Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones went back and forth on a media conference call, promoting the 17th season of the groundbreaking reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). It was brutal stuff, a clear sign that the two were committed to helping the struggling show back to its feet, by any means necessary.
Jones suggested Sonnen was a better talker than fighter. Sonnen called Jones a brat. Jones decried Sonnen's use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy. Chael countered with a shot at Jones' recent legal troubles.
But the real battle cry came bellowing from scene left, from a voice we aren't used to hearing on a UFC media call. Chuck Saftler, an executive vice president at FX, did some trash talking of his own. And what he had to say should have sent shivers down the spine of executives at rival Spike TV:
"The show is going to move off Friday nights," Saftler said. "I can't confirm the day right now, but it's definitely moving off of Friday. It's definitely moving to a weekday. There will be an announcement on that somewhere in the next 30 to 45 days. But I will say that Spike should watch their *ss."
The salty language was one thing. Aggressive? Sure. But the real threat was in the lack of specificity. FX didn't announce when it intended to air this new season of TUF—because it is waiting for Spike to make the first move. Saftler later all but vowed that they intended to counterprogram Spike's new MMA promotion, Bjorn Rebney's Bellator.
"Spike clearly has been dogging us for most of this year...by trying to create viewer confusion and scheduling old episodes against The Ultimate Fighter and trying to pass them off as new content," Saftler said.
"They'll be out of the UFC game effective in January. They're going to try and launch a new product, they're going to try and launch their own reality show that competes with The Ultimate Fighter... with their Bellator product. We watched how they behaved, and we're well aware of their behavior and how they've acted competitively."
Saftler didn't go so far as to say FX would definitely counterprogram against Spike and Bellator. That's an impossible promise after all. If Spike chooses to air Bellator on a night FX already features strong original programing, FX is unlikely to move a successful program to make way for The Ultimate Fighter. But if it makes sense to do so, it seems FX is up for a battle.
"I'm not ready to commit to that," Saftler said. "But we're certainly going to be watching how they schedule, what they schedule and where they schedule."
One thing was clear: Saftler and FX have high expectations for the new season. "Epic," was how he described the ratings he wanted. The show, which has been struggling on Friday nights, will be required and expected to do much better ratings on a weekday night.
Last year, the network averaged 1.5 million viewers a night. The most recent episode of The Ultimate Fighter only attracted 624,000 fans. Saftler's bold words have set the bar high for Jones and Sonnen.
Will they respond? Will fans? Next year is shaping up to be very interesting for those intrigued by the business side of the sport.
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