The UFC finally has the right model for free fight cards: Give the fans what they want.
It's about time too. For years, the UFC gave fans a few exciting fights on television, but hardly any title fights were ever shown and a lot of the top stars were always reserved for pay-per-view.
That's understandable because PPV buys are the driving force behind the company. But fans always called for big free events, and when the FOX deal was made, everyone suddenly became more optimistic than they had ever been.
For the new fans out there, frustration toward having to pay for every good event can not only weigh heavily on your wallet, but it can be somewhat demoralizing to give so much and receive so little.
When the UFC still aired on Spike, the company could get away with putting together mediocre cards, and though some fans would bicker, the UFC would basically get off scott-free for doing it.
Seriously, there was a card headlined by Stephan Bonnar vs. Igor Pokrajac, with a Demian Maia vs. Kendall Grove co-main event. Yeah, it was that bad at times.
But when the UFC first made the switch to FOX, the company gave fans a title fight on free television. Though the UFC rarely puts title fights on television, the title fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez on Nov. 12, 2011 came one month after Dominick Cruz defeated Demetrious Johnson to reclaim his bantamweight championship on Versus.
How fitting is it that Johnson will defend his flyweight championship against John Dodson in about a week's time on free television?
But don't think for a second that this was commonplace. Oh no, before Cruz fought Johnson, the last UFC championship fight to take place for free was Rampage Jackson and Dan Henderson's title fight to unify the light heavyweight championship. That scrap went down in 2007.
But this new deal on FOX was going to shake things up. The UFC kicked off the FOX deal with the heavyweight championship, and the event saw dos Santos knock Velasquez out to become the new heavyweight champion.
It seems like decades ago that Velasquez mauled dos Santos at UFC 155. Nonetheless, the UFC put a huge title fight on television for the fans, and excitement was created for the sport. The first event's ratings did a whopping 5.7 million viewers.
After that card, the UFC decided to coast. It started creating somewhat similar cards to the Spike cards. Sure, these fights had a larger collection of bigger names on them, but there were no title fights to be found and the enthusiasm that was generated for UFC on FOX 2 and UFC on FOX 3 failed to compare to the first event.
The ratings reflected it. The UFC on FOX 2 card (headlined by Phil Davis vs. Rashad Evans) dropped to 4.7 million viewers, while the UFC on FOX 3 card (headlined by Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller) drew just 2.4 million viewers.
Whether it was because of the ratings or another reason altogether, that model of title-less fights has since changed. Just look at the UFC on FOX 6 card that's set to take place on Jan. 26. The UFC gave fans exactly what they wanted with a title fight, a thrilling stylistic matchup and a promising standup battle.
Heck, this was the same model exemplified for the UFC on FOX 5 fight card, and the event drew 4.4 million viewers, which is up from the UFC on FOX 4 fight card's 2.4.
Which main event do you think would draw more—Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Brandon Vera or Besnon Henderson vs. Nate Diaz for the lightweight championship? Henderson defended his championship against Diaz in the main event of UFC on FOX 5, and that fight alone peaked around six million viewers.
So a fight card that has Anthony Pettis vs. Donald Cerrone, Jackson vs. Glover Teixeira and Johnson vs. Dodson all on it is sure to draw strong ratings, right?
It seems the UFC thinks so, because for the UFC on FOX 7 fight card, Henderson is set to defend his title once again on free television against Gilbert Melendez. Ah, title fights, a winning recipe indeed.
Fans and media alike overreacted when the UFC on FOX ratings were plummeting and failing to reach over 3 million viewers. "The sport is a fad," critics would cry.
No, this sport isn't a fad. Instead, it's a sport filled with die-hard fans that want title fights on free television. No matter who you are, the word "championship" in any language draws interest, and both casual and hardcore fans will surely tune in.
All fans want title fights on free television, and after going through a few bruising UFC on FOX fight cards, the UFC is finally giving fans what they want. Expect ratings to continue to climb as a result.