The Greatest MMA News Column 3.12.13: UFC to FS1, Silva vs. Weidman, Hunt vs. JDS, More
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 03.12.2013
News and thoughts on UFC's move to Fox Sports 1, Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman, Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt, UFC 161 card taking shape, and more!
Fox Sports 1 Announced
After months of anticipation, Fox officially announced plans for Fox Sports 1 last Tuesday. The network, which will aim to compete with industry leader ESPN, will take over the spot currently occupied by the Speed channel and debut in 90 million homes on Saturday, August 17. The network will heavily rely on live programming (said to be 55% of its total schedule) and feature content from the NFL, MLB, college football, college basketball, NASCAR, world soccer, and of course the UFC.
Currently, UFC programming is spread across three Fox networks: Fox, FX, and Fuel TV. Obviously, Fox is the crown jewel of the stations and the channel where UFC has reached new domestic viewership highs. FX is a highly rated cable network that mainly airs The Ultimate Fighter and UFC on FX live events. Fuel is low-rated channel that gets the bulk of UFC content. On the positive side, Fox recently inked a deal with Comcast that will bring Fuel to roughly half of all cable enabled households in the U.S. Programming being spread across so many different platforms results in confusing the fan base as to where they can find certain events (hence the reason for "UFC on Fox/FX/Fuel TV" event names.
A report by Yahoo!'s Kevin Iole stated that with the exception of quarterly Fox specials, all UFC programming will move to FS1, which is big for a number of reasons. First, it ends any confusion about where a UFC program is airing. Second, it gets a lot of valuable content off Fuel TV that can be used to promote PPVs to a station available in significantly more homes. However, there apparently still hasn't been a decision made about The Ultimate Fighter, which currently airs on FX, or the Countdown series, which became insignificant after moving from Spike to Fuel. Furthermore, though no official announcement has been made, Fuel is still expected to be rebranded as Fox Sports 2. Whether UFC programming will eventually be featured there isn't clear.
If Fox Sports 1 becomes a success it could be a game changer for the UFC. For the channel to penetrate the national sports consciousness with UFC as heavily featured programming could mean establishing UFC as one of sports' truly major leagues. Heavy promotion on the SportsCenter-like Fox Sports Live would be especially valuable for PPV events. The move of UFC Tonight to FS1 ensures UFC will have an avenue to promote upcoming shows to a wide potential audience.
Even though FS1 will feature major sports, its success, especially initially, is far from guaranteed. For starters, the channel it's absorbing, Speed, is one of the lowest-rated national cable channels. That has resulted in the station being relegated to the deep waters of the channel guide, though that will surely change around launch time in many cases considering FS1's rights fees will be much higher than Speed's. Fox also isn't the first network to launch a cable sports channel with high hopes. Last year, Versus was rebranded as NBC Sports Network, which has been a complete failure when compared to expectations. They're studio shows routinely draw substantially fewer than 100,000 viewers and rarely, if ever, hit that benchmark. The highest rated show in network history was a Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins NHL game which drew a .55 rating. To be fair, CBS Sports Network has been a flop as well to the point nobody ever talks about it.
Certainly, Fox Sports 1 will be a bigger success than NBC Sports Network solely on the strength of its programming. For UFC, live events will almost certainly take a short-term hit as the network gathers an audience. But for shows moving from Fuel, especially those that are used solely as promotion vehicles, it's a big plus.
Right now, the plan calls for six live events on FS1 through the end of the year beginning on launch day. The network will also air 14 preliminary card specials through 2014, including four for the Fox specials, which means not all prelims will get air time on FS1.
Silva vs. Weidman set for July 6. The greatest of all-time will look to make his eleventh successful defense of the middleweight title when he takes on Chris Weidman at UFC 162 on July 6. By fight time, Anderson Silva will be 38-years-old and will face questions as to whether age will finally catch up with him. Last summer, Silva became the second-oldest fighter in major MMA history to successfully defend a championship, besting ex-light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell by a few months. To this point, Silva has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, he seems to be improving, most notably in the wrestling aspect of his game. Still, Anderson Silva is a fighter that heavily relies on speed and reflexes to best his opponents and those are physical attributes aging is none too kind to.
To Silva's legacy, a loss wouldn't change much. No matter what kind of performance Chris Weidman puts on, Silva is still walking out of the cage as the greatest to ever walk in the cage. To the UFC, it would be a big blow to their never-ending plans of a super-fight featuring Silva against either light heavyweight champion Jon Jones or welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, either of which would likely be their second-biggest pay-per-view event ever. For Weidman, a win would make his career. It would give him what has potentially become the most prestigious title in the UFC over the past six-plus years, but even more importantly he'd be the guy that ended Anderson Silva's reign of dominance.
