Today is the five year anniversary of the TUF 1 finale and the Stephan Bonnar vs Forrest Griffin fight that changed the sport. After so many years, I must admit I’ve gotten a bit tired of hearing Dana White sing the fight’s praise, and found it a bit easier to make fun of Stephan Bonnar, saying he doesn’t deserve a spot in the UFC. But today it’s worth saying: the truth of the matter is if it wasn’t for that fight and both guys’ balls to the walls performances, there wouldn’t be much MMA around for us to shit on and make fun of.
MMA Fighting marks the occasion by sharing info on how close the UFC came to losing it’s SpikeTV deal until Griffin / Bonnar changed the channel’s mind:
As usual though, the mainstream media was slow to jump on board. But they weren’t the only ones; even the UFC’s broadcast partner was hesitant about the future potential of the show. Because of a management shakeup at Spike, the cable company would not commit to anything past that first season despite the strong ratings.
In an effort to broker an extension, UFC President Dana White had been traveling back and forth to Spike’s New York office, but due to the chaos in the office at the time, he was suddenly persona non grata.
“They went radio silent,” White said in a 2008 interview. “People were hiding in their f—ing cubicles because everyone thought they were going to get fired over there. I’m flying out there, sitting in the lobby for hours. They didn’t want to see me. They wouldn’t even meet with me.”
Among the 2,950 audience members at the Cox Pavilion that night were members of the new executive team from Spike, and so enthralled were they with the action of the fight and the reaction of the crowd that immediately afterward, they walked with White into a back alley behind the arena to hammer out the basic parameters of a new, two-year deal.
The rest of the media industry took notice when ratings information was released that indicated an average of 2.6 million viewers watched the event, with 3.3 million tuning in live to the Bonnar-Griffin bout. The figures represented a huge number for a cable sports event. USA Today ran a lengthy feature on the company the next day, and the UFC was off to the races.
It’s pretty crazy how individual events can become total game changers – that fight turned the UFC’s fortunes around and set the stage for their explosive growth over the past years. A lot of other promotions have banked on the idea of getting on tv and recreating that magic, but I’m kinda doubtful they can. It’s a different time now – mixed martial arts is no longer this strange rare thing you never see on television.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be more major moments that will take the sport to new levels, but I think they’ll come in the form of mega-events that channel the momentum and popularity already gained by the UFC. A show in Madison Square Garden. A stadium show. And with the help of fighters willing to put it on the line rather than play it safe, I’m sure we’ll have more Griffin / Bonnar moments. Unless of course we start having more boxing moments. You know what I’m talking about.