From early 2007 until January 2013, Showtime was one of the most visible players in mixed martial arts broadcasting.
The dissolution of Strikeforce marked an end of an era for the premium cable network, however according to Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza, Showtime's absence from the MMA scene will only be temporary.
"I definitely want it back. I think we, as a company, want it back," Espinoza said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
"We're going to be very careful because, being completely candid, there's a lot of MMA programming out there already. And the real question for us is, if we're going to get back into it on the programming side, what is going to be the compelling reason for us to do so? What's going to be different about the organization that we're involved in, as the way we present the sport? Because if we're just going out there to put more hours of MMA television on the air, I don't think it makes sense."
Espinoza's desire for something unique leads to obvious questions about the most unique of the visible major promotions in the current MMA landscape: all-female organization Invicta FC. Espinoza opened the door for a potential partnership, although he made it clear that any talk at this stage is simply conjecture.
"If there was an obvious choice or a clear choice about getting back into MMA, we would've done it already," Espinoza said. "But I agree that, probably the highest visibility, probably the most noteworthy promotion that's distinguished itself out there, other than the ones aligned with TV networks, is probably Invicta.
"The UFC relationship (with Invicta FC) is absolutely not a problem, whatsoever. I still run into those guys, from the Fertitta's, to part of their management, from Lawrence Epstein to Peter Dropick, and it's friendly. It was a situation that didn't work out, but bygones are bygones. It was a strange situation that no one really created in and of themselves, so you move on and look for the next opportunity."
Aside from Invicta, Espinoza revealed that Showtime is more than willing to scour the world in search of its next opportunity to dive back into the sport.
"We have looked at some of the international promotions, and there's a lot of talent there," Espinoza said. "It would be something new and different. But there's challenges with marketing non-English speakers, in particular. There's additional costs with doing non-U.S. events. So there's a lot to consider, but we still want in and we're still looking around very carefully."
Espinoza is quick to emphasize that Showtime currently isn't in serious negotiations with any promotion. However, when asked to name the biggest goal left on his checklist, he can't help but admit it would be "figuring a way back into MMA."
To that end, Espinoza hopes to get a deal done relatively soon.
"Look, there's always new talent. We always keep an eye out for amassing more boxing talent, but I liked having a well-rounded combat sports program," Espinoza concluded. "I think there's a lot to be said about being able to market, promote both audiences at the same time, with both types of combat sports.
"Certainly the summer is out of the question. That doesn't give anyone sufficient time to really ramp up. So it would either be late this year or in 2014, unless lightning struck and a deal fell into our laps that made sense immediately. I think more likely it's late 2013 or 2014."