Who’s next after Velasquez-Dos Santos?
LOS ANGELES – When the UFC aired its first live basic cable television card in 2005, it delivered one of the most memorable battles in mixed martial arts history. Forrest Griffin’s win over Stephan Bonnar to win “The Ultimate Fighter 1” title in a back-and-forth struggle helped break the company through to the masses and lifted it to a higher-profile than anyone dared dream.
That’s one way to make a first impression.
On the other hand, there was the MMA’s prime-time network debut in 2008. Kimbo Slice fought a wretched bout against professional tomato can James Thompson, dragging into the third round before Thompson’s ear exploded in a grotesque manner, live on CBS. While the event generated a big rating and quite a buzz, it also hastened promotional company Elite XC’s demise a few short months and tens of millions of dollars later.
Which leads us to the next big step in MMA’s television evolution. The UFC held a press conference Tuesday at Hollywood’s W Hotel to push ticket sales for the Cain Velasquez-Junior Dos Santos heavyweight title fight at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Nov. 12, which is the first live UFC network broadcast on Fox, kicking off a seven-year deal which calls for four live events per year.
Will champion Velasquez, who has the potential to become the Latino superstar the UFC has always wanted but never quite found, and Dos Santos, the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division, put on a show that makes new fans want to tune in for more? Or will they put in, if not a Kimbo-Thompson clunker, something that doesn’t push the company to the next level?
“You can’t guarantee another Griffin-Bonnar,” said UFC president Dana White. “All you can do is put together the most exciting fight possible. With Cain and Junior, whether the fight goes 30 minutes or 30 seconds, you’ve got two guys who are known for delivering exciting fights.”
The plain-spoken combatants, thus far, claim there’s nothing out of the ordinary about their upcoming tussle.
“It’s a big fight, but I’m not going to treat it any differently than any other fight,” said Velasquez (9-0). “Junior is an impressive fighter, but I’m just going to go out and do it like I always do.”
“It’s an honor to be on the first Fox card, I’m glad to get the opportunity,” said Dos Santos (13-1). “But I don’t think that adds any more pressure to the fight.”
Early signs indicate Fox is going to position the UFC for success on the network: With two months left before Velasquez-Dos Santos, Fox has already begun airing promo spots for the fight during NFL and MLB broadcasts, and Fox Sports president Eric Shanks reported Tuesday that the ad inventory for the Nov. 12 event has already sold out.
“I’ll tell you what, we can do all the promotion in the world, we can put them in the right position, and all that,” said White. “You can put all the bells and whistles on it. But every time out, when the cage door is shut, it’s up to the fighters to deliver. We’ve been doing this for 10 years now and we have a track record because these guys deliver.”
Velasquez and Dos Santos are clearly Nos. 1 and 2 at 265 pounds right now, but the heavyweight division constantly evolves, and there is no lack of potential challengers lying in wait. Who is waiting in line for a crack at the UFC gold and a potential future spot on network television? Here’s a look at the top contenders:
Credentials: Former UFC champion
Streak: Lost past 1
Next fight: vs. Alistair Overeem, Dec. 30
Weight class: Former Dream and Strikeforce champion
Record: 35-11 (1 no contest)
Streak: Won past 7
Next fight: vs. Lesnar, Dec. 30
Credentials: Former UFC champion
Streak: Won past 8
Next fight: vs. Daniel Cormier, date TBD
Credentials: Former Olympic wrestler
Streak: Won past 9
Next fight: vs. Barnett, date TBD
Credentials: Former interim UFC champion
Streak: Lost past 2
Next fight: None scheduled
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