UFC president Dana White admits to feeling some prime-time pressure as the mixed martial arts juggernaut readies for its Fox network debut.
The first show is set for Nov. 12 with Cain Velasquez defending his heavyweight title against Brazilian banger Junior Dos Santos.
Unlike other UFC televised shows, the one-hour Fox special will feature just one fight — a five-round title bout that most think will end long before its 25-minute limit.
The fight appears to be the least of White’s concerns.
“I’m confident in Junior and Cain,” White told a media conference call Wednesday. “We made this fight the first fight on free TV for a reason … This is going to be an awesome fight.”
While bullish on Fox, White is more worried about getting the production values right.
“It’s going to be a completely different format than we’ve ever done before,” he said.
“We’ve been doing this over 10 years now,” White added. “The day of an event, we rehearse the thing like we’ve never done it before — every time. Saturday, when I do (UFC 138) in England, we will rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.
“So you can imagine the fact that we’ve never done this before and we’re adding a lot of new things to this Fox show, we’re going to be rehearsing this thing like crazy. We’re going to start rehearsing on like Thursday to pull off this fight on Saturday (Nov. 12).
“We’re kind of using our model in what we do as far as shooting and producing fights and Fox’s model for how they handle and cover sports.”
The show, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., will air live in 16 countries, including Canada.
A notorious control freak who monitors everything from promos to fighters’ walkout songs, White acknowledged that the fledgling Fox partnership has him somewhat out of his comfort zone.
“Yeah, it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been worried about ‘are we’re going to pull off this production’. I’m always a freak about making sure we give people the best product, but the fact that we’re going to be rehearsing things from Thursday, there’s definitely a lot of pressure here to pull this thing off and make this great.”
“We’re going to nail this thing,” he added, in case anyone had any reservations.
Nerves aside, White is revelling at seeing his sports showcased on network TV.
“I guarantee you nobody knows more than I do how hard it was to get this sport off the ground and to get people to take these athletes and the sport seriously,” said White, who often likes to say it was easier to get porn on TV than MMA when Zuffa took over the UFC in 2001.
“To finally be watching Fox NFL or the World Series or whatever it might be and to see spots and commercials about our fight airing on Fox, it’s definitely the proudest moment I’ve ever had in being in this business.”
“Also it’s about time,” he added, citing the skill, intelligence and work ethic of elite MMA fighters.
“I think that’s what makes me the happiest, to finally see these guys on the same level as all the other athletes and respected the way that they should be.”
The UFC resisted past network offers because it did not want to give up its tried-and-true production practices, including its on-air talent. And White reiterated Wednesday that he would never sign a network deal if it involved giving up control of the production.
But he said he welcomed input from Fox boss David Hill.
“He’s revolutionized football, NASCAR and everything else he’s put his hands on. So I have a lot of respect for him and I like his input and his ideas. It’s been great.”
White said the UFC bottom line will take a hit initially by airing fights that normally would have been on pay-per-view on free TV instead. But he sees it paying off in growing the brand.
“It’s an investment in the company. In no way, shape or form do we come anywhere close to making our money back (on TV). You don’t go on free television and make your money. It’s just now how it works.
“Yeah we’re going to get smashed on this fight but it’s an investment in the future of the business.”
Former ESPN anchor Jon Anik will serve as the UFC’s commentator on Fox.
Fox is offering its traditional back-to-back episodes of “Cops” leading into the fight, which will be followed by local programming.
As part of the Fox deal, the reality TV show “The Ultimate Fighter” will move from Spike to FX next spring. An open audition for Season 15 for lightweights (155-pounders) and welterweights (170) is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Las Vegas.
The FX version of the show will feature live fights and a rejigged format.
White also plans international versions of the series, starting in Brazil, and hopes to match the winners in a World Cup-like tournament.
Additional UFC content will feature on Fox’s family of channels, including four to six live events annually on FX.