by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White has stated several times that he is working both on a deal to televise the UFC on premium cable channel HBO and to get ESPN to provide coverage of the promotion.
It seemed that the UFC was on the verge of an HBO deal when Larry Merchant, who is an integral part of the channel’s boxing coverage, told Pedro Fernandez of RingTalk.com in late 2006, “People look at it [UFC] as real wrestling. And next year HBO and Showtime, they both will test the waters and see if this works. I don’t know what Showtime is doing, but we’ll do four and see how it goes.”
Showtime has already aired one MMA event, EliteXC this past February, and in an announcement earlier this week is expanding their reach by expanding their MMA affiliations to include K-1, BodogFight, Strikeforce, Cage Rage, and Spirit MC.
On Thursday of this week, Variety.com (a leading reporter of news in the entertainment industry) published an article about HBO’s interests in getting into the mixed martial arts game.
Variety spoke with HBO’s Chris Albrecht, who said, “We are talking to the UFC and looking at ways we can distinguish ourselves in that area.” But although Albrecht affirmed HBO’s interest, he stopped short of committing to future programming saying, “If we decide to be in the mixed martial arts business, we’ll make sure it’s as distinctive as everything else HBO does.”
Being distinctive could be the hanging point of the deal with the UFC. Speculation has been that HBO wants to use an independent telecast team that is impartial to the promotion, while the UFC would prefer to use their proven team headed by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.
Variety also verified that ESPN, the unchallenged leader of sports coverage in the United States, confirmed “that it has held exploratory talks with the UFC to [secure] some rights.”