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TV turns off fights

German regs ban mixed martial arts events from airwaves

For good reason, the German government likes to monitor violent behavior in the culture, which is why media regulators have pulled the plug on mixed martial arts programming.

German sports channel Sport1 (formerly DSF) had aired mixed martial arts shows such as “The Ultimate Fighter,” “UFC Unleashed” and “UFC Fight Night” from the sport’s leading promoter, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), for the past year, but in March the Bavarian state media regulator (BLM) decided to withdraw the broadcaster’s permit to air the formats.

Citing constitutional grounds for the move, the BLM said “the enormity of violence” portrayed on the formats was “unacceptable” and stressed that the levels of brutality, such as “beating an opponent who is on the floor, contradicts the general principles of a publicly carried broadcaster” as specified in theBavarian state constitution. (Due to the country’s federalized

structure, Germany’s media regulators operate on a state rather than national level.) While Sport1 has complied and pulled the shows, Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Zuffa is appealing the decision in court. The BLM’s ban comes amid growing political hostility to mixed martial arts, which critics say has nothing to do with the principles of sport such as competition and fair play; instead, the objective is employ raw violence in order to force an opponent to surrender. Local politicos are also calling for a ban on UFC live events.

Last year Zuffa staged UFC 99: The Comeback in Cologne, the first UFC event to be held in Germany, attracting nearly 13,000 spectators, generating some $1.3 million in ticket sales.

While pay TV operator Sky, which offers parental controls as well as a pay-per-view channel, could likely get around the ban, Sky spokesman Thomas Kuhnert says it has no intention of bringing UFC back to the platform (UFC used to be on Sky predecessor Premiere some years ago).

Ironically, U.S. politicos led a similar crusade against the UFC in the 1990s. Sen. John McCain described UFC matches at the time as “human cockfighting” and pushed for a ban on live events, which resulted in caged fighting skeins being dropped from major cablers. The UFC responded by improving its image and working closely with state athletic commissions to develop clear guidelines for the sport and doing away with such controversial techniques as head-butting. In the U.S., the sport is more popular than ever.

Whether the ban will affect German sales of THQ’s “UFC Undisputed 2010” remains to be seen. The vidgame hits stores May 25.

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