Saturday’s UFC on Fox a seminal moment for sport and brand

Fight sport is in our DNA.

Ever since our creation, humans have resorted to fighting to survive amongst creatures such as wolly mammoths, sabertooth tigers and lions. Over time our means of fighting has evolved from bare fists to the creation of weapons until the technique and power of each has grown exponentially more devastating.

We fight for our survival. For our families. For our country. For our freedom.

Out of this instinctual behavior grew the sport of boxing. Boxing can be traced back as far as the 3rd millennium B.C. Over the last five centuries the sport has progressed as one that has clearly defined rules and regulations, weight classes and is highly technical.

But boxing over the last decade plus has seen its following decrease due to a number of factors but chief among those being too many different organizations and lack of premium heavyweight fighters. The death of former heavyweight champion and boxing Hall-of-Famer Joe Frazier brings these facts into even starker contrast. The glory days of the sport are long behind us.

Into that void has stepped the sport of mixed-martial arts and its lead organization of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The UFC has been around for some time (since 1993) but it only in the last five or so years has the sport of MMA and the promotion itself taken a strong foothold among the consciousness of society. The promotion’s president, Dana White, has for a long time stated his ultimate goal of making MMA (with the UFC at the forefront) the No. 1 sport in the entire world. For some, that was and remains a laughable notion what with soccer as prevalent as it is across the entire world and the NFL dominating North America. Yet, it remains White’s doctrine and the reason he has any kind of chance is because of the sports nature — fighting.

On Saturday, White takes his company to network television in primetime with a heavyweight championship fight between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos on Fox. In many ways, it is the seminal moment for the sport and the UFC.

Back when White’s partners, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the UFC in 2001, the sport was held in such low regard and with such disdain that fights couldn’t even be shown on pay-per-view. Behind the Fertitta’s money and White’s vision, the sport has risen from the depths to the point where it now dominates pay-per-view. On average the promotion does 16 fights a year on PPV and another six on cable television networks like Spike and Versus.

Then, in August of this year the UFC and Fox agreed on a seven-year, $100 million broadcast partnership in which the UFC will transfer all of its cable programming to the Fox networks beginning in 2012 as well as show four primetime fight events annually.

The deal was a watershed moment for the sport. Putting the leading promotion of MMA on network television and in front of more than 100 million households across the nation (potentially double with partnership deals across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) is the next step in achieving White’s ambitious goal.

On Wednesday at the UFC on Fox press conference, White detailed his feelings about the event and it’s importance in the long term goals of the UFC:

“As big as the UFC may seem, it’s not. We’re so far from mainstream still, and now we’ve been given the opportunity to do it. That’s why Saturday is so important. It feels good and I’m excited, yeah, but I’m nervous man.”

Saturday all the hard work over the course of the last decade culminates. It is without a doubt a seminal moment for the sport. When Velasquez and Dos Santos get in the cage to do what is so innate to our being, the UFC will have arrived.

In time, we all may look back at Saturday’s fight as the springboard to what became the biggest sport in the entire world.

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