Don't let Weidman's relative inexperience (he has just 9 pro fights) fool you; he has a very real chance to beat Silva. Odds makers have pegged Weidman as a +165 underdog, the smallest betting underdog against Silva since he fought Dan Henderson in March 2008. In college, Weidman was an NCAA All-American wrestler and those skills have transferred very well to mixed martial arts. He's also adapted very well to submission grappling. The opponents that have had the best success against Silva in recent years were all grapplers with strong takedown ability like Weidman. But, if we discount the first Chael Sonnen fight where Silva entered with a badly injured rib, none of those fighters made it out of the first round.
On the other hand, Weidman is still somewhat untested. His most impressive win, a two-round shellacking of Mark Munoz last July, came when Munoz was noticeably soft and battling injury. Prior to that, he defeated Demian Maia after taking the fight on short notice, but it was a terrible fight where both tired after the first round. Furthermore, he'll be coming off nearly a yearlong layoff due to injury, which may hurt his timing.
Obviously, Silva should have a steep striking advantage come fight time. The big things in this fight are Silva's ability to defend Weidman's takedowns, whether or not he can get back up to his feet after being taken down, and if he can submit Weidman. In his last two fights, Silva has shown improved takedown defense. Granted, one of those was against Stephan Bonnar, who is hardly a wrestler, but that fight at least further showed that Anderson is really hard to take down when he's pressed against the fence. As far as getting up from his back, that's never been one of Silva's strengths. I don't see Anderson submitting Weidman, but it's certainly possible.
As far as PPV is concerned, Silva has never drawn strong numbers against unknown guys like Weidman. His last fight with Stephan Bonnar performed well for an overseas PPV, but Bonnar is much more a name than Weidman. At this point in his career, Anderson Silva is a bigger star in North America than he's ever been and his PPVs shouldn't dip below 400,000 buys. Another factor is that according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, UFC is looking to add Ronda Rousey's next title defense to the card so it can be promoted as the best male and female fighters in the world competing on the card. If that plan pans out, the show should do really well.
Dos Santos vs. Hunt on for UFC 160.Alistair Overeem suffered a slight tear in his quad muscle and had to pull out of his May 25 bout against Junior dos Santos. The only other top heavyweight available was Mark Hunt, who fans immediately rallied for on Twitter. Soon after, Hunt told MMAFighting.com he would accept the fight if offered. Later, UFC President Dana White responded to a fan on Twitter stating it looked like Dos Santos vs. Overeem would simply be moved to the summer. When asked why Hunt was passed over, he stated Hunt declined the fight. The next day, White tweeted he had a good phone conversation with Hunt, followed by an announcement that Hunt would in fact replace Overeem on May 25. The fight puts Hunt one win away from a title shot, which is insane considering how he came into the UFC. After five consecutive losses, Hunt made his way to the UFC as a leftover from his Pride contract, which UFC purchased as part of that company. When he lost his first bout in 63 seconds to Sean McCorkle, which may have been it for Hunt's career if he was under a typical UFC contract. But Hunt was still under the Pride deal which didn't allow him to be cut after a loss. So, Hunt got another fight and hasn't looked back since, winning four in a row to improve his record to 9-7.
The soon-to-be 39-year-old stands a chance against Dos Santos as long as the fight stays standing. Dos Santos can certainly out-strike Hunt, a former K-1 World Grand Prix Champion, but Hunt can just as certainly knock Dos Santos out. If Dos Santos decides to take the fight to the ground he'll have an advantage there, but I'm inclined to believe he'll stand with the Samoan. Hunt, with his strong jaw, will be tough for Junior to put away and even when tired is dangerous.
Top three fights for UFC 161 set. Renan Barao will in fact defend the interim bantamweight title at least once more when he faces Eddie Wineland in the main event of UFC 161. On its own, that fight would be very fortunate to hit 200,000 buys, so thankfully it has a strong supporting cast. The real main event of the show is a light heavyweight match between Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, who will likely be the biggest stars of the show live. Third from the top is the long-awaited rematch between Shogun Rua and Rogerio Nogueira. Their first fight in June 2005 was one of the best in Pride history.
UFC 158 is Saturday. Georges St-Pierre will finally get his hands on Nick Diaz Saturday, more than a year after they were first scheduled to fight at UFC 137. I wasn't excited for this fight until the media call on Thursday where Diaz ranted about not getting the respect he deserves and St-Pierre being pampered among other things. St-Pierre responded by calling Diaz an uneducated fool and saying "I speak English better than you." To that, Diaz said Georges was "out of line." Really, go listen to the whole thing, it was awesome. As far as PPV, this one should do well. St-Pierre's last bout with Carlos Condit was estimated at 700,000 buys, and this one should be bigger. I don't sense a lot of hype for this show at the moment, but that's not unusual five days out. While St-Pierre should control the fight on the ground, Diaz has unending cardio and is very active, so it should be a good fight.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave any feedback in the comment box or at the e-mail address below.Follow @Dan_Plunkett