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MMA Roundtable: Hunt as contender, FOX Sports changes, Lombard’s future and more

Busy week. Among the developments: Mark Hunt kept his improbable run going, Hector Lombard lost again, and a matchup between Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans was announced. Oh yeah, and UFC programming is moving to a newly announced, all-sports network. Joining me to discuss the fun, feedback and fallout is my colleague Luke Thomas. Let’s roll … 1. How, if it all, will the inclusion of UFC programming on the new FOX Sports 1 channel affect the UFC?Chiappetta: Well, that’s a question with a long-term answer. On the surface, the change should turn out to be a net positive for the UFC, as it marks the first time the company’s programming is regularly featured alongside other major sports on an all-sports network. Believe it or not, this is still fairly important in the way the sport is perceived by both middle America and Madison Avenue. Just because we watch and accept doesn’t mean the sport is widely accepted everywhere. The more it is surrounded by legitimacy, the better. The impact of the move will be harder to measure in the short-term. On the plus side, some of the promotion’s auxiliary programming like UFC Tonight and Countdown specials will be exposed to larger audiences. On their old home on FUEL, only 36 million households had access to them; on FOX Sports 1, that number will balloon to near 90 million. On the flip side, other programs like the Fight Night events and FOX and pay-per-view prelim cards are moving from FX (98 million homes) to a channel slightly smaller. It’s also a channel that will take some time to find as TV viewers adjust to the change. Given the fact that it’s competing with ESPN, well that’s just another obstacle to be solved.Looking at FOX’s history, they basically invented a network from scratch and made it a powerhouse. Then they created a news channel that has also become an industry leader. So with FOX’s overall investment and their aggressive strategies, the marketing of the channel and its partners including the UFC should ensure a fruitful outcome. Thomas: I agree with much of Mike’s analysis here, particularly the point that positioning UFC alongside college football and soccer and whatever else as part of a sports fan’s diet is an important development. I also share his concern about the exposure issues. UFC fans were asked to go all over the place after Zuffa and Spike parted ways. They’ll be asked to do so again as will other sports fans who wonder why NASCAR is sharing so much space with cage fighting. There’s lots of adjustments to make for everyone involved, no group more so than consumers.I also think it’s noteworthy Wednesday night is going to become important to the UFC. Sharing space with other sports is great for image issues, but presents logistical challenges when there’s conflict on Saturday night. Moving to the weeknight isn’t without risks, but it could be a long-term payoff as fans settle into the groove.But as Kevin Iole reported on Yahoo, part of the impetus for this decision is to get UFC programming largely in one place. Yes, there will be shows on FOX and pay-per-view, but basically everything else is to be on Fox Sports 1 (we’ll see what happens with The Ultimate Fighter). FOX execs admitted there was a ton of confusion when UFC left Spike. This new move is a way to correct for the old one. Perhaps more than anything else, settling in on an easy-to-follow routine is what UFC and MMA needs.2. Hector Lombard is 1-2 in the UFC and reportedly has a hefty contract. Is he on the verge of being cut after his loss to Yushin Okami?Thomas: The verge of being cut? Yes, but he’s still got some life left in him. I don’t believe this bout will result in his dismissal, but it’s also fair to say he’s probably on thin ice.It’s true Lombard is expensive, rumored to be earning between $300,000 to $400,000 a fight before pay-per-view points. UFC officials have been able to somewhat cut down on costs by placing him on free television cards. Still, that sort of sum of money means the recipient has to deliver a return on the UFC’s investment. That sort of pressure is on every fighter within the organization, but at a time when the UFC is having to make some difficult and controversial choices about roster reduction, standing out like a sore thumb by being a high-dollar draw with a losing record is hardly advisable.There’s this pathetic rumor that some wish to see Lombard fail for whatever silly reason conspiracy theorists concoct. The truth could not be more dissimilar from that nonsense. Middleweight needs as many true contenders as it can get. Lombard, at one point in time, seemed like a safe bet. The truth is the UFC needs to give Lombard a tough bout in his next UFC contest. Either the guy is going to win his way into a contendership or he isn’t. If he’s not, the UFC needs to explore the option of giving him a new, less lucrative contract. Should that not be possible, then releasing him has to at least be an option on the table.All of this is to say the current path…

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