Boom, with one right hand, the UFC’s landscape had just changed. We’d only seen 64 seconds of action, but Junior Dos Santos had already closed the show, putting the finishing touches on his dramatic title win. The visual was a stunning one, with the revered Cain Velasquez floored, losing his Heavyweight crown after being stopped in the blink of an eye. It had been a special night for the UFC, and not just due to the sight of a Heavyweight coronation either. Frankly, this was about more than that.
This was the promotion’s debut showing on FOX, the start of a new era in MMA history. It had been a unique presentation also, with only the main event airing live as a traditional sports approach took center stage. A Brock Lesnar bolstered panel carried the broadcast, with pre and post-fight analysis to accompany a Heavyweight Title fight that had barely passed the minute mark. I’d imagine that from a television perspective, the result hadn't been ideal but at its core, that sudden drama had been a perfect representation of the UFC brand.
Any combat sport can end in an instant yet even still, MMA always feels like a heightened version of that truth. Early finishes are always a possibility worth pondering, regardless of the elite skills featured. That’s just the sport’s reality, a combination of uncontainable factors, a recipe for excitement. This fight symbolized that with the image of just one looping right hand, as all of Velasquez’s brilliance was rendered meaningless in a single moment. That’s MMA and as the premier version of that insanity, that’s the UFC. By association, that was now FOX too.
This wasn't a half-hearted movement either, as the UFC product spread across the FOX family, gracing several different platforms with a range of shows that at one time or another, included every UFC element imaginable. This was the start of an attempted movement for the UFC’s brand, as for better or worse, their schedule expanded in a fashion that would forever shift the promotion’s product. Within that change, the FOX networks played host to some unforgettable MMA moments, but it was on the flagship powerhouse FOX that fighters got the chance to capture the sport world’s eyes.
The sequels to that Dos Santos win slowly shifted to a more traditional presentation too, eventually settling on four fight main cards that featured some of the sport’s most spectacular and iconic figures. Title implications were a constant, whether it be title bouts or contender clashes headlining each and every UFC on FOX showing. It was on FOX that within the promotion’s first contracted year, Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen and Nate Diaz all secured their respective title shots. It was on FOX that Lyoto Machida flattened Ryan Bader, all on the same night that Brandon Vera courageously pushed ‘Shogun’ to his almost unparalleled limits.
2012’s UFC on FOX story ended with Benson Henderson, a dominant title defense over Nate Diaz that for some, went under the radar by comparison to Rory MacDonald’s infamous points win opposite BJ Penn. In truth, combat sports are inevitably linked with saddening sights and in the form BJ Penn’s battered and bruised silhouette, that had never been more obvious. Nonetheless, Benson Henderson returned to the FOX platform, sharing the stage with UFC Flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson as together, they traded the premiere headline spot throughout the next year.
As always, there were stories underneath too, with a star-making showing catapulting Anthony Pettis into contention as on the very same card, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson bowed out of the octagon for the first time, losing a spirited striking battle against Glover Teixeira. On the other hand, memorable comeback tales would inspire the MMA world, with Fabricio Werdum and Robbie Lawler using their FOX spotlight along with Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, a fighter that soon made the platform his own, wowing crowds with an awe-inspiring power that’ll unquestionably live long in the memory.
As the years went by, there was an undeniable process of decline for the UFC on FOX outings. That special feel inevitably lessened along the way but as always, it was the fighters that continued to make us care. Whether it be Junior Dos Santos’ classic with future champion Stipe Miocic, Luke Rockhold’s emphatic destruction of Lyoto Machida or Nate Diaz’s life-changing Michael Johnson victory, the fighters continued to produce moments of sheer brilliance, even if the surrounding factors had slowly altered.
Moreover, considering the UFC’s stance on Women’s MMA when the FOX deal begun, it was fulfilling to see so many female stars shine under the FOX lights, with standout examples including Miesha Tate, Michelle Waterson, Rose Namajunas and most memorably, Valentina Shevchenko, who scored two main event wins on the platform. Regardless, as I’m sure you all know by now, this past Saturday marked the end of the UFC’s relationship with FOX. Bidding farewell with one final UFC on FOX showing, a very different main event took center stage.
Unlike its original over seven years ago, this fight wouldn't end in 64 seconds, instead going 25 minutes in a fight that bizarrely still symbolized the sport’s beauty nonetheless. As Al Iaquinta walked Kevin Lee down in the final FOX headline bout, that unmistakable fighter spirit once again came to the fore. After 24 minutes of combat, Iaquinta still had more to give, looking to put an exclamation point on his performance as the defiant Kevin Lee battled to the final buzzer. Combine that visual with Dan Hooker’s courage opposite the breath-taking Edson Barboza, and suddenly, you have an incredibly fitting FOX farewell.
In history, the fighters before FOX’s involvement take an interesting position. Their contributions obviously laid the groundwork for this stage, and their own popularity and reach absolutely shouldn't be undersold either. With that being said, it does feel as though this FOX stint has helped shift the sport’s perception. Cage fighting will never be for everyone but with FOX’s help, I’d like to think that some of MMA’s great minds and voices have allowed the world to at least somewhat, understand what makes this wild sport so beautiful.
The platform may change, and the audience along with it. but as long as these great fighters continue to inspire and excite, MMA’s overarching appeal will never waver and if nothing else, the UFC’s memorable time on FOX proved exactly that.