Manny Pacquiao and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be going head-to-head on November 12, and it's going to be a telling night for both combat sports.
Pacquiao faces Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO pay-per-view that night, a trilogy bout that has its critics already, but given that it has Manny Pacquiao, was assumed to be a no-doubt strong performer on pay-per-view regardless. Many fights have been criticized as poor matchups recently, only to do strong pay-per-view ratings because one man (Pacquiao or Mayweather) can indeed carry business in boxing.
But the UFC's new deal with Fox is a blockbuster announcement in the world of combat sports, as it returns a legitimately huge entity to network TV for the first time in a long time. Big-time boxing -- or any boxing -- has been gone from network TV for ages now. The MMA promotions -- Strikeforce and EliteXC -- that have been experimented with at CBS have not been the sort of player that UFC is.
Will the UFC steal some viewers with their free network TV broadcast? Of course they will. Nobody has to pay for their show, and the people who now have changed plans would have always preferred to watch a UFC show, because they're probably MMA fans first, boxing fans second.
For those who wonder if a strong undercard for the Pacquiao vs Marquez show can make an impact or retain some viewers, my best answer would be that they probably can't come up with anything quite good enough to convince people to pay money instead of watch a free show, unless those people truly believe in the main event as something more than "just another Manny Pacquiao fight." Having Brandon Rios on the undercard will help some boxing fans who were on the fence about ordering the show, but it probably won't be enough to convince MMA fans to skip UFC's network TV debut.
It will also depend a little bit on what, exactly, the UFC brings to that show.
When I asked Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow about any set fights or any strong rumors, he told me, "Not yet. There aren't a lot of fighters available for the date. It's possible that Lyoto Machida will face Phil Davis, as that fight was being discussed for UFC 140 on December 10."
Machida vs Davis is a good fight, but not a blockbuster fight. It's clear that UFC likely won't be doing anything huge, but their strong brand name and the fact that the show is free is going to make a dent. How big of a dent remains to be seen, and it's going to be interesting to find out what kind of ratings UFC can pull, especially going against a major boxing event, and in turn, what kind of hit the buys for Pacquiao vs Marquez will take with the UFC going head-to-head.