Is Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos, which headlines Saturday night’s UFC on Fox debut card, akin to the glory days of boxing and fights like Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier? Is the UFC on Fox ushering back the days when pugilistic sports were a fixture of network television?
UFC president Dana White and Fox Sports Media Group Chairman David Hill think so.
“When I was growing up, I was a huge boxing fan. I used to watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the big fights were on, and then USA’s Tuesday Night Fights when I was about 19. After the pay-per-view model, (boxing) never put the big fights on free TV anymore,” recounted White.
“Well, we’re not only bringing big fights back to free TV, we’re bringing the heavyweight championship of the world.”
There are lots of hardcore MMA fans cat-calling the UFC and Fox for airing only one fight for this re-introduction of combat sports to broadcast TV. They are clamoring for the Benson Henderson vs. Clay Guida fight, in particular, but Saturday night on Fox is all about the big boys.
“It’s gonna be about the heavyweight championship of the world, just like Ali vs. Frazier, the big fights that happened back in the glory days of boxing,” declared White, latching on to the memory of days when fathers and sons would watch the greats go toe-to-toe in their living room.
“When we signed the deal, when we had our first press conference, what we said was, ‘What boxing was to my generation, UFC is to my son’s,’ added Hill. “I firmly believe that. I believe in seven years, boxing will become even more of a niche than it is, and the UFC will become mainstream.”
The passing of Joe Frazier, one of boxing’s all-time greats, earlier this week couldn’t have been more serendipitous for UFC and Fox. Not to blithely disregard Frazier’s death as a promotional opportunity, the timing of his death can almost be viewed as a causeway from the old to the new.
“We’re all huge boxing fans. I think that in a kind of a way with the death of Joe Frazier that it made people realize what a great boxer, what a great competitor, and the will to win that Frazier had,” Hill remarked.
“Everyone started talking about the golden age of boxing and where did it go and what happened to it. For it to be coming back on prime time with a fight like this, with Cain and Junior dos Santos, it’s kind of like the dawn of a new era to me. I was just thinking this morning, driving to work, that the death of one of the truly great, great fighters in the history of the sport in that same week, it’s like a phoenix coming from the ashes.”
Of course, Velasquez and dos Santos will have to deliver the goods on Saturday night for such lofty comparisons to hold water, but if they do, could we really argue that the UFC on Fox isn’t the changing of the guard in combat sports?