Despite looming ratings disaster, UFC on FUEL 6 TV a successful first foray into China

When the UFC on FUEL TV 6 ratings come out, don’t expect them to be any good. In fact, expect them to be disastrous.

It wasn’t so much that the show was was bad, or that it was lacking in star power — both its main event fighters, Rich Franklin and Cung Le, are well-known, popular mixed martial artists — but it’s because it took place in Macau, China, forcing the television broadcast to air at 4:40 a.m. PT/7:40 a.m. ET in North America. Let’s face it, only the hardcore fans got up that early to watch it, and even some of them decided to sleep in and wait until the replay, which aired later in the day.

Paradoxically, though, even though the event being held in China and the corresponding time difference will ultimately make it a ratings failure in North America, it’s because it took place in China that made the event, on the whole, a success.

UFC on FUEL TV 6 was the promotion’s first event held in China, a market they are trying to enter and ultimately do big business in due to its roots in traditional martial arts. With a $1.3 million gate and 8,415 people in attendance at CotaiArena, it’s clear that the UFC did a great job of building buzz for the event, as those are solid numbers for a ‘Fight Night’-type event.

And even though the card started with seven-straight fights to go to decision, the main card was full of action (particularly the Takanori Gomi/Mac Danzig and Tuck/Tiequan Zhang matchups, plus Thiago Silva’s arm-triangle submission on Stanislav Nedkov in the co-main event) that kept the audience intrigued. But it was the main event that is what will ultimately make this card one to remember, and why the fans — particularly the ones who were live in the arena — will remember it for a long time.

Just over two minutes into the main event of Franklin vs. Le, the Viatnamese-American caught the former UFC middleweight champion flush on the chin with a gigantic right hand which felled Franklin immediately, resulting in Le picking up by far the biggest win of his career in what was definitely one of the craziest upsets in the UFC in 2012 as well as a surefire “Knockout of the Year” contender.

Le — who UFC president Dana White said absolutely had to headline the promotion’s first Chinese card — is a very popular figure in Asia due to both his mixed martial arts career as well as his acting career. He is a personable and marketable figure, and White’s decision to basically force him to stay on the card despite everyone knowing Le had a nasty foot injury ultimately proved to be the right one because there is absolutely no question a superstar was born on Saturday night/morning. Even though Le says he wants to take some time off, you can expect him to headline the UFC’s next show in Japan on March 3, 2013, possibly against Yushin Okami should he get by Alan Belcher at UFC 155.

Still, despite the incredible ending to the card, some critics — actually, the better word to describe them is trolls — will say the event sucked, and use the poor ratings as proof. But that’s completely unfair because the point of this show — as with the other UFC on FUEL TV events that were in international venues (Australia, Sweden, England) — are to cultivate new live audiences, not to draw huge TV ratings (that would be nice). That’s why the UFC didn’t care that the North American audience had to watch these events out of primetime, because the North American audience was not the target.

At UFC 144 (and likely at the upcoming Japan show on March 3) the UFC started the live event early in the morning for a regular pay-per-view start time. That’s because the PPV events are all about the buyrates. With the UFC on FUEL shows, the point isn’t the ratings, or even the live gate, it’s to build new markets and there are certain sacrifices that the UFC is willing to make, namely the live television ratings.

When the ratings come out this week, don’t let the trolls fool you into thinking this event was a failure. Was it the best UFC card ever? No, but it was far from the worst, and the ending was something that will make everyone remember it for a long time, especially the Chinese fans who were watching the UFC live for the first time.

The UFC’s first event in China was ultimately a success and it’s looking the promotion has made a good choice in its aggressive expansion of Asia, which is sure to only pick up steam as we head into 2013.


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