By Ariel Helwani – Video Reporter and Writer
Michael Cohen, Getty Images
Mar 15, 2012 – The UFC will continue its European expansion next month when the promotion makes its debut in Stockholm, Sweden for UFC on FUEL TV 2.
And according to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, the organization hopes to debut in a few more European countries by the end of next year.
“I think Italy will be next,” Fertitta said. “Me and Lawrence [Epstein, the UFC’s general counsel] went out to Italy and met with the owners. There’s really only one venue in Italy that makes sense for us. There’s an arena right outside of Milan, it’s owned by a family, and once again, they had these misconceptions about what this was. ‘Oh my gosh, you’re going to have these guys get in there and fight in a cage,’ and all this other stuff. But we went out there, sat down with them, explained who we were, what our background was, safety, regulation, all those things. [We] invited them to the fight in Birmingham [for UFC 138], and they were blown away. They said, ‘You guys are welcome any time you want.’
“So I get an e-mail from Lawrence earlier this week. They’re having a fight later this month; they’ve already sold 15,000 tickets.”
That event, the first for the upstart promotion Oktagon, will take place on March 24 at the Forum Assago di Milano and will be headlined by Valentijn Overeem vs. Michael Kita.
“The thing that was encouraging to me was I didn’t really know where the sport was in that market yet,” Fertitta added. “I didn’t know how developed it was. We just did a deal with Sky Sports there about six months ago and the ratings have been really good. It’s all working. So I think by next year we could go there and do something.”
In addition to Italy, Fertitta was optimistic that the UFC could hold an event in Spain for the first time, sooner rather than later.
“We just launched in Spain on a major market where we launched The Ultimate Fighter, and I just got an e-mail this morning, ratings continue to go up. I think we’re doing well over 250,000 viewers, which is a big number for that market given the population. So that’s another market that we’ll be looking to go to pretty soon.”
And after spending a considerable amount of time trying to penetrate the French market, Fertitta believes the organization is finally making progress in that region.
“France is a massive opportunity,” he said. “[The] Sports Ministry is definitely positive on the issues. The issue is a little bit different because here in the United States, the government actually regulates the sport and they have an entity that regulates it. In a lot of these other countries, it’s different. They are more in tune with the Olympic style of regulating things where you have a federation. So they’re fine with it, as long as there is a federation put in place to oversee the rules and regulations.
“So a federation has been established, so it’s just a matter of getting it recognized by the Sports Ministry, which we actually have met with, and they have been very positive. David Douillet [France’s Sports Minister] is an ex-Olympic Gold Medalist in judo, so he understands the sport. We’re very enoucraged that you’ll be eating croissants watching the UFC pretty soon.”
Thus far, the UFC has held 14 events in Europe: 11 in the United Kingdom, two in Germany and one in Ireland.