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A Not So Fox-y Decision

This upcoming Saturday should prove to be another monumental milestone for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, as the world’s leading MMA promotion makes its debut on Fox, in what UFC president Dana White has referred to as the crowning achievement of his ten-year tenure with the company. History will be in the making, as the UFC heavyweight title is on the line when champion Cain Velasquez locks horns with number one contender Junior Dos Santos.

Bidding to capitalize on this opportunity, lightweight contenders Ben Henderson and Clay Guida were also added to the card, in another major bout with potential direct title implications. The announcement was met with expected praise, as showcasing young talent is one of the many benefits of the Fox deal, particularly ones who could very well end up headlining a PPV — and contending for a title no less — in the very near future.

For all intents and purposes, the fight was a sure-fire eliminator bout. With top contenders Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller both faltering recently — to Guida and Henderson respectively — and Melvin Guillard falling emphatically short against Joe Lauzon, Henderson and Guida are unquestionably leading the lightweight contenders pack. This is an especially remarkable feat in the world’s deepest and most robust weight class, as in a division almost too competitive for its own good, putting together any title shot-worthy run is eminently meritorious.

This only makes the recent news of  the Fox broadcast consisting strictly of one bout — the heavyweight title fight — all the more lamentable. In a press conference conducted last week, Dana White confirmed that even should the affair end in the first round, it will remain the only fight on the broadcast, while the rest of the card gets the Facebook treatment. This triggered some backlash among fans and pundits alike, who universally agreed that a potentially highly entertaining bout with title ramifications deserved more eyeballs.

However, news recently surfaced that it was in fact Fox’s call not to have any other fight on the televised portion. This was later confirmed by Guida’s manager, who noted that the UFC had approached Fox with the idea of airing the lightweight contest, but the latter decided to pass. And yet, this hardly exempts Zuffa from any responsibility. After all, they opted to place a highly relevant bout on the prelim portion of what was, from the very beginning, a one-fight card (in the most literal sense), without any guarantees that their new partner would be willing to accommodate it to the main broadcast.

Furthermore, the UFC had more than enough time to settle the issue with Fox before actually making the fight official for the card, which would have granted them the window they needed to move the bout to another card if necessary; seeing as it could have easily headlined last week’s UFC 138 event in what would have been a very fitting first five-round non title fight. As it stands, the potential next contender for the lightweight title will have ostensibly competed in a fight that only Facebook viewers were able to witness.

This piece of miscalculation could prove to be a blow for both the UFC and the eventual winner. For the victor, a guaranteed title shot is no longer that, as he finds himself stuck in limbo while Joe Silva and Dana White attempt to figure out a way to clean up the mess. This is made more difficult by the fact that very few — if any — other contenders are lined up for the lightweight title. Silva’s usually astute match-making has been somewhat questionable in the 155-pound division, as he has consistently paired up fighters on the cusp of a title shot against opponents they wouldn’t gain much from beating.

Thus, this meant that in the event of an upset, the UFC loses a top contender without really gaining one. In fact, Dennis Siver didn’t exactly jump right into a title eliminator scenario with his win over George Sotiropoulos, who came into 2011 with a huge wave of momentum. Likewise, risky match-making proved costly when the aforementioned Guillard was choked out by Lauzon in under a minute. And with Gilbert Melendez taking on Jorge Masvidal in December, and surprising news of Strikeforce potentially extending its deal with Showtime, it is unlikely that “El Nino” will be staring Frankie Edgar across the Octagon next.

Considering the underwhelming buy-rate for Edgar’s fights with Gray Maynard at UFC 125 and UFC 136 respectively, the UFC desperately needs a contender who will capture people’s imagination. Whoever emerges victorious in the Guida-Henderson fight should have done so with the largest possible number of onlookers. As it stands, it will be nothing more than hardcore fans tuning in on Facebook.