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Monday, August 19, 2013
Boston foray delivers on all fronts

By Josh Gross
ESPN.com

Mixed martial arts is one of the most exciting and captivating competitions in the world, and no one produces it better than Zuffa.

Among television milestones during the Fertitta/White era, five hours straight on Fox Sports 1 was easily the most extravagant and, in terms of the action in the cage, best to watch.

The bouts were competitive, and fighters moved with a sense of urgency. I tweeted on Saturday that this card, headlined by Chael Sonnen and Mauricio Rua, felt like the yin the UFC 33's yang. Pressure to perform was high in late September 2001, too. That was the return of UFC to cable pay-per-view, a big deal at the time, but it turned out to be a total flop. The fights stunk. Almost all of them went the distance, and it dragged out so long that the broadcast was cut off during the main event.

It's hard to imagine Zuffa, well-oiled machine that it is in 2013, screwing up so badly in a pivotal moment. But it did. Yet a few months later at the Bellagio -- the only ballroom show Zuffa has done -- the promoter, three years shy of producing the debut "Ultimate Fighter," delivered the first MMA fight to air on US cable TV.

UFC 37.5, not 33, offered a glimpse of things to come. Then Spike TV happened. "The Ultimate Fighter. " Live "Fight Nights." Fox and network television came next, which led to the weekend offering in Boston. Ten fights over five hours. That's an enormous commitment and statement on a network's opening night.

Fighters up and down the deep card showed up to fight, producing several show-stopping sequences as the event unfolded.