Despite language to the contrary over the past 12 months, the UFC has signed a 1 year extension with ESPN UK for live events coverage and recorded programming through to August 2013.
Many fans had begun to sour on the deal with certain events in the past couple of years either not being carried, and one event being shown on tape delay because of pre-emptive live Major League Soccer coverage. However this new deal is expected to show all live content, including events found on Fuel, FX and Fox in the USA.
The deal starts this Saturday with coverage of UFC on Fox 4 Shogun vs Vera, where Mauricio Rua and Brandon Vera headline in a possible bid to rematch with Jon Jones and a crack at his Light Heavyweight championship title.
ESPN UK will also be home to the anticipated The Ultimate Fighter TUF Smashes, featuring Team UK vs Team Australia with UFC TUF alumni Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos coaching the teams respectively. ESPN UK will also have live coverage of the UFC's return to the British Isles when they host UFC On Fuel 5 featuring a Heavyweight clash between Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic in Nottingham, England this September.
More thoughts after the jump
With ESPN UK opting out of rights to the Premier League Football (soccer) coverage earlier this year, it's expected ESPN UK will lose a significant portion of their customer subscriber base. However, ESPN has retained some rights to the FA Cup which may keep some of the die hard football fans, and continues to show Scottish Premier League which may keep some of their fans, though with the turmoil the SPL is going through with important clubs going into receivership, that's not something they can bank on.
What their refusal of Premier League coverage fees does mean is ESPN UK has more money at their disposal for other sports coverage, and it could be the contract extension with the UFC is down to a short term financial gain for the Las Vegas fight promotion, even if potentially less people will watch UFC in the UK outside of the invested hardcore audience who will remain subscribers. Plus, should Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta get in another dust up with ESPN state-side, and be unsatisfied with the coverage in the UK, the contractual commitment being only 12 months will soften the blow and allow them to look for offers from competing networks.