There's a UFC event this weekend, live on free TV. I'll forgive you if this is the first you've heard of it.
The media push for this one has been nonexistent, lost in the wake of the Anderson Silva fight fix controversy, an impending media tour for other, more important shows and the general malaise that comes with the near weekly presence of mixed martial arts on television.
The show will be headlined by Demetrious Johnson and John Moraga. I'll forgive you if you aren't familiar with them either.
Though Johnson was in the main event of the UFC's sixth show on Fox, he's spent most of his career buried on the undercard or headlining less prestigious events on FX or Versus. Moraga, I kid you not, was in the opening bout in each of his two UFC appearances.
A blockbuster, this surely is not.
Combined, the two men weigh the same as an average-sized heavyweight. Johnson stands just 5'3" tall. Moraga, by contrast, is a relative giant at a whopping 5'6".
Do MMA fans care to watch wee men attempting to do opponents harm with their miniature arms and legs? Sure, they are just like us—only tiny versions of us, dwarfed by the referee, the time keeper and possibly even the UFC's lilliputian matchmaker, Joe Silva.
Do not adjust your television when they come on—they really are that small. You can't watch them on your 60-inch flat screen. A flyweight is best viewed on a 19-inch Sony from 1974.
I kid. Maybe.
But, for Johnson and everyone else in the brand new flyweight class, size most definitely matters. While it might not stop a boxer from making big money and headlining huge events, for UFC fans, it's clearly a deal killer.
In boxing, fans identify with artistry. When you order a big boxing show, you expect to settle in for a night of action. The story inside the ring builds as the night goes on, with commentators like HBO's Jim Lampley doing their best to make even the most boring fight seem like a Homerian epic.
In mixed martial arts, fans have been trained to expect the opposite. The violence is quick, arriving like a bolt of lightning and evaporating just as quickly. As a kid, I remember how furious my dad's friends were when Mike Tyson's fight with Michael Spinks ended so quickly. They wanted more than a brutal knockout. In MMA, the quick KO will suffice for most fans, thank you very much.
Johnson and Moraga aren't likely to change that track record this weekend.
As Dave Meltzer of MMAFighting.com pointed out in April, the UFC's success on Fox has been tied to professional football. When the NFL is there to market the shows, they succeed. When it's not? Viewers drop off by the millions.
Last year's spring special, headlined by Diaz vs. Jim Miller, which did a 1.5 rating and 2.42 million viewers. The summer numbers, for a show headlined by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson, did similar numbers, although it was hurt badly by going head-to-head against the Olympics.
This seemed to, more than anything, show that having the UFC promoted during NFL broadcasts makes a significant difference when it comes to FOX network ratings. By all rights, Henderson should have come out of the Diaz fight as a bigger star, given his impressive victory. Melendez hadn't had the level of UFC exposure as Diaz, given it was his debut with the organization. But he was the Strikeforce champion for most of the past seven years.
All these factors make it pretty clear this is a show destined for ratings doom. So far, from a box office perspective, the creation of the bantamweight and flyweight classes has been a complete bust.
Their only purpose seems to be creating the illusion of importance for UFC television cards lacking oomph.
Is the UFC missing the boat on these talented fighters? What can be done to better promote the smaller guys? Or is it possible fans simply aren't interested in watching grown men the size of the average woman in America slug it out?
Let me know what you think in the comments.
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