Saturday’s UFC debut on the Fox network has some connections to pro wrestling beyond whatever hype UFC will give former WWE star Brock Lesnar’s return to the octagon.
The deal with Fox reminds me much of the WWF’s old Saturday Night’s Main Event shows, which starting in 1985 occasionally pre-empted Saturday Night Live on NBC. It was a huge deal at the time for the WWF to appear on network television.
There are lessons UFC can learn from the run Saturday Night’s Main Event enjoyed on NBC:
- Present top-notch fights. Just like the WWF in 1980s, UFC doesn’t want to give away all of its best matches on free TV. But you have to offer some big bouts if you want casual fans to pay to see other main events on pay-per-view. Offering Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos for the UFC Heavyweight Title was the right move. I remember Saturday Night’s Main Event featuring some memorable big feuds, such as Hulk Hogan fighting “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the steel cage and Randy “Macho Man” Savage defending the WWF Championship against Andre the Giant.
- Skip the corny entertainment. I doubt UFC will fall into this trap, which is good. However, Saturday Night’s Main Event often featured terrible skits that were just embarrassing, with the comedy barely hitting your funny bone (anyone remember the bad Halloween parties they staged?). Back then, I blamed NBC, but after 25 more years of lousy comedy on WWF and WWE shows since then, I have to conclude Vince McMahon was the real culprit.
- Build your future main events on free TV. We’ll see if Fox will acquiesce to UFC promoting its pay-per-view bouts on the network show, given that it’s UFC’s largest potential audience. NBC didn’t seem to have a problem with this aspect, as the WWF regularly shot major angles on Saturday Night’s Main Event, such as King Kong Bundy attacking Hogan to set up WrestleMania 2 or Mr. Perfect and Lanny Poffo smashing up Hogan’s WWF Championship belt.
- Skip the prelim matches. Nothing is worse than sitting through preliminary bouts on what should be a major show. The last third of Saturday Night’s Main Event sometimes collapsed into terrible jobber matches, as I remember Tony Garea and Steve Lombardi getting air time.
Here’s hoping UFC does well on Fox. I’m sure the WWE has nothing to worry about, given that McMahon and his crew don’t consider UFC their competition.