The Greatest MMA News Column 08.20.13: UFC's FS1 Debut a Success, Alvarez-Bellator Deal Reached, More
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 08.20.2013
News and thoughts on UFC Fight Night 26, Chael Sonnen's next fight, ratings, Alistair Overeem's future, Eddie Alvarez returning to Bellator, Bellator 106 news, and more!
UFC Fight Night 26: Shogun vs. Sonnen Thoughts
UFC was expected to take a fairly significant initial hit by moving to Fox Sports 1, but they didn't miss a beat with Saturday's debut. UFC Fight Night 26 drew a 1.38 rating and 1.78 million viewers based on fast nationals. Both numbers are big successes, and the rating was the highest for any live UFC event on cable since The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale in December 2011 (their final event on Spike TV). It was the highest rated Fight Night (or UFC on FX) since March 2011. January's Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping bout on FX did draw slightly more viewers, but drew a slightly lower rating as FX is in roughly 9 million more homes than FS1. Saturday's lineup would have certainly drawn better had it been on FX or Spike when it was the familiar UFC channel, but the number was quite impressive for a new channel on its first day.
Unfortunately, UFC's success wasn't initially mirrored by Fox Sports 1's staple programming. The debut of Fox Sports Live, the channel's answer to ESPN's SportsCenter, which immediately followed the UFC show, lost nearly 75% of UFC's audience. Sunday night, the show's 11pm airing drew a 0.1 rating and 240,000 viewers compared to a 1.6 rating for SportsCenter. Worse, reviews for the show weren't strong, though brand new shows of that format almost always take time to really come together. I caught a brief part of Regis Philbin's new show Crowd Goes Wild! Monday, and it was remarkably terrible.
As expected, UFC will be drawing far more fans to the new channel than the new channel will be drawing to the UFC. It will be interesting to see how UFC's shoulder programming, including nearly nightly airings of UFC Unleashed, UFC Tonight, and replays of old PPVs will fare out of the gate. Saturday proved fans will go out of their way to find an exceptionally strong show, but run of the mill programming like the Countdown series will be a better barometer of what FS1 can do to strengthen UFC. All of those shows will certainly find a larger audience on FS1 than they did on Fuel TV, but the question is will they be able to find a meaningful audience out of the gate to make a difference? For instance, if the Countdown to UFC 164 finds an audience on Fox Sports 1, it could take the show from one that should do closer to 200,000 buys to one that does closer to 300,000. Over time, that makes a sizeable difference in UFC's bottom line. The impact should be even greater for Primetime specials, which tend to draw a larger audience and would now be moved from terrible timeslots on FX to primetime on FS1.
Ultimately, it will take about two months to get a good idea of what kind of impact, if any, FS1 has on UFC. By that time, enough live events and shoulder programming would have aired to begin meaningful comparisons to UFC's past television partners, and the first Primetime series, featuring the build to Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos, will have wrapped up.
The show drew a live gate of about $1.53 million, which is one of the highest totals ever for a show of that level, but then again the card was substantially better than the typical television card. Compared to the UFC on Fox events, which are similar to Saturday's event in card quality, it would be the highest gate of those shows by a very slight margin (so slight that the final gate may or may not beat UFC on Fox 5's $1.5226 million). Bottom line, it was a good gate and barring more problems with local government a return to Boston is inevitable.
Chael Sonnen scored the biggest win of his career, at least in terms of his opponent's name value, with a first round submission of Shogun Rua in the main event. Shogun spent a brief time on top, but other than that offered very little in the fight. Even at just 31-years-old, Shogun may be a shot fighter after three major knee surgeries and a number of wars. For his part, Sonnen looked very good and surprised everyone by pulling guard with a guillotine to finish the fight. UFC president Dana White ranted after the bout that media had disrespected Sonnen by ranking him ninth in the UFC middleweight rankings, which I consider a generous position considering he hasn't fought in that weight class in more than a year. At middleweight he'd have to be considered one of the top five fighters in the division and perhaps just one or two wins away from a title match, which is why Sonnen's decision to drop back down to 185 for his next fight makes sense.
