Last night I watched the UFC preliminaries on the FX network, which is owned by FOX (for those who don’t know, UFC is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is mixed martial arts fighting, where one can see fighters with training in different martial arts styles go up against one another). MMA, mostly via UFC, has been a rapidly growing business, often eclipsing boxing as a spectator sport over the last ten years (much to the dismay of certain boxing enthusiasts, such as Mark Wahlberg).
Dana White, the CEO of UFC, has done a brilliant job of promoting the sport and in the last year moved its broadcast platform from the SPIKE cable network to FOX and its affiliated networks as he seeks to broaden MMA’s appeal to a mainstream audience. As with any transition, there are bumps in the road, and last night’s broadcast was no exception.
I’ll start with the positives:
- The theme music in between the action is now the same FOX jingle that you hear during NFL football games, and this certainly communicates a level of mainstream credentials.
- The four fights shown were generally good and occasionally excellent and embodied a good mix of MMA techniques.
- Joe Rogan (the analyst calling the fight with Mike Goldberg) started slowly but then really found his groove for the duration, bringing some energy to the action at times when the crowd seemed lackluster. He also provided excellent technical commentary, which is typical for him.
- The mega-hype segment just before the pay-per-view broadcast was, as always, perfectly executed by Rogan and Dana White. This segment is designed to make you want to buy the main event, and so the energy of it is huge, even though there is no fight going on and the arena is still. How do they do this? They play loud rock music throughout the arena and then have Rogan and White virtually screaming at each other describing the upcoming main event bouts. It gives you the appearance and feeling of tremendous crowd involvement at a time when the fans are actually picking their noses and otherwise silent. Brilliant promotion, no doubt.
Now here are the negatives:
- The FOX jingle normally used during NFL football games is in a major key musically speaking, whereas MMA is an incredibly raw combat sport better suited to a minor key in my opinion. For those who are not musically inclined, a major key sounds ‘happy’ and like the sun is shining, whereas a minor key sounds mysterious, tortured, angry, and sad (Blues and Jazz are nearly always in a minor key). The historical UFC theme music is definitely of the power chord/minor key variety (no doubt White made savvy decisions in this area), and the FOX jingle is almost incongruous in this context.
- The seats in the arena near the octagon were mostly empty, in contrast to what looked like a packed house when the full arena was in view. This undermined the message that there is a high level of enthusiasm for MMA in Japan. The UFC needs to fill those seats with people — one way or the other.
- The selling of Mike Goldberg’s signature line “HERE WE GO” (delivered as fights begin) to Budweiser was a TERRIBLE decision for at least two reasons. First, it is the equivalent of a newly famous rock band selling its best record to a car company in year one instead of in year 40. Second, many viewers who are new to the UFC will mistakenly believe that Goldberg is doing a commercial plug when using the line, rather than the other way around. This cheapens the UFC brand and the experience. I hate it.
- Mike Goldberg was not in sync with Rogan as much as he normally is.
- The judging on the first fight was terrible (the judges awarded the wrong guy the victory), and this never helps a sport trying to gain mindshare in the culture. Fans want legitimate competition, and I had a flashback to the debut of Heath Herring, which was the only time I felt the outcome was being engineered. Not good.
But I love the UFC nonetheless and look forward to seeing more fights. Good work Dana, and keep it up.