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UFC Gaining Momentum Outside Cage in Germany, but Battles Loom

Jorge Rivera def. Nate QuarryWhen the UFC took its maiden voyage to Germany in June 2009, it faced media criticsm, negative publicity and outright scorn, the likes of which the company hadn't experienced in several years.

The bad press was in fact quite similar to what the promotion encountered during its dark days in the US, and UFC 99 headliner and longtime veteran Rich Franklin agreed, saying he was hearing the same questions he'd endured 10 years earlier. At one point, things got so bad that the mayor of host city Cologne tried to ban the event from taking place.

The second time around, it's been smoother sailing.

"There was no controversy whatsoever regarding UFC 122, absolutely none," said Marek Lieberberg, a major German event promoter who has served as the UFC's co-promoter for both UFC 99 and UFC 122. "Either politically or elsewhere, there was a deafening silence in that respect."

Lieberberg noted that after last year's event, the city of Cologne ordered an official report to assess the UFC's performance and impact during event week, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. That report shot down the theories of many who had previously postulated that the event might lead to some sort of chaos, in the cage or around the city.

"The report was nothing but an A-plus for UFC in every respect," Lieberberg said. "The finding on how the event was staged was full of praise by the independent reporter on behalf of the city. I think that threw out a lot of polemic arguments against UFC and hopefully UFC 122 is just another stepping board to this becoming something more regular and normal, and I think [UFC UK president] Marshall [Zelaznik] and the UFC is committed to breaking this market and showing their face in this market."

While the PR for UFC 122 has been much more to the UFC's liking, the company still faces a battle to get their product in front of the eyes of maximum viewers.

Similar to last year's event, UFC 122, which takes place in Oberhausen, has a strict policy prohibiting entry into König Pilsener Arena to those under 18 years old.

In addition, the UFC is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Bavarian regulatory state agency BLM, which earlier this year pulled the rights of sports network German Sports Television (now known as Sport1) to broadcast UFC events after ruling them "unacceptable by the sheer massiveness of the portrayed violence."

Unlike the US, which has a federal commission (the FCC) that oversees television programming, Germany has licensing authorities in each of its 16 states. The UFC could choose to seek licensing in another state which would allow it to broadcast throughout the nation, but that's a decision the company sees as short-sighted.

"We've had interest from some other networks within Germany but I think the smart thing to do is to get these lawsuits resolved and then go on to the next step," said Zelaznik, who added that the company is in the midst of filing its next round of papers related to the lawsuit and hopes to have a final decision in 6-12 months.

In the meantime, the UFC continues to air all its events for free on its own German-language website and recently reached a deal with German sports site as its official media partner to ensure continued coverage.

Not surprisingly, Zelaznik took an opportunity during the UFC 122 pre-fight press conference to note the worldwide television clearance of the event, an ironic observation given it can't be seen on TV in its host country.

Saying it would be the most widely distributed German-hosted event since the country hosted the World Cup in 2006, he said the event would be available in 140 countries and to 500 million people.

"The UFC is becoming very international, if you haven't been paying attention," he said.

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