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.