Saturday Night's Big Fight: Boxing vs. UFC

Pacquiao vs. Marquez - H 2011

Combat sports go head to head, with Manny Pacquiao on HBO pay-per view and mixed martial arts on Fox free TV.

Saturday night's alright for fighting, is how the song goes, and tonight marks a unprecedented clash between boxing and mixed martial arts that begins on television at 6 p.m. Pacific time.

In what has to be considered the biggest prize fight of 2011, Manny Pacquiao faces Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time in their careers. The match, for Pacquiao's World Boxing Association welterweight title, is live on HBO pay-per view ($65 for the high-definition broadcast) from the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, on free TV, Fox will have the first Ultimate Fighting Championship bout ever to air on a broadcast network in primetime. The fight, between heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Brazilian Javier Dos Santos, takes place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The MMA fight serves as an appetizer for the $700 million Fox-UFC seven-year deal that kicks off in January and brings the often violent sport — which features elements of boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, judo, etc. — into the mainstream (at least the UFC hopes so).

Fox will broadcast four primetime fights a year, another six will air on sister cable network FX, and the reality show Ultimate Fighter moves from Spike to Fox cable as part of the deal.

On Saturday, Fox cable outlet FuelTV has hours of analysis leading up to the Velasquez-Dos Santos fight on big Fox, and all manner of Fox personalties — from NFL of Fox analyst Michael Strachan to Sons of Anarchy stars — were to be on hand for the bout.

There's a school of thought that interest in boxing is waning while mixed martial arts is gaining. All the big boxing matches are on PPV, while the UFC, which does about one PPV event a month, is moving into free TV for the first time.

Pacquiao's previous fight, in May against Shane Mosley on Showtime PPV, brought in about 1.4 million PPV buys. A Terra Nova rerun on Fox last Saturday in the same time slot as the UFC bout attracted 1.9 million households; Fox could be looking at triple that audience tonight.

"Once the pay-per-view model came out, boxing stopped putting big fights on free TV, and I think it damaged the sport," UFC president Dana White told reporters this month. "So our goal is to bring big free fights back to television."

He acknowledged the UFC is going "to take a hit on the pay-per-view side for a big fight like this. But we're thinking long-term for the future of the sport and making the sport bigger."