Jeremy Lambert: This Saturday night the UFC returns to FOX with their fourth event on the network. Following the poor ratings from the last show, the company has brought in two former champions in hopes to boost the ratings back to respectable levels. The show will be headlined by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua taking on Brandon Vera in the main event and Lyoto Machida battling Ryan Bader in the co-main event.
The downside to the two main events on FOX is that, unlike with the previous two events, the winners likely won’t move into title contention as current light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has already defeated all four men in the headlining fights.
Of course this didn’t stop Dana White from saying that the winner of one of these fights could be next in line for a title shot, obviously hoping that the FOX audience will lead to a big PPV buyrate, even if that PPV is headlined by a fight we’ve seen before and, based on the outcome of the first fights, have no reason to see again so soon.
Samer Kadi: The previous UFC on FOX installments were headlined by a heavyweight title fight, a light heavyweight title eliminator, and a lightweight title eliminator. To say that the stakes in this weekend’s main event pale by comparison – despite what Dana White will have you believe – would be an understatement. Implying that Brandon Vera, who has been destroyed by the current champion in spectacular fashion and has gotten a pity callback to the UFC in light of Thiago Silva’s failed drug test, could be in a line for a title shot with a win is nothing short of preposterous.
Likewise, while the remaining three men partaking in the two headlining fights have much better credentials and are far more relevant than Vera, they have all been crushed by Jon Jones in the recent past, and should realistically be a couple of wins away from a shot at redemption. Nevertheless, if White’s word is to be believed, the more impressive of the two winners will get the next shot at Jones, but whether that alone is enough to create some much needed interest in the card remains to be seen.
In reality however, that is hardly the biggest problem coming into this show as far as the UFC is concerned. As Nate Diaz’s bout with Jim Miller at UFC on FOX 3 proved, title implications don’t necessarily mean fan interest. The ratings for that show were disappointing at best, and they reinforced the notion that the casual audience is mainly drawn to fighters with name value.
Despite his status as a former champion and one of the sport’s all-time great, “Shogun” is not exactly a draw, and generally needs to be in a compelling fight to generate fanfare. Unfortunately, a bout with Brandon Vera does not fit the bill. With the UFC in real need of a solid showing to rebound from the last FOX show’s disappointing numbers, having “The Truth” in the main event is, to put it nicely, counterproductive.
Jeremy Lambert: The good thing for UFC on FOX 4 is that The Dark Knight Rises has been in theaters for a couple of weeks now and I don’t expect Total Recall, which opens this weekend, to do huge box office numbers. There is that little thing on TV called The Olympics, but if there are four corners on a block; one corner has two kids racing, another corner has kids doing gymnastics, another corner has kids playing handball, and the final corner has kids fighting, which one are you going to watch?
“Shogun” Rua and Lyoto Machida have drawn well on PPV, but as my partner said, they’ve drawn well when they’ve been in compelling fights against competitors that we care about, and even that doesn’t always ring true. Rua’s last bout against Dan Henderson, which was a great fight when it was announced and turned out to be one of the best MMA fights in history, did pretty poor PPV numbers.
Obviously it’s easier to draw on TV, but it’s also easier to fail on TV. I don’t know what expectations FOX and UFC have for this event in terms of viewers, but I hope they’re not high. As much as people are intrigued by Machida and Rua, they’re probably just as turned off by Vera and Bader, the former having had a million opportunities to succeed and failing every time while the latter just lost to Tito Ortiz a little over a year ago. Furthermore, the promotion for this show has once again fallen flat. There was a Road to the Octagon special that aired on FOX at 2PM this past Sunday, but that’s a terrible timeslot that was up against Olympic, NASCAR, and MLB competition. Sad thing is, the special was one of the best pieces that the UFC crew has ever produced. Otherwise you have to really pay attention to hear UFC on FOX 4 mentioned on TV.
Even though Rua vs. Vera and Machida vs. Bader could be very good fights that end in spectacular fashion, the possibility of a great fight has rarely attracted viewers.
