Arthur Jones plays defensive tackle for the Ravens and is the proud owner of a 6'3", 313-pound physique. But even in Baltimore, when he walks around with his younger, smaller (205-pound) brother, Jon, Arthur is often made to feel invisible. "I'll admit it," Arthur says. "Jon is more recognized, more popular and makes more money." Jon Jones, you see, is the Ultimate Fighting Championship's current light heavyweight champion; but then again, odds are increasingly good that you knew that already.
Still a teenager—albeit a rambunctious one—the UFC has evolved since its birth in 1993 from an indefensible no-holds-barred freak show to a niche sport to a juggernaut that is simultaneously choking out boxing, gaining steady acceptance and minting stars. On Nov. 12 the organization will take its broadest step yet toward the mainstream. The UFC card held at the Honda Center in Anaheim will be broadcast live on Fox, the first event in a seven-year deal with the network. So it is that the sport once banned from pay-per-view will air on network TV. "All these people who thought I was a lunatic for saying this would be the biggest sport in the world?" asks Dana White, the UFC's colorful president. "Well, here we are."
Easy there, tough guy. Still, this marks a significant milestone. The UFC is already a billion-dollar property. But the Fox deal is the biggest opportunity to move away from the PPV model and truly grow the audience, allay the skeptics and showcase fighters who are skilled athletes and, overwhelmingly, decent and upright citizens.
Consider the headliners on the Fox card. The current UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, 29, the son of a Mexican immigrant father, was an All-America wrestler at Arizona State, graduating with a degree in education. His opponent, Junior dos Santos, 27, is a Brazilian jujitsu specialist who lives in Bahia but speaks near perfect English. Dos Santos is the No. 1 contender, and this highlights another virtue of UFC: Unlike in boxing, the top two fighters actually square off.
November 7, 2011
The result of Saturday's fight will tell us plenty about the state of the heavyweight class. The overnight ratings will tell us plenty about the UFC's place in the current sports hierarchy.
UNLIKE IN BOXING, THE TOP TWO FIGHTERS, ACTUALLY SQUARE OFF.
L. JON WERTHEIM'S
IN THE CAGE
While Cain Velasquez puts his heavyweight title on the line next Saturday, here's a look at UFC's five other current belt holders:
Jon Jones,light heavyweight
Has no discernible weakness and will go for his fourth win of the year against Brazil's Lyoto Machida on Dec. 10.
The Michael Jordan figure of MMA, the Spider, (above), has lost only once since 2004 and defended his belt nine times.
Best known for his stand-up game but so proficient on the ground that he considered trying out for Canada's Olympic wrestling team.
Scored the upsets of 2010, twice beating B.J. Penn.
Has a combination of strength and speed that's created an unsolvable riddle for his last dozen opponents.
May fight at only 135 pounds but has just lost once in his pro career.