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Net Nails Martial Arts

11/17/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Showtime will look to capitalize on the popularity of the mixed martial arts genre beginning next year by airing at least four combat sports events annually through 2009.

Showtime senior vice president and general manager of sports and event programming Ken Hershman said the newly created and yet unnamed MMA outfit — run by sports event-production company Pro Elite — will complement its monthly Showtime World Championship boxing telecasts. The first MMA card is scheduled for Feb. 10.

The network will air a minimum of four events a year, according to Hershman. He also said Showtime could create several pay-per-view events from the franchise if it proves successful.

The growing popularity of the genre — punctuated by Spike TV's ratings success with its Ultimate Fighting Championship-based Ultimate Fighter reality series — provided the impetus for the network's entry into the sport, said Hershman, who noted that Ultimate Fighter and live UFC events rated well among the premium channel's subscribers.

“This was a space we didn't want to ignore,” he added. “Obviously we think it's a perfect complement for our boxing franchise and it reaches a younger audience.”

Pro Elite is headed by TV producer Douglas DeLuca (Jimmy Kimmel Live). Boxing promoter Gary Shaw will oversee promotion of the events.

UFC president Dana White is not concerned that Showtime's entry into the MMA ring will wrestle away viewers from his UFC franchise.

“Three years ago, Gary Shaw and other boxing promoters were laughing at MMA and thought it was a joke. Now that the money has dried up in boxing they're all over it,” said White. “They wouldn't know an MMA event from a figure skating competition. I wish them luck.”

October