This weekend Dana White is hoping to bring the UFC back to the roots of boxing. Before the great sport of boxing fell victim to the business culture that sprouted up around it, it was a spectacle that seemingly stopped the world. People tuned in on television and radio and the biggest fans can tell you where they were when certain matches took place. Obviously we’ll never get back to that place where one single event can dominate the culture anymore than there can ever be a band as universally popular as the Beatles ever again. Still, as big a fan of boxing as Dana White is, you know that he was just itching to get his UFC brand of mixed martial arts on real networked national television. With Fox this Saturday night at 9 PM he is doing just that with Cain Velazquez vs. Junior Dos Santos.
In addition to being a Cleveland sports fan, I’ve been taken by the MMA world over the last three or four years. I couldn’t be more excited to see undefeated Heavyweight Champion Cain Velazquez defend his belt in a five round fight against Junior Dos Santos. Even still, it will be somewhat strange to see the fight on Fox. It is also strange to think that Dana White would end up being the kind of guy who could steward a company and a sport like this onto national television.
Dana White is a great businessman to be sure, but his brashness and crude mouth are legendary. For every smooth talker and hype man there is in the promotions game, Dana White has all that same intensity and passion, but without the sheen or distance usually associated with marketing. Then again, it has something to do with the product he is selling.
Certainly modern MMA is a far different animal than the “no rules” battles that were once outlawed in many states. You wouldn’t know it from talking to politicians in New York that continue to hide behind the brutal past of the combat sport in their efforts to not license it. Sometimes perception isn’t reality though. The UFC has lots and lots of rules. It is sanctioned by state commissions that regulate it including medical suspensions for fighters who get hurt and also drug testing. Despite the ignorance of many detractors, you can’t just go up to a guy lying on the ground and kick him in the face.
There in-lies the conundrum for Dana White and the UFC that they will try to overcome this weekend. They are selling this sport because it is exciting across all weight classes. They are selling this sport because from one match to the next you can see knockouts, premier wrestling and grappling and submissions. Some people watch auto racing for the crashes. Some people watch UFC for the brutality. The UFC needs to get in front of more people and sell their sport as more than just car crashes though. It will be fascinating for me as a fan of the highly strategic fighting sport to see how they go about it.
And what happens to the message if someone gets knocked out in brutal fashion in the first round? That’s always a possibility in the UFC. Will you be watching?