With a star-studded line-up that includes top ten heavyweights Mirko Cro Cop, Andrei Arlovski, and Fabricio Werdum, the UFC's April 21st show in the United Kingdom is an event that many fans in the United States would have gladly bought on pay-per-view. Instead, due to an unforeseen chain of events, U.S. audiences will be able to watch the event for free on Spike TV.
The news, which was previously listed on MMAWeekly's Rumors page for UFC 70, has been confirmed in media interviews by UFC president Dana White, who told the Boston Herald that the event "will" air on Spike TV and told CBS Sportsline that the event "will probably" air on Spike TV.
White previously said that UFC 70 was Zuffa's target date for the company's first show on HBO. Privately, negotiations have been ongoing between Zuffa and HBO, but a number of sticking points have kept the two sides from reaching an agreement in time for UFC 70 to air on HBO.
Zuffa could not air UFC 70 on HBO without having an HBO deal, and Zuffa also could not air UFC 70 on pay-per-view because all of the PPV advertising deadlines for an April 21st event have long since passed.
This sequence of events left Spike TV as the only logical option as the U.S. home for UFC 70. Spike TV was interested in broadcasting UFC 70 due to the strong ratings that it is sure to draw, and Zuffa was interested in airing the event on Spike TV not only because there wasn't much of a choice, but also because it will build some goodwill with fans.
The event is scheduled to air live on Spike TV from Manchester, England on Saturday, April 21st, with the U.S. start time of the broadcast tentatively set for 2:00 PM Eastern Time (although that is subject to change).
The top four fights on the card are Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (with the winner fighting Randy Couture this summer), Andrei Arlovski vs. Fabricio Werdum, Ryoto Machida vs. Forrest Griffin, and Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic. All of those fights look excellent on paper, with the exception of the Bisping bout, as Sinosic has an MMA record of 8-9-2.
If there is a fifth fight on the live Spike TV broadcast, it would likely be Cheick Kongo's fight with Assuerio Silva. The complete line-up as it currently stands is listed at the end of this article.
Zuffa could have booked a United States pay-per-view date for UFC 70 while privately hoping to have reached a deal in time for the event to potentially air on HBO, as was the case with UFC 69. The fact that Zuffa never did book a U.S. PPV date for UFC 70 demonstrates how confident the company was that an HBO deal would be reached by this point.
Now, without a PPV date booked for UFC 70 and without an HBO deal in place, UFC 70 is set to air on Spike TV.
As a result, HBO has lost out on an event that would have likely garnered more interest than many of the lopsided boxing offerings that have aired on HBO recently, and Zuffa has lost out on millions of dollars in PPV revenue. The winner in this unusual chain of events is clearly the fans, who will be able to watch a PPV-quality event for free on Spike TV.
As for why Zuffa wasn't able to reach a deal with HBO in time for UFC 70 to be the company's first event on HBO, there have been a number of snags in the negotiations between the two sides.
Zuffa president Dana White has said consistently over the past eleven months that the UFC would be on HBO "very soon." However, while HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg has publicly said things like, "We're still measuring it, looking at it, and getting comfortable with the UFC" (which he recently said in an interview with trade journal MultiChannel News), Greenburg is said to be strongly against the UFC deal behind the scenes.
Acclaimed boxing writer Thomas Hauser wrote in an article on the Seconds Out web site in January that Greenburg had "opposed the UFC deal as vigorously as possible" and was doing "everything in his power not to televise mixed martial arts." In the same article, former HBO Sports president Seth Abraham actually compared MMA to "naked boxing." Abraham said that MMA would tarnish HBO's boxing heritage, a view that is shared by many people who still work at HBO Sports.
In an unprecedented move, HBO Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht actually veto'd HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg and insisted that HBO would air MMA programming at some point, leaving Greenburg only to negotiate the details of such a deal. According to Hauser, this move "represented a marked shift in HBO's corporate culture... in the past, an HBO chief executive officer would not have ordered sports programming over the objection of the sports department."
Left only to come to terms on the details, some of the key disagreements between Zuffa and HBO Sports have been whose production crew will film the event, whose announcers will commentate on the event, and how those announcers will go about commentating on the event.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer recently summarized the dispute as follows: "HBO wants full control of the product, and to use its crew and its announcers and cover it like a network broadcast team would cover a major sporting event. UFC doesn't want to give up its control of the product, wants its own crew to film it, and wants to use its own announcers, who are closer to pro wrestling announcers whose role is to build up the product as opposed to providing detached, objective commentary."
UFC 70 Line-Up
-Mirko Cro Cop (#2 Heavyweight in the World)* vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
-Andrei Arlovski (#7 Heavyweight in the World)* vs. Fabricio Werdum (#8 Heavyweight in the World)*
-Ryoto Machida vs. Forrest Griffin
-Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic
-Assuerio Silva vs. Cheick Kongo
-Dennis Siver vs. Jess Liaudin
-Alessio Sakara vs. Victor Valimaki
-Terry Etim vs. Matt Grice
-David Lee vs. TBA