by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
As the big boys on the block, the Ultimate Fighting
Championship is used to promoting fights that are considered among the greatest
match-ups in mixed martial arts’ short history. But the UFC welterweight title
bout between current champ Georges St. Pierre and former titleholder and
current UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn is a first in the promotion’s
Never before has the promotion allowed two current champions
to face off. And never before has the prospect been possible that one man in
the UFC could hold belts in two weight classes simultaneously. That is exactly
what is on the line when St. Pierre and Penn square off at UFC 94 on Jan. 31 in
Billed as the first true mega-fight in the UFC, if it
doesn’t go down in history as such, it won’t have been for a lack of trying by all
The official promotion for this mega-fight began as the UFC
held a press conference earlier in the day before then UFC heavyweight champion
Randy Couture and challenger Brock Lesnar threw down in the Octagon at UFC 91
in November. Never before had the promotion utilized such a maneuver.
"Once you win the title and you accomplish so many
things in the fight business, then it becomes about legendary status, making
your mark, going down as one of the greatest fighters of all time. I think now
is the time," stated UFC president Dana White that day. "This is the
kind of stuff that will make one of these guys a legend."
Both fighters are arguably at the peak of their respective
careers. Penn is on a streak that saw him defeat Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson,
and Sean Sherk, in capturing and defending the UFC lightweight championship.
Much the same, St. Pierre defeated Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, and
Jon Fitch, in winning back and defending the welterweight strap.
The UFC has consistently been building this fight for the
two months leading up to UFC 94 on Super Bowl weekend, and has even pushed its
focus on St. Pierre and Penn while the organization makes its debut in Ireland
with a pay-per-view event this Saturday. The culmination of the promotion for
the St. Pierre-Penn mega-fight hits its stride down the final leg of the race
with the debut of a new series focused on the everyday lives of the fighters.
UFC Primetime – premiering Wednesday night at 10 p.m.
PT/ET on Spike TV – is a three-part series of half-hour episodes. The
show takes viewers deeper into the fight between St. Pierre and Penn than does
a show like the UFC Countdown specials.
"Basically what this thing is, it’s a docudrama. It’s
class=GramE>gonna follow B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre. It airs this
Wednesday, it’ll air the following Wednesday, and it airs the week of the
fight, Wednesday. So it’ll lead right up to the fight," White told
MMAWeekly.com, the excitement for the new venture brimming in his voice.
"This thing is so real time that (footage) that was shot (Tuesday) is
actually put into the show (which airs Wednesday). This thing airs on Spike at
10. Spike will probably get this thing two hours before it’s supposed to air.
"We’re inside the camp, inside the lives of these two
fighters. Leading up to this fight you’re going to see everything. How they
train, what kind of shape they’re in, what (expletive) they’re going through,
what obstacles they’re facing. Whatever it is, you’re gonna see it."
The first episode starts off similar in execution to HBO’s
24/7, which has been highly successful in promoting Oscar De La Hoya’s most
recent fights. There is a lot of deep background on the bout when St. Pierre
and Penn first met at UFC 58 – where St. Pierre won a split decision –
nearly three years ago, and the fighters themselves and the people surrounding
them leading up to UFC 94. As the show carries on, it begins to take on the
more "real time," personal shape that White says was inspired by the
recent success of his video blogs on YouTube, many of which accumulate more
than 100,000 views.
"The thing that you have to understand with the first
episode, we’re hoping that people who have never seen the UFC before will see
this show and be intrigued by it," relayed White. "You have to set up
the cast of characters, you kind of have to set up the story line in the first
episode. And then form there, it will be totally loose… 24/7 is not the
inspiration for this thing.
"Basically, the inspiration for this thing is my video
blogs. The video blogs have done so well and people like them so much and
because they’re so real time, what happens today, people will actually see
tonight. So we said imagine if we could do that with the fighters and that’s
how we came up for the concept with this thing."
Although UFC Primetime is sure to help build up anticipation
for St. Pierre vs. Penn 2 among mixed martial arts enthusiasts, the goal says
White, is to capture an even wider audience than that.
"We haven’t been hurting in the pay-per-view
area," he told MMAWeekly.com. "We’re a pay-per-view company. We’re
always selling pay-per-views; that’s what we do. This is more to get people
that have never seen it before. This is so people can get in, get interested in
these characters, possibly get into it, and then, maybe it makes them decide to
buy the fight or watch something else on TV and to attract new fans."
Although the concept of utilizing preview shows to highlight
and build up interest in its fights is nothing new to the UFC – well
before 24/7, they utilized a similar pre-fight documentary on Chuck Liddell and
Tito Ortiz to build up their fight at UFC 47 – it now has the television
partner in Spike TV and the finances to make Primetime a reality and a
realistic promotional tool to reach out to expand its audience. And it is
something that White is extremely proud of.
"We spent $1.7 million producing this show. It’s by far
the best (expletive) thing we’ve ever done," he declared. "So, I’m
pretty (expletive) excited about it. If you have an ounce of fight fan in your
body, you’re gonna love this show."
A new episode of UFC Primetime airs each Wednesday night for
three weeks at 10 p.m. PT/ET on Spike TV, leading up the St. Pierre vs. Penn 2
fight at UFC 94.