Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
If you aren't quite clear about which fights the UFC intends to present to the public on Fox this weekend, well, I can't say I blame you. The lineup has shifted so many times, it's been impossible to keep up. Ian McCall, Jamie Varner and John Dodson were all, once upon a time, on this card. So were Kelvin Gastelum and John Moraga. Anthony Pettis alone went through two opponents before dropping out with a knee injury.
I personally quit trying when Matt Brown announced he was off the card in the midst of me working with the UFC to schedule an interview with him. When even the UFC doesn't know a week in advance who's going to be fighting, how can I be expected to have a firm grasp?
Luckily, if you're a UFC stakeholder (you're not), it doesn't really matter. The fighters, it turns out, aren't the most important element in determining whether or not a card is going to be a box-office hit. The UFC's success on network television has thus far been dependent on one factor above all other variables: football. When the UFC has the power of NFL and college football behind it, the shows tend to succeed in the ratings.
When it doesn't, they don't.
Fox airs ads during NFL games, reaching football's enormous audience of 18- to 49-year-old men. Those same men make up the bulk of the UFC's audience as well, making the NFL the perfect medium to advertise cage fighting. I guess if you've deadened your concern for your fellow man by watching football, fist fighting is not that daring a leap. The NFL's audience becomes the UFC's audience, and some network suit puts the word "synergy" in a slightly bigger typeface in his latest PowerPoint presentation.
Welcome to the mainstream.
Can’t say I care much about ratings. Sure, I occasionally feel the dull, generalized pangs of wanting the sport I like/cover to enjoy a long, healthy life, but that’s about it.
Tracking the narrative of how many people watch one UFC card to the next and—oh God, hang me now—whether those numbers are a “success” interests me just slightly less than, well, your average Thursday night NFL game. Which is to say, not much at all.
And yeah, if you’re the sort of person who’s going to sit on your couch in your Cam Newton jersey and check out this Ultimate Cage Fighting show just because you saw it advertised during Panthers vs. Saints, you and I probably don’t have a lot to discuss.
Here’s my prediction: Some people will watch this weekend’s UFC on Fox card. Some people will not. On Monday, we’ll still be here, writing about a niche sport that we love and most people couldn’t possibly care less about. Exactly where we’ll be 500 Mondays from now.
I’ve made peace with that. If I’m telling the truth? I kind of like it that way.