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VERSUS bulking up its combat sports offering

Already committed to boxing, kickboxing (in the form of Chuck Norris’ World Combat League), and mixed martial arts coverage, the fledgling VERSUS network is increasing its presence in the combat sports field.

While it might be old news to some, the Comcast-owned network has a deal in place with Mark Burnett’s production company that gives it the broadcast rights to both “Contender” franchises for boxing and Muay Thai.

Burnett, the founding producer of Survivor, has managed to find three separate homes for the boxing version of Contender. The show originally started out on NBC before it was canceled due to poor ratings. It was revived under the ESPN banner for several years before a decision was made not to renew the show. But for a young network like VERSUS, it could become an influential program on a network starved for compelling content.

Over the course of the last year, VERSUS has developed a niche audience with live and taped broadcasts of Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting as well as the MMA-themed reality television show “TapouT.”

The live telecasts of the WEC have netted VERSUS some the strongest non-NHL ratings in the network’s brief history.

The boxing version of Contender is not due premiere until December. However, we’re not going to have to wait very long to see its Muay Thai counterpart. The Contender Muay Thai is set to debut on July 31 at 10 p.m. ET. The season will consist of 14 one-hour episodes along with a two-hour finale.

The Contender Muay Thai has aired nationally but never in the U.S. I also know that quite a few hardcore fans have watched it online. I have yet to do so, but I will be tuning in to see it air on VERSUS. I’m glad to see VERSUS strengthen its position in combat sports and am hoping casual fans tune in to get to see what authentic Muay Thai is all about.

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and there is a very rich traditional history behind the “art of the eight limbs” that really has yet to be conveyed to casual fans through MMA telecasts.

I’m a little apprehensive about the boxing version of The Contender. The previous seasons have been over-produced and have not come anywhere close to creating a star to the level of what “The Ultimate Fighter” has produced for the sport of MMA. Doing business with Mark Burnett is never cheap, and considering the success MMA has had on VERSUS, it kind of surprises me they haven’t taken a serious look at doing a TUF-style show for the WEC?

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