SAN JOSE, Calif. – Fresh off a day full of meetings to discuss international expansion, UFC president Dana White laid out ambitious plans Tuesday for future international live events and overseas versions of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show.
White, who was in town to promote the Nov. 19 UFC 139 event at the HP Pavilion, envisions multiple, simultaneous UFC shows, perhaps as early as February.
“When we go to Japan next year, we are going to be putting on a show at the same time in Las Vegas,” he said.
While he didn’t confirm the date, UFC is scheduled for a show on Feb. 26 at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. The show would take place in the early afternoon in Japan, so it would air in the U.S. on Feb. 25, a Saturday night, live in the usual 9 p.m. Eastern pay-per-view time slot.
When asked how the company was going to handle a dual-show evening from a television standpoint, White just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”
There have been multiple-location, pay-per-view events staged in the past, most recently for the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz bout in Las Vegas on Sept. 17. The co-headlining bout on that event was the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-Alfonso Gomez fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"We'll be doing a lot of that in the future," White said.
The most notable attempt was World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania II in 1986, which ran one-hour segments each in Uniondale, N.Y.; Rosemont, Ill.; and Los Angeles. The show was such a logistical nightmare that promoter Vince McMahon never attempted it again. But White, who didn’t know about the event that took place in 1985, said the idea of airing fights from another location into the live venue as part of the show was not part of the plans.
Among other ideas talked about for 2012 are market-specific “Ultimate Fighter” shows to develop and expose new talent, with plans to put together different seasons in the Philippines, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
As for how they’re going to pull that off, White admitted they haven’t hashed out the details yet.
“[UFC co-owner] Frank [Fertitta] asked me the same thing,” White said.
Brazil, in particular, is a big part of the company’s international expansion plans, coming off the success of UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 27.
It was recently reported in the Sao Paulo media that UFC officials met with mayor Gilbert Kassab and governor Geraldo Aickmin last week about doing a show next year at Cicero Pompeu de Toledo stadium, which holds 67,428 for soccer. That would be the largest venue UFC has ever run. If they could fill it, it would break the company’s attendance record.
White indicated the company is in talks with the city about running the stadium and was bullish on their potential in that city.
“We played it safe the first time we to Brazil to test things out running a 14,000-seat building,” he noted about last month’s show. “The first day, there were 350,000 people who requested tickets.”
“It’s crazy, I’ve got more Twitter followers in Sao Paulo than any city in the world, and I don’t even speak Portuguese,” he said.
White also indicated the company is looking at running live events in both China and India in 2012.
He also talked about the situation with the UFC and Spike TV, its cable television home since 2005. The relationship has taken on a unique turn with UFC moving to Fox and FX in January. The companies are still partners, with the final Spike season of “TUF” airing on Wednesday nights through December, and two more live events still scheduled on the station, the next being Nov. 5 from Birmingham, England.
However, Spike announced on Tuesday that it will air programming on Nov. 12 built around the biggest fights in the career of heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and top contender Junior Dos Santos. That would go head-to-head with what White called the main thing he’s spending almost all of his time working on, a live one-hour show on Fox with Velasquez defending against Dos Santos.
It will be the first time UFC is live on national network television, and White’s projecting there will be millions of people watching who have never seen a UFC event. It is conceivable that the closing rounds of the live title fight will go head-to-head with a tape on Spike of Velasquez’s win over Brock Lesnar.
White noted that the company is taking a huge financial hit by putting the Velasquez0vs.-Dos Santos fight on television and taking it off pay-per-view. He said running a money-losing event was an investment in MMA’s future. He felt boxing sacrificed its future when the big fights were limited to HBO and pay-per-view, which hurt that sport in attracting new fans – compared to the days when big fights would air on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” or USA Network’s “Tuesday Night Fights.”
White noted that Spike was involved in serious negotiations to keep the show, but he said the bigwigs at Viacom opted to pass on the deal, meaning Spike would lose its flagship programming.
“I’ve got nothing against Kevin Kay and [Doug] Herzog [the main decision makers at Spike TV]; that decision was made by people higher up on the food chain in Viacom,” he said. “Imagine the company that doesn’t want to keep one of the top sports franchises.”
A unique aspect of the UFC’s contract with Spike is that the network has the rights to all of the footage that has aired already aired on Spike through the end of 2012. They can and are planning on airing many years’ worth of the best UFC and PRIDE fights next year. However, they are also handicapped, because the contract does not allow them to air any other MMA programming until the end of 2012.
It has been expected that it is not a question of if, but when, the Bellator Fighting Championships would move from its current home on MTV 2 to Spike, a far stronger station and one that would greatly increase the brand’s exposure. The first hint was when the Spike.com website recently started live-streaming prelim fights from Bellator every Saturday night before the main card aired on MTV 2. But White said that legally Spike can’t pick up another MMA brand until it no longer airs UFC programming.
Bellator has become, almost by default, the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world, with Dream in Japan struggling to run shows, and Strikeforce being purchased by Zuffa earlier this year.
- Dana White