The UFC has flirted with it for years, but this week the flagship MMA promotion finally inked a deal with a network television station.
The UFC and FOX held a joint press conference earlier this week to announce their partnership, which will extend to FOX subsidiaries like FX and Fuel TV as well. The deal brings with it some radical changes to UFC program formatting overall and will no doubt open new doors for the rapidly growing sport.
Though the UFC was very recently rumored to be coming close to deals with NBC and the G4 network (which they would run as an all-UFC station), UFC president Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta explained that the conditions of the deals just weren’t quite right and that FOX presented itself as the most viable partner out of all of their suitors.
“You guys have heard me say it for so many years: there’s been so many deals and so many offers out there and we would never take it,” White told MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani at the press conference. “I said, ‘We’re gonna do the right deal. When the right deal comes, well do it.’ I always wanted to be with FOX and this was the right deal. We got everything we wanted. We got to it the way that we wanted, we got to do it with the network that we wanted to be on — it couldn’t have worked out any better than this.”
It’s already been announced that the UFC’s landmark TV series The Ultimate Fighter — which aired for fourteen seasons on Spike TV and largely helped launch the sport and the promotion to prominence — will be radically reformatted to air on FX. The shows will be taped and edited each week, with the fights to be aired live. The coaches will conduct their training camps during the show and will fight immediately upon the conclusion of airing.
Fertitta told Helwani that he believes the deal goes a very long way to legitimize the sport of MMA, since they’ll be sharing a network with Major League Baseball and the NFL. He explained that, when FOX came with a deal that made sense, they jumped at the opportunity and are now in with the network for the long haul.
“Well, we always really felt like we wanted to be on network and, like you said, those other deals just didn’t make sense for us. Not just financially, but in a lot of different ways,” said Fertitta. “The reason this deal works, is because of what you saw here today. It’s not just, ‘Hey, we’re gonna throw a fight up in FOX and see if it works.’ This is a seven year commitment, at every level.”
For the fighters, competing live on a network that attracts such a large audience will be nothing less than a boon. As opposed to competing solely on pay-per-view, where a good show draws a million eyes, UFC fighters will have the opportunity to display themselves and the sport of MMA to an audience of over five million — many of whom may never have watched MMA otherwise.
“Well, for us, as a martial artist, it gives us the opportunity to perform on a bigger range of audience than we ever did before,” UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre told Helwani. “So, it’s very exciting for me to be able to perform on that level, on a bigger range of audience. It gives me a lot of butterflies.”
As opposed to the live fights on Spike TV, which usually featured less high-profile stars than the UFC’s pay-per-view broadcasts, White and company have pledged to put their very best in the cage against one another on FOX.
“I would definitely be interested in fighting (on FOX),” said current number one light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans. “Like Georges said before, it’s about having a chance to compete on that platform. With the audience and the demographic they can bring in and even having people view it for the first time. I would love to be able to compete on the network, on FOX.”
Much like FOX’s NFL, MLB and NASCAR broadcasts, the UFC will now put on pre- and post-fight shows and will sport an entirely new look. White revealed that the entire feel of the shows will change, with new graphics and the longstanding gladiator opening to be phased out in favor of a more mainstream presentation. For everyone involved, the feeling is that this is the next big step for the UFC and MMA into complete societal integration.
“We’re not second class anymore,” UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar told Helwani. “We’re right up there with the MLB, the NFL. We’re mainstream. I still think this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what this is gonna bring and lead to? The opportunities I think are endless.”
The UFC’s debut on FOX will come this November 12 and the ball will roll from there. UFC programming on the network will range from live fights, to the aforementioned pre- and post-fight shows, UFC countdown shows, the UFC Primetime and UFC Knockout series, Best of Pride, weigh-in coverage and much more.
Looks like MMA just hit the big time, folks.