When Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen debut as coaches on Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” this January on FX, it will not be on Friday night.
Network executive Chuck Saftler revealed the news on Wednesday during a media conference call. While Saftler did not disclose which night of the week will house the UFC’s reality show, the executive did have a specific message for rival cable network Spike TV, which previously partnered with the UFC to broadcast the first 14 seasons of “TUF” from 2005 to 2011.
“The show is going to move off of Friday nights,” said Saftler. “I can’t confirm the day right now, but it is definitely moving to a weekday. There will be an announcement on that sometime in the next 30 to 45 days.
“But I will say that Spike should watch their ass.”
Spike and the UFC ended their relationship at the conclusion of last year. However, the cable network retained the rights to broadcast UFC content through 2012 and has done so successfully. Spike will once again launch live MMA content this January, when the Viacom-owned station airs Season 8 of the Bellator Fighting Championships.
“Clearly, Spike has been dogging us for most of this year with the launch of [Seasons 15 and 16] of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ by trying to create viewer confusion and scheduling old episodes against ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and trying to pass it off as new content,” said Saftler. “They will be out of the UFC game effective in January. They’re going to try to launch their own reality show that competes with ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ or does very similar things with their Bellator product.
“I’m just saying that we’ve watched how they behaved, and we’re well aware of their behavior and how they’ve acted competitively,” Saftler continued. “I’m not ready to commit to [saying we will go head-to-head with counter-programming], but we will certainly be watching how they schedule, what they schedule and who they schedule.”
Since moving to Friday nights on FX, “TUF” has seen a ratings decline, as evidenced by the most recent episode of the series netting an all-time low 624,000 viewers. While UFC President Dana White denied that Jones and Sonnen were selected as coaches this season as a way to boost ratings, Saftler nevertheless expects the results of the move to be favorable.
“We were absolutely monitoring the Friday situation and we want to see if there's a day that can work better for the show,” Saftler said. “Certainly with Jones and Sonnen as the coaches for this upcoming season, we have probably the best casting that we've seen for this show. And we have really high expectations for what the ratings will be as a result. We think we can move off of Friday, and with the casting, we have very, very big expectations for the ratings. They should be epic.”