CBS/EliteXC Saturday Night FightsThe MMA community will be holding its collective breath on May 31 when EliteXC’s debut event airs on CBS. The question on everyone’s mind has been whether MMA in general or just the UFC alone has experienced tremendous growth the last few years. EliteXC’s network debut will finally give us an answer. If ratings are poor, there might not be a second show. But if it’s a hit, MMA may well be on its way to mainstream coverage and recognition.

Fortunately, the expectations may be lower than anticipated, according to Adam Swift of

The results will be measured against “comp” ratings, i.e. comparable ratings from the same time slot and time of year. In that light, the bar becomes much lower with the bench mark being Saturday night during the summer, a traditional dumping ground for network television. Very early speculation around the industry suggests that anything approaching three million viewers would be considered a success.

The largest audience MMA has ever pulled on free television was Spike’s broadcast of UFC 75. It drew in 4.7 million viewers, with a ratings peak during the Quinton Jackson/Dan Henderson main event of 5.6 million viewers.

Kimbo Slice, the headliner for the CBS event, is arguably more popular in North America than Rampage Jackson and Dan Henderson combined. However, the margin of popularity between EliteXC and the UFC is staggering at this point. So, the question becomes, will Kimbo Slice and EliteXC be able to pull in as many viewers as the UFC? If the ratings come back strong, EliteXC will emerge as the number two promotion in mixed martial arts.

Considering Kimbo and Gina Carano’s popularity among the general public, I believe three million viewers is very achievable. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the event shattered that number. By the same token, I think it’s important to point out how critical how those two fighters are to its success. A lot of MMA purists are complaining that Kimbo doesn’t deserve to be in the main event. I certainly agree, but EliteXC doesn’t have a Chuck or Randy. They have someone who has huge draw power and at the end of the day it’s all about how many, not which, people tuned in. New viewers count just as much as diehard fans in the numbers race. Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith just aren’t capable of carrying an event, at least not yet. What’s fair will eventually work itself out.

On a side note, the second show will take place on July 26, assuming there is one.