Just as the Fox Network is set to consumate their multi-million dollar business and broadcast relationship with the Ultimate Fighting Championships, Viacom's purchase of rival MMA Promotion Bellator Fighting Championships is making some serious waves in the industry.

The UFC will take center stage on FOX this coming Sunday, trailing close behind the network's regular NFL coverage. The 4:30 PM Eastern UFC Primetime broadcast will focus on the first card slated to appear on Fox next month. The Main Event of the November, 12, 2011 "UFC on Fox 1" will be Junior Dos Santos (13-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (9-0) for the UFC Heavyweight Championship Velasquez won last October with a one-sided beating of Former WWE Star Brock Lesnar (5-2).

Already, Fox is buzzing about the new deal and taking full advantage of their ability to promote the UFC across their other popular programming platforms. Fox NFL Analyst Michael Strahan even went into a metaphorical rant about which different pro football personalities should fight each other during last Sunday's pre-game report, taking a moment to plug UFC on Fox 1 in the process. He even threw a mock elbow in the direction of Howie Long's forehead at the conclusion of his heated commentary. UFC President Dana White promised MMA fans for years that he would help make the UFC as popular as the NFL someday, and this Fox deal brings the UFC much closer to that pinnacle.

UFC ownership took this fledgling, brutal, and controversial fighting league from obscurity to a near monopoly in the past decade, and MMA's been called "the fastest growing sport in the world" for the past few years as a direct result of their risky, high profile moves to keep their spot as kings of the MMA hill. Other leagues and fight industry businesses continue to thrive with their own MMA enterprises thanks in part to the climate created by the UFC's ruthless and relentless push for popularity. New businesses also continue to sprout up regularly hoping to capitalize on the growing fields of fans and fighters who keep following and participating in the sport.

Though other major success stories usually feature a chapter describing the difficulty of facing daunting competition in order to reach perfection, UFC Parent Company Zuffa, LLC has a track record of swallowing the competition entirely. The company's latest triumph in this realm came with their acquisition of Strikeforce earlier this year, which they continue to operate as a second-tier, second-rate fighting league. It seems imminent that they will someday fold the entire league into the UFC, and it seems only contracts and verbal commitments have kept them from doing just that as soon as possible.

The vacuum created by the buyout allowed another company to step into the void left by Strikeforce aligning with their former competitors, and Bellator Fighting Championships' recent purchase by Viacom suddenly makes them a much more serious player in the MMA marketplace.

Their ability to absorb heavy early losses is just one of the many secrets to the UFC's success over the past ten years since Casino Owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III bought the struggling league from Bob Meyrowitz. The Las Vegas power base of the Fertittas was also a convenient benefit to owning and cultivating their pro fight league. They built the foundation and subsequently acquired hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from both creditors and an arm of the Abu Dhabi government, all based on the overall strength of the resulting business model. It also helped to have Forbes Magazine report the league was likely worth a billion dollars back in 2008.

This willingness of the Fertitta brothers to spend money and assume losses estimated to be around $40 million in the first few years of ownership put the UFC in position to set the stage for MMA to become a major marquee sport. As they've assembled this juggernaut and kept it rolling, few players who could match their financial coffers have come forward to challenge the UFC's ownership group. Donald Trump once toyed with Affliction, and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions almost entered the MMA fray at one point, but none of them had the stomach to stick with it and go toe to toe with the Zuffa conglomerate.

Viacom's late entry into the MMA industry scene provides the deepest pocketbook yet to take aim at the UFC's dominance, but it still may be a case of too little too late. Added animosity from the breakdown of the UFC's network negotiations with Viacom's SPIKE TV channel gave the communications giant more incentive to do business with the competition, and the Bellator buyout could be bad news for the UFC brass. SPIKE is now intent on making the most of the existing UFC agreement, and they remain in position to be able to air UFC content through 2012. Even though this means Bellator won't transition to the network until 2013, SPIKE will still draw a wide audience of MMA fans to the channel with their UFC content while the parent company builds the replacement league into a true powerhouse.

Even with the UFC's impressive financial backing, the company's fighter payroll still pales in comparison to the returns the best boxers earn these days. Even after making his way back to the UFC and a botched title shot, Pro Fighter Nick Diaz recently voiced his regrets for turning down an opportunity to enter boxing. This is an area where the assets of Viacom could make a significant difference, and ultimately this could lead to per-fight pay days of a million dollars or more for the best MMA fighters. That's a prospect that could revolutionize the sport of MMA as we know it. If Bellator began to create a reputation for treating their fighters better than the UFC does and providing higher compensation to their top-tier fighters, that could make them a desirable destination for more of the best mixed martial artists in the business.

Even if this approach might not ever result in making Bellator definitively better than the UFC, they could generate a more healthy share of the market and threaten the dominance of the UFC like no other league ever could in the past. If all else fails, Viacom's investment could at least lead to a scenario in which they become the next league to be bought out by Zuffa for a hefty price. That seems to be the least likely outcome at this point, though. Look for Viacom to instead invest a considerable amount of time and money into slowly building Bellator into a sports giant that gives the UFC the most intense competition possible. The sport's fans can only benefit from the greater exposure, and fighters under both banners can count on the competition raising their value and job security as both leagues grow.


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