Samer Kadi: For this show, it is FOX’s expectations that matter, and not Zuffa. As far as the UFC is concerned, if the numbers end up being disappointing, they will move on and prepare for the next PPV. Meanwhile, for FOX, every show counts. By all accounts, FOX executives were not pleased with the last UFC card as it wasn’t headlined by any of the company’s top stars, and they decided not to dedicate it the same promotional time they did to the previous two installments.
FOX wish for every card to feature a “PPV caliber main event,” while the UFC want to use the FOX cards for eliminator fights – in hope of boosting the buy-rate for the eventual title fight on PPV – or to showcase certain fighters on an unprecedented large platform. Naturally, the UFC’s approach is more realistic and more beneficial for the company. After all, it makes little sense to lose precious PPV dollars by having big money fights on free television, and using FOX as a medium to introduce the audience to particular fighters and boost PPV buy-rates makes long term sense. Quite understandably, FOX have different priorities, and they ultimately want ratings, something that a fight like Diaz/Miller — or worse, Rua/Vera — does not guarantee. As Dana White said, the UFC/FOX relationship is still in its early stages and is a work in progress. Eventually, both parties should be able to find a functional formula for their shows.
In terms of action, Saturday’s card could very well deliver. While Brandon Vera isn’t especially known for putting on exciting fights, Mauricio Rua most certainly is. The main worry however, is that Rua’s knees might be completely shot, and he shows up in the kind of shape that saw him put on an embarrassing performance against Mark Coleman, and the fight turns into an absolute lackluster slop fest. However, if the Brazilian is in remotely acceptable shape, he should be able to blast through his opponent. For their part, Machida and Bader should put on a decent fight at least, one that could result in a memorable performance if the former has one of his vintage masterful displays. Joe Lauzon’s bout with Jamie Varner will likely turn into an entertaining scrap as well, capping off a potentially entertaining three-fight main card.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the last UFC on FOX card, the show’s success is not dependent on the quality of the action. And yet, in light of Hector Lombard’s performance against Tim Boetsch, the UFC should be thanking their lucky stars he is no longer headlining this card.
Jeremy Lambert: Samer neglected to mention that Mike Swick will also be returning to action on the main card. If there’s one thing Swick is when it comes to action, it’s “Quick.” Unless that action is healing up. Then he’s like the anti-Wolverine.
I’d say that I expect Vera to realize that he’s been given the keys to the mansion, jam the key in the hole, and burst in yelling “The Truth is here!” on Saturday, but that goes against everything we’ve ever learned about Vera. More likely, he’ll drop the keys a few times and before he even comes close to the door, he’ll be hauled off the premises by “Shogun Security.” A Vera win will say a lot more about the state of Rua’s body than it will about Vera’s sudden resurgence.
The more intriguing fight this Saturday is the co-main event contest between Machida and Bader. Granted Machida just cost Jon Jones some fans by getting choked unconscious in his last bout, so even if he finishes Bader in spectacular fashion, it’s a little far fetched to think he’ll get another title shot with a victory on FOX. As for Bader, he’s put together solid back-to-back wins, but I can’t be the only one who remembers him pulling guard against Jones and getting finish by Tito Ortiz just last year. Take away the sad fact that this fight has title implications and you’re left with a very good and semi-relevant bout, at least one that doesn’t involve Brandon Vera.
These aren’t FOX caliber fights though and even Dana White knows that, which is why he’s trying to pass off both fights as being title eliminators even though we know better. Following the less than stellar UFC on FOX 3 ratings, this is not the card FOX wanted and UFC needed for a ratings rebound. Instead they’re giving us a card that will likely produce another ratings dip, more unhappy FOX executives, and more rants by Dana defending everything.
Samer Kadi: Machida vs. Bader is a perfectly acceptable co-main event on FOX, but Rua vs. Vera is a not an acceptable main event anywhere. Following this card, the UFC need to have a clearer idea as to what kind of main events need to be put on FOX. While this wasn’t their originally scheduled headlining fight, Lombard vs. Stann was not exactly light-years better. If as expected, the ratings fail to live up to the lofty standards set by the first two UFC on FOX shows, then the UFC will need a strong showing the next time around, as they and FOX don’t quite seem to be on the same page with regards to the kind of fights they should be putting on.