October 14, 2010

UFC UKIt’s been 11 months since the Ultimate Fighting Championship last showed its wares in England. That’s a long drought after promoting three events there in 2008 and two in 2009.

The promotion’s most recent stop in the country was in Manchester last November for UFC 105, which featured UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture and Brandon Vera in the main event.

Saturday’s UFC 120 pits Britain’s own Michael Bisping against Japan’s Yoshihiro Akiyama at the O2 Arena in London.

The event will air on tape delay in the United States on Spike TV, and in the U.K. on ESPN. Despite the recent addition of Sky TV to its television partners, the UFC’s Marshall Zelaznik says that British events are still a ways off from a pay-per-view model, despite growing concern from U.K. fans that feel that’s what the Sky TV partnership indicates.

“Seeing how ticket sales went, seeing how the expo has gone, I can tell you that we’re very proud as a group as to what’s happening here in the U.K.,” said Zelaznik.

UFC 120 has reportedly reached sellout status of somewhere around 18,000 seats.

“Our TV partners here are ecstatic about how things are going here. It is certainly part of the foundation to grow the sport here with more events,” he added before denying that pay-per-view is anywhere in the near future for British events on U.K. television.

“Obviously everyone in the U.S. knows the success we have as a company on pay-per-view and in some other parts of the world, we’re on pay-per-view, but we’re in the early stages of a three-year deal with ESPN. (Adding programming on Sky) seems like a great opportunity to expose the UFC to a new set of sports fans.”

UFC UKExposing its product to more and more sports fans in the U.K. is an obvious step in the growth of the UFC brand there. And despite the near yearlong dry spell that Brits have recently suffered through, there is talk centered on a wealth of events in the coming year in the U.K. and Ireland.

MMAWeekly.com sources have indicated that the promotion is considering upwards of six events in the two countries in 2011, with a focus on slightly smaller venues in locals such as Liverpool and Nottingham, coupled with returns to Newcastle and Birmingham.

Zelaznik confirmed the commitment to expanding the UFC’s presence in the U.K. and Ireland, saying, “It’s really Dana (White) and Lorenzo (Fertitta’s) desire to hold more events here. This is our first in 11 months. It’s been far too long. We’re trying to figure out a business model that makes sense to bring more regular events here. We’re trying to put all those pieces together now.

“Dana and Lorenzo are committed to trying to make that happen here. Hopefully within the next few months we’ll have some big announcements about that.”