LAS VEGAS -- Since UFC president Dana White
announced that the UFC 125
prelim fights will air on the ION network,
there's been some speculation that the promotion's contractual situation with Spike opened the door to a new home.
That theory is right, but not in the way some people think. While contract extension negotiations between the UFC and Spike continue, it was actually the existing agreement between the two that made the ION deal possible, as White explained.
White said the deal came about after Spike was offered a chance to broadcast the fights but declined.
"They can't take them," he said. "We have a deal, X amount of prelim fights, and there's always gaps. It's never been that every prelim fight is shown on Spike. It never was."
White noted that just last month, the company showed prelims on their own website instead of Spike. Several other events have had no prelims aired on Spike.
This time, though, the UFC actively searched for a broadcast partner. Because of the existing UFC-Spike deal, however, the UFC can't shop the fights around to another cable channel. But ION is considered a network, and the Spike contract doesn't restrict the UFC from airing fights on network TV.
That is why White and the UFC reached out to ION, beginning talks that will end up in fights airing on the channel for the first time.
"I said, 'How do we get this thing on television?'" White said. "You're not going to put [the prelims] on NBC or CBS, so we took a shot, called these guys and started working with them. They were awesome, and every fan that wanted to see the prelims should be doing Diego Sanchez 'Yes' cartwheels down the street. We got it on free TV."
ION is available in nearly every household in America, though it doesn't have a major national reputation. According to the most recent Nielsen ratings, it was the second-least watched network on TV, with its weekly average of 1.5 million viewers besting only the CW Network, which had 1.1 million. By comparison, first-place CBS averaged 7.1 million viewers per night.
Its low Q-rating brought about some criticism from fans, but White put his cards on the table, noting he was giving fans free fights on free TV that should be easily accessed by the masses.
"I go out and make this deal, and then fans are like, 'What's an Ion?' 'They don't have HD.'" he said. "Too f---ing bad. I got it done. They're on TV. They're available on over 100 million homes. I got you the prelims."
The two companies haven't planned anything beyond this test run, but it carries enough risk as it is. White plans to fit three fights (Marcus Davis vs. Jeremy Stephens, Josh Grispi vs. Dustin Poirier, and Phil Baroni vs. Brad Tavares) into a 60-minute block, something that may backfire if fights run long. It's a chance he's willingly taking.
"My production guys are ready to blow a fuse," he said. "If all three of those fights go the distance, it doesn't work. We're over the time. But we're going to go for it, man. I like trying new things and we'll see how it works out. I either look like a hero or a zero on Saturday night."