With apologies to the dear, departed ghost of one Michael Jackson, THIS IS IT.
Simply put, there hasn’t been a single bigger night in the HISTORY of UFC (and by proxy, the sport of mixed martial arts) than this one. The success or failure of this evening’s broadcast will either solidify Ultimate Fighting as a mainstream aspect of the U.S. sports scene or send it the way of La Macarena in a hurry. Everything, frankly, is riding on the shoulders of Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos tonight.
Up until this evening, the single biggest night for the UFC was WAY back in 2005, when the first live UFC event aired on cable television. That show, the first Ultimate Fighter Finale, contained what many people consider the absolute greatest dog fight in MMA history as Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar battered, bruised and bum fought one another for a solid fifteen minutes of retarded monkey action. Had the two put on a less entertaining bout, would it have altered the promotion’s entire fortunes? Eh, probably not, but holy shit, did it ever help the company make an impact on the largest viewing audience at had been granted up until that point.
And now, the UFC is getting its greatest opportunity EVER at establishing itself as a mainstream cultural institution. . .only this time, THEY HAVE TO FRIGGIN’ DELIVER.
We all know what the UFC wants here. Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos go out there and put on a five round, 25 minute, back and forth war with plenty of punching and very little hugging on the ground. They want blood (but not enough to gross people out too much), and they want rapid fire exchanges that make most hockey brawls look graceful by comparison. They want total nonstop action, they kind that will get people talking on Monday morning, and if they can’t? Then it is assured that THIS is the cultural apex of the sport, as high as the UFC could EVER make it as a global brand. They succeed? It’s the beginning of Dana White’s crazy ass plans for worldwide hyper-expansionism. They fail? It’s all downhill from here, folks.
I guess the best way to explain the UFC’s expected outcomes for this evening is through this foursquare below:
Obviously, there’s a pecking order in play here. The most desirable outcome, obviously, is that the two go out there and put on a highly competitive, extremely action-packed five round fight. Pending the Manny Pacquaio / Juan Manuel Marquez boxing match later this evening doesn’t deliver the goods, this may INTENSIFY the desired outcome for the UFC exponentially. In fact, the great variable for tonight’s show - which will dictate the promotion’s future - rests not in the hands of dos Santos or Velasquez, but a Filipino and a Mexican fighting one state over. Seeing as how the UFC has the advantage of being on free television, it may very well be absorbed by a larger audience than the Pac/JMM bout - and if the UFC succeeds while the boxing world falters, it could be an absolute game changer for the industry of combat sports.
Now, a submission or a KO is also desirable, as long as it’s of the non-fluky variety (more on that later.) Since there’s going to be a full preliminary card before the UFC Heavyweight title fight, there’s going to be some bouts on deck just in case this one has an early finish - including a Ben Henderson / Clay Guida number one contender’s bout that may produce more fireworks than a Black Cat factory. In fact, the magnitude of tonight’s broadcast may in fact give EVERYBODY on the undercard an incentive to go out there and put on coked-up orangutan fights with the assumption that if the main event concludes early, they might just get put on as a time-filler. While not the most desirable outcome, it still could end up doing some good for the company. . .
. . .like I said, just as long as we don’t have one of those afore-mentioned fluky finishes in the main event. When I say “fluky finish,” what I mean is what happened with the Bernard Hopkins / Chad Dawson and Floyd Mayweather / Victor Ortiz fights earlier this year; essentially, embarrassing, anti-climactic early finishes built around EXTREMELY sports-entertainment like shenanigans. It doesn’t matter if you have a hot prelim fight to show AFTER the main event, if the main event itself has some pro-wrestling bullshit attached, THAT is what people are going to remember, and if that’s the case, the UFC will pretty much eat its own dookie in front of the entire nation.
And lastly, there’s the chance that this fight turns into a five round anti-fight, with both guys gassing early and putting on a boring, lay-and-pray anti-clinic for twenty five minutes. Remember that one Alistair Overeem / Fabricio Werdum fight from this summer? Well, if that crap happens here, the UFC’s upward expansion is done for. Now, I’m not saying that owner Dana White may get in the ears of both men and advise them to give it their all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he offered them a ton of undisclosed to the public cash and contractual promises in exchange for them going all Hagler/Hearns up in this bitch tonight, either.
So with all that said, what should we expect this evening?
