Fox just secured the rights to air mixed martial arts fights, marking the sport's official entry into the mainstream
Ultimate Fighting Championship is coming to network television. Calling it the "world's fastest growing sport," which creates the "heroes of a new generation," Fox Sports and the UFC announced a seven-year deal Thursday which, starting in November, will put four live UFC fights a year on Fox and 32 live fights on FX, including 24 in conjunction with two seasons of the UFC's reality show The Ultimate Fighter. Before the Fox deal, UFC fights had been aired on basic cable channel Spike.
Why is this deal so significant to American sports?
First of all, it shows that the sport Senator John McCain once called "human cockfighting" has replaced boxing as young America's fighting sport of choice.
"Through greed, boxing has become an afterthought," David Hill, Fox Sports Chairman, told me after the press conference. "UFC is relevant. Boxing is one-dimensional, and the UFC is three-dimensional."
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It is difficult to argue with him. Other than Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, boxers are becoming less recognizable, and talk with males ages 18-34 and UFC fighters have become their favored gladiators: outsized figures because of their athleticism, but also slick marketing, recognizable weight classes, and the "Ultimate Fighter," which tells the fighters back stories, creating interest in young fighters' careers. Young men also identify with the fighters who are often educated (many fighters have been collegiate wrestlers), and reject the cartoonish nature now associated with top boxers. UFC fighters are also required to fight anyone. The biggest possible fight in boxing—Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao—has been in hopeless negotiations for more than a year, and looks like it may never happen.