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Last year was a big one for the UFC, most notably when the mixed-martial-arts company was sold for a whopping $4 billion to WME-IMG.
So when AT&T Audience Network’s MMA drama Kingdom returns in May for season three, it’s a change that the series will address head-on.
“The evolution of the business comes into play on our show,” creator and showrunner Byron Balasco told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “It affords our characters new opportunities that maybe they wouldn’t have had before.”
The sale is a huge cry from the sport’s earlier days, even going back to 2014, when Kingdom first debuted.
“Back then, especially, there was no living to be had,” Balasco recalled of the sport’s early days. “It was just a straight-up intense way to spend a couple of hours.”
Although the sale has changed the narrative of the series, which follows several fighters trying to make it in the ultracompetitive and intense field, it’s something the series is embracing as the drama heads into season three.
“This season, we dive into the fact that it is bigger and grander and it is more, like, widespread,” said star Kiele Sanchez.
“It’s no longer an outlaw sport,” added co-star Frank Grillo, drawing comparisons to older sports leagues such as the NFL and MLB. “UFC is big business, and I think we’re going to see other leagues develop in the future, so I think we’re on the precipice of being able to tell stories.”
For all the growth and changes in the sport that have come and that are still ahead, Balasco is confident there are certain things that will remain a constant.
“The people that are actually participating in the sport are actually the same people,” said Balasco. “So you can sort of legitimize the business structure and corporatize that … but you’re never going to change the fact that fighters are fighters.”
He added: “They’re living on the edge, and it’s an extreme way to live and it’s an extreme, violent world. I don’t think that will ever change.”
Season three of Kingdom premieres May 31 on AT&T Audience Network.
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