The Ultimate Fighter is credited with saving the UFC from becoming extinct. Now, TUF may go the way of the dinosaurs.
After 13 years, the future of the UFC's venerable reality show, which has long served as a feeder of new talent to the MMA juggernaut, may not survive the promotion's move from Fox to ESPN.
The UFC's television deal with Fox will have run its course at the end of 2018, but the fight promotion has already inked a new deal that will move the bulk of its programming to ESPN's linear networks and ESPN+ digital subscription arm.
Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series, which is also a talent search for the future Octagon talent, will make the move from YouTube to ESPN, but UFC president Dana White indicated that The Ultimate Fighter's future is very much in doubt.
"We don't know yet (if TUF will survive). We're coming up on the last season of The Ultimate Fighter (on Fox), we don't know. It might be the last one," White told MMAJunkie on Saturday at the UFC Fight Night 130 ceremonial weigh-in. "Thirteen years The Ultimate Fighter has gone. It's incredible."
Much of the UFC's programming, including at least 20 fight night events, will move to ESPN+, which cast a shadow of doubt about what the promotion would do with its own subscription service, UFC Fight Pass. White insisted that Fight Pass would not be endangered by the move, particularly when you put the deal into a global perspective.
The ESPN deal is only in effect in the United States, so Fight Pass will still be a resource for fans in many other markets around the world, even if American fans flock to ESPN.
"Fight Pass is gonna be the destination where the entire library sits. You can go in and watch whatever fight you want to and whatever other content is on there," said White. "And, this ESPN deal is U.S., so Fight Pass is the rest of the world."
Fight Pass is sure to take a hit to its subscriber base in the United States, but as White noted, with the infrastructure already in place, it still has a significant purpose globally.
The Ultimate Fighter, however, may have run its course.