Every touted prospect in a competition-based sporting event starts somewhere. Sometimes, they find a platform in the form of a promotion on the regional circuit, whereas other times they find themselves on some sort of televised network. Regardless of how big of a stage they fight on, those prospects thrive on the opportunity to make a name for themselves, especially knowing that fans of their sport will enjoy the opportunity to see them compete in one way or another.

Take, for example, UFC Fight Night 34, the UFC’s first digital fight night this past Saturday in Singapore. The headliner featured Strikeforce’s final welterweight champion, Tarec Saffiedine, opposing proficient slugger Hyun Gyu Lim, and aired exclusively on the UFC Fight Pass, the digital network that the UFC revealed just hours before UFC 168 the previous weekend. As pointed out during the reveal, fans who subscribe to the Fight Pass will get the opportunity to watch the card live or at their earliest convenience.

Of course, with the entire card available exclusively aired via the service, fans and pundits immediately wanted to predict how this card would perform from a viewership standpoint. Although Saffiedine presents a recognizable name among most hardcore fans, Lim doesn’t. Finishes of Marcelo Guimaraes and Pascal Krauss helped build momentum for Lim, but fans still don’t know about “Ace.” (Although, you can bet that those that tuned in to the event will remember his name now, given his show of heart in defeat.)

With the UFC Fight Pass getting some promotional time during the UFC 168 broadcast, and with many aware of the ability to register for the service via their Facebook accounts, the card probably performed reasonably well in terms of live viewership, as well as replays. Fight fans who normally serve as “early birds” anyways would have had no problem with waking up early to view the card live, and the ones who prefer to sleep in could do so and enjoy the fight card after getting their desired amount of rest. Should anyone have not found themselves able to watch the card on Saturday, they can always find time to view the card at a later time.

Still, with the number of people that will unquestionably look to see the buzz around the digital network on fight day, should anyone expect the Fight Pass to experience a similar situation to those that Invicta FC’s internet pay-per-views’ experience, where the servers crash and the streams begin to run sluggishly, forcing the promotion to offer the card free of charge?

Obvioously, during the free trial that runs through Feb. 28, this will not stand as an issue. Once the promotion’s rate of $9.99 a month kicks in and fans get access to everything the UFC promised to feature on the service, it will become more of a concern, but the UFC’s live streams have been fairly dependable up to this point and that should remain the case moving forward.

As it stands right now, the UFC’s current programming schedule makes it to where viewers can pick and choose the events they want to watch. Those viewers may come off as picky or spoiled to fans who will watch a UFC card regardless of how good it looks on paper, but those viewers that pick and choose the cards they want to watch understand completely that a number of the UFC’s international events came together to satiate the people that will turn out in support of their countrymen, as opposed to North American viewers who may not find a card stacked unless a Cain Velasquez or a Jose Aldo gets booked in the headliner of the event.

When it comes to satisfying crowds, there exists the sort of balance the UFC must strike to make its digital subscription package attractive to fans. Of course, the UFC would not want to put its biggest fights on the digital package, so none should expect any of the UFC’s reigning world champions to hit the Fight Pass-only cards when they air live, but for a good idea of the type of headlining fight that the UFC would appropriately place on such a platform, look towards the UFC’s return to London in March for a starting point.

Alexander Gustafsson headlines said card opposite undefeated Jimi Manuwa on top of a lineup that also features the likes of Ross Pearson, Melvin Guillard, Ian McCall, Brad Pickett, Cyrille Diabate and Ilir Latifi, as well as prospects Luke Barnatt, Gunnar Nelson, Omari Akhmedov and Mats Nilsson. Why cap off a card with a former title contender in Gustafsson against an undefeated enigma in Manuwa? It makes sense when considering what both men represent at this point in their respective careers.

Gustafsson is Europe’s most successful light heavyweight to date, and Manuwa is the continent’s most promising light heavyweight, as well as arguably the United Kingdom’s best rising star. Again, it does not do the UFC much good to line up its champions for live fights on the digital network, but the service gives the UFC the best possible means of not only introducing these young talents to audiences, but also preparing them for Fox Sports 1, Fox and pay-per-view while also stirring up interest in the Fight Pass offerings at a global level.

Does this mean that when the UFC returns to Ireland, it could potentially feature a card headlined by Conor McGregor, the former Cage Warriors two-division world champion who dresses exceptionally well and carries the techniques of a grassroots martial artist, along with the brash bravado of a young, hungry fighter? Considering that McGregor has openly expressed a desire to compete against high-caliber competition in the past, the UFC can give McGregor a contender who sits close to the top of the division, a la Dustin Poirier or Cub Swanson, thus not only giving McGregor the shot to prove himself while fighting in his home country, but also granting the Irish crowd a chance to see one of their own in an exciting main-event bout deemed worthy of the UFC’s return to Ireland.

Unquestionably, the only real struggles that the UFC may encounter concern areas like Indonesia and Turkey, where top-notch fighters exist, but fly far under the radar. Of course, a lack of known talent from an area never stopped the promotion from featuring a top-shelf main event or some semblance thereof. Still, looking at the current UFC roster, it becomes a task in itself to even attempt to play “main-event matchmaker” for those two events.

Nevertheless, whatever headliners end up at the apex of the international events that will come after the UFC’s next Fight Night in London, and as much as it matters who gets booked for these international encounters, promoting these events at every turn proves equally as important. The UFC benefits greatly from using the television outlets it has now, including the Fox network, to spread the word about the UFC’s new digital service, because, quite bluntly, word of mouth alone does not do the trick. Televised advertisements for the service during non-UFC programming and the occasional web-based advertisement will attract more viewers to the service than simply telling them that if they don’t subscribe, they can’t call themselves fight fans. Besides, unless the UFC lets its fans know know that this “Netflix of MMA” exists, it doesn’t do the promotion any favors to even keep the service active.

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.