The television ratings from UFC on FOX 3 are bringing the worst out of the MMA community, and it’s all for nothing.
Almost immediately after the fight, viewing numbers were tossed around. At the end, the show had managed to pull in 2.4 million viewers—a huge drop from UFC on FOX 1’s 5.7 million and UFC on Fox 2’s 4.6 million.
The speculation was prompt. Some critics argued that the card was lacking, especially on a weekend when two household names, Mayweather and Cotto, were also making a television appearance. UFC president Dana White argued that it was, after all, Cinco de Mayo, the film Avengers had just been released and the NBA playoffs were going on among other things, and that these meant less people were at home watching television in the first place.
More infamously, the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer argued that these ratings could mark UFC on network television a failed venture (via BloodyElbow.com). White snapped back with the aforesaid argument exhibiting his standard fervor in what was essentially an ad hominem attack.
As a result, fans are attacking both Meltzer and White, arguing that they knew this would happen or that it will get better, that this is what the UFC deserves and that it deserves much more, that we’re all doomed or no, no—this is only the beginning.
And so I’ve brought my match to the bonfire, but my argument is simple: if the UFC, FOX, and fans are patient, the audience—and viewer ratings—will only get bigger and better.
I’ve never seen Field of Dreams, but I’ve heard it speaks to the basic idea here. Besides, the history of UFC on FOX is only beginning to tell us what the greater viewership wants from the organization.
For a sport that was once some obscure pay-per-view sideshow sold on VHS like some suspect pornography (taglines included “UNEDITED! UNCENSORED! UNLEASHED!” and the warning “Violent Material: Mature Audiences”), the fact that it pulls in viewers at all on network television is—to be honest—not that surprising. Neither is the fact that the sport isn’t immediately jumping to the top of ratings lists or showing some consistency when it does.
But the UFC has been taking huge steps in the past years to make MMA a more popular sport both in America and abroad, and it’s been working. This run on network television is simply the next step. But the general television audience can be fickle, but with some patience and tact, they can be won over.
Each time the UFC showed up on FOX, they offered something a little different to the popular audience. Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos promised a heavyweight brawl for a belt on UFC on FOX 1, pulling in huge numbers. Rashad Evans and Phil Davis pulled in impressive but lower numbers for a contender’s spot in the light heavyweight division.
But UFC on FOX 3 gave us Nate Diaz and Jim Miller headlining a card that really only got established MMA fans excited. Here, I’ll disagree with the fans that say the card was weak—it wasn’t, you just can’t expect the majority of people to know that.
Looking back at the other FOX fights, the population has spoken. They want heavyweight brawls. They want characters like Rashad Evans. They still need something in the fight they’ll understand like knockouts and charisma.
However, if the UFC is patient and gives them these things, that audience will grow. The sport and the organization are still developing rapidly; but UFC on FOX 3 showed just how young it still is. Furthermore, this is a problem many sports face (e.g. the riveting regular season LSU 9-6 OT win over Alabama where not a touchdown was scored).
The plan from here is simple: the UFC needs to put more championship bouts and more heavyweight sluggers on network television. In doing this, it must also be patient. Look to its roots: early pay-per-view UFC bouts never promised to be what boxing is today. Now, I have to tip exceedingly to secure a table at a bar during a UFC event. The sport is huge, and it’s only getting bigger.
For now, though, we can’t jump at the failures of UFC on FOX 3 as damning for the sport’s growth. Instead, take note, keep calm, and let the sport and its audience develop.