Fox Sports Net will look to challenge the Ultimate Fighting Championship's supremacy in the mixed martial arts genre when it launches coverage of the International Fight League on Feb. 23.
FSN will air 22 hours of original programming — mostly on Friday nights — from IFL, the first team-based professional martial arts league. FSN sister broadcast network MyNetworkTV will also present fare from the fledgling circuit, beginning March 12 with an original two-hour series dubbed International Fight League Total Impact. The show will feature match action, as well as profiles of the fighters.
FSN executive vice president of programming and production George Greenberg said the series will hopefully allow the network to capitalize on the burgeoning mixed martial art category, which has great appeal to young male viewers.
“[Mixed martial arts] is boxing for the next generation of sports fans,” Greenberg said.
FSN is no stranger to the IFL or genre programming: FSN televised 13 hours of IFL programming last year. In addition, FSN currently offers coverage of the Japan-based Pride Fighting Championships on Sunday nights. It has also aired matches from the UFC. (See “Spotlight,” page 24.)
Along with the team concept, Greenberg said the IFL will differ from UFC fights – currently airing on Spike TV — in that the league does not allow elbow shots to the head. While FSN is hoping to attract young viewers, Greenberg believes that the IFL will appeal to older viewers as well as boxing fans.
“It doesn't matter if you're old or young, seeing someone getting knocked out with a kick or punch, or getting submitted to the point where they have to tap out is very entertaining,” he said.
Greenberg said he's not concerned about over saturation of the genre, despite the fact that Spike TV, Versus and Showtime are all offering some form of MMA content. In addition, HBO is talking to the UFC about airing some of its matches.
“The cream will rise to the top, and the also-ran leagues will quickly fall away,” he said. “The ones with the best marketers and have the best talent pool will be around for a while.”
The FSN/MyNetworkTV/IFL plays come on the heels of MyNetworkTV's deal to offer UFC mixed martial arts content. Syndicator Trifecta Entertainment will distribute the UFC Wired this fall to Fox-owned MyNetworkTV stations in markets such as New York and Los Angeles, according to the UFC.