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UFC made good call with free title fight

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  November 11, 2011 08:35 AM

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100jon_anik.jpg Born and raised in the Boston area, Jon Anik is a UFC commentator and play-by-play voice. He wrote this article exclusively for Boston.com. Follow him @Jon_Anik

On Monday, you may get to work and for the first time you can remember, the morning sports dialogue might not be about the Patriots and their latest clash with the Jets. Itís not about the Red Sox and their hunt for a new skipper. And itís most certainly not about the Celtics.

You and your buddy at the water-cooler may find yourselves talking about mixed martial arts and what was the Ultimate Fighting Championshipís mammoth debut on the Fox network.

True to form, the UFC is blowing it out by offering up the biggest fight ever on free TV: the Undisputed UFC heavyweight championship between undefeated champ Cain Velasquez and No1 contender Junior dos Santos.

It is going to be a great night to be a fight fan: fans can watch the UFC fight for free on Fox, long before the pay-per-view action gets under way for boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao's showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez. While the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics have been racking up championships and rolling their rallies through the streets of Boston, the UFC brand has steadfastly become as powerful as nearly any in sports. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has become synonymous with mixed martial arts. From social-media initiatives for its fighters to unprecedented athlete access, the UFC gets it and stops at nothing to earn your eyes and ears.

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Cain Velasquez (left) and Junior Dos Santos will battle for the UFC heavyweight title tomorrow night. (Associated Press photo)

The most salient argument for the UFCís continued growth is also the most simple: the product itself. MMA delivers more consistently than any other pro sport, save for maybe the NFL. Because of MMAís multitude of fight disciplines and wide range of possible outcomes, the sport is just less likely to disappoint, as both a live event and television entity.

Hereís an analogy to support this claim, and one youíve likely heard before: If Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are playing an inspired game of 1-on-1 and a fight between two random hacks breaks out at the other end of the playground, what are bystanders watching? They arenít watching 33 vs. 32. They are watching the fight. Too compelled to turn away. Itís instinctual. Human beings are drawn to friction and chaos and, in some sense, uneasiness. If you truly donít know what is going to happen, you had better witness it.

So when a fight is not just between two random guys, but instead involves two professional MMA fighters with all the skills in the world, forget about it. Advantage, MMA. As the UFCís motto so aptly states, it is "As Real As It Gets" and the in-cage product dovetails precisely with that slogan.

See, when I was growing up in Boston, the Red Sox were on the tube every night of the week, whether we liked it or not. In this day and age, with so many entertainment options, smart phones, tablets and tweets, the competition for easily-distracted viewers is ruthless. Four-hour baseball games may no longer cut it when up against 10-second knockouts. Your product had better compel consistently. This space says MMA is primed to compete.

On paper, it appears a brilliant stroke by the UFC, to take a surefire PPV headliner and make it the first UFC fight on network TV. Legions of sports fans across the nation will be exposed to mixed martial arts for the first time as the most prominent title in combat sports is up for grabs. And Ö you donít even need to have cable to watch it.

So be ahead of the curve and the water-cooler conversation. The UFC hits Fox Saturday at 9 p.m.. Your sports viewing habits may never be the same thereafter.

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