A year on from their debut on Fox, the UFC will once again put on a card worthy of the partnership. The announcement that UFC on Fox 5 will be headlined by Henderson vs. Diaz and Penn vs. MacDonald is the first indication that the UFC is beginning to understand how to best exploit their national platform (via MMAFighting.com).
Earlier this month I criticized Dana White and Co. for their somewhat short-sighted approach to the Fox deal. So far they have failed to live up to their promise to “bring big fights back to network television”.
When the deal was announced last year, White took pains to assure people that the UFC would be looking to invest in the future; they would be willing to sacrifice profits over the short term in order to succeed over the long term.
After the admittedly big splash of the first UFC on Fox show, they reneged on that promise and instead served up glorified Spike TV cards for mass consumption.
It was a bewildering decision—utterly counter-intuitive to what we all felt was necessary for the UFC to take the next step.
Dana White would likely never admit it, but he appears to have taken the media's criticism to heart. UFC on Fox 5 is stacked, offering a mixture of stars and sure-fire hit matchups.
Putting Nate Diaz in the main event is an excellent decision. He has already been exposed to the Fox audience, even if ratings for UFC on Fox 3 were well below what we had hoped.
His matchup with Benson Henderson is an example of a fight that everyone wants to see, but only the hardcore fans, for the most part, would be willing to shell out for.
Perhaps more importantly, it is a title fight and that means something is legitimately at stake.
We have been crying out for the UFC to provide fights with real stakes. Deciding to make two headline bouts a No. 1 contender eliminator, in a transparent attempt to give the card relevance, is not the way to build an audience.
On the other hand, offering a lightweight title bout between two fighters who are all but guaranteed to put on a show is how you build an audience.
Penn vs. MacDonald might not have much at stake, but it does boast a bona fide star.
One could argue that “The Prodigy” is past his prime. However, his name still carries weight, even with the casual fans. He will draw eye balls, and that is what the UFC needs.
Naturally, it would be silly to celebrate too early. We all know the UFC’s recent track record with injuries and cards being overhauled.
But at this point, it seems like the UFC is finally starting to learn its lesson.