UFC lines up blue-chip sponsor

The Ultimate Fighting Championship landed its biggest corporate sponsor today with the announcement of Bud Light as the exclusive beer sponsor of both the UFC and its sister promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting.

"Landing Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light is huge for us, our fighters and especially our fans," said UFC president Dana White. "We've got the No. 1 selling beer in the world and one of the top marketers in all of sports as our sponsor. If our TV ratings, pay-per-view buys and venue sellouts weren't enough, this definitely cements UFC as a major player in sports business.

When White was on a CNBC special last year about mixed martial arts and being given credit for the success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it was noted that a major hurdle his company had yet to overcome was getting blue chip corporate sponsors.

White said the company was doing fine on its own and didn't necessarily need anything like that.

"I knew at the time we were going to get this deal," said White. "It takes so long to get these deals done."

Bud Light's insignia will appear in the center of the mats in UFC and WEC cages as well as on bumpers during UFC pay-per-view events, in the background at weigh-ins and press conferences, as well as being the presenting sponsor of at least two pay-per-view events per year. It will also be the official beer sponsor of UFC Fight Nights on Spike.

The deal goes into effect with UFC 84, which takes place on May 24 from Las Vegas, headlined by B.J. Penn vs. Sean Sherk, Tito Ortiz vs. Lyoto Machida and Wanderlei Silva vs. Keith Jardine. It will also be the official beer sponsor on all WEC events on Versus.

"UFC has developed a huge following in recent years and is wildly popular with the 21-to-34-year-old fans we want to reach," said Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser Busch, Inc.

"The number of people attending live events, buy the pay-per-views and talking about UFC around the water cooler continues to grow. It's just a great place for us to be."

White said Budweiser will also aid in marketing and publicizing the events and gives the company more power in garnering television deals by bringing the major sponsor with them to the table.

Bud Light joins Harley Davidson as the company's major blue-chip sponsors.

The announcement follows the official announcement that the April 2 live event from Broomfield, CO, will be a live three-hour special. According to Brian Diamond, Senior Vice President of Spike TV, the special was in response to UFC fans contacting the station because the 12-match show featured so many interesting match-ups, and is filled with names developed on Spike's Ultimate Fighter series.

The live fights will feature former TUF winner Nathan Diaz vs. Kurt Pellegrino, Houston Alexander vs. James Irvin, Karo Parisyan vs. Thiago Alves, Matt Hamill vs. Tim Boetsch and a main event featuring Boston natives and TUF alums Kenny Florian vs. Joe Lauzon. Diamond said they hope to be able to broadcast at least seven fights within the three-hour window. Preliminary matches include Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, Spencer Fisher vs. Marcus Aurelio, Roman Mitichiyan vs. George Sotirpolous, Din Thomas vs. Josh Neer, Clay Guida vs. Samy Shiavo, Tommy Spear vs. Anthony Johnson and Manny Gamburyan vs. Jeff Cox. Maynard, Mititchiyan, Sotiroplous, Thomas, Spear and Gamburyan were on recent seasons of Ultimate Fighter, Edgar is an undefeated top lightweight contender and Guida, another lightweight, is among the company's most popular fighters because of an all-out style that resulted in two of the company's best matches of 2007.

The special, which has already sold out the 6,700-seat arena, airs 7-10 p.m. Eastern time, preceding the debut of the new season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. The show, featuring coaches Quinton Jackson and Forrest Griffin, has about a week left in filming. After it concludes, Jackson will defend the light heavyweight title against Griffin on July 5 in Las Vegas. The hope is with 13 weeks of the two competing with each other, which will include one episode where the two nearly get into a fight, that it will be the biggest pay-per-view event up to that point of 2007. The formula has worked in building big matches in the past, most notably in 2006 when a Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock match coming off the series did 775,000 buys, still the second best figure in company history.

Diamond said they will take the Ultimate Fight Night shows on a case-by-case as to whether to go three hours or the previous two hours.

White also said that Brock Lesnar, whose debut on Feb. 2 led the company to one of its most successful pay-per-view events in its history, losing to Frank Mir, will have his second UFC fight in August. No opponent has been named but the leading candidate appears to be Justin McCulley.

He also said the most anticipated WEC match thus far, a featherweight title defense by Urijah Faber against Jens Pulver, will take place this summer from Sacramento as a live special on Versus.