Just one day out from UFC Fight Night 55: Rockhold vs. Bisping, the MMA world waits with bated breath for the highly anticipated main event pitting Luke Rockhold (#5) against Michael Bisping (#9) in Sydney, Australia.

The event, which will air exclusively on Fight Pass, has massive implications for not only the UFC’s middleweight division, but also the future of the UFC’s on-demand streaming network, as well as how the company broadcasts its elite content going forward.

Almost one year on from its introduction, Fight Pass is now an established entity available in 178 different countries and territories worldwide. With it technical flaws resolved, the network plays host to a wealth of material ranging from fight libraries to commission hearing broadcasts, news segments and panel discussions. Combining this programming with the broadcast of live UFC events from around the world, the internet-based service is closer to fulfilling its potential as the premier source of MMA content than ever before.

With a foundation in place, the UFC is now embarking on the gradual process of centralizing its live broadcasts under the company-owned service that is Fight Pass. From a business standpoint, it stands to reason that the UFC’s end goal is to strengthen Fight Pass viewership to the point that the company can sever ties with PPV providers, keeping a greater fraction of the revenue in-house and optimizing its action for both mobile and remote viewing.

UFC Fight Night 55: Rockhold vs. Bisping marks a significant stepping stone in this process. The temptation to save such an exciting and emotionally engaging fight for a Pay-Per-View co-main event or a Fox Sports 1 headliner, where the immediate return on investment might be greater, has given way to a longer-term strategy that seeks to elevate Fight Pass as an MMA media platform in conjunction with a globalized media strategy.

The UFC has accelerated its provision of Fight Pass exclusive content in recent months, with the likes of Gunnar Nelson, Rick Story, Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson headlining these cards. Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping’s high profile contest, however, marks a coming of age for Fight Pass, offering more value than these previous bouts while also highlighting the network’s key strengths as the company looks to attract its next wave of subscribers.

The bout itself appeals to the two principal philosophies that underpin MMA’s appeal; the competitive aspect of seeing the sport’s finest determine who is superior, and the entertainment of revelling in the personal animosity and verbal ‘window dressing’ that entails pre-fight hype. Between these two dimensions, the fight appeals to the wide collection of personalities among MMA fans who appreciate different aspects of the sport.

The main event will create a new potential title contender at 185 pounds who will likely share the claim with Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza until Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort finally face off in February 2015. Additionally, the bout between Rockhold and Bisping will capitalize on a feud dates back over two years. Following an incubation period comprising Twitter back and forthface-to-face verbal jousts and winning their previous bouts, the animosity between Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping has reached a crescendo point at which the UFC can cash in on this organic rivalry.

With the amount of insult-laden debate that has gone on between Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping, one could mistake the hype as something out of the Attitude Era of professional wrestling. Ironically, the WWE has also set a precedence for broadcast platforms that the UFC looks to have also learned from.

While Fight Pass has been compared to the WWE Network, another on-demand content service, the WWE Network’s aggressive implementation differs from the more reserved marketing strategy behind UFC’s Fight Pass. In doing so, it has arguably justified the UFC’s gradual empowerment of Fight Pass. Fallout from the WWE’s public quarterly reports suggests the company attempted to make the transition away from traditional broadcast platforms too quickly. In doing so, existing revenue streams including pay-per-view and DVD buys were compromised as the company failed to convert the majority of its consumer interest into network subscribers.

In contrast, the UFC has recognized the stubborn viewing habits of the television consumer, pursuing a more gradual path towards making Fight Pass its leading content provider that continues to appease the company’s existing relationships with pay-per-view carriers and its primary television partner – FOX – by providing them with exclusive content of their own.

The decision to broadcast the event from Australia via Fight Pass also uses the network’s ability to overcome time difference logistics as the UFC localizes MMA in different international territories. Providing the content live and on delay for American viewers, Fight Pass’s flexibility is reinforced as a strength of the content platform.

Tying in with the UFC’s efforts to host localized shows in foreign markets, without isolating the loyal, domestic MMA consumer, this Saturday’s event meets the need to a revisit and re-energize a growing market in Australia by providing content with significant implications. While the headline bout adds clarity to the middleweight division, Michael Bisping’s presence capitalizes on the historical relationships of the Commonwealth community; using the Englishman as a charismatic, main event draw with fan favorite potential. The pseudo-hometown hero role is one The Count created on his last excursion to the land of Oz, when he defeated Jorge Rivera at UFC 127.

As further evidence of the UFC’s intent to capitalize on the noise surrounding Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping for Fight Pass’s benefit, the company’s offering of a free seven-day trial of the service reflects a bolstered effort to open more casual consumers to the wider UFC product. Using temporary access to transition casual viewers from live broadcast towards archived content dating back to the sport’s earliest years, the trial period lets potential subscribers understand and experience the benefits of the Fight Pass platform that merit the monthly fee usually attached to the service.

From the outside looking in, Rockhold vs. Bisping is something of a milestone for Fight Pass. As arguably the most highly anticipated bout to air live on the network, it is a symbol of the growing faith the UFC has in its network. While the exact number of Fight Pass subscribers has not been disclosed by the UFC’s private parent company Zuffa, Saturday’s showdown in Sydney is an abstract symbol of progress for MMA’s most dominant entity as the UFC looks to become a household name in the digital realm.

About The Author

Aidan O'Connor
Staff Writer

A native of Maidstone, England, Aidan has been covering MMA in a news or feature capacity since 2010. In addition to writing for The MMA Corner, Aidan also runs the MMAmusing Twitter account and enjoys the sport as an avid enthusiast. A graduate in English and American Studies, he currently works in marketing and public relations.