The Ultimate Fighting Championship inked a seven-year deal with network television giant Fox on Aug. 28, 2011. The UFC was gaining ground and had built its popularity by showcasing mixed martial arts to audiences around the world.
As part of the agreement, Fox held the rights to four live UFC events per year, along with other shows like “Road to the Octagon,” UFC Fight Night and “The Ultimate Fighter.” The programs would air on various Fox properties, including Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fuel TV and FX. With the contract set to expire at the end of 2018, the question now centers on whether or not the UFC will stick with Fox or find another broadcast partner.
The UFC-Fox relationship has produced plenty of defining moments. Here are five of them:
1. The Debut
Despite being a one-hour show, UFC on Fox 1 became the most-watched mixed martial arts event in history, as 8.8 million viewers tuned in on Nov. 12, 2011. It featured a heavyweight title bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, with the latter knocking out Velasquez in just 64 seconds. The show set the record for the highest-rated MMA event on network television in the United States, shooting past CBS’ EliteXC “Primetime,” which featured Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson against James Thompson in 2008.
2. Sign of the Times
There are happenings that hint at potential disaster, and UFC on Fox 27 was one of them. While most agree not all main events are created equal, some just leave you scratching your head. Ronaldo Souza and Derek Brunson met for a second time, as they drew headlining duty on Jan. 27 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a solid matchup on paper, but it did not fare well with the public. UFC on Fox 27 garnered only 1,770,000 viewers, eclipsing the previous all-time low of 1,983,000 set by the Demian Maia-Carlos Condit helmed UFC on Fox 21 in August 2016. Won by Souza via first-round knockout, the UFC on Fox 27 main event pulled in 2,224,000 viewers, lower than the 2,874,000 the Demetrious Johnson-Wilson Reis headliner at UFC on Fox 24 drew in 2017. Those are not the numbers the UFC wants to see with its next TV deal hanging in the balance.
3. Deal or No Deal?
The exclusive negotiating period between Fox and the UFC expired in October, giving the promotion the opportunity to look elsewhere for broadcasting partners. Fox reportedly offered in the neighborhood of $200 million per year -- roughly twice the amount it agreed to in 2011 -- to renew its contract with the UFC. However, the UFC hopes to quadruple its original deal to around $450 million for 10 years. The rumor mill has also churned with the possibility of splitting the package between two or more networks and giving digital powerhouses like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Twitter a piece of the pie.
4. From the UFC to WWE
With the UFC-Fox relationship up on the air, the network appears to be setting its sights on another acronym: WWE. Those familiar with the situation believe that Fox wants to pair World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Monday Night Raw,” which steadily produces north of three million viewers, with the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.” With both the UFC and the WWE seeking $400-plus million deals, sources claim that Fox is determined to “pass on [the] UFC” and “use Raw for Fox broadcasting and FSI content.”
5. An Uncertain Future
The UFC has no official home beyond 2018 yet, but that figures to change in the coming months. What does the future hold for the world’s most prominent mixed martial arts organization? Will it turn to boxing for a much-needed boost? Conor McGregor stepped outside the Octagon and into a ring to box Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August. Shortly after the multi-million-dollar fight, UFC President Dana White broached the idea of getting into the boxing business. If the UFC wants to bring back its glory days, most believe it first has to find a suitable host for fights, reinvigorate its television ratings and create new stars to replace the Anderson Silvas, Ronda Rouseys and Georges St. Pierres of the world.