The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s spectacular evolution into mainstream sport status will continue Saturday night when UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez meets No. 1 contender Junior Dos Santos in a fight that will air on FOX.
The fight marks UFC’s debut on network television.
“This is a throw-back to the old days of boxing. We are putting a big fight — a huge fight — on free TV to expose this thing to a new audience. Our goal has always been to bring big fights back to network television. We are thinking long-term for the future of this sport,” UFC president Dana White said in recent conference call with Velasquez and Dos Santos. “It is an investment in the future of the UFC. Fans that have never seen the UFC before will see this show and that’s why we decided to put Cain and Junior in this position.”
Despite it being a 10-fight card, the only fight that will be aired on the hour-long show will be for the heavyweight title. White explained that UFC will conduct locker room interviews with Velasquez and Dos Santos before the fight. Traditionally, UFC has cameras in the locker room as fighters prepare for their bouts, but the interview packages have been pre-recorded.
“This is going to be a different format than we’ve ever done before. Obviously this is a show featuring one fight so we’re doing a lot of things differently. We are going to be rehearsing for this from Thursday,” White said.
Velasquez, the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, is 9-0-0 in his MMA career. Eight of his nine wins have come by TKO, including a first-round devastation of then-champ Brock Lesnar at UFC 121. Velasquez’s lone non-TKO win was a unanimous decision over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99.
Dos Santos has won 13 of his 14 professional fights. He has won three fights via submission, two unanimous decisions and eight TKOs. Dos Santos’ only loss was a first round submission to Joaquim Ferriera in the Mo Team League in San Paulo, Brazil, on Nov. 10, 2007.
“I don’t think this fight will go five rounds. I have trained for five rounds, but I don’t expect this to do the distance,” Dos Santos said.
“It was such a long wait for my title shot, but I am not sorry. This, right now, is the greatest opportunity I could have had, fighting for the world heavyweight title live on FOX for the very first time,” Dos Santos added. “I’m very happy in my life right now. I’m in such a good place mentally and physically. I’m proof that if you work hard, treat people right and don’t doubt yourself, you can achieve your dreams. I genuinely believe that Cain is the greatest heavyweight in the world and it is an honor to fight him.”
Dos Santos and Lesnar were scheduled to meet at UFC 131 at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena in June to determine the top contender for the heavyweight title. Both men had been coaches on 13th season of the Spike TV show The Ultimate Fighter. However, Lesnar suffered a re-occurrence of diverculitis and had to be replaced in the main event by former UFC interim Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin. Dos Santos decisively won a three-round unanimous decision over Carwin.
Lesnar will fight Alistair Overeem at UFC 141 on Dec. 30 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The fight is Overeem’s UFC debut and will be Lesnar’s first fight since losing to Velasquez.
Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.