Zelaznik on the UFC’s Expansion
Zuffa will embark upon the latest leg of its global expansion tour
on Feb. 20, as the promotion heads to the Acer Arena in Sydney,
Australia, for UFC 110 “Nogueira vs. Velasquez.” The event will
feature a heavyweight showdown between Brazilian legend Antonio
Rodrigo Nogueira and the unbeaten Cain Velasquez, along with a
middleweight bout pitting Wanderlei Silva against Michael
In anticipation of this journey Down Under, Sherdog.com spoke
exclusively with UFC Managing Director of International Development
Marshall Zelaznik about Australia, the United Arab Emirates and the
future of the world’s most prominent mixed martial arts
Zelaznik: We have an overriding desire to spread the gospel with
this thing, and that means that we are constantly looking at new
territories that we can break. Based on the web traffic in
Australia, the strong ratings our TV partners have been getting,
the availability of a great venue and the regulations that are
coming into effect, which helps, it made sense to us. It’s also
easy to communicate over there, and they have such a strong love
for contact sports anyway in that country; we knew we could make it
Zelaznik: It’s been incredible. You never really know how
successful a new territory will be, but we have been blown away by
our final analysis. The event sold out in a day. It would have been
the fastest-selling event in the companies history, but we held
some back from the pre-sale. It’s currently the second
fastest-selling event in UFC history. People are travelling from
all over to see it. Half of the tickets sold have been to fans
outside of the New South Wales area. In fact, the event sold out so
quickly that for the first time ever for an international event we
are arranging a close-circuit experience for fans without tickets.
It will be in the ballroom at the Acer Arena, which holds around
800 people. Tickets will go on sale for around $50, and were
looking to have a few significant [fighters] make the trip and hold
a Q&A with the fans.
Zelaznik: I hope not. Early indication is that there won’t be the
knife fight that we saw in Germany. There’s been more openness with
the press over there. One article, right at the beginning, raised
the usual pejorative argument, but now that same paper features a
daily fighter blog. We have a very good deal with a free
terrestrial partner to screen the event live, and we hope this
event will take us to the next level.
Zelaznik: I think it’s going to be really impacting. I was over in
Abu Dhabi last week for about three days and I got to see the
operation in person. I met with a few of their key men, and I can
see that they really are a top-notch group. Obviously, their
relationship with the government is important. We have high hopes
that with their involvement we can get the meetings internationally
at the right levels.
Zelaznik: We’re pretty close, but these things take a lot of time
and we don’t like announcing anything until all the papers and
fighters have been signed. But, as I said, I was there for three
days last week and we are working to deliver the show in April.
Zelaznik: We are always prepared for every event. We are holding a
couple of venues in the U.K. and a few in the U.S just in case, but
we are always pushing for Plan A. It will take a little time for
everything to be figured out, but at the moment, there is certainly
more chance of it happening than not.
Zelaznik: I don’t know. We’re kicking around with the possibility
of doing a show in Italy. We are working on a few TV deals over
there, and the prospect of putting on a Scandinavian show is also a
possibility. The sport is really popular in that part of the world,
and it is definitely something that we would like to explore.
Zelaznik: We had hoped to return in the first quarter of this year,
but with the extra show on Versus and a few issues with fighter
availability, it is more likely to be in the second quarter now.
But rest assured, we will be back with a solid card soon. London is
most likely to be the next location for us when we do return.
Zelaznik: That is definitely something that we are working towards,
and for that reason, we may be back in England sooner than
anticipated. The idea of doing Fight Night shows in Europe is
something that [UFC President] Dana White and [UFC CEO] Lorenzo
Fertitta really want to do, and conversations are ongoing about it.
I am having a meeting with one of our partners in the U.K. on
Thursday, and, so, God willing, that is something that we will be
doing in the near future.
Zelaznik: Living in England, I know what a bold statement that was
to make, but we do aspire to reach that level. It’s like when
Muhammad Ali used to fight and the whole world would stop what they
were doing and watch; we want to get to that point. Our rudimentary
goal at the moment is to grow our TV distribution and increase the
number of people who watch. We have a very good deal in China, but
we don’t currently reach all regions; there is no TV deal in India.
These are things that we can look to achieve. I would also like to
bring an event to a new territory every year, and I think that is a
realistic goal at this stage.
Zelaznik: There will be more international events, but that’s not a
strategic plan at the moment. International events are really
challenging and not cheap to produce, and with the domestic shows
being so healthy at the moment, our main focus will be in
Note: This article was updated at 12:04 p.m. ET to change
Zelaznik's title to Managing Director of International
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