Ultimate Fighting Championship readies assault on Europe

UFC readies assault on Europe
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Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at the Ultimate Fighting Championship's plan to visit six European Cities next year, starting with London on March 8.

After becoming a firm fixture in the sporting landscape in the USA and Brazil, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has set its sights on breaking new ground in Europe, outlining plans for six events in cities across the continent next year.

The Las Vegas-based fight franchise has struggled to replicate its American success in a challenging European marketplace, but is moving to put a structure in place to change that over the next 18 months.

Former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook is the driving force behind a bid to stop growth stagnating in Europe, with the emphasis now on delivering regular events in cities from London to Istanbul.

Cook presided over his third UFC event in Manchester last weekend, a show which netted a gate worth $1.5m as 10,355 fans packed the Phones 4u Arena to watch Lyoto Machida make his middleweight debut in style with a head-kick knockout victory against Mark Munoz.

Following Machida's stunning first-round stoppage Cook told Sports Mole that London will kick-start the UFC's renewed effort to win hearts and minds in Europe, with Alexander Gustafsson headlining against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at the O2 Arena on March 8.

Cook also revealed that Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and Poland are countries that the UFC will visit in 2014, as they put together a blueprint for rapid expansion on the continent after securing a three-year television deal with BT Sport in the United Kingdom.

UFC president Dana White has admitted in the past that the lack of a pay-per-view market in the United Kingdom has slowed progress on these shores, but Cook feels that conditions are ripe for Europe to make up lost ground under his leadership.

He said: "We have been public in the last week about growing the business here, developing the fighters and providing more access to events, nothing has changed for us in that respect.

"We have got a core fanbase in Europe that means we are never short of people who want to see great fighters. The demand is there, now my job is to grow the business and show people in Las Vegas what you guys want to see.

"We are looking at London, Ireland, Malmo, Lodz in Poland, Berlin and Istanbul for next year. The question for us isn't how many we do, it's how many we can't do, because I've got another five or six cities in Europe that want UFC events.

"At the end of the day the UFC business and the fighters have earned the right to be here and that's good enough for any nation, we need to keep building that."

Another launchpad Cook seems intent on securing for the British market is a European-branded version of The Ultimate Fighter reality series, which helped the UFC prove impossible to ignore in the US with its mix of Big Brother and brawn and brutality eight years ago.

When quizzed by Sports Mole about the likelihood of bringing TUF to Europe he said: "The model is pretty simple there, I'm not reinventing the wheel I'm copying a script that has already been written.

"The Ultimate Fighter is one of the core assets that helped to grow this business and created some of it's biggest stars, such as Michael Bisping who was supposed to feature on this card [in Manchester].

"We've never had an Ultimate Fighter in this region, one that we can say we own. It would be professionally foolish and naive to think that we could continue on that path."

As the fight game's version of the Harlem Globetrotters leaves Manchester there is plenty to ponder for mixed martial arts fans, as the UFC makes a typically aggressive play for the hearts, minds and wallets of fight fans in Britain and beyond.

UFC fighter Michael Bisping on January 20, 2013
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