Depending on your point of view, your heart either leapt or stopped cold last week, as Lorenzo Fertitta stood at a podium in New York and announced that the UFC planned to do 54 events during 2014.
It was a breathtaking number, a staggering increase from the 33 the UFC will have done by the end of 2013 and one that obviously meant the fight company would average more than an event per week during the next calendar turn.
Later, Fertitta said he misspoke.
The UFC CEO corrected himself in an interview with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, saying his organization’s fight cards would number “in the 40s” next year. Most of the upsurge, he added, would happen at overseas Fight Night shows that might not even air in the U.S.
If accurate, Fertitta’s recalibrated number simply represents the next step in the UFC’s ongoing international expansion plans. The faint whooshing sound you heard in response was American MMA fans sighing in unison—half of them with relief, half with disappointment.
No matter how you look at it though, 2014 will see yet another increase in the number of overall events from a promotion that at times appears hell bent on testing the limits of its own popularity.
Even it you’re one of those people who “can’t get enough” UFC, it occasionally feels like the fight company is on a mission to find out how much is too much.
Since its popularity exploded with the debut of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2005, the UFC has steadily increased its annual crush of events—from five each year during 2003-04 to the 40-plus it forecasts for 2014. Simultaneously, it’s also drastically boosted the sheer volume of its programming hours, making nearly every fight it holds available to fans on television or Online.
Its fledgling broadcast deal with Fox now means the UFC has four separate tiers of live televised events, from pay-per-view broadcasts all the way down to occasional shows on Fox Sports 2. For each of those cards, fans—if they so desire—can watch somewhere in the neighborhood of six hours worth of content on a variety of channels and devices.
For hardcore fans, it has created a pugilistic wonderland where—even if you eschew off-brand products like Bellator, World Series of Fighting, Invicta and the weekly Friday broadcasts on AXS TV—there’s hardly ever a dull moment.
It also means the UFC continues to demand more and more of its fans, if not in PPV dollars then simply in the time it asks them to commit to following its many machinations.
At this point you couldn’t blame casual fans—the ones who might zone in and zone out at will—if they feel like keeping up with the UFC is like following a season of The Wire.
Miss an episode or two, and you end up feeling totally lost.
Take for example the case of Ricardo Lamas, who will fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 169 in February after appearing on exactly one previous UFC main card broadcast.
Hardcores are all over Lamas, who’s been stellar while going 4-0 in the Octagon since June 2011. There’s no doubt in their minds that he’s earned a shot at the championship after crafting a trio of impressive stoppages during those outings.
Casual fans, however, might not even know who Lamas is, considering that the bulk of his UFC bouts have aired on preliminary cards.
Not only will the Aldo fight be Lamas’ first appearance on a UFC pay-per-view, it will be his just his third showing on UFC TV, period. He fought in the first bout of a Fox broadcast back in January, but previous to that, his only televised UFC fight was on the now-defunct Fuel TV network.
His other pair of bouts were both Facebook prelims and so casual spectators would have to be following the thread pretty closely to remember him.
That doesn’t seem like a great situation for anyone—not Lamas, not Aldo and certainly not fans.
Now, imagine if he wins. As the UFC continues to add events to its schedule, cases like Lamas’ are only going to become more common. Great fighters will get put in big spots with little to no build.
Long story short, as the number of shows, the fighters on the payroll and the expectations on fans all continue to increase it gets more and more difficult to keep track of what the UFC is doing. At some point, a ceiling will be reached, a levy will break and fans will be forced to say no mas.
Perhaps the UFC will bump against that ceiling three years from now, or five.
Or perhaps it’s already there, now that not even the guy who owns the company seems to know exactly how many events are on tap for next year.