The Ultimate Fighting Championship held a conference call on Thursday to promote its upcoming lightweight title bout between B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson – the bout is scheduled to take place on Jan. 19 in Newcastle, England – but UFC president Dana White spent much of his time fielding questions about the direction of the promotion.
He confirmed that the UFC intends to continue expanding its territories in the U.K., specifically pointing to Scotland.
"Scotland is definitely in our plans for the future. This last year when we went into the U.K., we went to a different place every time. Scotland is next. We'll be there soon. I guarantee it."
White did clarify though that the expansion into Europe, at least at this time, isn't because it's lining the promoter's pockets, saying, "I don't think there is anything profitable about the European market right now. We're getting our ass kicked over there."
"But the bottom line is, and I'm always yapping about the boxing promoters and how they don't spend the money to build their sport and secure the future of the sport, for this sport to grow, we need to move out to Europe."
It hasn't been easy though as White reflected, "When we first bought this company ... inDemand pay-per-view, DirecTV and EchoStar were our three options. Everybody said there is no way this is going to get on free television, etc., etc."
But he does believe that there are characteristics of mixed martial arts that appeal globally. He feels that the sport has the potential to be much bigger, on a worldwide scale, than possibly any other sport in the world and that is a large part of his reasoning for the UFC's European invasion.
"Look at the NFL. There's nothing bigger in this country than the NFL," White stated. "They've been spending billions of dollars trying to break into Europe and they can't do it, because nobody gives a (expletive) about football in Europe. They didn't grow up playing football, they don't know about it.
"I take two guys and put them in the Octagon and they can use any martial art they want. It translates through all different cultural barriers, language barriers... people love fighting."
He continued, "I think that this thing can be global. I think that this thing can be the biggest sport in the world. I already know it's the most exciting sport in the world."
Of course, there still has to be something tangible, something real that justifies taking such a tactic with the European market.
"My light at the end of the tunnel?" pondered White. "We're going into Newcastle for the first time and there's like 700 tickets left. The thing is going to be sold out, 10,000 fans there. And everywhere we've gone in the U.K., we've sold out."
Still, he had to admit to the difficulties faced when venturing outside of the promotion's comfort zone in the U.S.
"You've got to have television and the television market and pay-per-view market is completely different over there. So we're stomping through this thing until we can figure it out."
White also indicated that they are still working on other areas for the future. A strongly rumored date has been March 8, returning to the U.K., reportedly with a main event featuring Michael Bisping in his 185-pound debut against Charles McCarthy.
"We're still working on it right now actually," he said, verifying that it is a strong possibility.
Other areas of interest that were brought up were New York and Hawaii. In MMA's brief history, much of it has occurred in Hawaii, and the state is regarded for its rabid fan base. And New York has a storied history in combat sports, particularly in boxing, but has yet to be officially opened up to mixed martial arts.
"The last fight that we did (UFC 79), we did a closed circuit in Madison Square Garden," said White. "It was a very successful event. We're focusing on New York and I'm very confident that we'll have New York done by 2009."
He also indicated that there really aren't any huge roadblocks in the way, it's just that the UFC has been growing at such a rapid pace, New York hasn't been dialed in yet.
"The thing is, it's not like New York is trying to keep us out," he said. "We just started to focus on New York. We have no bad history with New York at all. So, I'm very confident that we're going to get it done."
He also stated that in Hawaii, it's just a matter of the state going through the process it needs to, to properly regulate MMA before the UFC can make its move out into the Pacific.
"Thirteen new states regulated MMA last year and Hawaii is one of them, so we want to come there, but the regs aren't done yet. We're not like all these other 'cheese ball' shows; we can't go there until the regs are done."
With the UFC's addition of former Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner, White indicated that the UFC has made major progress in opening doors across the United States, helping get the sport regulated and sanctioned. He also doesn't see U.S. acceptance of the sport slowing down anytime soon.
"There're 32 states total in the United States that regulate MMA. Thirteen of them opened up last year. At that rate, we're knocking them down quick. We've done a lot of big things over the last seven years and I think the next seven are going to be even better."