UFC President Dana White during a weigh-in at Rio de Janeiro. (Mendes / LatinContent /…)
Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White is so enthused about the prospects for his “The Ultimate Fighter” reality television series, whose new season begins Jan. 22 on FX, that he told those gathered at a Pasadena luncheon Wednesday he wishes he had a 70-year deal in place with Fox.
The network approved White’s requests to tailor the show after it opened last year to lackluster ratings on Friday night in the first year of the seven-year UFC-Fox deal.
“TUF” will now air at 10 p.m. on Tuesday nights, and accentuate more of the human drama of the 14 middleweight fighters as they live together in a Las Vegas home in between their elimination fights that will lead to the April 13 finale at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
The winner earns a six-fight contract with the UFC.
“This show is going to be phenomenal -- inspirational and educational,” said UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who coached the fighters along with his April 21 opponent, the charismatic Chael Sonnen.
In a six-minute preview that aired at Wednesday’s Television Critics Assn. lunch, "TUF" fighters mingled with their family members, telling interesting back stories before mourning losses and celebrating triumphs. And Sonnen produced a compelling defense of the unique character and inner strength fighters possess.
“Fighters are a very special breed,” Jones said. “Fighting’s an emotional sport. Living with a guy, knowing you have to fight the most muscular guy in the house … that can mess with your psychology. You can see it on their faces, you’ll see some charged situations.”
Last season’s disappointing FX debut featured live fights, and the talent level was deemed disappointing.
Now, with the Jones-Sonnen dynamic at play, White assesses this group of fighters is his most gifted assemblage in years.
“There’ll definitely be more than two guys from this group signed to the UFC,” White said. “There’s a bunch of beasts in here. We could have a champion here.”
Chuck Saftler, an FX executive vice president, said he expects "TUF" ratings to rebound to their level when the series aired on Spike TV, if not better, given the Fox publicity arm and the results of taped fights that have already clinched the two finalists.
“This is going to be an amazing rookie class for the UFC,” Saftler said.
Though White said Sonnen relished “sticking it” to Jones on occasion, Jones said there were times his upcoming opponent “was a gentleman. He showed his antics are as a character. He has a lot more to him than he lets on. We both had our coaches’ hats on. We were adults about it.”
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