At the UFC on Fox press conference, UFC President Dana White told the media that the UFC negotiated with "everyone." Every network you could think of, the UFC talked to. (His words, not mine.)
Sports media giant ESPN was likely one of those dance partners. According to White, the monolith isn't thrilled with the UFC's jump to Fox:
@nickmontiel4ufc ESPN always hated us and now they hate us more now that we are on FOX. They canceled my int next week for UFC Rio Fuk ESPN
Subtle prose from the head of a major sports organization.
ESPN's not all bad, according to White:
I will admit to being a fan of Jim Rome.
Say what you will about ESPN, but they are the largest entity in sports journalism (and I use "journalism" in the loosest sense of the term). Seems like bad business to ostracize them given how much exposure they can give the sport and the promotion, however reluctantly they have done so thus far.
Update from MMA Payout writer Jose Mendoza
Re: ESPN & UFC: They were so close to a TV deal that UFC credentialed Sherdog and came up w/ weekly show name before talks fell through #MMA
The UFC's deal with ESPN fell apart at the 11th hour. It got serious enough that ABC was brought into the negotiations as well. It was back in 2009 when the UFC had just signed the deal with ESPN in the UK. Now two years later, it looks like that relationship has soured.