Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber III is official.
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, the UFC announced that The Ultimate Fighter season 15—marking the show's debut on FX—will premiere on March 9, 2012 with a two-hour special. The season will feature two teams of both lightweights and welterweights helmed by Cruz and Faber.
It's no secret the UFC has difficulties marketing the lighter weight classes. This was more evident than ever after UFC 136 only drew an estimated 225,000 pay-per-view buys, despite featuring both featherweight and lightweight title fights.
Arguments are varied for why lighter weight MMA fighters have recently failed to consistently draw big PPV crowds. Suffice it to say that in today's MMA-inundated world (if someone desires to see MMA on any given weekend, they can do so more often than not), putting two guys on a poster with the word "championship" underneath their names just isn't cutting it anymore.
What the UFC needs is well-marketed, highly-recognizable stars at 155 pounds and under.
Enter, The Ultimate Fighter.
Long a marketing tool for the UFC, TUF had a successful last run on Spike TV, drawing an average of 1.5 million viewers per episode, with the finale averaging 2.5 million, according to MMAJunkie.com. The property should be able to move successfully to FX, especially with the marketing capabilities that the Fox network has.
Putting Cruz and Faber on cable television for 12 weeks, not only coaching, but also training for their third fight against one another, will bolster their marketability. The UFC and Fox/FX can leverage the exposure given to Cruz and Faber throughout the season by continuing to feature them and their contemporaries in free events on the Fox networks, building up their visibility through 2012.
If the UFC wants to build a PPV pipeline around the lighter weights, this is where they need to start...at the bottom. Once you can sell bantamweights—and provided TUF 15 performs well, they should be able to—featherweights become an easier hook. Lightweights, even easier.
Of course, we won't know if featuring Cruz and Faber on TUF will help the "little guys" draw bigger numbers in future events until they happen, but realistically, I can't see it getting much worse.