Velasquez-dos Santos blockbuster set for Fox

A nearly giddy Dana White unveiled the secret Friday he’s been longing to tell, announcing that heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will defend his title against top contender Junior dos Santos live on Fox at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 12 in the UFC’s U.S. network television debut.

The Velasquez-dos Santos bout had been slotted to take place at UFC 139 in San Jose, Calif., but the UFC president opted to move it up a week to put the biggest possible fight on network television.

“Most of the people that know about the UFC and the rapid growth that we’ve had over the last 10 years, and I think one of the big reasons for that is, we deliver,” White said. “We deliver to the fans. We deliver to our partners, and, in my opinion, we’re delivering again. We are going with the most prestigious championship in all of sports, the heavyweight title. So on Nov. 12, in Anaheim’s Honda Center, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will take on No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos on the No. 1 network in America, Fox.”

UFC president Dana White is putting a heavyweight title bout free on Fox on the same night as a Manny Pacquiao fight.
(Getty Images)

White is so ecstatic about the UFC’s seven-year partnership with Fox that the conference call to announce the Velasquez-dos Santos fight ended with White, Fox Sports chairman and CEO David Hill and Fox Sports president Eric Shanks giggling uncontrollably.

White said Velasquez-dos Santos would be the only bout on the national broadcast to allow time to educate fans who may be seeing a mixed martial arts card for the first time. He didn’t announce a co-main event, but said “we’ll figure out a way” to give fans access to see the other fights on the show.

White could barely contain his excitement about putting the Velasquez-dos Santos fight on network television. It is in stark comparison to the first MMA main event that was ever on network television, when CBS showed also-ran fighters James Thompson and Kimbo Slice in 2008.

Hill called the bout “Our Ali-Foreman,” referencing the significance of the legendary 1974 boxing match in Africa between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Shanks said he didn’t learn what the Fox main event would be until late Thursday, when White and UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta mentioned it. Shanks said he immediately got his promotions team in action and that promos for the card will appear Saturday during Fox baseball coverage and on cable channel FX during its college football broadcasts.

White noted that the seven-year deal between Fox and the UFC doesn’t begin until January, so the first show is a bonus, of sorts. He raved about what Fox has done for the UFC already and said he was eager for Fox, particularly Hill, to provide input about the UFC’s production. White has vigorously protected his right to control the production and backed out of a potential deal with HBO several years ago so that he would maintain control.

“You guys have all known how important it was for me to kind of control the production,” White said. “Let me tell you this: With the way that we’ve worked with Fox and the way this deal worked out, David Hill is a legend in sports. This guy has revolutionized you name it: NASCAR, the NFL, the Super Bowl, baseball. This guy has forgotten more about production than I will ever know. One of the things we’re doing is, [while] we like the style and feel of our show, we want input from Fox.

“We want the Fox look with this thing. We’re open to suggestion. We want to work with them. This isn’t one of these things where I come in and say, ‘This is our show.’ This isn’t some unprecedented things where we draw the line that it’s our deal. We want their input. These guys are the No. 1 network in the country for a reason. They’re the best at what they do. We want their input and we want to work hand in hand with these guys.”

White said that means looking at all aspects of the television broadcast to find ways to improve it. He said it is important that the UFC not be satisfied with what it is done, but rather look to improve.

He said he would consider any change that would improve the broadcast. Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan will call the fights, but Fox did not say if any of its other talent would be involved. Hill noted, “I’m a fan of Rogan.”

White said nothing would be sacred as he sought to improve the telecast.

“We’re not sitting around patting ourselves on the back saying, ‘Look, we made it,’ ” White said. “Now is the time to deliver. Everything we’ve done in the last 10 years, we actually need to step it up a level and deliver even bigger and better now that we’re on the No. 1 network in the country. Believe me when I tell you, you guys are going to see a lot of changes in the way the shows are run, the production. Everything is going to the next level. We’ve been given this opportunity and you bet your ass we’re going to take it.”

The Velasquez-dos Santos card will be on the same night as a pay-per-view boxing show featuring a main event of Manny Pacquiao against Juan Manuel Marquez. However, the UFC show will probably be off the air before the Pacquiao fight begins.

White said he didn’t think the boxing show would cost him any viewers, though he managed to take a shot at Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao.

“I think it’s going to affect our numbers big: It’s free,” White said, emphasizing the word “free.” “You don’t have to pay $65 for it. I think it’s going to be big for us. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, I think this fight gets over before the Pacquiao fight goes on. The great thing for fight fans is, you can watch this fight for free, then you can watch that fight, too.

“I hate Bob Arum and I hope he only does one buy on this fight, but I love Manny Pacquiao and I’d love to see him do three million buys and make a ton of money. So, it’s a Catch-22 for me.”

White would not comment on what would be the main event at UFC 139 or what other fights would be on either card.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Sep 2, 2011