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Fightin’ Words: Fox’s Cain event is UFC’s key to big time

Mixed martial arts fighters CaVelasquez (left) Junior Dos Santos pose for photos after news conference Los Angeles Wednesday. Velasquez defends

Mixed martial arts fighters Cain Velasquez (left) and Junior Dos Santos pose for photos after a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Velasquez defends his UFC heavyweight title against Junior Dos Santos on Saturday. | Jae C. Hong~AP

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Updated: December 13, 2011 9:00AM

This weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship goes prime time.

On Saturday, the UFC makes its broadcast TV debut at 8 p.m. on Fox-32 when champion Cain Velasquez faces Brazilian Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title in Anaheim, Calif.

While other organizations have had network TV deals, the arrival of the UFC represents a potential game-changer for the sport.

Before this weekend, Forrest Griffin defeating Stephan Bonnar during the 2005 “The Ultimate Fighter” first-season finale has been seen as the most significant fight for the UFC, saving the organization from bankruptcy and establishing a toehold on cable television to grow the sport.

But this weekend’s Velasquez-Dos Santos battle marks the first fight in the seven-year, multimillion-dollar partnership with Fox. It has been difficult to escape Fox’s promos for this event during NFL games. With an increase in viewers, this will allow the UFC to increase its fan base and potentially lead to greater widespread acceptance for the sport.

“This thing started as a small fringe sport and has grown to what it is today,” UFC president Dana White said. “We were much more fortunate in that we were able to handpick a fight that we wanted to put on Fox. If I had to do it all over again, this is still the fight I’d pick to put on network television.”

The card will be unique to MMA fans. Usually, a UFC card will feature four or five fights over a two- or three-hour period. But Saturday, it will last only one hour with only one five-minute, five-round fight — albeit a major championship bout that could have headlined a pay-per-view event. For its debut card, Fox and the UFC will concentrate on introducing new viewers to the sport.

“We know we’re speaking to a wider, broader audience,” White said. “There’s going to be more storytelling and explaining on who we are, what this is and what these athletes are about.”

One of the major attractions for the UFC to the Fox deal was its ability to air its programming on a variety of broadcast platforms. Fuel TV will air a two-hour pre-fight show at 6 p.m. and a post-fight show at 9 p.m.

The UFC and Fox executives have high hopes for the deal.

“What boxing was to my generation is what the UFC is to my son’s,” Fox Sports Media Group chairman David Hill said. “In seven years, I believe boxing is going to be even more of a niche than it is, and UFC will become mainstream.”

Hooks and jabs

There will be a full nine-fight preliminary card Saturday. A key lightweight matchup between Chicago’s Clay Guida and former WEC champion Ben Henderson will be featured. Also, Elmhurst’s Ricardo Lamas fights Cub Swanson.

You can watch the card beginning at 3:45 p.m. on or

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