from Jones' average show numbers, this with a big storyline of Jones turning own a short notice Sonnen fight that led to the cancellation of UFC 151 and an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Sonnen has never sold as the A-side on a fight. In fact, when he's been expected to sell fights he hasn't exactly done a great job. Since becoming a fixture for the UFC, articles have been written asking where Sonnen's fight selling trash talk has been for his bouts with Brian Stann, Michael Bisping (though Bisping is a good draw historically) and now Shogun. The mark of a big sell isn't how you do against the other big stars in the game, it's what you do when it's all on your back.
The big thing with Fox Sports 1 isn't just being a new home for live UFC events. That's nice, but FX was fine.
Where the game changes is with Fox Sports 1 treating the UFC as a major sport, capable of being featured alongside football, baseball, basketball, etc. Fox Sports Live will feature UFC highlights alongside NFL and MLB highlights, to a greater extent than the "quick look at the main event" treatment that SportsCenter currently provides.
I talked about this earlier today, but Fantastic Finishes -- a show focusing on the best endings of classic sports events -- featured Chael Sonnen's loss to Anderson Silva in their first fight. That made up a third of the program, right alongside a classic NASCAR finish and Appalachian State's historic football upset of the University of Michigan.
There's now a major sports network that is treating the UFC with a level of importance they've never been treated with. That's a major game change, and something that hasn't gotten enough play in the lead-up to the FS1 launch.
If Alistair Overeem loses to Travis Browne where does he rank on the list of all-time UFC busts? Sure, he isn't exactly Mirko Cro Cop or anything, but he'd have beaten a shell of Brock Lesnar and then lost to Bigfoot Silva in a fight that was absolutely supposed to be a "gimmie" for him. A loss to Browne seems like it would be devastating for a guy who was expected to come in and be one of the top players at heavyweight for a long time.
Browne is no joke, he's got the skills to punish Overeem if he gets sloppy again, Overeem is as low as a -205 favorite for a reason.
Uriah Hall is up against it as well. The hype Dana White and Co. were putting on Hall coming off his season of The Ultimate Fighter was crazy over the top. He was this walking highlight reel, most impressive man on two legs, destructive force. And then he lost to Kelvin Gastelum in an ugly fight that exposed some real shortcomings.
He's been given an opponent he should be able to look good against once again in John Howard, and has been given the main card slot over Conor McGregor, which means the UFC still sees value in Hall. But a loss to Howard likely means an end to the hype for good.
Speaking of McGregor.
That hype sure got out of hand quickly, didn't it?
Dana compared his hype level to Brock Lesnar and fans (and some media) are basically already crowning him a champion based on a successful career on the Irish regional scene and an impressive win over Marcus Brimage.
I like McGregor and he has a lot of upside, a good killer instinct and a unique marketability. But I feel like we've seen it before. Let the guy pick up a few more wins and prove himself a bit more on the biggest stage there in and then we can start talking future title runs.
We can't start comparing him to Lesnar though.
We'll see you all this evening as the action goes down.