UFC is already the biggest name in mixed martial arts, but president Dana White isn’t sitting on any laurels. Tonight's bouts on FX are the latest attempt by White to win over mainstream sports fans to augment the devoted hardcore audience the UFC already enjoys.
The first UFC event of 2012 has a lot of pressure to succeed, because 2011 didn’t exactly end in a TV-friendly fashion for White and his company. The most recognizable star in the MMA world, former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar, announced his retirement after being demolished by newcomer Alistair Overeem on New Year’s Eve.
Lesnar, who enjoyed substantial crossover appeal as a former WWE star, has battled diverticulitis for several years and chose to retire rather than go through another round of simultaneous rehab and fight training. Just as his success as an MMA fighter was a boon to the UFC’s efforts to raise its profile, having his career end in such disappointing fashion will be a blow to the sport and the promotion.
The best way for UFC to help its image after Lesnar’s exit would be with some exciting fights on tomorrow’s card. Unfortunately, even the headline bout between Melvin Guillard and Jim Miller doesn’t exactly have the cachet of, say, November’s heavyweight title showdown between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.
Of course, in a sport with minimal mainstream name recognition to begin with, the identities of the fighters in the octagon are less critical than the quality of their competition. Dos Santos-Velasquez was exciting but regrettably short, and a more protracted, back-and-forth fight (whether it’s Guillard-Miller or one of the undercard matches) would do wonders for UFC’s image at a time when wonders are sorely needed.