Is UFC set to become a FOX afterthought like WWE on NBC?

Nate Diaz and Jim Miller didn't cut the mustard for a main event level fight on FOX. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE.

The biggest news story of the week in MMA wasn't former Strikeforce star 'King Mo' Lawal signing with Bellator and TNA as some would have you believe, but the atrocious ratings for UFC on FOX 3, as our sister site reported a few days ago:

The official ratings are in for the UFC on FOX 3: "Diaz vs. Miller" event, which aired live via the network television powerhouse this past Saturday night (May 5, 2012) from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ.

There's really no other way to say it. They flat-out stunk.

The final tally was 2.4 million viewers, which according to longtime mixed martial arts (MMA) reporter Loretta Hunt, was good enough for a 1.5 household rating, which equates to a 50 percent drop-off in key demographics from the UFC on FOX 2: "Evans vs. Davis" event earlier this year in Chicago, placing it sixth out of the eight programs that ran in the same time slot.

Worrying stuff for Dana White indeed, as such a poor rating is barely above WWE's annual afterthought programming on NBC of a summer WrestleMania highlight show and a winter Tribute To The Troops special, about half what WWE gets for an average edition of Raw on the USA network, and below what Smackdown gets on a Friday night on Syfy.

Like UFC, when WWE returned to network TV on March 18, 2006 for the return of Saturday Night's Main Event to NBC, they too had high hopes that the exposure on a bigger platform could springboard their company to greater heights and brought out all their big guns, including the return of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin after a several month absence to guarantee a hot start. Unfortunately for WWE they didn't even come out of the blocks fast, coming 80th out of 82 prime time shows for the big four networks during that week, when they drew a disappointing for the standards of the time, a 3.11 rating and 5.15 million viewers. To show how network ratings have been eroded over the past six years, UFC on FOX 1, which featured a heavyweight championship fight pitting Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos, also drew a 3.1 rating, which was deemed a big success, partially because the fight itself was so short. Ratings for the Saturday Night's Main Event specials steadily fell, though it took four more shows, not merely two, for them to drop below a 1.5 rating, which was when WWE decided to throw in the towel and just give NBC filler programming instead.

The problem WWE faced and couldn't overcome, that UFC shares, is their product is so overexposed that just having a card on network TV isn't going to draw network level ratings by virtue of their brand alone and a few exciting matches. For once, UFC is hurt by the nature of being a shoot; they only have a finite number of mainstream stars who can fight at most three or four times a year if they are lucky, but FOX doesn't pay them enough to put some of their big fights on free television, as they can still make much more money by putting them on pay-per-view.

The current line up for UFC on FOX 4 will struggle to fare much better. Both Brian Stann and Hector Lombard are marketable, but the latter in particular is a no name to the general public. It would need heavy promotion and the right hype for that main event to draw well, something the third show didn't receive from FOX and the poor performance of that card makes it much less likely to get in the future.

Unless UFC decides to cut down on the number of pay-per-view events they run each year, freeing up more name fighters for their FOX events, which is highly unlikely, long term I see UFC on network television having much the same fate as WWE, being consigned to dead end time slots just to fulfil a contract.

What do you think Cagesiders, am I being too grim? Can Dana White do what Vince McMahon couldn't and turn ratings around from such rock bottom levels?

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