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Spike Sets Sights on UFC

Spike TV is on the verge of pinning down a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renewal of its Ultimate Fighting Championship distribution deal.

According to parties close to the network, the new deal, which is expected to cost Spike in excess of $100 million, will allow the men's network to retain its popular Ultimate Fighter reality series. The series pits would-be and veteran combat-sports fighters together in an elimination-style contest and is the highest-rated original show for Spike.

The series has averaged 1.9 million viewers for the network over five seasons since it first launched in Jan. 2005. The network is set to launch season six of Ultimate Fighter in September, with a seventh season slated for early 2008.

Spike, whose current arrangement with the mixed martial arts organization expires in 2008, declined to comment.

In addition, Spike has aired more than live 14 UFC events over the course of the deal, drawing an average of 2.1 million viewers and more than 1.5 million male 18-to-49 viewers. Under the new pact, Spike is expected to telecast more live UFC events.

But Spike may not be the only cable network offering UFC content. The organization is in discussions with HBO, and has had preliminary discussions with ESPN, about securing a distribution deal for additional live events and other UFC content, according to executives from both networks. ESPN, for one, has stepped up its coverage of the UFC, televising the weigh-in of the May 26 UFC 71 main event bout between Chuck Lidell and Quinton Jackson, profiling the UFC on the cover of ESPN the Magazine and televising highlights of UFC events on its signature SportsCenter show. UFC executives could not be reached for comment at press time.

In other news, Showtime announced the July 27 launch of mixed martial arts series ShoXC: Elite Challenger Series, which will air once a month with young, up-and-coming fighters.