Well, White did say that this evening would mark the “turning point” for the organization, if nothing else, from a presentation standpoint, so all of this should prove new to pretty much everybody. As far as the fight itself, I’ve done a tremendous amount of research, so here’s my SUPER-exhaustive tale of the tape for the biggest fight in MMA history (so far, anyway…)
CAIN VELASQUEZ JUNIOR dos SANTOS
(UFC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION) vs. (CHALLENGER)
Height: 6’2 6’3
Weight: 245 238
Age: 29 27
Reach: 77” 77”
W/L Record: 9-0-0-0 13-1-0-0
(8 KO) (8 KO, 3 SUB)
Length: 4:31 6:17
Strikes Landed Per 7.05 6.79
Striking Accuracy: 61% 47%
Strikes Absorbed Per 1.15 1.99
Striking Defense: 65% 64%
Per 15 Minutes: 6.96 0.9
Takedown Accuracy: 72% 75%
Takedown Defense: 88% 83%
Per 15 Minutes: 0.66 0.00
(*) Pertain only to UFC fights. Thanks to FightMetric for the statistical hook-up, yo.
Just looking at the numbers here, I would have to give a mild advantage to the defending champ, whom has mildly better striking statistics than dos Santos and way more impressive ground game numbers (even if, technically, the challenger is the more precise wrestler of the two.)
The key variable here, of course, are the gas tanks of both fighters. In Velasquez’s last two fights, neither of his opponents managed to escape the first round, whereas in JDS’ last two bouts, both fights went a full fifteen minutes. Although dos Santos showed some signs of slowing down in his fights against Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, he looked damned dominant from bell to bell, which means as long as he doesn’t sustain any major damage early, going the distance shouldn’t be too much of a concern for the number one contender.
Velasquez, on the other hand, has had just one UFC fight go a full fifteen rounds, and in that bout against Cheik Kongo, he definitely showed some cardio deficiencies. As defensively sound as dos Santos is as a boxer, you really have to wonder what Velasquez will have to do if he can’t knock JDS out early. Velasquez has an impressive amateur wrestling background, but JDS held his own quite well against Shane Carwin, another top-tier college wrestler, earlier this year. And that’s not to say that JDS doesn’t have some takedown skills himself, either.
So what should we expect? Honestly, this fight here could really go either direction, and that outcome can come in the form of about twenty different twist endings. No matter the finale, this much is certain. . .
. . .this is going to be a historic night, even if it is for the most dubious of reasons.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future of mixed martial arts, whether that’s ultimately a positive or a negative. Welcome all, to UFC ON FOX: Velasquez Vs. dos Santos!
Before the show kicks off, we’re given a warning that says this thing may be TOO awesome for some viewers. And no, I’m actually being quite serious about that.
Our show begins with a VERY familiar sounding corporate ditty, and we’re thrown to NFL analyst Curt Menefree.
With Menefree? Dana White, and Brock freaking Lesnar. Dana White talks about how far the sport has come in eighteen years, and Lesnar talks about how badly he wants a rematch with Velasquez. They do sort of a half hearted hard sale for Lesnar’s upcoming bout with Alistair Overeem on 12/30 (hell, they even have Alistair IN THE HOUSE for this one), but they’re not exactly selling it like it’s the mega million, million plus buy event that it will probably end up being.
Time for a commercial. Expect LOTS of these tonight.
We’re back, and we get a brief video package about how Junior dos Santos grew up poor. And no, it totally ISN’T the exact same video package they showed earlier this year on Spike TV to hype that dos Santos / Lesnar match-up that never happened. Nope, not at all.
Both White and Lesnar think Velasquez has the advantage here. COMMERCIAL.
You know, BJ Penn really doesn’t strike me as an avid Assassin’s Creed player. If the way he fights is indicative of how he games, he can only get to World 2 on Super Mario Bros. before completely gassing.
And we’re back. Time for Cain’s video package. . .and holy shit, it’s the EXACT same package they used to hype his bout against Brock Lesnar from A YEAR AGO. So what we have here tonight is a poor dude from Brazil taking on a dude who’s dad is a poor Mexican for about one sixth of what Tom Brady makes in an NFL season. . .and oh yeah, Tom Brady gets health care as part of his deal.
The fight is coming up NEXT. Maybe. Probably.
So, uh, what’s the difference between The X-Factor and American Idol again? This is really the first time I’ve watched Prime Time Fox TV since 2007 so. . .yeah, consider me WAY out of the loop. Hey, does “Greg the Bunny” still come on?
