MMA Ratings Podcast

December 22, 2018

UFC on FOX Started Well, But Went Downhill By the End

By Adam Martin

It was just over seven years ago that the UFC signed a long-term agreement with FOX to air the promotion's events. This was back in 2011, and the UFC's deal with FOX was supposed to help take the sport to the next level by showing big fights on a medium that most Americans were able to watch: network TV. Seven years later, with the deal scheduled to conclude at the end of 2018, we can now look back at the deal and see where things went right, as well as where things went wrong.

The UFC's relationship with FOX started off well. The first UFC on FOX event had UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez face Junior dos Santos. Yes, the fight only lasted a minute, but the fact that the UFC was willing to put a heavyweight title fight on free TV was huge. The UFC would continue to put title fights on its FOX broadcasts over the years, but most of the time they were titles that no one cared about, such as Demetrious Johnson's flyweight championship. DJ fought four times on FOX, but the fans didn't tune in, and the ratings for his matches were low.

The UFC's run with FOX began with some really big non-title fights as well. Think about UFC on FOX 2 back in 2012. Stars like Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen, and Michael Bisping were on that card. We thought that was how the UFC would continue to stack the FOX cards. Even a card like UFC on FOX 5 had Benson Henderson, Nate Diaz, Alexander Gustafsson, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Rory MacDonald, and BJ Penn on it. Those were the kind of name fighters we expected to see on every FOX card, and we had no reason to believe otherwise.

Fast forward to the end of 2018, and the final UFC on FOX card featured fighters like Sergio Pettis and Rob Font on the main card. Fun fighters to be sure, but far from elite talent. We thought the UFC would only try and book title fights or title eliminators as FOX main events, and again, for the first few years of the deal that was the case. But as time went on, the cards started to become watered down. By the end, though, there were UFC Fight Pass-level events masquerading as big FOX cards, and that was never supposed to be the plan.

UFC on FOX Events

The good thing about the FOX deal was that it helped the UFC fully transform into a mainstream sport. The fact that the UFC was on FOX helped the promotion land a uniform deal with Reebok, and that deal with Reebok helped the UFC secure its new deal with ESPN. So the FOX deal wasn't all that bad. But I don't think the FOX deal ever helped the fighters as much as the UFC led us to believe, and it didn't help the fans either, as the fights everyone wanted to see were saved for pay-per-view. Overall, the UFC on FOX run was decent, but not spectacular.

I really thought the UFC on FOX series was going to be great, but now that it's over, I think it's fair to say the deal was ultimately a disappointment. But that's more on the UFC than on FOX itself. FOX gave the UFC a platform and a lot of money to put big fights on free TV, and the UFC saved most of its bullets for PPV. If anything, the UFC on FOX deal showed how greedy the UFC is, as the promotion saved the biggest fights for itself rather than share them with its broadcast partner. Hopefully, the UFC has learned from the FOX deal and will give ESPN more big fights, but the jury is still out on that. The fact the first ESPN+ card is main evented by a "superfight" -- a title fight between UFC Flyweight Champion Henry Cejudo and UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw -- is a good sign. However, it remains to be seen what big fight headlines the first card on ESPN proper, an even then, the UFC could come out the gate with a bang for the first cards with its broadcast partner, and then go downhill from there, just like what happened with FOX.

Ultimately, there are a lot of good memories to take away from the "Big FOX" cards, and the cards we saw on FOX Sports 1 as well. There were a number of really exciting fights, knockouts, and submissions over the years that we were able to view on FOX platforms. But the series should have been about star building, and I'm not convinced the UFC built enough stars up on FOX platforms. Hopefully in seven years time we will be speaking a lot more favorably about the UFC on ESPN deal, but that remains to be seen. I wouldn't say the UFC's FOX deal was a complete failure, but it was far from a grand success. I wish I could say it was, but I can only say that by the end of the seven years it was a good deal, not a great one.

UFC on FOX events took place between November 12, 2011 and December 15, 2018.

Click HERE to look back at all the past UFC on FOX events.


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