Tonight, as UFC makes its broadcast television debut on FOX, the castoff sport meets the castoff network. On every level, from the sentimental to the practical, it's a perfect sports-television marriage.
FOX was once the UFC of the television world, a lightly regarded underdog network scrapping for credibility. Up against the titans at NBC, ABC and CBS, FOX paved its own way to the top through the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Put simply, FOX took risks.
FOX eschewed network staples like the evening newscast and late-night talk shows. Instead they gave individual stations more autonomy to produce their own programming or to select syndicated reruns best suited for their audience.
They aired edgy shows like The Simpsons, In Living Color and Married...with Children. They signed a mega-deal with the NFL to secure broadcast rights and stole superstar announcers John Madden and Pat Summerall from CBS to announce their arrival. They paid top dollar for talent when rivals like the WB and UPN let their budding icons walk.
UFC and its fans can tell a similar story. When Dana White and his partners purchased UFC in 2001, the sport teetered on bankruptcy. Just two years earlier, Senator John McCain had equated it to "human cockfighting" and sought a ban. A product bursting with potential struggled to survive its tawdry reputation and fiscal mismanagement.
White and company changed that. In 2005 they approached Spike TV with an offer for a reality show to promote the sport. They payed their own production costs in the hopes that major cable coverage would help UFC make inroads into the 18-34 male demographic.
In the six years since, UFC's seen its popularity soar. On this historic night, it stands ready to take that next bold step into the public consciousness.
Who better to facilitate that transition than FOX?
Both FOX and UFC took risks more established competitors wouldn't entertain and came out the other side stronger. They are cut of the same corporate cloth.
Though the focus will fall on Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos tonight, the real story lies behind the camera. FOX and UFC take their first step together this evening, and from that a new sports-television power begins to rise.