Sonnen's win provided the UFC with a wealth of options. "The Bad Guy" called out Wanderlei Silva, a fighter he's been feuding with on and off for the past few years, in his post-fight interview. Business-wise, that would be the best option along with a match against top contender Vitor Belfort. Either fight could headline a stadium show in Brazil and draw a healthy crowd. There were reports that UFC feared for Sonnen's safety when they were looking at making a Brazilian soccer stadium the location for his rematch with Anderson Silva, but by all accounts those fears were overblown. The bout would suffer on PPV due to overseas shows lagging behind in media coverage in PPV markets, but on television the difference between an overseas show and domestic show is much smaller. That makes a Fox special the best option, but Fox has wanted those shows to emanate major American cities. They may, however, change their tune due to the ratings potential of Sonnen vs. Silva or Belfort.
Either match could also be positioned as the #3 fight on the December 28 PPV in Las Vegas. If UFC is trying to recreate UFC 100 with that show, a strong third fight would push it towards being that and be a valuable insurance fight in case one of the top two falls apart due to injury. Sonnen vs. Silva or Belfort could be the thing to put that event more towards the biggest show in company history.
The other option for Sonnen, and the one that would be his worst match-up, is Lyoto Machida. If UFC is actively trying to once again push Sonnen into the title picture at middleweight, Machida is the fight they stay away from. I don't know that it could headline a stadium show in Brazil (I believe Machida's popularity there is well behind Silva and Belfort), but it would be a nice television main event and a strong #3 on 12/28. As far as business goes, it's clearly the third-best option.
I'd prefer Sonnen vs. Belfort, as it would be the most competitive of the three options while being perhaps the best business choice.
Once considered by some to be the best heavyweight in the world, Alistair Overeem dropped his second consecutive fight by knockout against Travis Browne. Overeem dominated and nearly finished early, but gassed and got front kicked in the face. The skill was still there, but the cardio certainly wasn't and his chin only deteriorated further. The loss marks Overeem's 11th by (T)KO over the course of his boxing and MMA careers, which is far too many. I don't know that he'll be released, but he's a guy with a high priced contract whose appeal has been destroyed with two knockout losses. Overeem came in as a monstrous, brutal striker that was taking everybody apart. He can still be that guy against a certain level of competition, but he was exposed in the UFC and lost the mystique that made him an attraction.
Browne, 31, moves into the title picture with the win. With Junior dos Santos fighting for the title in October and Fabricio Werdum waiting for a title shot after that, Browne will have to fight at least once more before getting a title match. He could rematch Bigfoot Silva, the man responsible for the only loss of his career. Browne suffered an injury early in that fight which may have been directly responsible for the result, making a rematch sensible. He could also face the winner of this month's Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir bout, or Stipe Miocic.
Urijah Faber dominated Iuri Alcantara after a rough start. Faber has gotten knocked for years about being handed title shots, but he's a legitimately elite fighter and proves it in every non-title match. The obvious match to make after Saturday is Faber vs. Michael McDonald, who looked excellent against Brad Pickett. A win there would once again move Faber into the top contender spot, which may prove to be an awkward situation. Last July Faber fought Renan Barao for the interim bout, and lost a clear-cut decision in a way that would make it hard to sell a rematch. If Barao gets past Eddie Wineland in September and champion Dominick Cruz whenever he returns, a rematch could very well be in the books. If Wineland or Cruz emerge as the undisputed champion, then there should be no hesitation to give Faber a title shot, especially in the latter case.
Matt Brown improbably win streak continued Saturday night with a quick knockout over Mike Pyle. After a 5-5 start to his UFC career and looking to be nothing more than a journeyman level fighter, Brown has won six fights since the beginning of 2012, all by finishes. He's hard to place in the division due to a lack of elite level opponents, but he's certainly deserving of a top welterweight next. I'd like to see him against the winner of this month's Carlos Condit vs. Martin Kampmann rematch, though UFC may favor a fight against Robbie Lawler.
