UFC, new Fox networks cast lot together

There was a time when Ultimate Fighting Championship events were barred from pay per view in the United States.

UFC president Dana White loves to tell stories of being in charge of a company that was such a pariah in its early days.

Pretty much anyone with access to a remote control could order a wide arrange of pornography directly into their home from the comfort of their couch through their TV, but the same people weren’t allowed the option to watch UFC fights.

Times have changed.

The organization landed a deal with Fox in 2011, and now the full impact of that partnership begins to come into focus as the UFC will be a cornerstone of the new Fox Sports 1 network, the company’s answer to ESPN, when it officially launches today.

“Obviously a huge, huge week for us and a huge week for Fox Sports,” White said. “We are truly honored to be the sport that they chose to launch Fox Sports 1.”

The organization is front and center today as a major UFC card airs live from Boston to coincide with Speed becoming Fox Sports 1. The channel will air on 329 on Cox cable, with the HD feed on 1329. The network also will be immediately available on DirecTV (219) and Dish Network (150), bringing it into 90 million homes nationwide.

UFC programming will be front and center on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, which will be the rebranded Fuel TV.

Fox Sports 1 will carry live events, as well as the “UFC Tonight” news program and “The Ultimate Fighter,” when the new season begins featuring coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate on Sept. 4.

“Fox Sports 1 is now the exclusive home of the UFC,” Fox Sports 1 co-president Eric Shanks said. “To have a show (like “The Ultimate Fighter”) that packs this kind of power and gives our viewers a raw, emotional look into becoming an MMA professional is reality television at its best. We can’t wait for the premiere.”

For now, it’s all about today. The network wants to start on a high note, and the UFC has done its part by offering a card that features some of its more marketable names.

Heavyweight Alistair Overeem, a popular kickboxer who was on the verge of a title shot before a stunning knockout loss to Antonio Silva in February, will fight Travis Browne.

Joe Lauzon, a lightweight who has won 12 fight-night bonuses in 14 UFC appearances, opens the main card against Michael Johnson.

Then there’s Conor McGregor. The Irish featherweight has exploded on the scene after a spectacular knockout victory in his UFC debut in April.

White, who says the hype surrounding McGregor is starting to compare to that of former heavyweight champion and top pay-per-view draw Brock Lesnar, saved the 25-year-old’s second appearance for this card. He will fight Max Holloway.

Chael Sonnen will fight former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the main event. Typically, Sonnen is the best self-promoter in the sport, and he has done his share of that with daily poems aimed at Rua and his fellow Brazilian fighters, but Sonnen was also quick to point out how impressive the lineup is for this event.

“I could hardly even focus on Shogun because I’m so excited to watch Overeem and Browne fight,” Sonnen said. “I can’t turn around and not hear about Conor McGregor. I’ve never seen him fight, he’s only fought one time and he’s getting compliments from guys that don’t give out compliments.”

The network has six hours of coverage planned, beginning with a pre-show at 2 p.m. The four-fight preliminary card, featuring McGregor’s fight against Holloway, begins at 3.

Six fights are on tap for the main card, beginning at 5 p.m. and headlined by Sonnen taking on Rua.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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