"When you look at the world of sports right now, nothing in this country is bigger than the NFL. There was always that big argument whether baseball was bigger than football or whatever. There's no argument. The NFL is huge. I don't care if you didn't watch one football game all season, everybody watches the Super Bowl. But I know for a fact - I don't think - that we're going to be the biggest sport in the world."
UFC President Dana White
Saturday night will feature a skirmish between the UFC and the NFL, in the person of Tim Tebow.
With Tebow, much like a train wreck or the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show, you just can’t look away.
Come Saturday night, many more people will tune into the NFL playoffs to see if No. 15 can burn a helpless Patriots defense, keep up with Tom Brady and advance to the AFC Championship. Problem is, us mixed martial arts enthusiasts have a prior engagement – UFC 142.
The highly anticipated event, which takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, begins in the middle of the Patriots-Broncos game. The preliminary card of UFC 142 starts a couple hours earlier on FX. What’s a sports’ fan to do?
For me, that answer is simple. Don’t get me wrong, if not for the fights, I would still post up on my coach this Saturday night, alone or not, and watch the game in its entirety with no regrets of missing the Saturday nightlife. But as much interest as I have in watching a Tebow playoff game, there really is no comparison to a UFC event – especially one in Brazil.
But even though I am somewhat gladly skipping what could be another miracle win for the Broncos to watch top-level mixed martial arts, there are many who will regrettably not make the same decision. Why? Simple. UFC 142 does not have a draw to match the Broncos star when it comes to this cross-sport conundrum.
Now, you could argue that featherweight champion Jose Aldo is going to get plenty to tune in as a headliner. But it’s hard to believe that will happen after his last performance, which, well, was far from his best and even further from his most exciting fight. The challenger, Chad Mendes, should help grab some fans, as well, considering the possibility that he could wrestle his way to a title, but it’s not like he is much of a draw at all. And before anyone tries to tell me otherwise, first remind me of how many UFC main cards Mendes has competed on. If the promotion elected against putting him on a pay-per-view up until this point, there really is no reason to believe that he suddenly has become a fighter fans absolutely are willing to pay $44.99 to see, is there?
In a middleweight bout between Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and former top contender Vitor Belfort, sparks will certainly fly. This tilt is one of the more intriguing ones that I can remember, as you don’t see a striker vs. striker contest like this one all that often. But as exciting as the fight will most certainly be, neither Belfort nor Johnson have the star power to really drive a card anywhere close to the 750,000 buy range that UFC 141 allegedly fell into. Not even remotely close to that ballpark.
And looking further down the main card, it’s difficult to find any guy that has really much star power at the moment at all. There are several top prospects competing on the pay-per-view, most notably Erick Silva, as well as a savvy submission ace in Rousimar Palhares, but those two are a long ways away from becoming pay-per-view draws in North America.
Analyzing a main card like this, one which, for the record, I do think is completely underrated, it’s hard to keep the hopes too high in terms of mainstream attention. On Saturday night, regardless of how exciting or successful the event ends up being, every major sports outlet will have their front pages plastered with one of three images: A) A picture of a victorious Tom Brady pumping his fist and giving a battle cry of victory, B) Tim Tebow elated at another seemingly impossible victory, or C) Tebow looking down into the turf in agony after a disappointing loss.
Yet, it’s not like being brushed aside is something new for this sport. MMA is still a long way from the exposure and attention the NBA, NFL, NCAA football, NCAA basketball and countless other sports receive. And it should not be all that shocking. Just look at these numbers from last weekend.
The Broncos-Steelers wild card game was the highest rated in 24 years. The Broncos-Patriots game will not just draw more viewers than UFC 142, it will draw tens of millions more. That’s a fact. Not only that, but during the Broncos' victory Sunday, Tebow set a sports Twitter record for Tweets per second at 9,420.
It’s a tall order to compete with an athlete/personality/borderline cult figure who can garner that kind of attention, especially given the fighters competing Saturday night. Save for the main and co-main event fighters, the remainder of the card consists of relatively under-the-radar competitors, except to the hardcore fans.
Though a true drawing power does not really exist on this card, it’s hard to say that even the biggest names could have done much in an effort to persuade someone from skipping an NFL playoff game to drop 50 bucks on a UFC pay-per-view, especially if friends and family members are going to be focused on the former, which, realistically, is likely the case. Lesnar would certainly have drawn plenty, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones would have done the same, but the fact of the matter is the NFL is still decades ahead of the UFC in terms of exposure, and regardless of who is fighting in the main event, the biggest event in America this Saturday would still be Patriots vs. Broncos – and it’s not even close.