For the first time since 2006, the UFC will not hold any events in the England, Great Britain or Ireland in 2011. As late as November of last year, UFC UK President Marshall Zelaznik was talking about hosting "4 to 6" UFC events in the British Isles this year. Now he's admitting that thanks to a schedule change by Spike TV that the UFC won't be returning to the UK at all in 2011.
Zelaznik asserts that he "had three good venue options" for an October 15th date but recent scheduling changes by the UFC's US TV partners made that date impossible.
From ESPN UK:
However, problems emerged in May when the UFC's US TV date was forced to change to a different, specific date, where misfortune would dictate no suitable venues in the UK were available. In one swift changing of the goalposts, the UFC went from having three venues to none.
As a result, Zelaznik admits the chances of a 2011 event now stand at "less than 20 per cent", but he is still looking into every possibility, in order to find a solution that is growing increasingly unlikely.
"We are left with trying to convince our [TV] partner to move the date or look to other locations. That is where we are now.
"There is, if I were to put a percentage on it, less than a 20 per cent chance that we will be able to bring an event to the UK this year. We are all gutted over it and the fans who are being so vocal should know we hear them and we will continue to work hard to satisfy them."
It's very interesting that Spike TV would pull the rug out from under the UFC during the final year of their television contract. Yesterday we mentioned that Dana White blames a Spike TV scheduling change for much of The Ultimate Fighter's ratings decline in its thirteenth season. It almost makes one wonder if there is some hardball brinksmanship going on between the promotion and the cable TV channel.
However Zelaznik remains optimistic that the UK will see more events than ever in 2012. From an interview he gave to Gareth Davies:
Q: It was only last winter when you were saying that the UFC would be running 4 -6 UK shows in 2010. Now it appears that it could be zero...
MZ: Yes, and maybe we shouldn't have announced those plans but with us, from Dana and Lorenzo down, we give honest answers to honest questions. We've have advanced plans for a series of Fight Night style events for the UK and Ireland, and actually Europe, but we couldn't get it over the line for this year but that's still a major initiative for the UK office. We are looking at venues right now, and will be going to some cities that you will never have thought you'd see a UFC. But, if I was asked the question ‘How many UK shows do you think they will be in 2012?', and I gave an honest answer I would again say it could be four or more.
The UFC has had an aggressive international expansion program in effect since 2007. Here is a table of their non-North American events since 2007:
As you can see, the UFC held three events outside North America in 2007 and 2008, then upped it to four events in 2009 and 2010. They were on track for four events beyond their home continent this year until the cancellation of the October UK card.
The UFC is showing prudence by cancelling the card rather than putting it on PPV. After a plague of bad luck has impacted the headlining fights for UFC 130, 131, and 133, effectively killing their summer, it would be extremely ill-advised to further water down their PPV offerings with a Spike TV caliber UK card.