It seems like it should be easy enough. Build a card that people want to see and they will tune in on fight night to watch it. Intuitively, it could scarcely be any simpler.
Yet, despite its apparent simplicity, most of the UFC’s nationally televised cards have underwhelmed both casual fans and hardcores alike.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece that criticised the UFC’s myopic handling of the Fox deal. It appeared as though they were unwilling to put any of their biggest stars on free television, instead saving them for short-term gains on pay-per-view.
While this criticism still holds true, the UFC has certainly adjusted its approach to booking its Fox shows. They might not be giving Georges St-Pierre away for free, but they are at least giving the mainstream audience something to get invested in.
It’s hardly a secret that fans are more inclined to tune in when something is at stake. And this means something genuinely has to be at stake, rather than simply claiming that the co-main and main event will determine the No. 1 contender—I’m talking to you, UFC on Fox 4.
Offering fights that are guaranteed to deliver in a qualitative sense is not a successful strategy in and of itself. Sure, the hardcore fans will tune in to watch Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller, but as far as the casuals are concerned, it might as well be Joe Bloggs vs. John Doe.
With UFC on Fox 5, Dana White and Co. figured out this axiom, serving up for mass consumption Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the UFC’s matchmakers, coupling sure-fire action with genuine stakes.
Even though the fight ended up being about as one-sided as a match between Barcelona and Accrington Stanley, the ratings suggest that the UFC is on to a winning formula: a stacked card and a main event that offers something tangible to hook the casuals.
UFC on Fox 6 appears to stick to the same formula, boasting a compelling undercard and, again, a main event that has both stakes and the potential to deliver fireworks.
Having said that, I suspect that a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson will struggle to attract viewers. The 125-pound division has not been established in the same way as the lightweight division and thus carries less drawing power at present.
The UFC may be hoping that the presence of “Rampage” Jackson will be enough to draw the casuals and expose them to the videogame-esque action that Johnson and Dodson will undoubtedly provide.
The UFC’s relationship with Fox may still be a work in progress, but even progress seemed like a distant possibility six months ago. We can be thankful that the UFC is finally heading in the right direction.