With Bellator MMA settling into its role as mixed martial arts' second-biggest organization, is UFC President Dana White concerned the tournament-based promotion may soon be nipping at his heels, especially with the help of Spike TV? It sure doesn't seem that way.
"They're never going to be as good as us," UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "This is what we do 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Christmas. Easter. Let Christmas time come. Viacom shuts down from Dec. 3 to after the new year and then all the big holidays in between. Christmas? I'm on the f---ing phone on Christmas. Easter? I'm on the phone. Thanksgiving? I'm on the phone. Bad s--t happens in our business every day, and if something real bad happens, I'm on a f---ing plane on Christmas Day flying to fix it. That's the difference between us and everybody else.
"Nobody's ever going to outwork us or outhustle us. That's just never going to happen. It's impossible."
Launched in 2009 as Bellator Fighting Championships, the California-based promotion promised a new kind of organization that would rely solely on tournaments to produce champions and contenders, effectively taking politics out of the matchmaking equation. The company developed a small following despite bouncing around from ESPN Deportes to FOX Sports Net to MTV2 in its early season.
At the time, the notoriously competitive White largely elected to ignore Bellator's efforts, even pointing out the need for smaller promotions to give talent a place to develop before ultimately making it to the UFC. But that attitude has changed in recent times.
In 2011, the UFC left its longtime cable home of Spike TV in order to sign a lucrative multi-year deal with FOX, which brought the promotion to network television. That left a hole in Spike TV's programming lineup. Parent company Viacom quickly addressed that need by purchasing a majority stake of Bellator and shifting the promotion to Spike TV airwaves the moment existing contracts allowed.
While that move certainly must have irked White, it was Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman's claim to the New York Times that "in airing UFC fights and reality shows, Spike really built UFC from almost nothing" with which the UFC boss really takes exception. After all, while Spike TV did, indeed, air the original season of "The Ultimate Fighter" – the program largely credited for launching the UFC's current popularity boom – the network did so only as a time-buy agreement.
"We're the original," White said. "We invested in this thing and believed in it when nobody else did. Viacom MMA, they're just a 'me, too.' They didn't believe in this thing when we pitched them 'The Ultimate Fighter.' They didn't believe in it so much that we had to invest $10 million into that show, and then they liked it a lot better after that happened. But they never got it, and they never will."
Both the UFC and Bellator are in the middle of key projects and product changes. Bellator's live events are in a bit of a holding pattern during a two-card "Summer Series" session ahead of fall's Season 9 lineup. However, they recently launched "Fight Master," a new reality competition series that borrows elements of "The Ultimate Fighter" while also offering its own twists on the concept.
Meanwhile, the UFC will see all of its cable programming switch in August from FOX-owned channels FX and FUEL TV to the soon-to-launch FOX Sports 1 channel, which White believes will prove hugely beneficial to the promotion.
But White said he doesn't view Bellator MMA as competition. With his programming now alongside mainstream sports like the NFL and Major League Baseball, White said that's where his focus lies. After all, when you're setting venue records for live gates, the scope of competition changes."
"We just beat the Rolling Stones in Winnipeg," White said. "I'm not just trying to beat Viacom MMA or any of these other guys. I want to beat the f---ing Rolling Stones. I want to beat Major League Baseball on Wednesday night if they're going head-to-head with us in the timeslot. I want to beat the NFL someday. I want to beat everybody. I want to win."
So far, White's track record is pretty solid. WIth 12 years in charge of a company that was once bordering on bankruptcy and now boasts billion-dollar valuations, the UFC boss said it's those roots in the sport that will keep the UFC in its current position as industry leader.
"What makes us different than all these other MMA guys is we got into this thing when nobody else believed in it," White said. "There were very few fans. The first pay-per-view we produced did 17,000 buys. That's how many fans were out there. It's not like we didn't spend the money and market it or get it out there, but 17,000 people bought the pay-per-view. Now look where we are.
"That's the difference between us and everybody else. We believed in this thing when nobody else did."