The UFC has tried several ways of making fights on their non-traditional nights fun and exciting. When The Ultimate Fighter first started to feel stale, they went with a live season. Fighters actually fought in real time and were forced to stay in the house for an extended period of time. The hopes that this would make an impact largely failed as ratings plummeted.
Then, with Wednesday being considered an underutilized day, the UFC brought a fight card to Fox Sports 1. Blame the ho-hum card they put together or the fact that it was in South Dakota, but either way the ratings were also rough. The show drew 40% below the at-the-time average of FS1 cards.
Enter Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
This past Tuesday Dana rolled out the first show in his new series. While it’s impossible to get viewership numbers from UFC’s FightPass, the MMA media and fans seemed to deem it a success. Here’s three things that gave it the ability to succeed, not just for the first installment, but for many to come.
1) The Announcing
People might not believe me on this one, but the announcing is a huge reason for the success. Firstly, I guarantee there were an impressive number of people who tuned in just to check out SnoopCast. I’ll admit, after watching for a bit, the allure of it made me flip over to see what it was all about. As a diehard fan of MMA, it was awful. Seriously. However, I still think the UFC did right here. Having Snoop a part of the show created something people were talking about. Plus, SnoopCast was never designed for fight fans like me who want to hear Dominick Cruz’s technical breakdowns. It was for the fans who want a good laugh while watching two men punch each other in the head.
The announcing was also successful because it gave them a new platform to try out different people. While the NFL network’s Dan Hellie was adequate in his play-by-play duties, former UFC talent Yves Edwards was very knowledgeable and quick on his technical breakdowns. While he may still lag behind Brian Stann a bit, he certainly made his case for a bigger show in the future.
2) The Instant Signing
Part of the downside of Dana White’s Looking for a Fight webisodes for me was that you’d see someone perform well and then Dana would say “keep your phone on kid”. Then we’d wait. I’d check my sources to see if that fighter had future fights booked. I’d check the forums to see if somebody could confirm that the UFC did call, and then I’d lose interest. By the time a guy actually got his UFC call, I’d have to remind myself what episode he came from and whether or not I liked his performance.
Instead of the long wait to decide, Dana and his gang gave it about 10 minutes before rolling out contracts for Kurt Holobaugh and Boston Salmon. While it may have been disheartening for the three fighters who won and still didn’t get contracts, Dana’s choice in fighters was generally expected after the performances. The getting to see them meet Dana and get interviewed about the contracts was just a cherry on top. Which brings me to my last choice…
3) Laura Sanko
Unless you frequent Invicta programming, you may not know Laura Sanko. She’s been the in-cage interviewer for Invicta and usually does a stellar job with the basic questions. However, in her new role as backstage interviewer for the contender series, her full skills really shined.
What people might miss about Sanko is that she was formerly a professional mixed martial artist (she went 1-0 in Invicta before having her second fight cancelled due to a pregnancy). Being so, she was able to apply her knowledge of positions and terminology that made her look like so much more than your usual backstage interviewer. Instead of just how the fighters feel, we get information about choices in the fight and how it played out.
Ultimately, only time will tell if the series is a smash hit or a dud. The question can ultimately be asked “can the UFC sign one or two guys every week?”. But whether it is to stay or go, you have to be excited about the start.