The April 9, 2005 bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was a historic moment for the UFC.
It was the culmination of Zuffa's last-ditch effort to make an impact with an audience that extended beyond the hardcore fans who had been following the sport for years. After several years running failing events and building up debt, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank were strongly considering selling off the company.
But the Fertittas took a chance on the reality show. They paid for the production of the first season. If it failed, they'd sell the company, concentrate on their Las Vegas casino empire and never look back.
It wasn't a failure. A dramatic season filled with watchable characters led to high ratings for the show. The cherry on top came at the finale, where Griffin and Bonnar faced off in one of the most legendary fights in MMA history.
It wasn't pretty, but it was one of the most thrilling fights you'll ever see. And it helped launch the UFC to heights the Fertittas and Dana White could have never imagined in 2004. It also helped turn Spike into a destination network for male programming.
Can Saturday night's fight between Jim Miller and Nathan Diaz do the same thing for the FOX shows that Griffin vs. Bonnar did for Spike? Miller's trainer Mike Constantino thinks so, telling MMAFighting's Mike Chiapetta that he's expecting a great fight:
"For some odd reason, deep down inside I feel like it’s going to be the second coming of Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar for the masses," he said. "The first wave of the crazy ‘wow’ was Ultimate Fighter. Now you have FOX television, and something is telling me it’s going to be one of those great type of fights.
"It just has all the makings to be one of those fights," he continued. "They’re both hard to submit, they both have good standup, they both have good cardio, teams, coaching, everything. It’s a great fight, so competitively matched up."
It will be tough for Miller and Diaz to live up to the legacy Griffin and Bonnar created that night in Las Vegas.
For starters, they're completely different fighters. The chances of Miller participating in a wild slugfest with Diaz over the course of five rounds are slim to none. He's a smart fighter and realizes that slugging things out with Diaz is a recipe for disaster.
Ultimately, this is not 2005. The UFC has grown exponentially from those uncertain days. It has consistently permeated the outside edges of the sporting world for quite some time now, and it has made bigger splashes when there are highly-anticipated fights to promote. We've seen commercials featuring UFC stars during NFL playoff games.Seven years ago, that was unthinkable.
Could Miller and Diaz put on a memorable fight that attracts new fans to the sport? Sure. In fact, I think that's probably going to happen.
But it won't do what Griffin vs. Bonnar did, and that's okay. It doesn't have to.
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