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I'll confess to being wrong. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's in a major way. My painful confession? I thought for certain that the UFC would be a major hit on Fox.
The mainstream, in my mind, was finally primed and ready for cage fighting. The UFC had built the sport on Spike and taken it as far as they could within the confines of an obscure cable channel. The time to take things to the next level was now.
The culture was seemingly inured to violence of all kinds in popular media, and the sport was just too good to fail. Once you watch it—truly watch it and process what is happening in the cage—you can never go back to the simpler times when MMA wasn't a major part of your life.
That was my mindset at least, and that of many of the people in my insular online circle.
It turns out, though, that that isn't the case. Most people were perfectly able, even willing, to turn on a fight (they did so in huge numbers for the inaugural event on Fox) and then shrug their shoulders and let out a tepid "eh."
The first show on Fox was a bona fide hit. The second, headlined by Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen fights, did a solid number. And then the bottom fell out: The third and fourth cards on Fox drew less than half as many viewers as the debut.
The numbers, to be frank, were abysmal. To put it in perspective, more people watched every Elite XC show on CBS back in 2008—even the disaster headlined by Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith—than watched the last two free UFC shows. And Elite XC was a second-rate promotion that failed in every conceivable way.
It's not all doom and gloom. The UFC frequently wins the fight for the key young male demographic, and there is still hope for an overall ratings resurgence.
The UFC is bringing out the big guns for its fifth show on Fox. Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz will headline in a lightweight title scrap, and BJ Penn and "Shogun" Rua will provide much-needed support underneath.
More importantly, the show will once again be advertised heavily during Fox NFL broadcasts. The football audience was a key factor in the first and most successful event on Fox and will likely play a key roll again.
“Last October, it was a big deal that UFC was being promoted inside of an NFL game,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks told Sherdog.com in an interesting interview worth reading in full. "[It] had never been done before. We haven’t had the NFL weight to promote since then."
With the NFL push, I expect a big rebound for the fifth show on Fox. But it may turn out that MMA has a "season" after all, at least as a mainstream product. And that season is football season.