Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 | 4:30 p.m.
UFC President Dana White sat through more pitches than a member of the Red Sox with a high walk rate two years ago when the company started the search for a new television partner.
Part of Fox’s message always stood out in his mind, though. Executives from the network detailed their plans to eventually launch a major all-sports channel to White and other members of the UFC brass, asking if the fight promotion would like to be a part of it.
“Hell, yeah, we do,” White remembered responding. “That would be awesome.”
Lofty ambitions become televised realities Saturday night when Fox Sports 1 debuts in homes across the country. The UFC is no complementary piece of the 24/7 network with dreams of someday rivaling ESPN, either.
It’s one of Fox Sports 1’s flagship franchises. The UFC hosts the first live sporting event in the channel’s history Saturday with Fight Night 26 at the TD Garden.
Beginning at 2 local time, Fox Sports 1 will air 6 1/2 hours worth of live fights capped by a light heavyweight main event between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Chael Sonnen.
White felt flattered that the channel wanted to open with a UFC card.
“They’re trying to help grow the sport,” White said. “They’re the most unselfish, unbelievable partners to be in business with.”
The UFC is currently in the second year of a seven-year deal with Fox. By the way White talks, the partnership could extend well past that.
He strongly believes Fox Sports 1 has what it takes to reach its long-term aspirations.
“Here’s what, if you’re ESPN, scares you about Fox: First of all, they’ve got money to go toe-for-toe for content, to pull in all the big sports and they’re smart guys — young and aggressive,” White said. “Are they going to dive in and do this thing overnight? No, but they’ve got the staying power and game plan to grow and build.”
White spoke with media members about Fox Sports 1 and much more at the UFC Fight Night 26 press conference Thursday. Read below for more notes from his session.
Political, union concerns pestering event
Some areas of Boston are inundated with swarms of bothersome green flies this time of year.
White is dealing with a comparable pest he says he can’t get out of his face in the town he called home for more than a decade — the Las Vegas Culinary Union and Boston City Council President Steve Murphy.
“They don’t do any damage but they’re a nuisance,” White said. “What makes me crazy is how transparent it is: You can see right through it and they don’t care.”
White said UFC Fight Night 26 encountered more regulatory resistance than any event the promotion has staged. He blames the hurdles on the current battle waged by the local Culinary Union against Station Casinos, owned by UFC headmen Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.
It all started in June when the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission strictly enforced a rule that all fighters, even foreign-born ones, had to get Social Security numbers to compete in the state. White wondered aloud why the same wasn’t expected of other professional sports.
Then, the Culinary Union filed complaints that Sonnen shouldn’t be licensed because of “moral turpitude” to bring about a last-minute meeting that White cursed.
Finally, Murphy and the Culinary are supporting a measure that would bar anyone under age 18 from attending a mixed martial arts card in Massachusetts. While it won’t affect UFC Fight Night 26, a vote on the law will take place next week.
“These kids have parents,” White snapped. “Who are you to try to parent other people’s kids? That’s not what you were elected to do. You weren’t elected to be other people’s parents, you self-righteous clown. Are you out of your mind? This Murphy guy is a stereotypical politician. He’s just a bad guy.”
Bellator pay-per-view event mocked
The UFC infamously counterprogrammed an Affliction Entertainment pay-per-view mixed martial arts card four years ago.
The promotion won’t do the same when Bellator Fighting Championships hosts its first PPV on Nov. 2 with a main event between UFC castoffs Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz.
“My video blog does more (expletive) viewers than their television show does,” White said. “I’m not feeling very competitive.”
White characterized Bellator as clueless and laughed at verbal shots taken by President Bjorn Rebney — whom White calls “Bjork” — at a press conference announcing Rampage vs. Ortiz.
“What are they going to talk about — that fight,” White asked. “‘Hey, you guys have lost your last 10 fights. How’s it going to go? Well, someone is going to win. One of our 0s has got to go.’ It’s the opposite of what you normally talk about. Obviously they need money and good for them.”
Rousey retirement prospects overblown
UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey created a firestorm last week when she revealed plans to retire from fighting in two years and focus on her fledgling acting career.
Fans harassed her on Twitter over the decision until she fired back by cursing at the “haters” and reiterating she would go forward on her own terms.
“She’s a little rough around the edges,” White laughed. “It’s part of who she is. She’s very aggressive, very emotional. I told her to tone it down here and there but it’s who she is.”
White emphasized, however, that there was no reason for fans to get worried. He’s skeptical of Rousey potentially walking away in a couple of years, even if roles in upcoming films “The Expendables 3” and “The Fast and the Furious 7” pan out as great successes.
“There’s no way in hell,” White boldly exclaimed. “I don’t care what Hollywood offers. They aren’t paying what we’re paying.”