Everything changes this weekend.
Moments after the last bad boy is come for by
The one-hour special UFC on Fox (9 p.m. ET) will present just a single bout, but what a bout it is: undefeated Cain Velasquez defending his heavyweight championship for the first time against Junior dos Santos.
Now, UFC president Dana White is a salesman, no question about it. But he's a truth teller, too, when he pumps up the importance of Saturday night's fight at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. "This is, without a doubt," he said the other day, "the biggest fight in UFC history."
You can interpret that statement in many ways, and it is not hyperbole in any context. As a fight, there's nothing bigger than one in which the heavyweight championship of the world is at stake. That used to be the case in boxing -- rest in peace, Smokin' Joe Frazier -- and probably will be again someday. (You think fans are clamoring now for Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather? Imagine if those little guys each went 220 pounds.)
Well, in mixed martial arts, the heavyweight division is healthier and more intriguing, with enough big, tough guys to create matchups exhilarating enough to overshadow even the greatness of champs, like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. The bigger they are, the harder they maul.
Beyond that, if you assess this UFC on Fox event purely as a moment in sports history, it is unmatched by anything that has come before it in the octagon. Sure, combat sports fans might be watching college wrestling meets or their kids' karate classes this weekend if not for the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar slugfest in the finale of the first season of
Within the past year, the UFC has been to Germany, Australia, Brazil, England and three cities in Canada. One of those cities north of the border, Toronto, drew a record 56,000 fans. At the risk of doing Dana's sell job for him, let's just say this sport is growing faster than it can be fitted for a new suit. Network TV takes that growth to a whole new level. Millions will be watching Saturday, and a good many will be seeing the UFC for the first time.
Want to make a good first impression? Cain vs. Junior is the best bet the UFC has.
These are not simply big guys but high-octane big guys. According to Fight Metric, which keeps statistics for the UFC, Velasquez and Dos Santos are the organization's top two fighters -- in any weight class -- in terms of landing a steady stream of significant strikes. Cain is the best of all, connecting with an average of 7.46 significant punches, kicks or other strikes a minute, while Dos Santos is next, at 6.79. No one else is within a strike. So expect to see leather flying, and then expect to hear the thud of it landing. And that's just the fisticuffs. Be prepared for kicks and knees and the whole arsenal of MMA striking, and grappling as well.
Having said all of that, the UFC nonetheless has work to do in developing an audience beyond the folks with closets full of black TapouT t-shirts. To many in the non-MMA public, Cain and Junior are no better known than Kimbo Slice, the last fighter to headline a network event (2008's EliteXC event on CBS), since he at least had a big following from his street fighting videos. Of course, Kimbo was basically the bare-knuckles version of the Paris Hilton sex tapes, while Velasquez and Dos Santos are the real deal. And Fox has been incessantly hyping their showdown, practically between pitches during the World Series and at every break in the action during NFL telecasts. And every promo trumpeted that this is for the heavyweight championship. Which means something.