Mike Thomas Brown thinks the UFC-Fox agreement will open doors. | Photo: Dave Mandel
The Ultimate Fighting Championship and Fox Broadcasting Company on Aug. 18 announced a seven-year partnership. The agreement places UFC programming on Fox’s flagship network four times a year, and the promotion will also be featured heavily on Fox-owned subsidiary FX.
While the deal may not profoundly affect the men eating at the top of the company’s proverbial food chain, other fighters expect to reap the benefits of the increased exposure inherent in the landmark agreement. Sherdog.com spoke to three such fighters following the announcement and gathered their respective reactions to the news.
UFC welterweight contender Charlie Brenneman, who has fought the entirety of his Octagon career on pay-per-view undercards and free events on Spike TV and the Versu network, expressed excitement and optimism about what the deal means for both the sport and the fighters.
“Let’s just say I hope I can get on a main card Fox event,” Brenneman told Sherdog.com. “This is just one more giant step in the evolution of the sport. I really hope this helps to legitimize our place as professional athletes.”
Fellow welterweight up-and-comer Johny Hendricks agrees with his former opponent, predicting that the promotion’s new relationship with Fox will pay dividends for fighters battling for limited spots on the UFC’s pay-per-view offerings.
“The UFC has so many fighters now who are trying to do everything they can to get on pay-per-view. Me and Mike Brown were both on the [UFC 133] undercard -- on Facebook,” Hendricks said, “but now, instead of having up-and-comers always being on undercard, [the UFC] can throw them on Friday night fights [on FX].”
Hendricks believes the UFC’s switch from longtime broadcast partner Spike TV represents an upgrade for the promotion due to the strength of Fox’s programming and its expanded audience.
“There are a lot of great shows on Fox already, so now the UFC has tapped into that mainstream,” said Hendricks. “What is on Fox all time? Football and baseball. The only [sport] on Spike TV was the UFC. Now, [the UFC] can broaden who they’re reaching out to. It’s pretty sweet. I’m super ecstatic about it. I might be fighting on free TV, but, now, it [will mean] huge exposure.”
As Hendricks mentioned, Brown is another fighter looking for more widespread recognition. The former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion, he fought for the organization for more than two years while being featured on Versus. The former champion netted his biggest audience in his 2009 rematch with Urijah Faber, which earned an average of 1.3 million viewers.
According to Brown, however, the live broadcasts of his fights only made up a part of the publicity puzzle. The American Top Team representative believes the replays of his Versus bouts contributed greatly to the increased fan awareness of the WEC, and he thinks the same will be true in the coming years with the UFC on Fox.
“On Versus, after a fight, a bunch of people might recognize you. But with the replay [schedule] on Versus, they would replay the event like five times, and so many more people pay attention [during replays],” Brown said. “Maybe [fans] didn’t see the fight the first or second time around, but they might catch it the third time and really become [hooked].”
The hope for many promoters, fans and fighters is that the deal will solidify the UFC as a major sports league, Ã la the NFL or Major League Baseball. Looking toward the future, Hendricks believes the time will come when that hope becomes a reality.
“I know the UFC has everything to compete [with the other major sports leagues],” he said. “If the UFC can tap into couple more fans, they might steal some from watching football or baseball. If that happens, the next thing you know, [MMA] is going to explode.”