UFC hopes to hit new growth spurt with network airing of title match

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LOS ANGELES — Dana White has been waiting for Saturday night for more than a decade. The UFC’s first network prime-time appearance on Fox will be a new peak in the growth of mixed martial arts from a banned sport into a billion-dollar enterprise.

Champ Cain Velasquez (left) and Junior Dos Santos will meet for the UFC title Saturday in the sport's first show on network prime-time.  Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Champ Cain Velasquez (left) and Junior Dos Santos will meet for the UFC title Saturday in the sport's first show on network prime-time.

Yet the UFC’s president and tireless one-man promotional machine sees Cain Velasquez’s heavyweight title defense against Brazil’s Junior Dos Santos as the beginning of a new growth spurt, not the end of a quest.

And that’s not the only reason he doesn’t feel like celebrating just yet.

“I’m sick, man,” White said Wed­nesday, rubbing his shaved head. “I haven’t slept in four days. I’m a basket case. I’m more of a control freak than I’ve ever been. I just want this to go perfect.”

Fox is counting on it. The network believes millions of uninitiated viewers will get their first taste of the violent, growing sport by tuning into the one-hour show from Anaheim, Calif.

White unflinchingly calls it the biggest night in UFC history, saying the bout will set a tone for its landmark seven-year television deal with Fox Sports, which doesn’t even start until January. The UFC will become a Friday fixture on FX, a major presence on Fuel TV, and a staple on Fox with four annual shows.

“We’ve broken records in arenas, been the largest pay-per-view provider in the world, done all these things that nobody could have imagined,” White said. “But on Saturday, millions of people will see mixed martial arts who have never seen it before. If you look at where we came from, our goal (once) was to get on free TV when we weren’t allowed on pay-per-view. Porn was, but we weren’t. We’ve come such a long way.”

The UFC is giving up probably $40 million in pay-per-view revenue to put this glamorous fight on free television, but White sees it as a major investment in his brand and his sport. Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said the network sold every minute of advertising more than two months before the show.

The fighters say they don’t feel any demand to put on a spectacular brawl, even while White all but promises pyrotechnics.

“There’s no extra pressure, but it’s still a huge fight for me,” said Velasquez. “I just want to enjoy everything about it, and I will.”

White probably could have put his product on any broadcast network several years earlier, but held out for the chance to produce his own programming. Fox readily agreed to White’s long-standing control demands while still putting its own spin on the UFC’s longstanding broadcast style.

If the UFC heavyweight fight ends with an early stoppage, Fox has a plan to fill the time, but it won’t include another fight from the full card at Honda Center.

The next Fox show, the first official card under the new contract, is almost certain to include multiple fights over more than just one hour – but White isn’t thinking about it yet.

“I just want to nail this thing and have it come off perfect,” White said.


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