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Monday, August 02, 2004
Pro Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC and Pro Wrestling? Zuffa Says No
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

According to a report published by the Pro Wrestling Torch, Zuffa was recently offered the opportunity to do an inter-promotional story line with Nashville-based pro wrestling company NWA-TNA (which stands for National Wrestling Alliance-Total Non-Stop Action). The Torch reports that TNA head booker Jeff Jarrett met with Dana White and other UFC officials sometime before UFC 47 in Las Vegas, where Jarrett proposed that the UFC and TNA should work together on a story line that would lead to UFC fighters making appearances on TNA wrestling events, and vice-versa. Zuffa respectfully declined TNA's offer.

From Zuffa's perspective, they really had no choice but to turn down TNA's offer. Pro wrestling is an openly worked form of "sports entertainment," and there is still a big stigma attached to it despite the fact that wrestling promoters have admitted since the late 1980s that match outcomes are predetermined. Mixed martial arts is just starting to hit its stride and gain momentum in America, and the last thing it needs is to be associated with pro wrestling and have a very large percentage of the American public automatically make assumptions like, "It must be fake if it's involved with pro wrestling!"

Being involved with a pro wrestling company in any meaningful way would carry this risk, but having UFC fighters and TNA wrestlers go back and forth between the two different venues as part of a story line would completely eliminate any chance for MMA to ever gain mainstream media credibility in the United States.

Another reason that it wasn't practical for Zuffa to accept TNA's offer is because TNA simply doesn't have a very big following. The company's weekly pay-per-views were expected to draw between 50,000 and 100,000 PPV buys per week before the company hit the airwaves, and instead it is drawing a mere 5,000 to 15,000 PPV buys per week. Even the worst-performing UFC events still draw somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 PPV buys, and there is the occasional spectacular buy rate like UFC 40 with as many as 150,000 buys.

Despite the fact that it's nationally available on pay-per-view every week, TNA is still a small company that has never run a show outside of Nashville and usually draws four-figure PPV buys. UFC events draw more PPV buys than any other live event programming in the United States other than WWE events and two or three big-name boxing events per year.

The only factor that worked in TNA's favor when making its proposal to Zuffa was the fact that TNA apparently has a weekly TV deal in place with Fox Sports Net. It's worth pointing out that Fox Sports Net has had "deals in place" that have fallen through at the last minute with many companies over the past five years, including the UFC and several different pro wrestling start-ups. TNA has been in negotiations with Fox Sports Net for several months, and TNA's Jeff Jarrett reportedly told Zuffa at the Las Vegas meeting that TNA has finalized its deal with Fox Sports Net and will begin airing on the network in June. Whether that ends up being the case or not, the potential exposure on cable TV would seem like a nice opportunity if it weren't for all of the mitigating factors.

Other than the aforementioned credibility issues and the fact that TNA's audience is a fraction of the UFC's, there is one other giant obstacle that prevented a TNA-UFC deal from ever being a realistic possibility. It's not something that anyone thinks about on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis, but the fact remains that Zuffa cannot afford to upset World Wrestling Entertainment and its often erratic chairman Vince McMahon. WWE and Zuffa have had a friendly relationship at arm's length over the past several years, with McMahon keeping an eye on the company with the goal of eventually purchasing it years down the road, and Zuffa's Dana White describing WWE as being "very supportive of the UFC" in an interview with MMAWeekly last summer.

Zuffa significantly changed the look and feel of UFC broadcasts to be more like boxing and less like pro wrestling, in large part so that the UFC couldn't be perceived as "competition" to World Wrestling Entertainment in any way, shape, or form. So if Zuffa ever does upset WWE in some way or is perceived as competition to WWE, why on earth would Zuffa care, you might ask? Well, as reported on MMAWeekly over a year ago, WWE has a long-term contract with Viacom that makes them the exclusive provider of "sports entertainment" programming on all Viacom-owned stations.

This means that WWE has the right to veto any TV deal that Viacom might sign with any pro wrestling company, and that extends to MMA as well. Pro wrestling and MMA are considered "sister sports" in the sense that the UFC is essentially what pro wrestling would look like if pro wrestling had real fights instead of two performers cooperating with each other to put on entertaining matches.

Zuffa has been negotiating for a weekly TV deal with the Viacom owned cable network Spike TV for several years, dating back to before the network was even known as Spike TV (it was formerly known as TNN). Zuffa may or may not have reached a point in negotiations that will allow a weekly UFC TV show to begin airing on Spike TV this fall, and there should be no doubt that forming a partnership with a WWE competitor like TNA would cause WWE to invoke its veto power and prevent the UFC from ever making it on Spike TV or any other Viacom-owned network.

Maybe the UFC and TNA could have had a wonderful relationship under different circumstances, at a different time, and in a culture that viewed pro wrestling differently, but the pitch that TNA made to Zuffa simply wasn't practical and Zuffa did the right thing by turning it down.

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