Ultimate Fighting Championship, and mixed martial arts, took a major step into the mainstream Thursday. Fox Sports announced a seven-year deal to televise UFC cards in prime time, plus airing extensive programming on Fox's cable TV channels.
Officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said the Fox deal is worth $100 million a year.
Fox will air four prime-time Saturday night UFC fight cards a year, starting Nov. 12.
The deal also moves "The Ultimate Fighter" reality television series, after 14 seasons on Spike TV, to Fox's FX cable channel, with a revamped Friday night competition and up to six other live fight cards.
"This is what I always wanted, the pinnacle — to get a deal with Fox," UFC President Dana White said. "This is a big day for this company."
Fox Sports Chairman David Hill conceded it took several years for him to recognize the popularity of mixed martial arts.
Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank purchased UFC in 2001 for $2 million and are widely credited for popularizing MMA.
Sports fans over the age of 50 grew up watching boxing, Hill said, but today's youth is more attuned to the frenetic action of MMA, which complements boxing action with wrestling, kicking, jiu jitsu and karate.
UFC's lucrative pay-per-view business, and its Spike TV shows, drew a large, loyal audience in the coveted 18-to-35 age market, Hill said.
"You get to know the athletes. They're a different breed — smart, intelligent, committed," he said.
Fox's Fuel channel and Spanish-language Fox Deportes also will air UFC programming.
UFC hasn't named its main-even participants for its debut card on Fox. But Nov. 12 is also the date for the pay-per-view boxing match between the sport's most popular fighter, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Lorenzo Fertitta also said he plans to heavily promoteUFC's Nov. 19 pay-per-view heavyweight title fight between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos on the Fox card.
Hill said he's received no guarantee that UFC will place title fights on Fox, but is confident quality matches are coming. "These are the most media-savvy dudes in sports," he said. "We will be No. 1 [in ratings] in our time, without a doubt."
UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, and former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, said despite their commitment to upcoming pay-per-view cards, they want to ultimately fight on Fox.
"It's our chance to perform on the biggest stage of fighting possible," St-Pierre said. "
Said Evans: "[Fox] gives us a chance to be seen on a level we've never been at. And it'll get the fans to say, 'Oh, wow, this is a true sport!' "