It wasn’t that long ago that the Ultimate Fighting Championship announced its network deal with FOX. The deal was reached in August of 2011, and since that time, the UFC has held six live events on the national network, with the seventh event taking place this Saturday.
UFC on FOX will be held from the HP Pavilion in San Jose and airs live on FOX on April 20 at 8 pm ET. For the fourth time, the UFC will headline its FOX card with a championship bout, as lightweight champion Benson Henderson defends his title against former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.
The FOX card also features a heavyweight clash between former UFC champion Frank Mir and Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Daniel Cormier, who is making his UFC debut. Lightweights Nate Diaz and Josh Thomson and welterweights Jordan Mein and Matt Brown complete the main card. Six preliminary fights will air live on FX beginning at 5 pm ET and the prelims and main card can also be viewed on FOX Deportes.
The man behind all the action this weekend is UFC President Dana White, who took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about Saturday’s card, the UFC’s partnership with FOX, and the buzz around the new women’s bantamweight division. White, a Boston native, also gives his thoughts on the tragic Boston Marathon attack on Monday afternoon.
BULLZ-EYE: Thanks for your time Dana. Can you give everybody a little rundown of the UFC on FOX 7 event that is taking place this Saturday night in San Jose?
DANA WHITE: One of the things I was really excited about with this deal with FOX was being able to bring big fights back to free television. That has always been my goal since we bought this company. Coming off “The Ultimate Fighter” finale last weekend, every fight was sick, it was an amazing finale. We pulled 1.7 million viewers. We were the highest-rated thing on network and cable television with males 18-34. This fight on FOX is going to be a big one. Ben Henderson is defending his lightweight title again, this time against Gilbert Melendez, who is probably the toughest guy at 155 pounds that has never had a shot in the UFC. Everybody thinks this guy might be the best in the world, so we are going to find out on Saturday.
BE: When Ben Henderson came into the UFC from the WEC, what were your initial thoughts on where he fit in at 155, and have you been impressed with what he has done thus far in the octagon?
DANA WHITE: Absolutely. You never really know about a fight or a fighter until the fight happens, but Ben has been phenomenal. If you look at the guys that he has beaten since he has been here, he’s been outstanding.
BE: You have a lot of former Strikeforce fighters competing and being featured on this card. How have you assessed the Strikeforce fighters and their performance in the UFC thus far?
DANA WHITE: I have been thrilled with the Strikeforce fighters. A lot of bad stuff happened at Strikeforce. A lot of guys didn’t get paid for a while and these guys are hungry. First of all, they are happy to be back fighting and getting paid to do it. These guys want to prove to the world that they can fight and become the best in the world. The UFC is the place to do that. These guys have been fighting like maniacs, and I love it.
BE: There can be a lot of added emotion and pressure when you fight for the first time in the UFC. We saw that with Cat Zingano last Saturday as she was fighting back tears just walking out to the octagon. How do you think fighters like Melendez and Daniel Cormier will handle fighting in the UFC for the first time?
DANA WHITE: I think they are going to be fine. They have had big fights on TV before. I think it is tough if it is your first time on TV and you are making your UFC debut, but these guys have had big fights before. Cormier fought Josh Barnett — that’s a big fight. I think they are going to do fine.
BW: Can you talk about the exposure that these fighters get by being in the main event of a nationally televised broadcast like the one on Saturday on FOX?
DANA WHITE: That’s why Ben Henderson is a guy that came over from the WEC, and we’ve been getting him nothing but exposure on FOX. I think in beating Gilbert Melendez, if he wins this fight, he is going to finally start getting the credit he deserves. If Gilbert Melendez wins this fight, he is going to really get noticed. Melendez has been around forever, and a lot of people have been considering him the best 155-pounder in the world. Beating Ben Henderson on national television would definitely be great for him and do big things for his career.
BE: What do you feel are the keys to the Henderson vs. Melendez fight? They both seem very similar in styles and are well-rounded fighters.
DANA WHITE: I agree with you 100 percent. They both are well-rounded and have very similar styles. When you get down to a fight like that, you really just find out who is the more talented guy. Is one guy more talented than the other? When two fighters are so evenly matched it usually comes down to little details, or it just comes down to who wants it more.
