Mixed martial arts is returning to network television.
Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko's fight against Brett Rogers on Nov. 7 will be shown live on CBS, the first time the sport will be on network TV since last year. The show will include four televised fights at a venue to be announced.
"There's no question this is a sport that is fast becoming a force in popularity and as a business," said Kelly Kahl, senior vice president of CBS Television.
CBS is the only major network to align itself with mixed martial arts, a sport once decried by Sen. John McCain as "human cockfighting" and banned from television.
The network showed three events for the now-defunct EliteXC promotion in 2008, drawing generally strong ratings. The most recent broadcast last October generated more viewers in the coveted 18-34 demographic than college football and the Major League Baseball playoffs.
"When you look back at the history of the CBS shows that were aired in Elite, historically they were the most-watched shows in the history of mixed martial arts," Strikeforce chief executive Scott Coker told The Associated Press.
There is no questioning the success of the sport on television. Strikeforce's show Aug. 15 on Showtime was the highest-rated mixed martial arts program on the premium cable channel, and the UFC routinely generates huge ratings for its shows on Spike and pay-per-view.
Emelianenko (30-1), one of the top pound-for-pound fighters, has built a resolute fan base _ some would say cult following _ through his no-nonsense style and mysterious training regimen in Russia. His only loss was a controversial stoppage early in his career, and he's won his last five fights in the first round.
Emelianenko is an expert in judo and the Russian military martial art of sambo. He became a free agent when the Affliction promotion collapsed following the failed drug test of Josh Barnett, who was supposed to face Emelianenko earlier this year. Emelianenko then spurned industry kingpin UFC to join Strikeforce, an up-and-coming company that agreed to work with M-1 Global, his own mixed martial arts promotion.
Rogers (10-0), an imposing 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, is a rising star in the sport. The St. Paul, Minn., native has finished all of his fights by knockout, including a stunning stoppage of Andrei Arlovski in June.
"I know that when great fights happen, stars emerge," Coker said. "With the platform we have with CBS, we know that we're going to create some more stars."