by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
As a potential TV deal with HBO looms on the horizon, the UFC was mentioned for the first time on an HBO boxing broadcast this past Saturday night.
During the big-money Oscar de la Hoya pay-per-view broadcast, in the second-from-the-top fight between Kassim Ouma and Marco Antonio Rubio, legendary boxing trainer and HBO commentator Emanuel Steward mentioned that boxing cut-man Leon Tabbs also serves as a cut-man for the UFC.
Here is a rough transcript of how the conversation played out between Steward, HBO play-by-play man Jim Lampley, and HBO commentator Larry Merchant.
Emanuel Steward: “… and Kassim Ouma’s cut-man is Leon Tabbs. Leon is one of the last remaining elements from the old-school Philadelphia boxing scene. He’s a great cut-man. I think he’s also a cut-man in the UFC.”
Larry Merchant: “What is the UFC?”
Emanuel Steward: “That’s that Ultimate Fighting stuff, or whatever…”
Jim Lampley: “Ultimate Fighting Championship is the name of the organization that has drawn Marc Ratner away from the Nevada State Athletic Commission to be an executive for them… so Marc Ratner will be leaving the boxing world to work for the UFC.”
UFC-HBO Deal in the Works? What about Spike’s “Exclusive” Deal?
It may or may not be a coincidence that the UFC was mentioned for the first time on HBO just a couple of weeks after UFC president Dana White reportedly said during a Sacramento radio interview that Zuffa was in negotiations to strike a TV deal with HBO. During an interview in late April on “The Carmichael Dave Show” on KHTK- 1440 AM in Sacramento, White reportedly said that the UFC would “be on HBO very soon… it will happen.”
Zuffa’s television deal with Spike TV has always been called “an exclusive deal” by both sides of the agreement. In fact, when the UFC-Spike deal was renewed through 2008 just a couple of months ago, the exact wording in the Spike TV press release at the time was, “The deal positions Spike TV as the exclusive cable home of one of the fastest growing brands in sports, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, through 2008.”
Given that statement in the Spike TV press release, the only way that UFC programming could legally appear on HBO would be if the contract between Zuffa and Spike actually said that Spike TV is the exclusive “basic cable” of the UFC. That wording would specifically not cover a “premium cable” channel such as HBO or Showtime. Otherwise, any TV deal between the UFC and HBO would be legally impossible until at least 2008.
MMAWeekly asked a Spike TV spokesperson the specific questions of whether Spike’s “exclusive” deal with the UFC only applied to basic cable, and whether the UFC-Spike deal would prevent any UFC programming from being able to appear on HBO. The response from Spike TV was that they were choosing not to comment on this matter.
That is far from a confirmation that the UFC is in the clear to potentially sign a TV deal with HBO. However, if the actual answer to the question was, “No, the UFC is 100% exclusive to us and they cannot appear on HBO,” one would certainly think that Spike would have said something resembling that instead of refraining from making any comment on the subject. One would also think that White wouldn’t be mentioning a possible HBO deal if he knew it to be legally impossible.
While the UFC mention on HBO may have been planned if the two sides are indeed working on a deal, it could have also been a coincidence that came up purely because Emanuel Steward knows Leon Tabbs and knows that he works as a cut-man in both boxing and the UFC.
Even if it was just a coincidence, the mention of the UFC on an HBO pay-per-view broadcast does strongly indicate, if nothing else, that the signing of Marc Ratner to be an executive at Zuffa is already paying dividends. Ratner has been the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission for over a decade and is very well-known and respected in the boxing world.
Signing Ratner to become a vice president with Zuffa gives the UFC an instant boost in mainstream media awareness and credibility, which was reflected in the fact that his signing was the first thing that came to Jim Lampley’s mind when the initials “UFC” were mentioned.