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UFC On Fox 2: Hits and Misses

When the UFC debuted on Fox late last year, fans saw that mixed martial arts fights can literally be too exciting — as in the great heavyweight brawl that barely lasted a minute.

Then Saturday night at the second installment of UFC on Fox, fans saw that some nights the fights just aren’t going to be very good.  More often than not, that will not be the case in the action-packed UFC, but Saturday night the three fights didn’t deliver a single knockout, submission, or even a memorable moment.  In fact, UFC chief Dana White always gives out awards for best fights, knockouts and other things, and not a single award bonus went to one of the three Fox-televised fights.

If you care, I’m guessing one main reason the fights stunk is that 2 of 3 weren’t supposed to happen.  One of the fighters in the co-main event got hurt recently, so UFC moved a guy off the third-tier fight up to the second-tier fight/co-main event, then put a new guy on the third-tier fight.  In combat sports, they say styles make fights, and these fights were never supposed to have been made.  And you saw why.

There is nothing UFC or Fox can do about that, it is just going to happen, much like the occasional boring NFL game or tennis match (the opposite of the Australian Open men’s final Sunday).  I guess three relatively boring fights on a broadcast network is better than some bloodbath that could make some viewers — and affiliates — queasy, but the first Fox card of 2012 was not what UFC would use in one of its great Baba O’Riley-backed sizzle reels.

The broadcast itself also was probably not Fox Sports and the UFC at their absolute best, as there are definitely some things they can do better next time, and these are by far two of the elite when it comes to live event production.  Fans who weighed in to me seem to be split on whether Fox should keep using the NFL music at the top (they did Saturday) or get their own.  I’m not sure I care. One thing I did love was the new open with the Fox robots fighting — picture an animated version of a fight scene from underrated robot boxing movie “Real Steel” — it just looked cool.

But one thing we needed more of was loud audio from the crowd at the open.  The (usually rabid UFC) audience seemed a little subdued all night — not sure if that was the audio mix or the crowd was just not that hot.

Much of the upside will need to come in the studio show, which featured Curt Menefee, UFC legend Randy Couture and current UFC superstar Jon “Bones” Jones.  The trio just did not click and never found a rhythm, leading to a couple awkward, hesitant moments.  That’s understandable given they had never worked together before (and Jones was probably just a one-off analyst), but it’s something Fox needs to address before the next event.

Menefee is a fantastic traffic cop on NFL coverage and does a nice job when he hosts soccer events. But we needed a little more energy out of him off the top for a UFC event, and a few times he seemingly asked questions that the panelists had already answered.

Couture was the star of the bunch and should be a mainstay.  Jones was a great pick as an analyst, as he was set up to fight the winner of the main event.  He also is a TV star — in fact at an event right after UFC on Fox 1, I pointed Jones out to a Fox exec and said he has the potential to be a real mainstream star.

Unfortunately, Jones didn’t deliver. He began the night answering Menefee’s questions by reading directly off of notes — and like taking an elbow from Jones — that’s tough for the audience to bounce back from.  It made it seem like the studio show was over-rehearsed, and was just tough to watch.

Once the fights began, business strongly picked up on the production side, in the form of commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.  They were great as usual.  Their strength is not in over-hyping, but rather calmly telling you what is taking place in the fight, and more importantly, what is about to happen.  When the fighters go to the ground, they consistently — and usually accurately — tell you what each fighter is attempting to do next.  That builds suspense and creates payoffs — and brings in casual fans to what they are watching.  They also rightly called the result of the co-main event controversial — as no one in the building seemed to think Chael Sonnen beat Michael Bisping, though Sonnen somehow won the decision.

Speaking of Rogan and Sonnen, I would have loved to have seen Rogan call out Sonnen for his ridiculous post-fight live interview in the ring.  Basically, Sonnen refused to answer Rogan’s question — instead cutting a ridiculous WWE-like promo (a ripoff of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, basically) in which he asked Rogan what it was like to be so close to him and a couple other seemingly-scripted things, and then walked off.  That would be fun in WWE, but this is the majors, and that was really stupid.  Wish the guys would have called him on it.

For the most part within the fights, the production was fantastic as always.  When the fights went to the ground the camera work was flawless. There were some production kinks — such as not being able to pick up audio in the corner between rounds at times.  And Fox ran a promo for next week’s English Premier League match during the main event (very cool for soccer fans) — but somehow managed to leave out the teams that were playing in the game.  I can’t stand Chelsea and can only tolerate Manchester United (the two teams playing in that match), but even they deserve mention.

My final note is the event needed some Dana White.  He is the sport’s best salesman, and is well-known, and well-liked, for bluntly saying what is on his mind.  He did do an interview on the post-game show on Fuel, but he needs to be part of the Fox broadcast.  He’s as big a star as the fighters, and needs to be featured.

Overall, Fox and UFC were handed a sack of lemons Saturday night in the form of three subpar fights, and did their best to make lemonade.  But there is still some work to be done on the production side next time — especially in the studio team — so viewers won’t end up feeling sour.