Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 3 p.m.
Immediately after the conclusion of Saturday night’s FOX card at the Izod Center, UFC President Dana White has plans.
White grew up with boxing and worked in the sport before discovering mixed martial arts, so he never misses any of the big matches. He’s already mapped out how he’ll catch Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on the same night his promotion runs on network television from East Rutherford, N.J.
“Every time we do a FOX card, I’ll have the fight in my room in the back and I’ll go right back to watch,” White said.
Competition is a discussion point every time the UFC books a fight card on the same night as a boxing event. But White doesn’t see it that way.
Reminiscent to when they slotted their first FOX fight on the same night as Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez III, UFC officials see the two shows Saturday as mutually beneficial. Nate Diaz and Jim Miller will finish their lightweight, main event scrap well before Mayweather and Cotto make their grand entrances on the other end of the country.
Fans of combat sports can watch both events.
“Everybody works hard all week, Monday through Friday, and they have two days off,” White said. “You’ve got Friday night and Saturday night. You’ve got to do something big — take your girlfriend out, whatever it is. You have stuff to do. We compete with that every weekend. On a night when you can watch the free fights on FOX and you can tune in to Mayweather afterwards, more guys are going to stay home. There’s a lot more going on that night.”
The ratings from the first two UFC on FOX cards could help prove White’s point. UFC on FOX 2, which wasn’t held on the same night as a Mayweather or Pacquiao bout, peaked with 6 million viewers.
Sharing the evening of November 13, 2011, with Pacquiao garnered the inaugural UFC on FOX fight 8.8 million viewers. There are other factors for the difference of nearly 3 million viewers, of course, including the heavyweight title fight that headlined in November and the novelty of seeing MMA on network television for the first time.
But White believes some of the success came from the overlap in fans already in front of a television for boxing.
UFC fighters are simply thankful for the opportunity to fight in front of so many viewers. The UFC only eclipses 500,000 pay-per-view buys for a few events per year, meaning the millions of eyeballs on FOX puts MMA in a whole new sphere.
“It’s cool,” Diaz said. “FOX is a big deal. I get to fight on FOX television. It’s such a big show. With all this stuff going on, it’s great.”
At least one other competitor slated to make his FOX debut was unsure about the whole thing.
“I know it’s the national big channel, big network,” said Pat Barry, a heavyweight who faces Lavar Johnson on the card. “I hear what everyone else is saying about it, so I’m really excited to be on FOX. Can I tell you why I’m excited to be on FOX? No, I don’t really see how it impacts me.”
If Barry vs. Johnson lives up to its potential and thrills the audience, the numbers could illustrate the impact. People will change the channel to FOX if word spreads about an exciting fight, especially on social networking sites like Twitter.
The UFC saw the power of rapid word of mouth first-hand when its most significant fight of all time, “The Ultimate Fighter” 1 finale between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at the Cox Pavilion, blew up live on Spike seven years ago.
With the number of eyes watching fights Saturday, a similar scenario could occur at UFC on FOX 3. That’s the advantage of holding a card on the same night as boxing.
“If you’re a fight fan,” White said, “it makes all the sense in the world to stay at home Saturday night.”