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Remembering UFC on ABC: A Look Back at History and Look Ahead to Possible Third Show

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UFC on ABC made history the first time around, and the world is eagerly awaiting the next incarnation of this cherished combination of sports delight.

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport: The thrill of victory— and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

For over 35 years, this now-famous quotation spoken by the late, great Jim McKay of ABC Sports began the weekly athletic anthology series each Saturday afternoon in the winter, spring, and summer right after ABC’s coverage of the PBA Tour (itself a spin-off of Wide World of Sports) concluded.

ABC’s Wide World Goes Ringside and Paves the Way For UFC on ABC Years Later

If Wide World had been around long enough as an anthology series or as an umbrella title (the show’s last airing as an anthology series occurred in 1997, continuing as an umbrella title for most of the network’s sports programming, notably excluding Monday Night Football and college football until ABC Sports’ rebranding as ESPN on ABC late in the summer of 2006), one can safely bet that MMA would have been featured on the show.

This would have been a natural move for the Wide World to make, given that the show profiled some of boxing’s greatest fighters during their days as prospects.

Muhammad Ali Becomes Early Wide World Stalwart

One of the earliest boxers to appear on the Wide World of Sports and become a stalwart of the program’s boxing coverage was the greatest fighter in the world, Muhammad Ali (birth name Cassius Clay).

Ali won the first-ever boxing match televised on the Wide World almost 60 years ago, defeating Sonny Liston in a fight that took place on Feb. 25, 1964, and was aired on the program’s April 11, 1964, broadcast on a delayed basis.

The victory for the then Cassius Clay gave him the WBA and WBC Heavyweight Championships, and it was only the start of a lengthy relationship between Ali and Wide World, which included an infamous interview turned fracas between him and Joe Frazier on the program’s Jan. 26, 1974 telecast as they watched footage of their 1971 fight.

Muhammad Ali would appear in the Wide World throughout the 1970s before giving way to two dominant heavyweights of the 1980s and 1990s.

Tyson Becomes Wide World Mainstay in 80s and 90s

During the 1980s and early 1990s in Wide World of Sports, heavyweight action in the ring would sometimes be flanked by two stalwarts in the division, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

On the May 3, 1986, broadcast of the program, in a 10-round fight between Tyson, coming off of a postponed fight due to an ear infection and subsequent hospital stay, scored a unanimous decision victory versus James Tillis in Glens Falls, NY.

This fight was notable in that it was the first time in Tyson’s then-budding career in the ring that one of his bouts went the advertised distance (this was his 20th career fight.)

That July, Tyson fought Marvis Frazier, son of Joe Frazier, on Wide World, and although it was an advertised 10-round fight, it only lasted less than one minute, as Tyson scored with a vicious right uppercut to knock Frazier down and out in the shortest bout of his career.

During the June 1, 1991 broadcast of Wide World of Sports, an edited-for-broadcast-television version of Tyson’s March 18, 1991 pay-per-view fight versus Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, a 7th-round technical knockout by Tyson, was aired ahead of the rematch between the two pugilists later that month.

Tyson scored a unanimous decision in the rematch.

Evander Holyfield On Wide World

Not long before the Tyson/Frazier fight in the summer of 1986, Evander Holyfield fought on Wide World of Sports against Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA Cruiserweight Championship, winning by split decision.

On April 1, 1989, the edited-for-television version of Holyfield’s WBC Continental Americas Heavyweight Championship fight vs. Michael Dokes aired ahead of an interview with “The Real Deal.”

Dokes passed on in 2012 at 54 years of age, having lived the final days of his life in hospice before succumbing to liver cancer.

In March of 1993, Wide World aired the footage of Holyfield’s bout with Riddick Bowe for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World from the previous November, won by the latter.

UFC on ABC in 2021: the Story

After Wide World’s cessation as an anthology series in 1997, which saw some of Oscar de la Hoya’s earliest professional bouts air on the program, boxing continued to air on Wide World (now an umbrella title) until the spring of 2000 before the sweet science disappeared from ABC’s airwaves, with a planned 2007 card on ESPN on ABC never materializing and a partnership between ESPN and Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions ending before ABC could air a card.

In late December of 2020, it was announced that the UFC would air its first card on ABC on Jan. 16, 2021, live from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, in the same late afternoon timeslot that Wide World had aired in for 37 seasons.

Although the ratings for both of the UFC on ABC shows were less than stellar because of stiff competition from marquee sporting events on rival networks, the main events for both of those shows were spectacular affairs.

Max Holloway Pieces Up Calvin Kattar En Route to Emphatic Victory in UFC on ABC 1

In what some might have called a throwback to the days of boxing on ABC, former UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway proved to be no match for Calvin Kattar during the UFC’s first-ever main attraction on The Alphabet Network.

During the 25-minute bout, Holloway repeatedly and relentlessly teed off with punches on Kattar, with Holloway yelling out to his opponent:

I’m the best boxer! I’m the best boxer in the UFC, baby!

By the end of the fight’s second round, Holloway had landed north of 90 significant strikes and would have knocked Calvin Kattar out had it not been for the horn to end round two coming in the middle of a flurry of shots, with Holloway mixing it up by slipping punches and throwing close to 700 total strikes during the fight, breaking Kattar’s nose in the final round.

Marvin Vettori Takes Down Short-Notice Opponent Kevin Holland in UFC on ABC 2

Less than three months later, Kevin Holland stepped in on a week’s notice to take on Marvin Vettori in the headlining bout of UFC on ABC 2, with Vettori proving to be no match for Holland that afternoon.

By the time the third round of the scheduled five began, Marvin Vettori had already scored two of his 11 total takedowns on Holland, with the fight doctor questioning the latter as to whether or not he could see out of his eye.

Vettori’s 11 total takedowns in the fight set a UFC promotional record for that category in a middleweight bout, scoring the unanimous decision after 25 minutes.

Since then, it’s been slightly over one year since the UFC aired a card on ABC, but the wait could soon be over.

Potential UFC on ABC 3 Could Feature Chimaev/ Covington as Main Event

Recently, published reports indicated that UFC President Dana White is planning UFC on ABC 3 later this year.

Although no concrete date or host venue has been announced for the event, White did say that if Khamzat Chimaev won against Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 last weekend, Chimaev would then be targeted for the UFC on ABC 3 main event versus Colby Covington.

Stay tuned to Overtime Heroics as this story develops.

Final Thoughts

ABC has had a long, storied history in televising fights, a tradition that continued last year with two UFC events.

While the first two UFC cards on the network produced spectacular headlining bouts, could a third be headed our way?

Only time will tell.

Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images

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