The UFC earlier this week made official its latest breach of a new country when it was announced “The Ultimate Fighter: India” will commence in 2013.
There’s a TV deal in place with SONY SIX in India to produce and air episodes, and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta is freshly back from a trip to the country to get things hammered out.
But unlike “TUF” launches in places like Brazil and Australia – the other two international editions so far – Fertitta said things may be a little different in India.
Brazil and Australia already have giant MMA fan bases. India, on the other hand, likely will be a new challenge for the UFC.
“It’s a market we think has a lot of potential, but we are literally starting from ground zero,” Fertitta said. “People (there) really don’t know anything about this sport or the UFC.”
Fertitta said a group of Olympic wrestlers from India saw a UFC fight for the first time – when Fertitta showed it to them. The good news? One of them replied, “I can do that.” So finding prospective fighters for the first cast of “TUF India” may not be as easy as “TUF Brazil,” but it should be possible.
Fertitta said filming is expected for the summer of 2013 with a fall television launch on SONY SIX. He also said the show will be cross-promoted on two of India’s biggest TV shows, including KBC.
But Fertitta also believes the timing is perfect for the UFC to start to make inroads in India thanks to a rapidly changing culture there.
“When you look at the trends of what’s going on in what I’ll kind of call a youth culture and the way they’re consuming entertainment, that younger generation is kind of moving away from traditional Bollywood,” Fertitta said. “They’re consuming a more Western/Hollywood-type product, whether it be the ‘Avatars’ of the world or different tech movies, stuff like that.”
But in a country of more than 1 billion people with only cricket as a true national mainstream sport, Fertitta said all signs are pointing to the desire for something like the UFC to enter the landscape.
“What we’re finding through our research is they want alternative sports,” Fertitta said. “High-paced, fast action – all of those things. Well, the UFC is pretty much fits that bill. There’s nothing else out there that we think really does.”
But UFC President Dana White seems to know as well as Fertitta that “TUF India” is a winnable battle, but one that may take some work.
“Sometimes, we live in this (expletive) bubble where we think we’re bigger than we really are,” White said. “The world’s a big place, and you get out there and you realize (the UFC is) not as big as you really think it is.
“But it can be. And I truly believe that this can be the biggest sport in the world.”
And in 2013, the UFC will continue on that quest with India.