UFC & FOX Partnership Details Emerging

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s television deal with Fox, FX, and Fuel TV is set to last 7 years according to details of the arrangement publicized over the last few days. The new partnership will officially kick off with a November 12 fight card in Anaheim, California to be broadcast on FOX. The combatants who will represent the UFC will set the tone for the deal and also help the UFC make a major statement about the popularity of MMA compared to boxing. The show will air the same night Manny Pacquiao faces off with Juan Manuel Marquez as part of a Pay-Per-View boxing card from Las Vegas.

The FOX/UFC deal brings four major fight cards per year to the main FOX channel. The contract also calls for at least 32 live fight events airing on the FX network over the 7-year term. Two runs per year of The Ultimate Fighter reality show will also become a new fixture on FX. Pre- and post-fight coverage will move to Fuel TV along with some other unique UFC programming.

Spike TV will still be permitted to air past UFC content, but those rebroadcast rights are set to run out at the end of 2012. Though Bellator reportedly might be in a position to step in and fill the void on Spike left by the UFC’s departure from the network, their CEO recently affirmed his loyalties toward their current home on MTV2.

The Ultimate Fighter‘s first run on Fox next year will have a new flavor added to it by way of live programming. As a result of the latest twist to the show, the production will be rebranded as The Ultimate Fighter Live. Only the fighter training and life in the fighter house will be recorded for the first TUF season on FX. Live fights will be reserved for episodes airing on Fridays instead of the typical Wednesday night slot the show had on Spike. The reality show has a history of being produced and put in the can long before the start of each season’s actual airing. Fighters then had to sign multi-million dollar confidentiality agreements to prevent the results of fights from getting to the general public before the show’s official broadcast. Another wrinkle added to the show will be the training camps of the coaches getting some air time.

The most striking change to the TUF format involves an American Idol flair to the show with fans actually voting on who fights rather than the coaches getting that choice each week. The old format seemed to encourage mismatches since the choosing coach would typically try to match his fighter up with someone on the other team who wasn’t much of a threat. Fans should be more inclined to allow the best fighters to face off against each other. This move also allows the viewers to get formally involved in the show, which should heighten their interest in watching each episode.

Zuffa President Dana White once left the fight of the night bonus up to the public to decide at UFC 124. He immediately promised never to repeat the experiment after fans voting online selected the one-sided main event featuring Josh Koscheck losing a rematch to Georges St. Pierre. Other fights on that card featuring fighters who were paid lower purses and fought more competitive battles were stiffed as result. The TUF voting as part of the FOX deal won’t determine prize money distribution, but it will help decide what path each fighter has to take to get to the finale.

One aspect of the new deal that helped make it a reality is the UFC being able to retain their original production and programming staff. An earlier attempt to negotiate a deal with HBO collapsed due to a reported demand that HBO be allowed to insert their own staff as commentators and color analysts. Any Fox staff joining the mix in this deal will be secondary and supportive rather than front and center.

Though the primary beneficiaries of this deal are Fox and Zuffa, the entire sport of MMA is also likely to benefit from the greater exposure to the masses. “This partnership will be amazing an will bring the sport to the next level,” White promised at the press conference announcing the deal’s details.

One aspect of the deal is still a secret. The negotiating for those networks seeking to become the new home for UFC programming reportedly reached as much as $100 million per year before the UFC confirmed FOX as the winning bidder. Though the spotlight provided by the FOX coverage will benefit fighters, the extra $100 million might not result in padded fighter purses in the future for more Zuffa fighters.

The kind of cash infusion this deal brings should result in more of the best fighters getting closer to earning a million dollars or more for each fight. Fighters who are lower on the totem pole should also see their per-fight pay increased for their efforts. Many fans might be ecstatic about what the FOX partnership will mean for the sport and for Zuffa, but others are screaming for a fighters’ union. Multiple comments on breaking news stories across the web claim this deal opens the door for a union… the same door Dana White tried to shut by instituting a health insurance plan for all of Zuffa’s contracted fighters.

Due to the notoriously brash and biting management style Dana White exudes, not many fighters are willing to speak out about their treatment under the Zuffa banner. White is always saying he wants the UFC to be as popular as the NFL, but he still has a long way to go on that goal. Now MMA fights will be airing on the same network as NFL games. It’s time for Zuffa to up the contract ante. Fighters should start treating White like he’s Jerry Maguire and start screaming, “Show me the money!”

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