The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is currently one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It’s also being billed as ‘the most exciting sport in the world’ so you’re in for a treat when the UFC comes to Bravo, Live and Exclusive from October 8th at 10pm with UFC 55 with UFC highlights throughout October on Saturdays and Sundays.
Las Vegas shows are currently attracting audiences of 15,000 and stars such as Donald Trump, George Clooney and Pamela Anderson are fans of the sport. Reality TV show ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ attracted audiences of 10 million viewers in the States and on the internet, UFC was the second most searched for term on Yahoo in April 2005.
Ultimate Fighting has come a long way since its dubious beginnings in 1993. In 2001, the UFC brand was bought out and reinvented with the help of current UFC president Dana White and the sport is now officially sanctioned in the US by several state athletic commissions. Today the UFC has become the premiere mixed martial arts event in the world and the modern version of the sport incorporates judges, weight classes, five minute rounds and, most importantly, light-weight gloves and mouthpieces. Drug and steroid testing is also mandatory.
White’s long term goal is to supplant boxing as America’s martial art. ‘Boxing has become your father’s sport’ he says. ‘Ultimate Fighting is what the the new generation is watching – the most extreme of extreme sports. We have the entertainment value of pro-wrestling and the realism of boxing’.
White could well have a point. The athletes who compete in the UFC events have all reached the top in their individual disciplines (including several Olympic competitors) and commentators have been quick to note that the sport is gaining momentum simply because there are so many ways to win which adds a huge amount of excitement value. Takedowns, throws, punching, kicking, knees, elbow strikes and submission holds can all lead to victory in the ring. This makes the fights as much of a mental chess match as a physical contest, attracting many competitors (and fans) who like the strategy and skills on display almost as much as the fighting itself.
The sport recently gained added momentum and profile via a hugely successful reality TV show – ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. The series, which chronicled the lives of 16 fighters competing for a six-figure contract to join the UFC, attracted 10 million US viewers to its live final and was certified as the most watched show on Saturday for men in the 18-34 year-old demographic.
British fans were introduced to the sport when Ultimate Fighting Championship launched on Bravo in September 2004.
The channel have now have secured a long term deal for the exclusive rights to all the UFC pay per view events until the end of 2006. Bravo plan to develop the brand in the UK further via the exploitation of the UFC back catalogue of fights that span the last five years.
Channel Editor David Clarke comments ‘other UK broadcasters are betting that boxing will soon return to its former glories however we fully believe that there is a huge potential audience for UFC programming in the UK. Ultimate Fighting is no longer a minority past time for disaffected teenagers and is now a sport that appeals to everyone from the Hollywood glitterati to the man on the street’.
That’s the introductions over, now onto our interviews with UFC President Dana White and the current Light-Heavyweight Champion, Chuck Liddell, beginning with Dana (well he is the boss).
So just why did Dana, who has a background in boxing and wrestling decide to get involved with the UFC? “Well actually it was when I got involved in Jiu Jitsu. I met some athletes from the UFC and liked it. I wasn’t quite sure what style it was but I thought it was like a human chess match.”
Since Dana took over the UFC has gone from strength to strength, what’s the secret of his success? “We had a really good game plan for the first five years of competing. We also did a lot of PR, a lot of people who like UFC get to know about it through word of mouth. They see it on TV but they haven’t really seen it until they’ve seen it live.”
Dana is on record as saying that UFC will become more popular than boxing and pro wrestling, can that really happen? “It’s the most exciting sport in the world. Our PPV’s are already beating the ratings for Klitschko and Ruiz (two of the current World Heavyweight Boxing Champs).” Part of that success is because of the variation of the sport with its kicking, punching, elbowing etc.
Next month sees UFC 55: Fury which takes place on Friday October 7th, what can we expect to see at this show? “We have a great thing at Fury, our Heavyweight Champion, Andrei Arlovski defends his title against Paul Buentello and Forrest Griffin, who won TUF1 fights Ian Freeman, that’s two exciting matches.”
What about current Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell who’s also come over to the UK to help promote the deal with Bravo? “He has his next match in February when he’ll be taking on Randy Couture in a rubber match.”
Dana dreams of the day when the UFC is bigger than WWE and he’s already ruffled the feathers of Vince McMahon with his comments on professional wrestling. So what does he really think of Professional wrestling? “It’s obviously competition, but I have nothing but respect for Vince McMahon, he’s a fantastic businessman but he’s competition. The fact is that the question people will be asking is whether they want to watch a real fight or WWE…WWE isn’t a sport, it’s largely a soap opera.”
So just how pleased is Dana with the new deal with Bravo? “We’re happy to be on Bravo, they’re a great media partner. They’re also offering our PPV’s free which Americans have to pay for. We hope to give them more programmes and more live fights in the UK.”
TUF1 has already been a great success and TUF2 is on its way, are there more great fighters on their way to UFC? “We do have a lot of up and coming fighters. TUF1 as created some new stars and has exposed some new talent. One of the things I’m doing in the UK is to look for new fighters.”
Some UFC fights are known to last for less than a minute, is that really entertaining? “It depends on the fight. Some do go only one minute but others can go for twenty five minutes. If it’s a case of the fighters staring at each other for twenty five minutes that’s not a great fight.”
Time up for my chat with Dana so it’s over to former accountant and now UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddel. Does he miss being an accountant I wonder? “No, it wasn’t much fun. I love what I do and I get paid for doing something I love. While it’s doing that I’ll carry on fighting.”
So how did Chuck get into UFC? “I was wrestling in college and also did some kickboxing. Someone said I could go fight in the UFC and it mixed everything that I did. I just fell in love with the sport.”
Like I said to Dana, some fights last under a minute and it took less than three minutes for Chuck to win his title from Randy Couture, so how do you prepare for something that could be over so quickly? “You have to be ready to go twenty five minutes, if not you’re not in good shape. I know that I can stop someone early but if it doesn’t end early I know I can go longer.”
One of Chuck’s greatest victories was over Tito Ortiz but a rematch looks a distant hope as Ortiz is now going to the professional wrestling world and TNA, how does Chuck feel about that? “Well perhaps he doesn’t want to get knocked out again! He can stay there, he’s a clown anyway.”
I get the feeling that Chuck isn’t a great fan of Pro Wrestling. “It’s different but it’s not for me. Those guys are actors and trying to get an acting career. I know they do some tough stunts but they’re just stuntmen not fighters. Shamrock did it as well but it’s not for me.”
Chuck has beaten and lost to Randy Couture, February sees the rubber match and he can’t wait. “I’m excited about it and I’ll prove that it wasn’t a fluke. I didn’t get lucky, I’ll KO him again. He gave me a rematch when he didn’t want to so I’ll give him one as well. It’ll be a good fight.”
So once he’s seen off the challenge of Couture, who else does he want to fight? “Main challengers? I don’t know. There’s a lot of guys”.