SAN JOSE, Calif. — If nearly 9 million people tuned in to Fox on Nov. 12 to see the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s network television debut end in just 64 seconds, just think of how successful the telecast would have been had Saturday night’s thriller between Dan Henderson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua been chosen to headline the event.
UFC president Dana White would rather not picture that scenario.
White said while the hardcore fan base viewed the epic UFC 139 bout as potentially one of the best in mixed martial arts history, the mainstream viewers might have been turned off by the pure brutality of the 25-minute main event.
"If that fight that happened (Saturday night) went on Fox for the first time ever, let me tell you what, I would not be having a good time these last five or six days," White said late Saturday night after Henderson’s win by unanimous decision. "Those of us who are in this room, and people who have been watching this for a long time, just incredibly appreciate what those two did in there, and you can understand what they went through and what’s going on.
"The rest of the world would go, ‘Oh my God. What was that?’ "
White said part of transitioning into mainstream with the network television deal is easing new viewers into the sport. Henderson and Rua’s bloody battle might not have been too palatable to first-time viewers.
White pointed out that fans and many members of the media who cover MMA are too entrenched in the sport to realize how it is viewed by the masses.
"The big thing is to go on network television and not have Fox flooded the next day with phone calls saying, ‘Get this (expletive) off of TV,’ " White said.
Many in the sport were already busy trying to put Saturday night’s fight into historical context. Fighter Stephan Bonnar called it the best he had ever seen; White said it was in the top three of all time and referred to it as the UFC’s version of Ali-Frazier III.
Websites and social media platforms were deluged with instant analysis on the fight’s place in history.
The bout overshadowed what was a very good night for Las Vegas fighters, both at UFC 139 and on the Bellator card across the country in Hollywood, Fla.
Bonnar, Wanderlei Silva and Martin Kampmann each picked up pivotal victories on the main card in San Jose.
Bonnar won for the third straight time, though the fan-favorite was actually booed after grinding out a win with a dominant ground performance over Kyle Kingsbury.
"I’ve got thick skin. It’s his hometown and a lot of people expect bloody fights from me, but I found something that worked and I stuck with it," Bonnar said. "I was tempted to listen to the crowd and let him up to make it more exciting and go for fight of the night, but there’s no way I would have topped that (main event) anyway, so I’m so glad I didn’t."
Silva knocked out Cung Le and put a hold on talk it was time for him to retire.
"It’s wonderful. My last fight was embarrassing," Silva said. "This is a great moment for me."
Kampmann earned a split-decision victory over Rick Story after two straight controversial losses to cap a great night for his gym, Xtreme Couture.
Earlier in the evening, his teammate Mike Chandler submitted longtime champion Eddie Alvarez on the Bellator card to take the lightweight title.
"I’m so happy he got the win. He’s a really good kid, and I look forward to watching his fight (on tape)," Kampmann said. "He’s a heck of a fighter. He’s got heart, he’s got wrestling, and he’s only getting better. I can’t say he’s a future champ anymore because he is the champ. He’s the man."
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.