BE: Frank Mir is coming into Saturday fighting a guy like Cormier that has a lot of hype coming into his UFC debut. Mir has been around for a while and is coming off a loss. How big is this fight for Frank?
DANA WHITE: It’s a huge fight for Frank. He has fought so many huge guys in the UFC already. Now he is fighting Cormier, who just beat Josh Barnett, and is a guy that is highly regarded, not only at heavyweight, but light heavyweight as well. It is a really big fight for Frank. It would be a very important win for him. It’s a really important win for both guys, obviously.
BE: You have Nate Diaz facing Josh Thomson on the FOX card as well in a lightweight bout. Just talk about putting those two on this card knowing how exciting their fights have been in the past.
DANA WHITE: Both these guys go a million miles an hour. Nate Diaz is never involved in boring fights. That kid gives it everything he’s got. Same goes for Thomson. We know this isn’t going to be a boring fight.
BE: The UFC has been with FOX now for well over a year. How do you feel things are progressing with the network, and do you feel you are getting everything you hoped for out of the deal?
DANA WHITE: Things could not be better. The relationship could not be better. Everything that these guys said they would do, they have done. We continue to progress and do better and better every time we air an event on FOX or their other networks.
BE: FOX has announced that the UFC will be a big part of FOX Sports 1 when it comes out later this year, and “The Ultimate Fighter” will be moving from FX to FOX Sports 1. What are your thoughts on being a focal point for this new channel?
DANA WHITE: I am excited about it. I always thought that that is where we belong, on a sports network. These guys don’t do anything half-assed. They really go at it. I love how young and aggressive this company is — they really fit well with us. I am pumped and proud to be part of it.
BE: The UFC has really expanded over the last 10 years and now you have a much bigger international presence. Where do you see the direction of the company going right now and what role will FOX play in that?
DANA WHITE: As we continue to go into other countries… right now we are in 175 different countries, 20 different languages and over a billion homes worldwide. What we are really focused on is building the market here in the United States and increasing the fanbase and creating more fighters. FOX is a very big part of all that.
BE: Last Saturday’s card featured an amazing women’s bantamweight fight between Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate. This was coming off an exciting fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche at UFC 157. Have you been surprised by how exciting these fights have been and how the fans have really seemed to embrace the women’s division?
DANA WHITE: I am very impressed, very impressed. You mentioned the success we had with Ronda’s pay-per-view, and when you look at last week’s card, it was stacked top to bottom with amazing fights. Cat and Miesha went out there and had the fight of the night. That was a tremendous fight.
BE: I was really impressed by the constant action that they were able to sustain for nearly 15 minutes and they certainly weren’t afraid to dish out the punishment. They really left it in the octagon.
DANA WHITE: These women have been amazing, and they have fought just as hard as anyone else, if not harder. It’s like everyone in the women’s division has a giant chip on their shoulder. They all feel like they have something to prove, and so far they have gone out and performed and put on amazing fights.
BE: Before I let you go, I just wanted to get your thoughts on the tragic situation in Boston on Monday. I know you have a lot of history with that city. What were your initial thoughts when you heard what happened, and how do you think the city will bounce back?
DANA WHITE: It really bummed me out because when the city that you lived in gets attacked like that…you know, you think about when I lived there, we used to watch the race all the time, we would walk up and down Newbury Street. It was just a disgustingly, cowardly act. It makes me sick. To attack a race like that, where people have trained to run this thing from all over the world and their friends and family are waiting at the finish line for them, it’s just so (expletive) cowardly that it makes me sick. The one thing about the city of Boston and the United States as a whole, it’s one of those things where people will all come together, just like 9/11, and the city will bounce back. It’s just unfortunate that…not to mention that it’s the most popular marathon in the world and the oldest marathon in this country, to just do something like that is just… ugh. I can’t even put it into words without going crazy and sounding like an absolute psycho.
BE: I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on that and wish you the best of luck with this weekend’s card.
DANA WHITE: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
The UFC on FOX weekend will get started on Friday with the weigh-ins taking place at 7 pm ET. Those will air live on FUEL TV. Once Saturday’s fights on FOX have completed, fans can turn the channel to FUEL TV, where they can catch the UFC Postfight Show hosted by FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and UFC middleweight Brian Stann.
The UFC will return to FOX on July 27 from the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington with a card that has yet to be announced.