The UFC announced this week that it’s expanding it’s horizons for its flagship reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. India will become the third international platform for the series in hopes to continue to grow the UFC’s global expansion. Though some may not immediately associate India with a country that’s a culture immersed in combat sports, the UFC is working to develop and educate India about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
“We are really starting from ground zero, people really don’t know anything about this sport or UFC. The thing that’s interesting about it is, we look at it kind of similar to Brazil,” UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. “When you look at kind of the trends that’s going on and what I’ll call youth culture and the way that they are consuming entertainment that younger generation is kind of moving away from traditional Bollywood and their consuming more of Western Hollywood type product.”
But as far as India’s viewing trends when it comes to sports, cricket has always been the top viewed sport in the country. They’re also partial to soccer Fertitta said. However, it seems that times are changing in Indian culture and the UFC believes it’s time they quench their thirst for action with a sport that’s full of high-octane adrenaline.
The UFC announced in a press conference in Mumbai, India on Tuesday that it had struck a television deal with India’s SONY SIX network that TUF India and more will air on.
“They want alternative sports – high-paced, fast-action, all of those things. Well, UFC pretty much fits that bill,” Fertitta said. “One of the things that also excites us is their kind of national sport outside of cricket is ‘Kushti’. Kushti is this form of wrestling, it’s essentially freestyle wrestling, but they do it in these villages and they do it literally in the dirt,” Fertitta explained. “They literally get hundreds of thousands of people watching these kushti matches. No arenas, just rows of people behind each other and their communicating what’s going on.”
Aside from that, India has worked hard to develop programs that teach wrestling in hopes to get the next generation to become competitive athletes in the Olympics. Between those programs and kushti, the UFC now has a foundation from which to build. “We’re going to get the exposure. We believe in our product and in addition to that, we’re going to be cross promoted in the two other biggest shows that they have - Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Indian Idol. Everything’s converging, and hopefully, we’ll go from zero to 100 here.”
When The Ultimate Fighter: India gets underway, the idea is to have a cast of only Indian fighters, or fighters from Indian descent that reside in other countries. The UFC still plans to give a contract to the fighter who wins, but they also plan to get them proper training before throwing them to the wolves if that person isn’t as experienced as they hope. “We won’t put anybody in the UFC unless we think they can hold their own and compete. Obviously, that’s one of the challenges we have is finding 16 qualified guys. Hopefully, at least one or a few people emerge that can compete.”
In addition to the country’s favorite sports being cricket and soccer, the UFC also has World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to compete with. They acknowledge this challenge and think MMA can win over those fans once they get a glimpse of a real combat sport. “One of the other challenges I think we face is the WWE is very popular there. I think when the consumer first sees it, I think they’re going to think it’s kind of like WWE. I think a lot people there think WWE is actually real, believe it or not, just because they haven’t seen what is real. I think when they see the UFC, they’re going to be like ‘Wow, that’s real and the WWE is not real.’”
With all of the challenges ahead for the UFC in India, Fertitta said he’s positive that the sport will flourish in India as it has elsewhere. “I think with the platform we have and once this thing kicks in and when the Ultimate Fighter launches, I think pretty quick, people are going to know what it is.”
The UFC is still figuring out a way to make itthe third international series available to the US. The coaches for the 2013 TUF debut in India have yet to be announced.