UFC on FOX 3 Preview
Saturday's UFC on Fox 3 show appears to be something of a mixed bag.
On one hand, it is significant because it airs on Fox and therefore will likely be one of the four most-watched MMA events in American television history.
But as for potential impact on future events, this show is very different than the last card on Fox. That show decided two title challengers and set the table for two of the biggest money fights of the year in Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva.
We witnessed Evans vs. Jones on April 21. Preliminary estimates indicate that the show did very well on pay-per-view, right in line with what I predicted here. Sonnen vs. Silva is slated for July 7 and could do monster numbers. The UFC 146 show scheduled for May 26 should also draw well on pay-per-view, as it features a heavyweight title bout in the main event.
Saturday's main event will feature Jim Miller taking on Nate Diaz in a lightweight bout. The winner of the fight was at one point scheduled to go on to face the UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson.
It is conceivable that could still happen, but it seems unlikely. Frankie Edgar will be getting the next title shot. Whoever holds the lightweight title after the Henderson vs. Edgar bout, currently penciled in for August 11 at UFC 150, would likely not be ready to fight until the end of the year at the earliest. If Miller or Diaz is unwilling to wait that long to take another fight, it may turn out that Saturday's fight will not crown a challenger-in-waiting.
Given that the foundation of the UFC business model is still built on pay-per-view revenue, and with as many eyeballs on the product as the Fox broadcast affords and no concrete future plans for the fighters on Saturday's show, the broadcast should be used as something of an extended commercial for the big upcoming pay-per-views.
Diaz and Miller have both had a number of exciting fights, and from an action perspective, Saturday's show has been designed to deliver that from top to bottom, but the goal is to convert the television audience into pay-per-view consumers, and the broadcast should be viewed through that lens.
Diaz won a Fight of the Night bonus for his performance against Donald Cerrone at UFC 141 in December 2011. He showcased a greatly improved striking game in disposing of Cerrone, landing a whopping 238 strikes in a 15 minute fight. He also added some signature Diaz family trash talk and obscene gestures for good measure. Miller is not likely to want to stand with Diaz, as Miller's strengths are on the ground, but Diaz is a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt and is no slouch on the mat himself.
Miller was a high school wrestler and also wrestled for a year at Virginia Tech, but his forte is his Jiu-Jitsu. He too is a black belt and 12 of his 21 career victories have come via submission. Miller has never lost via stoppage, and his three career defats came at the hands of Edgar, Henderson and Gray Maynard, arguably three of the current top five lightweight fighters in the world.
The obvious question that arises is whether or not Miller is simply a gatekeeper sort of fighter, along the lines of a Clay Guida, who always seem to deliver exciting fights, always beat the guys they are supposed to beat, but are just underneath the level of the elite fighters in their weight class and may never hold a UFC championship. The same question could really be asked of Diaz as well. He has also lost to Maynard, and when fighting at welterweight, lost to rising star Rory MacDonald. The win over Cerrone was an impressive performance, downright scary, even. But it was as close to a signature victory as Diaz has ever had and he has yet to beat anyone that could truly be considered an elite fighter.
Josh Koscheck will take on Johny Hendricks in a welterweight bout in the semi-main event on the show. Koscheck has won his last two fights, but has looked tentative and not much like the fighter he was before he suffered a broken orbital bone in a loss to Georges St-Pierre in December 2010. Hendricks knocked out Jon Fitch in 12 seconds in something of a star-making performance his last time out, but his pedigree is as a wrestler, much like Koscheck, and it will be interesting to see how the two fighters choose to engage. Both are primarily wrestlers who have demonstrated knockout power in their hands. Their wrestling abilities could cancel each other out and the fight may be determined standing.
Also on the show, Alan Belcher is set to face Rousimar Palhares in a middleweight bout. Belcher was something of a rising star in the division before an eye injury sidelined him and threatened his career. He has fought just once in the last 23 months, but he looked good in that fight forcing Jason MacDonald to tap out to strikes in September 2011. Palhares is a submission specialist, last submitting Mike Massenzio in just over a minute in January.
And in the fight likely to open the Fox broadcast, Pat Barry will face Lavar Johnson in a matchup of two big-swinging, heavy-handed heavyweights. Barry is something of a throwback to the early days of the UFC when fighters had their one specialty and never really evolved beyond one fighting discipline. Barry is a puncher. Johnson has never had a fight go to the scorecards as all 21 of his career bouts have had finishes. Anything other than a slugfest with a knockout or TKO finish would be a major upset.
The UFC waited until this week to begin a major public relations campaign to advertise the show. The card is being held in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the company has been hitting the New York area hard, sending Jones, Edgar and Strikeforce star Ronda Rousey to ring the opening bell on Wall Street on Tuesday as part of their promotional push.
Check out IHJJR shortly after the event on Saturday evening for a detailed report on the show, featuring fight results and a breakdown of the entire broadcast.
For UFC notes and other sports and entertainment commentary, follow me on Twitter @EthanRenner