Uriah Hall continued the curse of overhyped Ultimate Fighter competitors with a split decision loss to John Howard. Hall came into the UFC after a series of impressive knockout finishes on the reality show, but evidently that doesn't transfer to UFC success. Dana White stated Hall wasn't a fighter, which there's a large amount of evidence to counter. Howard's win comes after a two years absence from the UFC, during which he won six of seven fights.
Michael Johnson battered Joe Lauzon for three rounds to earn a decision victory. Lauzon had no answer for the southpaw and was knocked down and hurt multiple times in the fight. Johnson, 27, badly needed the win after dropping his previous two bouts. Lauzon had most recently dropped a decision to Jim Miller in perhaps the best fight of 2012.
The prelims for the show were very entertaining. As previously noted, Michael McDonald destroyed Brad Pickett in a fight that should have been on the main card. I have no idea how Pickett survived the first 90 seconds, let alone the first round. I'm even more perplexed that one judge failed to score the round a 10-8 for McDonald. McDonald locked in a triangle choke in the second round for the finish. Conor McGregor was among the most hyped fighters on the card. To the live crowd, he was one of the biggest stars on the show, which is incredible for a prelim fighter with one UFC match under his belt. He does have very good talking ability. His fight didn't quite live up to the expectations, but he looked like a very good prospect en route to a decision win. Steven Siler quickly knocked out former WEC champ Mike Brown. It was Brown's first fight since flirting with retirement last year. Diego Brandao and Daniel Pineda had an incredible first round, but slowed down due to the pace in rounds two and three. Brandao won the decision. On the Facebook prelims, Manny Gamburyan won a decision over Cole Miller, Ovince St. Preux knocked out Cody Donovan, and James Vick quickly submitted Ramsey Nijem.
Eddie Alvarez, Bellator reach settlement; Chandler vs. Alvarez II on Nov. 2. After nearly a year-long lawsuit, Eddie Alvarez and Bellator reached an agreement for Alvarez to return to the company. Alvarez is slated to rematch Michael Chandler for the lightweight title in the co-main event of their November PPV debut. The first match, in November 2011, was one of the best fights in MMA history. Chandler walked into that fight as the underdog, but the roles will be reversed this November. Alvarez hasn't fought since October, and even if he had been more active, Chandler's performances have been strong enough to merit him being the favorite.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but FrontRowBrian, who has been fairly reliable on things of this nature in the past, noted on Twitter the deal between Alvarez and Bellator is for two fights, both of which would be against Chandler. If Alvarez loses in November to Chandler, he'd be an unrestricted free agent and be able to move to the UFC, albeit with a presumably far less lucrative deal than was offered previously. With a win, he'd be immediately matched again with Chandler, and after that become an unrestricted free agent regardless of the outcome. If true, the deal is certainly a risk for Bellator, as they would have put all their eggs in Michael Chandler's basket. On the other hand, they booked a fight for their PPV debut that to a certain audience is the real main event of the show. Alvarez's reaction to the deal was far from enthusiastic, so I can believe Brian's Tweets.
Newton vs. Lawal II interim title match booked for Nov. 2. Bellator really is putting everything they have into their PPV debut. King Mo, winner of the Summer Series light heavyweight tournament, will rematch Emanuel Newton, winner of the season eight tournament, for the interim light heavyweight title on the show. Champion Attila Vegh has a shoulder injury, though it wasn't disclosed how long he'd be sidelined. Interim titles really shouldn't come into play unless a champion is going to be sidelined for an extended period of time, which may or may not be the case here. It seems to me Bellator is booking the interim title match solely to satisfy the terms of Mo and Newton's earned title shots while ensuring the two can rematch. If Newton fought Vegh and lost, and Mo fought Vegh and won, it would be tougher to match Newton and Mo together. Mo fighting for the title is best for business, and being in a rematch of his sole Bellator defeat is even better for business, so you really can't blame the decision.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. Due to time constraints, there's no "This Week in MMA History" this week. At least it will give me something to write about for the same week next year. I also wasn't able to write a full breakdown of my top 25 fights list I submitted for the 411 staff feature, so that will be next week as well. Feel free to leave any feedback in the comment box or at the e-mail address below.Follow @Dan_Plunkett