The UFC will make their eagerly anticipated debut on FOX this evening, but they won’t be the first MMA promotion to appear on network television.

In this article we’ll look back at three previous attempts to bring mixed martial arts to a wider audience that failed to deliver.

1. Elite XC: Primetime

This event will always be remembered as setting the benchmark for an MMA event on primetime TV, pulling in 4.3 million viewers on CBS, peaking at 6.5 million for the main event between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson.

What went wrong?

While it might have been a TV ratings hit the millions that tuned in were not treated to a night of fights that reflected well on the sport as a whole.

The main event was sloppy as you’d expect from two low-ranked heavyweight’s and ended prematurely in bizarre / grotesque fashion when Thompson’s badly cauliflowered ear was burst open by a punch from Kimbo.

The show also ran on for three quarters of an hour longer than it was supposed to.

Could the same thing happen to the UFC tonight?

Obviously Velasquez Vs Dos Santos is on a completely different level from Kimbo Vs Thompson so the actual technique and skill on display should be high and reflect well on the sport.

A freak injury is undoubtedly something the UFC will be hoping to avoid though it’s something that could happen and is completely outwith their control. Most likely would be an unintentional groin shot or eye poke, though it’s very rare that injuries like these would be serious enough to end a fight.

Timing issues shouldn’t be a problem here since FOX opted only to show one fight live during their hour long broadcast.

Elite XC: Heat

Elite XC returned to CBS in October of 2008 with Kimbo Slice once again headlining the show as they looked to capitalize on his enormous popularity with a fight against over-the-hill MMA legend Ken Shamrock.

What went wrong?

This event turned out to be a disaster before it even began as Shamrock pulled out injured on the day of the fight leading to a last minute scramble to find a replacement.

In the end the pink-haired former TUF contestant Seth Petruzelli was drafted in and promptly TKO’d Kimbo with a jab in just 14 seconds, bringing an abrupt end to the backyard brawlers hype train and unbeaten record.

This was the worst case scenario for EliteXC who had been riding on Kimbo’s coat-tails and the company folded soon afterwards.

Chances of this happening to the UFC tonight?

Well, it’s certainly plausible that one of tonight’s headline stars could have to pull out on the day of the fight. A stressed-out UFC president Dana White admitted earlier this week that he didn’t want to even think about that as a possibility given the magnititude of this event.

It’s also a concern that after all the hype the fight may end in the first 10 seconds, particularly given how heavy-handed the two fighters are.

However, the UFC has no fears about finding themselves in a similar situation to EliteXC. Regardless of whether Velasquez or Dos Santos wins they’ll have a credible champion that they can promote going forward, and unlike the ill-fated EliteXC they also have plenty of other star performers at their disposal.

Strikeforce: Nashville

After Elite XC’s demise CBS decided to gamble on MMA on primetime again via the Strikeforce promotion, and in April of 2010 they hosted their second event with the company with a title fight between newly signed star Dan Henderson and middleweight champion at the time Jake Shields taking main event honors.

What went wrong?

The fact that Henderson lost was a body-blow for Strikeforce who had hoped he would be their next big star, but that wasn’t so much of a problem than what happened immediately afterwards.

As the triumphant Shields conducted his post-fight interview in the cage Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller suddenly snuck into the cage and took the mic, requesting a rematch with him. Members of Shields camp, including the Diaz brothers and Gilbert Melendez didn’t take kindly to this and a riot erupted while the cameras continued to roll.

These dramatic, but distasteful scenes were a bad advert for MMA on mainstream TV, and when the ratings finally emerged revealing that the show had sub-par ratings it brought to an end Strikeforce’s brief stay on the network.

Chances of this happening to the UFC tonight?

It’s highly unlikely there will be a riot in the cage tonight. For one thing Velasquez and Dos Santos are mild-mannered, while Dana White rules the promotion with an iron fist so everyone knows if they step out of line they’ll be thrown out of the promotion.

Poor ratings are something that everyone fears though and even FOX execs are reluctant to name a ballpark figure for tonight’s show as they don’t want to jinx it. Most analysts expect it to at least draw level with the Kimbo Slice events on CBS, but it’ll be an anxious wait until we find out for sure.