One final hard sale by Menefree, White, and Lesnar. With about thirty minutes left on the show, we’re finally THROWN to Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg at cage side. Goldberg, no doubt realizing that he has the potential to make an ass out of himself in front of the largest crowd he has ever had the capacity to do so, says that tonight’s battle is “time for two fighters in their prime to fight in prime time.” He actually spent two months working on that one, I believe.
Goldberg runs down the rules for us. Rogan says that approximately 60 million Brazilians will be watching this fight tonight. In other words, sixty million television sets have been reported stolen in Brazil this evening. I keed, I keed. . .
Dos Santos comes out to the theme from Rocky. Rogan says that his truly is a real life Rocky story. I guess that means dos Santos fell in love with an autistic pet shop girl and somehow inherited a talking robot after making a living off beating up crude stereotypes. Velasquez comes out to some mariachi music.
Bruce Buffer with the intro. Our referee is Big John McCarthy. The bell sounds, and the biggest fight in UFC history is on.
Velasquez out swinging. Dos Santos throws a high kick. Velasquez looking for a clinch. Dos Santos shrugs him off. DOS SANTOS DROPS VELASQUEZ WITH A RIGHT. He swarms with punches on the ground, and this fight is over.
The official time? Just 1:04 of the very first round. That loud sound you hear is Dana White swallowing is own tie.
Another commercial break. Since we have about twenty five minutes to kill, does this mean we’ll be scoring ourselves some prelims?
Call me crazy, but those commercials featuring the kids ultimate fighting is just about the damned creepiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. And somewhere, Penn State is considering picking up MMA as a Division I sport. . .
We’re back for the official decision. Dos Santos is all cry-y because he’s happy, and Velasquez is all cry-y because he’s sad. And Dana White is all cry-y because. . .well, it should be pretty damned obvious, really. And also, I will be all sorts of damned if the new UFC champ doesn’t look JUST like an anthropomorphic version of Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants, too.
I hope you like Checkers commercials, because we have about thirty of them up next.
We’re back with Dana, Curt and Brock. LOL as Brock has to do an about face and talk about how important the Alistair fight will be because that million dollar rematch just got shat out the window. LOL even harder at Dana being visibly pissed and saying that Cain should have tried to shoot for takedowns, literally SAYING that he wanted this fight to linger into later rounds.
But hey, those slow-motion replays are pretty cool, though, aren’t they?
More commercials, more replays, more less-than-insightful commentary. And at 9:59p.m. EST, the UFC’s golden opportunity is officially over.
Well, now that we’ve had a few hours to sort of mull things over, here’s my insight:
The presentation tonight was really good. The lighting and camera work was so much better than the standard UFC broadcast that it felt like an entirely different promotion. You really got a sense of the size of the arena, and everything was generally more defined than normal.
Surprisingly, I kind of liked the triumvirate of Dana, Curt and Brock on commentary. Menefree is really a natural at MMA broadcasting, and I definitely hope they bring him back for subsequent broadcasts.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The UFC has REALLY got to learn how to play down the whole race baiting thing as a marketing technique, and the recession-baiting “rags-to-riches” stuff has just GOT TO GO.
It was an hour long show, with approximately a MINUTE of in-cage action. This shit isn’t TNA, you know.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
This show needed a kick ass prelim fight like a Joe Paterno needs an updated resume. What really blows is that the card had a fight between Ben Henderson and Clay Guida RIGHT before the main event that lot of people are calling a fight of the year candidate. From here on out, there has to be at least TWO fights per show. . .if that means you have to do a two hour show as opposed to a one hour show, well, I reckon that is EXACTLY what you will have to do.
You know, it may help your ratings if you pick a night where there ISN’T nine bajillion things going on, like the biggest boxing match of the year, major college football games, and prime time cable debuts. Just a suggestion.
Well, all in all, I can’t say that tonight’s show was a rousing success. It wasn’t a complete debacle, but it definitely wasn’t the big splash the company WANTED to make, either. The company isn’t doomed, but it is going to have to do a LOT of homework between now and the next network show if it wants this relationship to prove sustainable.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. Crank up “Answering Machine” by The Replacements and “The World’s a Mess / It’s In His Kiss” by X, and I’ll be seeing you in a few.
JAMES SWIFTis an award winning freelance writer currently residing in the metro Atlanta area. He is the author of two books, “How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions” and “Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks.”
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