UFC on Fox: Has the UFC and MMA Jumped the Shark Tank?

Justin Fuller@FightFactorLIVECorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16: UFC President Dana White speaks during a press conference promoting UFC 145: Jones v Evans at Philips Arena on February 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The UFC has had a roller coaster of a ride since it first burst onto the scene with the UFC 1 event in 1993.

While it may not have necessarily given birth to MMA, it has essentially dictated the sport's rise in fall in the world.

From the early tournament days and darker-ages of the 1990s, to the New Jersey-sanctioning Zuffa buyout and The Ultimate Fighter era, it would seem the sky is the limit for this once-fringe sport—especially with a seven-year broadcast deal with Fox.

But for a company that is still Pay-Per-View (PPV) based, you can measurably see growth is starting to level off.

A lot of hope—and money—was put into the UFC's debut on Fox, and with 5.7-million viewers it was by all means a success.

However 5.7-million is a far shot from the numbers ratings giant NFL—who the UFC considers its true rival—pulls in on a weekly basis.

Their sophomore appearance didn't fair any better, coming in at 4.7-million.

To give credit where credit is due, the UFC has outlasted every major rival from Japanese MMA giant Pride FC, to EliteXC and Affliction—and even major-US alternative Strikeforce.

They have also created an entire industry which did not exist before the UFC, with companies like TapOut, Hayabusa and even Affliction's apparel-line.

But even with all that success and growth, things were destined to plateau at some point, and we may have reached that.

Fans are saturated with content on FX and Fuel TV, and broadcast events on Fox seem to have peaked.

So where do we go from here?

If the new platform has not translated into PPV buys, and new fans are not being draw to the flash-Fox Sports style televised events, then the Velasquez vs. Dos Santos event may have been the point when the UFC jumped the shark tank.

Major media conglomerates like Fox's parent-company News Corp. are always looking for an edge over the competition, but do not like investing in a brand which may not have much more room to grow.

Granted, the UFC is synonymous with the MMA industry, but just how big is the market share?

Fox may have the lion's share of that industry with their UFC deal, but the long-term question is does that brand's staple of loyal fans justify the TV time they're given?

If News Corp. isn't happy with where things are at, and feels threatened by rival-Viacom's acquisition of Bellator, then they could begin to pressure the UFC into bringing back retired legends like Chuck Liddell.

Or they could put on freak show matches like Kimbo Slice vs. Herschel Walker, just to boost ratings (all similar to when the Fonz jumped the shark), thus becoming a relic of the once great, unwavering MMA promotion.

These questions are essentially theoretical at this point.

We won't truly know what kind of drawing power the UFC has towards a mainstream audience until after Spike loses their rights to UFC content at the end of this year, and the public has had ample opportunity to view UFC events on Fox, FX, and Fuel TV.

But still, these are questions we need to keep in the back of our mind as we watch the UFC take MMA into a new era.

Let's just hope this new era is for the best, and not one that takes us in the wrong direction.

And that's the bottom line.


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