(Working title for the season: “TUF India — How Can They Slap?”)
At a press conference held yesterday in Mumbai, the UFC announced the signing of a strategic partnership with the sports channel Sony Six, which will bring a wide range of UFC programming to India. Most notably, the channel will host an Indian edition of The Ultimate Fighter, premiering sometime in 2013; casting details will be announced soon. From the press release:
SIX is the destination for all UFC programming in India, from live events featuring the biggest names in the sport to athlete profile shows including the seminal Countdown and Primetime. SIX will also feature the greatest fights in the UFC’s 19-year history with UFC Unleashed.
UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said: “We are very excited to partner with SIX as the UFC expands into India. We look forward to working with them to not only further expand the UFC’s fanbase here, but also to find and develop local talent and, ultimately, bring regular live events to India”…
A cornerstone of the new partnership will be the production of an all-Indian edition of the Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s long-running reality TV show where 16 of the most talented unsigned martial artists compete for a contract with the UFC. Previous TUF winners have gone on to win UFC world champions and become international superstars.
TUF India will be the third edition of the long-running sports reality show to take place outside the US; with TUF Brazil being a huge success earlier this year and TUF: the Smashes (Australia vs UK) to begin airing in Australia later this month…
[Fertitta] said: “SIX’s willingness to step up and commit to the Ultimate Fighter India was very important to us. TUF India will help to introduce the sport in India, to showcase the hard work, dedication, athleticism and skills needed to compete in the UFC. It will also cast a spotlight throughout the country, searching for the most talented local martial artists.
“The UFC will be successful in India even without local stars, but what we’ve seen around the world is fans really want to see one of their own get a chance to compete at the highest level. Somewhere out there in a country of 1.2 billion there is a Indian champion, someone who will capture the imagination of the fans and help take the sport to a whole new level.”
Indian MMA is still very much in its infancy. The most high-profile native promotion is Super Fight League, which has done more harm than good in terms of showcasing local talent. Mumbai’s Full Contact Championship has been promoting shows since 2009, but even their most talented prospects aren’t quite ready for prime time. Plus, there’s the question of who will coach the TUF India season, considering that the UFC hasn’t had an Indian fighter in its roster since…ever?
Kudos to the UFC for breaking into a gigantic market, but let’s temper our expectations here. Due to a combination of poor resources and a culture that values academics far over athletics, India wins less Olympic medals per capita than any other competing country. So how much success can they really expect to have in a sport that virtually doesn’t exist there yet?