The UFC will enter a new era when its event schedule resumes Jan. 16 on traditional broadcast TV.
From 2005-2011, Paramount Network, originally known as Spike TV, was the unofficial home of UFC events that were considered free Fight Night cards. It was also home to linear and shoulder programming, such as The Ultimate Fighter and UFC Unleashed. In addition, it hosted preliminary card broadcasts that were shown ahead of a pay-per-view event, encouraging fans to purchase the cards on a monthly basis.
After a six-year partnership that ended on good terms, the promotion made a major splash, as it decided to move its programming to the FOX family of networks in Jan. 2012. This included more non-pay-per-view numbered UFC events on FOX and FS1, sometimes on a weekly basis, along with shows like UFC Tonight and UFC Ultimate Insider.
Upon parting ways with FOX, the UFC landed a blockbuster deal in Jan. 2019 with ESPN and ESPN+, as the No. 1 sports network became the new distributor for all pay-per-view events, meaning that fans could no longer order the fights through cable or satellite.
With streaming and cord-cutting becoming the way of the future, the UFC added another milestone to its long list of accomplishments. UFC Fight Island 7, which is headlined by a featherweight tilt between Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar, will be featured on ABC. It’s the first time since Dec. 2018 that the promotion will air an event on network TV, marking the end of a nearly two-year hiatus.
This is big news for the sport, as the UFC will once again try its hand at broadcast TV. Its original plan began with a 2011 teaser card that featured Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos as the main event for the heavyweight strap. The one-hour special, which only showed the title fight, drew 5.7 million viewers, the second-highest free TV rating for an MMA event at the time.
ABC and ESPN have been in partnership for a long time, specifically with coverage of the NBA Finals, Monday Night Football, the IndyCar series and so much more. The addition of the UFC is a natural one, considering how close both of them work together.
With ABC and the UFC coming together, the tandem has a chance to have a larger impact than FOX ever did. Since the UFC is always on the ESPN platforms, the promotion will reach a wider audience with pay-per-view teasers on an ABC broadcast. Because millions of people receive the channel through an antenna or basic cable, it is likely that more eyeballs will recognize the product.
ABC will also have the ability to promote UFC events across multiple different sports that air on the network. This is similar to when an advertisement is shown during a college basketball game that promotes an NFL Wild Card game, encouraging fans to tune-in on the day of.
The UFC and ABC will likely produce future events
According to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, the UFC and ABC hope to frequently collaborate throughout the promotion’s time with ESPN. At the moment, there are no other events where ABC is a major factor in the broadcast.
ABC's move to carry UFC fights next week is not a one-off. Nothing's on the schedule, but the network remains a viable option for future MMA events.🔒https://t.co/pkXdujXnwW🔒 pic.twitter.com/gBWmh1G0a2
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) January 5, 2021
With ABC’s wealth of experience putting on major sporting events, including high-profile boxing matches in the mid-20th century, there is no doubt that the UFC should draw a large audience with how accessible the network is to millions of people.
Fight Island will kick-off with a bang, literally and figuratively, as it hopes to reinvigorate the sport and start the new year off with a clean slate before fans can finally return to all sporting events in the near future.
Only time will tell how successful the partnership will actually become, but we will soon find out.
UFC Fight Island 7 takes place on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, live from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Follow along with FanSided for all your live news and highlights.