LAS VEGAS -- UFC
president Dana White isn't known as a man who suffers slings and arrows gladly, but Spike TV's recent slights against his organization are so brazen that even White has to smile with begrudging admiration when the topic comes up.
"I said last time I did an interview and we were talking about it, negotiating is never fun. ...And even though you're negotiating in good faith and doing all this stuff, you know, you're still giving some kicks to the balls here and there," White said with a wry smile.
For Spike, those kicks have come in the form of some not-so-subtle recent programming decisions.
Once the UFC's most valued TV partner, Spike's contract with the UFC is now coming to an end
. Judging by its decision to counter-program last Sunday's UFC Live event on Versus and then premiere the UFC 132
"Countdown" show at the conspicuously unhelpful time of 1:12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Spike seems to be firmly in the process of waving goodbye to the UFC and slamming the door shut behind it.
"I see Spike's side," White said when asked to comment on the network's recent moves. "That's what I would do too, and you guys know I would do that."
At the same time, White insisted that the UFC has no new TV deal as of yet, despite reports that it's looking to essentially have its own cable channel by purchasing an ownership stake in the G4 channel
, and said that the UFC has not yet ruled out the possibility of staying with Spike in the end.
"Again, what The Wall Street Journal
put out and what everyone is saying, none of that stuff is true. People are out there speculating about what's going on. We have no deal with anybody. We're out there talking to everybody. So I don't buy into that stuff, but when deals are done and everybody does what they're going to do, then we'll see what happens."
But a source at Spike, speaking on the condition of anonymity, indicated that the company has essentially abandoned any notion of a new deal with the UFC, since it believes the UFC is "very close to a deal with G4."
"They want their own channel, and this is an opportunity for their own channel," the source said.
As for the programming moves, it's "pretty obvious why we're doing what we're doing," the source said, but it hasn't resulted in any animosity between UFC and Spike employees.
"We're all just doing our jobs," said the source.
But just because the UFC may be moving on, that doesn't mean Spike will be content to get out of the MMA business altogether. It has reportedly shown interest in a deal with Bellator
, which currently airs on MTV2 and is thus, as the Spike source pointed out, already "in the Viacom family."
White downplayed those rumors in conversations with reporters this week, but it's no secret that the UFC president is known to go after competitors with a gusto. With Spike sending the UFC out on a sour note amid talk that it might partner with Bellator down the road, does that mean the cable channel has just picked a fight with the UFC?
"They might've," White shrugged. "We'll see. ...I owe you one, Spike."