Bellator Battles UFC With Viacom Backing; Exec: Spike Built UFC "From Almost Nothing"
UFC and Viacom-owned Bellator are two "media heavyweights ... locked in a smackdown of their own over the future” of MMA, according to the N.Y. TIMES' Amy Chozick, who wrote under the header, "The Slugfest In The Executive Suite.” William Morris Endeavor agent Ari Emanuel is "in one corner" representing the UFC, while “in the other corner” is Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. Viacom “decided to enter the fight business itself” after it "balked" during negotiations to keep the UFC on the company's Spike network, leading to the UFC's departure to Fox. Sources said that Viacom in fall ’11 paid around $50M "for a majority stake" in Bellator. That Viacom "now owns a gritty league of muscled gladiators” speaks to the “fierce battle for live sports rights.” But it also “demonstrates the evolution of cage fighting.” The new league “certainly has not stopped the bad blood between” UFC and Viacom. Dauman said “in airing UFC fight and reality shows, Spike really built UFC from almost nothing.” UFC President Dana White calls Dauman’s characterization “the most pompous, arrogant thing to come out of someone’s mouth.” White adds, “Everybody thinks they can buy a cage and do what we do.” A source said that UFC in negotiations with Viacom “had wanted to own a 50 percent equity stake in Spike and to maintain too much control over which fights the league broadcast on pay-per-view.” Dauman “saw other benefits in owning a league outright, like profiting from pay-per-view, digital and international broadcasts, Bellator action figures and perhaps someday casting a Paramount film with Bellator fighters, for example.” Dauman said he has a "lot of respect for Dana White.” He added, “As far as I’m concerned there’s no bitterness at all.” Chozick noted Viacom has “flooded the airwaves with ads for Bellator.” Bellator has “fared better than most UFC competitors, building a loyal audience and a stable of fighters” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).
YOUNG BLOOD: Bellator announcer Sean Wheelock said that the promotion “has a chance to stick around for the long term because of its ability to build its own stars.” In N.Y., Marc Raimondi reported Wheelock "believes Strikeforce’s fatal flaw ... was that is relied too much on talent that was first popular elsewhere.” Bellator has been “different, building around young, homegrown fighters" like lightweight champion Michael Chandler (NYPOST.com, 2/17).