When Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez squares off against top-ranked contender Junior Dos Santos on Nov. 12, the fighters will be making history.
Just 12 years after Sen. John McCain spearheaded an effort to ban the UFC altogether–the Arizona Republican called the sport "human cockfighting"–the Velasquez/Dos Santos brawl will air on a national broadcast network in prime time.
Make no mistake, the UFC is a delivery system for savage violence, and curious viewers who stumble onto Fox's Saturday night lineup may be astonished by what they see on the screen. In June, Dos Santos beat Shane Carwin's face into a gory mask.
Despite the potential for mayhem, Fox has had no trouble selling ads in and around the fight. "We sold out all 15 units in a week," says Todd Siegel, executive vp, Fox Sports Cable Sales. "In fact, we could have sold more units, but people came to us a little late. We had to turn down a couple movie studios as well as an automotive client."
Media buyers say a 30-second spot in The UFC on Fox cost just north of $100,000. Among the marketers advertising are Anheuser-Busch, the Casio G'zOne Commando smartphone, and the U.S. Marine Corps. Two studios–20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.–have also made buys.Velasquez and Dos Santos will begin trading blows at 9:35 p.m., following a half-hour setup by host Curt Menefee, UFC president Dana White, and announcer Joe Rogan. Fox will not throw to commercial between the first and second rounds, electing instead to keep its cameras on the octagon.
The UFC showcase airs just three months after Fox Sports signed a seven-year, $700 million rights deal with the mixed martial arts organization. When the partnership was first announced, critics predicted that Fox would have trouble promoting the UFC on major sports platforms like the NFL and Major League Baseball. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only did Velasquez make a two-minute appearance on the Oct. 30 edition of Fox NFL Sunday (where he spoke with Menefee and the rest of the pregame crew), but UFC spots were featured throughout Fox's World Series coverage.
For the UFC, the Fox fight offers an unprecedented promotional platform, even if it will take a bite out of pay-per-view revenues in the near term. "You don't go on free television and make your money, that's just not the way it works," White says. "We're going to get smashed on this fight, but it's an investment in the future of the business."
And the UFC could use all the hype it can get. Through the first 11 events of 2011, the promoter has amassed nearly 4.7 million PPV buys, or slightly more than half the 9.25 million buys it mustered for the same number of events a year ago.