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ESPN to broadcast 42 live UFC events starting in January

Updated May 23, 2018 - 6:40 pm

ESPN is going all-in on UFC programming for at least the next five years.

After announcing a deal to stream live fights on ESPN Plus this month, The Walt Disney Co. and UFC have reached a deal to air at least 10 live events per year on ESPN’s networks.

ESPN reported the entire rights package cost the network $1.5 billion over the five years. Variety first reported the deal on Wednesday morning.

The agreement, which takes effect in January, calls for ESPN and ESPN Plus to be the exclusive U.S. digital and linear distributor of UFC events with at least a portion of 42 live events per year across ESPN’s platforms.

That number includes 20 full fight cards on ESPN Plus, 10 main cards on ESPN’s broadcast networks and 12 pay-per-view preliminary cards on the networks. Preliminary cards for network cards will be streamed on ESPN Plus.

The events will be branded UFC on ESPN Fight Night and UFC on ESPN Plus Fight Night.

“ESPN’s unparalleled multimedia platform is the perfect home for the UFC and will deliver tremendous value to both parties,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “UFC fans are passionate and loyal, and we plan to bring the full power of ESPN’s live coverage, powerful storytelling and unmatched distribution to serve them in an unprecedented fashion.”

ESPN announced it will bring a variety of UFC content to its networks, including content from the organization’s library, reairs of pay-per-views and a 30-minute special breaking down each pay-per-view event.

“Every year for the last 18 years, we have taken this sport and brand to another level,” UFC president Dana White said. “We find innovative ways to promote our athletes and build stars. Today is another monumental day for UFC, our athletes and our fans.”

The UFC’s deal with Fox Sports ends in December. More than 120 events have aired between Fox network events and Fox Sports 1, beginning with a heavyweight title bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos in November 2011.

“Fox Sports has enjoyed an amazing partnership with the UFC over the last seven years,” a statement from the network read. “As Fox Sports was planning the launch of FS1, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta were the first partners to believe in the idea and vision of the new network. We look forward to finishing out 2018 with more exciting live events and wish the UFC continued success.”

Fox reportedly has reached a deal to bring “WWE Smackdown” to the network beginning in fall 2019.

ESPN Plus is a streaming service available for $4.99 per month. Along with live events, it will be home to an extensive library of UFC programming, prefight and postfight shows, live weigh-ins and “UFC Countdown” episodes, as well as “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.”

The UFC’s online platform, Fight Pass, still will be available. It also will be available to purchase through ESPN Plus, where consumers can purchase and view UFC pay-per-view events.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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