The UFC is set to make it’s network television debut this Saturday, it’s just not a network most people have heard of.

The UFC announced today that three UFC 125 prelims will air live and free on Ion Television.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship® announced today that three UFC 125 preliminary fights will air live on ION Television on Saturday, Jan. 1 starting at 8:55pm ET/5:55pm PT.

The announcement marks the first time UFC prelims will air live and free on network television. The action kicks off this Saturday with three explosive fights featuring Phil Baroni vs. Brad Tavares in a middleweight contest, Josh Grispi vs. Dustin Poirier in featherweight action and Marcus Davis vs. Jeremy Stephens in a highly-anticipated lightweight clash.

By airing live prelim fights on network television, Saturday’s UFC 125 prelims will reach almost 100 million U.S. households.

“I am excited for our fans because I’ve been looking for ways to broadcast UFC prelims free and to as many homes as possible,” UFC President Dana White said. “ION is the largest broadcast television station group in the U.S. and this deal will put the UFC prelims in almost 100 million homes.”

It seems the deal came together at the last minute. Dana White says they didn’t have any plans to air the UFC 125 prelims.

“The prelims were not supposed to be aired for this show, but I know the fans are always asking how I’m going to pay them back for some other shows,” White said. “Well, here you go. If everything else I do isn’t enough, let this one be it.

“These guys are considered a network. The FCC calls them a network. This is the first time we’ve ever been on network television, and the prelims are going to be aired. It’s a big deal. It’s in over 100 million homes.”

“We’re going to talk to these guys and see what’s up,” White said. “This might be a regular thing.

“Listen, it’s a ballsy move to go on network with prelims, but the Ion guys are the real deal. We’re going to see if we can make it happen with them.”

It’s a curious move to say the least. The first question that comes to mind is, what about Spike? They’ve been airing the prelims for nearly every US pay-per-view for the past year. Why not now? The answer to question is unclear, but ESPN’s Josh Gross thinks it’s the UFC sending a shot across Spike’s bow as they renegotiate their current contract which runs out in 2011. Sounds like a safe bet to me.

As for UFC 125, you can find out if you get ION at