USA TODAY: UFC targets Mexico expansion in 2014


cain-velasquez-28.jpg(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

Canada, Brazil, Britain and Australia have all been recent targets of the UFC’s ambitious expansion plans. However, after years of the world’s most prominent MMA promotion teasing the possibility, Mexico could finally be next.

To date the UFC has never ventured south of the border despite Mexico’s quickly growing circuit of regional fight promotions. But the pieces are falling into place, including a new TV deal and a planned Spanish-language version of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

UFC executive Marshall Zelaznik, who serves as a managing director of international development, had hoped an event could take place in Mexico this year, but said that’s probably a bit too ambitious.

“I think it’ll probably slide to next year, in Mexico City,” he told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “If we can get ‘The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America’ and get the live event in Mexico City, that will really token charge our business there.”

In addition to 17 American seasons of its competition/reality series, the UFC has hosted three international installments of “TUF.” The second wrapped Saturday in Brazil, and an Australia vs. Britain version took place in 2012. Zelaznik said “TUF: Latin America” could feature fighters from a host of Spanish-speaking countries.

“It’s all one language, so it’s very workable,” he said.

The UFC also would have a suitable TV presence. This past month the organization announced a joint-venture deal with Televisa Networks. As in Brazil, where the organization has a partnership with media company Globo, the Televisa deal will include free UFC programming on existing channels, including the popular Canal 5 in Mexico, and the launch of a new pay-TV channel. It could launch as soon as September.

“It’s significant because Televisa is as big in Mexico and Latin America as Globo is in Brazil,” Zelaznik said. “To have the complete ownership and management of Televisa behind it, I think is going to speak well for how quickly this channel can grow.”

Of course, as with other markets, the UFC’s success in Mexico could hinge on its ability to build and promote local talent. Mexican-American Cain Velasquez, the UFC’s reigning heavyweight champion, is already a star in the country, and bantamweight Erik Perez is a rising bantamweight contender.

In January UFC officials went to Mexico for a scouting trip. More than a hundred UFC hopefuls attended, and UFC President Dana White said it could lead the UFC to adopt its ninth weight class, a 115-pound strawweight division, built primarily around Mexican fighters.

“The culture in Mexico, they’re fighters,” White said at the time. “The greatest fighters in history come from Mexico, and there’s that whole famous Mexican style of fighting.”

If the UFC’s expansion into Mexico proves successful, it could set the blueprint for the rest of the world. That’s especially true of the pay-TV channel.

“For us internationally, there’s a lot of opportunity,” Zelaznik said. “Pay TV is growing, and our ability to launch a channel like this becomes very scalable very quickly.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Cain Velasquez)

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