Ultimate Fighting Championship and Fox announced less than two weeks ago that they had reached a seven year deal that would feature four primetime events yearly on Fox and a plethora of programming that will be featured on the Fox owned stations FX and Fuel TV.
Those programs include live special events, pre and post-event shows, countdown shows, UFC Unleashed, UFC Primetime, UFC Knockouts, Best of PRIDE, weigh-in specials and The Ultimate Fighter. This of course means that UFC programming will leave its current home of Spike TV and The Ultimate Fighter 14 will be the final season of the show to air on Spike. The first UFC special on Fox will air on November 12.
So what does this mean for the pro wrestling world? A lot actually.
With the UFC leaving Spike TV that leaves TNA Wrestling and their Impact Wrestling program as the primary form of “fight sports” on the network. UFC debuted on Spike back in 2004 when WWE was still a primary part of Spike’s line-up. WWE moved back to the USA Network in October 2005 and TNA came on to the network that same month. WWE and UFC did virtually no cross promotion while they shared a network, while TNA and UFC at least did a little co-promotion in order to help build up their brands and the Spike TV brand as well.
With Spike TV losing their flagship programming in regards to UFC it will be interesting if in the near future that the company gives TNA Impact Wrestling even more support than they do already. Impact Wrestling is consistently one of the highest rated programs on the network and Spike itself has even chipped to pay the salary of some of TNA’s bigger performers, including Sting.
Meanwhile this move for the UFC also affects WWE. When The Ultimate Fighter re-debuts on FX in 2012 it will be on Friday evenings and in a completely retooled and semi-live format. Essentially it would go head to WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown on the SyFy Network.
It seems as if WWE has already noticed this and is taking steps to combat this. Tonight, August 30, WWE will present a live Super SmackDown broadcast from Wichita, Kansas. The event will air live on SyFy from 7 – 9 PM CST in place of its usual Friday broadcast. NXT will then air immediately after online on wwe.com. Traditionally SmackDown tapes on Tuesday evenings and then is edited and produced, ready for its Friday telecast.
While it could be pure coincidence that this particular episode will air live, so soon after UFC and Fox’s announcement, but it sure seems that WWE and NBC Universal are paying attention and are being proactive. They are taking no chances with tonight’s show and have announced a stacked line-up for the show. Announced so far include Randy Orton defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Christian in a Steel Cage match, Alberto Del Rio defending the WWE Championship against his fellow countryman Sin Cara, John Cena against his old rival Wade Barrett and CM Punk battling former World Heavyweight Champion The Great Khali.
Obviously WWE wants to see how the show would fare on a more TV friendly night like Tuesday, as opposed to a Friday night “death slot.” Going live on Tuesday every week would cut down on “spoilers” leaking out and make the show seem fresh. Plus the SyFy Network is no stranger to pro wrestling on a Tuesday as both Extreme Championship Wrestling and NXT aired live or nearly live on Tuesday nights from June 2006 until February 2010.
And judging by last night’s Monday Night RAW, WWE is serious about revamping things. During the broadcast the on-air WWE COO Triple H announced that going forward Monday Night RAW would be a “supershow” each week, meaning that the stars of SmackDown would be allowed to compete on the flagship Monday night show. The company is reportedly worried about SmackDown’s house shows not drawing large crowds recently. And the logic is that by featuring top SmackDown talent on the more watched RAW program it will draw larger arena crowds for non-televised events. So no, the brand expansion isn’t actually ending, as there will still be two separate touring groups for the time being, but it’s the latest experiment the company is trying.
Clearly there has to be some production costs or something that has held the company back from producing SmackDown live every week since its debut back in 1999, but now perhaps the time is right to make the move. Obviously the company (and SyFy) will be using tonight’s program as litmus test before talk of a potential permanent move, but it seems to be prudent move for all involved.