By Matt Saccaro
Earlier today, Ariel Helwani tweeted that there was going to be 54 UFC events in 2014, or at least that was the plan.
But there won’t be as many as 54 events, and it’s possible that many of the extra events won’t even be on television. Lorenzo Fertitta elucidated the UFC’s plans for 2014 in an interview with Ariel Helwani. Predictably, the UFC is focusing on international growth in 2014.
“We are looking at expanding our Fight Night product,” said Fertitta. “We have the bottom tier, we have the Ultimate Fighter which we’re taking around the world now. We have obviously the series on FOX Sports 1. We just got done filming The Ultimate Fighter: China which will air in January in China. We’ve got The Ultimate Fighter: Canada and Australia in production right now. We’re in pre-production for series in other various countries around the world. That’s our base,” he said. But TUF is only one piece of the global MMA puzzle. The more important piece, at least according to Fertitta, are the mid-level Fight Night cards.
“In the middle of the pyramid we have our UFC Fight Night brand,” he said. “We’re gonna take that Fight Night product and expand it into Europe and into Asia next year…We’re gonna add fights in those regions so when you add them on to the 33 we’d do this year, it gets into that 40-ish type number.”
Regarding the highly controversial number of 54, Fertitta claimed that he misspoke. He also teased about where the events would be televised (if anywhere).
“Is that what I said? 54? It won’t be quite that. I think I misspoke. It’ll be in the 40′s. Right now, we’ll have some news coming up on where they’re gonna air. I think we’re gonna have some ground-breaking ideas as far as where that’s gonna be available.”
It’s fortunate that the cool-headed Lorenzo took on this issue. Had Dana White been breaking this news he’d have been cursing out everyone for questioning holding more events per year, calling them butt-hurt pussies and dickheads. Lorenzo manages to professional while being real and actually providing useful, non-PR bullshit.
The biggest takeaway from this interview, obviously, is that the UFC is gearing up for further international expansion and is holding even more events next year. Initially, my gut reaction was that this was disastrous; the UFC’s efforts overseas have already damaged the sport’s popularity in the US. What will diluting the schedule with even more Fight Night events headlined by fighters without Wikipedia pages like Ilir Latifi do?
Fortunately, it seems like this problem won’t be exacerbated in 2014. (It won’t be solved either, but that’s an issue for another article.) Many of the newly added events are going to be overseas and may not make it to the eyeballs of your average FS1/FS2 viewers, which is a positive thing. The UFC won’t risk further poisoning the US market with horrific fight cards. Yes, the hardcore fans love free fights, but it has become painfully clear that the strength of the UFC brand alone can’t entice the casuals. They need Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice, not Cezar Ferreira and Paulo Thiago. Putting a mid-carder in a main event doesn’t make them a main-eventer in anything but a literal sense.