UFC Dials Back European Expansion, but Overexposure Still a Danger

Jeremy BotterMMA Senior WriterDecember 2, 2013

Getty Images

I woke up this fine Monday morning with the realization that we've just begun another Ultimate Fighting Championship fight week. And, in both the immortal words and general vibe of Ron Burgundy, in no way is that depressing.

If you haven't seen Anchorman—well, first of all, we can't be friends if you haven't seen Anchorman—then allow me to help you out with the above statement: I was being sarcastic, because it's actually quite depressing. 

Now, I'm not sitting here telling you that I'm going to sit in a dark room and rock myself back and forth while reading Sylvia Plath and listening to the darker cuts in Kendrick Lamar's catalog. This is not actual, outright depression. 

This is what it is: The realization that the UFC brass either has no idea what oversaturation is, or they think it just doesn't apply to them because Fighting Is In Our DNA and We Just Get It and We Like It and It's Going To Be The Biggest Sport In The World.

It's the realization that in 2014 and beyond, the amount of weekends that are not filled with UFC fight cards will be drastically outnumbered by the weekends that are. 

The promotion has been preparing to unveil a new digital distribution network that will be used to air the UFC's efforts to push heavily into the European market. That announcement is expected later this month. The network will be used for those who want to watch the UFC's international events—which will be held at logical local times instead of starting at times that appease American networks and fans—on a live basis instead of waiting for the tape-delayed television broadcast.

Many of these international events were not originally planned to be marquee events. They would be used to develop regional fighters in an attempt to build local superstars that might eventually be relied on to sell the promotion to local fans, or to try to find fighters who can become breakout stars in other areas of the world. The UFC has spoken for years of an eventual time when multiple UFC events happen around the world on the same day; this was to be the first step in that process.

In October, Garry Cook—the UFC's executive vice president and managing director of Europe—revealed that the promotion planned on hiring a European matchmaker to join matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. The matchmaker would be in charge of scouting and booking lower-level European regional talent, and would report directly to Cook in the UFC's London offices. The announcement took many by surprise, but in reality they'd started the hiring process months before.

But now, everything has changed. Multiple sources have confirmed that the promotion is no longer hiring a European matchmaker. The position will not exist. And the events, once planned to feature regional European fighters you've never heard of, will instead be regular UFC events. They'll air on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2 on a tape-delayed basis, and they'll at least be headlined by established UFC stars. They'll also be available live, though at nonoptimal times for North American fans, on the UFC's new digital distribution network. 

This is a good thing. I love fighting and I love fights, and I guess I'm part of that group that Dana White always refers to. But I'm also part of a group that believes too much of anything, even a good thing, is a bad thing. There are very few things in this world that benefit from overexposure, and fighting is not one of them. 

Television ratings already reflect the idea that fans are not at all interested in consuming a subpar fight card simply because it bears the UFC logo; they want to see stars, and increasing the amount of fight cards you put out there means you have less stars to use on each of them. 

Creating new fight cards that feature European fighters that 99.99 percent of fans around the world have never heard of, and then asking those fans to watch the fights on the Internet, was a recipe for disaster. So it's a good thing the UFC has nixed those plans.

But the cards will still exist, and they'll air on television. Which means that we'll have to treat them as we do every other UFC card, instead of having the ability to overlook them because they feature regional talent aimed at regional fans.

It will be fight week in perpetuity, a never-ending cycle of promotion and fights and Joe and Dana screaming at you from your television. 

And I don't know how low the UFC's ratings have to go before they realize they're just as susceptible to oversaturation as everyone else, but I strongly suspect we're going to find out in 2014.