In an unexpected move, UFC President Dana White announced today via NBC Sports that UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will actually defend his title at UFC on Versus 6 in October. The challenger? Demetrious Johnson. Here are some extra details:
This will mark the first UFC title fight broadcast live and free on cable television since Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fought Dan Henderson at UFC 75 in Sept. 2007.
"Cruz cemented his claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport with an exciting win over Urijah Faber at UFC 132," White said. "He beat the one guy who had beaten him - he got the monkey off his back - and a lot of people think he’s going to go on to be unstoppable now.
"But he’ll be fighting maybe the one guy in the division who is faster than him. Johnson’s speed has seen him beat 10 of his 11 opponents, including a win over former champion Miguel Torres. The first Bantamweight Title fight in UFC history was the Fight of the Night – and the second one could be even better."
UFC 75 was once a record for MMA viewing on telelvision in North America, although has since been passed. Given that what made that bout a success was a combination of fighter star power, the roar of the UFC/MMA boom, and a lack of precedence, it would also be irresponsible to assume any title fight on free television would necessary be a ratings bonanza. It should be note,d though, the title addition provides heft to Versus cards that often lack bouts of true significance for anything but aspiring contenders or developing prospects.
Realistically, though, this is about exposing Cruz to a broader audience. The current bantamweight champion is problematic as a pay-per-view headliner (it is rumored, though not confirmed, Cruz's last headlining bout at UFC 132 drew less than 300,000 buys) and the UFC needs this exposure on free television to turn him into a more bankable commodity.
Locally, DC-area MMA fans might fill the larger Verizon Center given the lower price point for Versus-event tickets as well as the allure of a high stakes of a title defense.