UFC Fight Pass Exclusive: 5 Key Questions About New Online Service Answered
Finding anything in Atlanta can be difficult, especially when the destination in question has the word "Peachtree" in the address. A different man might have given up. But I was looking for what was, to me at least, the holy grail—a magical place that could solve many of my problems, both financial and emotional.
After what felt like hours of wandering, finally there it was. In a non-descript building on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, catty corner to a Chinese restaurant, I entered a strange new world.
For immigrants far from home, the Japanese grocery store must have been comforting. After all, if you were in search of seaweed-flavored chips or kiwi-flavored gummy candy, they certainly weren't available in bulk at Costco. The store, and others like it, might be your only connection to a homeland thousands of miles in the distance, literally a world away.
Of course the needs of others was the last thing on my mind at the time. I was purpose driven and not one to lose sight of my goal when it was so close at hand.
I was there for Pancrase, K-1 and Pride.
In addition to Japanese brands, snacks and food staples, a good third of the store was devoted to walls of VHS tapes, each labelled in Kanji that meant nothing to my gaijin eyes. After a quick consultation with the owner and then with the owner's teenage daughter, I had exactly what I wanted more than anything. I had another fix for my MMA habit.
My name is Jonathan, and I am an MMA addict.
In 1998, that was kind of a major problem to have. The sport was dying a slow and painful death in the United States. The UFC, the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts, was held in podunk towns and available only to those with the DISH network or an old-fashioned satellite. Copies were passed around like they were precious family heirlooms, with each generation devolving toward the unwatchable.
Tapes from Japan, where the sport was still a hot commodity, were likewise hard to get your hands on in a timely manner. Thus, the desperate search for the Japanese grocery store.
So, when longtime fans say that UFC Fight Pass is a streaming service that offers a repository of old fight shows as well as new fights from all over the world, they aren't just whistling dixie. Being a fan of MMA was work. To have it all at your virtual fingertips, available at the click of a mouse for $9.99 a month?
That's something worth celebrating.
I lay this at your feet to make my biases crystal clear. I want the UFC Fight Pass to succeed. It's in my DNA, as a fight fan who has seen this sport struggle and claw its way from the brink of death, to want to see the UFC standing strong, to see its history and pioneers preserved for fans old and new.
And yet, after an initial wave of excitement, the mood among UFC fans has shifted a bit. The WWE's announcement of a similar content delivery system that includes live pay-per-view streams has made the UFC's offering seem small in comparison. Fear over what Fight Pass will be lingers, as do concerns over security and the potential for abuse.
Much about Fight Pass remains muddied, so I talked to the UFC's chief content officer Marshall Zelaznik to get to the bottom of some of these issues. What follows is a breakdown of what Fight Pass is and what it is not.
Five questions. Five answers.
Questions of your own or thoughts to share? Let me know in the comments.
The UFC got off to a solid start with its first Fight Pass offering, a live Saturday morning broadcast from Singapore. The stream was crystal clear and flawless, and despite some confusion about how to find the correct link on the webpage, the show was a bona fide hit.
It proved that Fight Pass works. It's functional. It's also a bit of a yawner. The main event of UFC Fight Night 34 was Hyun Gyu Lim vs. Tarec Saffiedine, two fighters who are completely unknown outside a small circle of hardcore fans.
If that's the top attraction, imagine the undercard. I don't have to—I lived it. It was filled to the brim with obscure fighters, the kind who don't have their own Wikipedia page or even a picture up on UFC.com.
Of course, UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta made it clear that Fight Pass events were primarily intended for their home market. For UFC fans in the United States, they are simply a nice bonus.
“We’ve created a significant amount of demand in Europe, in South America, Asia, the Middle East," Fertitta told the assembled press corps, via MMA Junkie. "We have not been doing a good enough job meeting the demand of our customer base in those markets. We decided we’re going to add shows into these markets. We added six shows in Asia and six in Europe to meet that demand."
Some of the fights were good, and others were bad. Beyond their entertainment value, however, none carried any additional import or meaning. But, according to Zelaznik, there is more on the way.
The undercard fights that used to be on Facebook and YouTube have migrated to the new service already. The international versions of The Ultimate Fighter will be there as well, meaning Fight Pass is the only place for fans outside of Brazil to see the showdown between Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen.
Bleacher Report: Is what we see right now what users can expect to see from Fight Pass going forward? Or will there be significant upgrades in the amount and kinds of content?
UFC chief content officer Marshall Zelaznik: UFC Fight Pass will continue to evolve as we refine and improve the experience for our fans. Zuffa LLC owns a vast library of fights, MMA events and supplementary original programming, and we look forward to making some very exciting announcements regarding UFC Fight Pass in the coming weeks and months.
Overall, fans can expect the content to get more engaging and the interface to continue to evolve to deliver the best experience for the fans.
"Essentially what we created here is Netflix for the fight fan."
Pithy? Maybe. But UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta laid out his vision for Fight Pass very clearly at the opening press conference. And, frankly, at launch the library left a lot to be desired.
The enormous library, the one that includes every UFC, WEC and Pride event, as well as offerings from Strikeforce, Elite XC, Affliction and WFA, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, much of what was available was thematic content, collections of fights built around an individual fighter or idea.
While that is a fun idea, it left the completist in me cold.
Bleacher Report: Will the service house the UFC's complete fight library all at once? Or will things rotate in and out the way they did with UFC.tv? At some point might a fan be able to see every Rashad Evans fight, for example, rather than a curated selection?
Zelaznik: Yes, the plan is to have every fight available and to ensure it is easy for fans to find and view the fights. The service will continue to allow fans to go on their own journey of discovery, and we will continue to curate in way to enrich the experience.
The curated selections have proved to be immediately popular with UFC Fight Pass fans. Not every fan is intimate with the rich history of our sport, and with thousands of hours of fights already available on UFC Fight Pass, some fans may not have known where to start. The curated content is a great way to draw their attention to great fights from the past or great feuds that happened in Pride or the WEC, and say “Hey, check this out."
Update: UFC president Dana White announced that the company plans to have the complete library available by the time the free trial is complete on March 1.
The WWE created a lot of buzz with the announcement of a bevy of original programming for its own forthcoming streaming service. As yet, the UFC has been mostly silent about what is to come.
Fight Pass will soon be debuting “Dark Ages” and “Pride Wars” curated content in the coming days, but the promotion has yet to announce any original documentaries or specials for the service.
UFC sources, however, tell Bleacher Report that there is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage from UFC events that no one outside the company has ever seen—and some of it will indeed make its way onto Fight Pass in time.
Bleacher Report: Is the UFC filming or planning any original documentary-style content for Fight Pass?
Zelaznik: Absolutely. In addition to the behind-the-scenes exclusives already available on UFC Fight Pass, there will be significant original programming rolled out in the coming months, including some great documentaries. We have some really cool projects already in production and will be making specific announcements in the near future.
Customers take a leap of faith every time they put their personal and credit card information out in the ether. It's a matter of trust. That's why, when potential security problems were discussed on a popular MMA blog, a ripple was felt throughout the MMA community.
While the UFC was loathe to discuss any specifics of their online security measures, they can point to years of success as an retailer as a check on their side of the ledger.
Bleacher Report: I've read recent articles on Bloody Elbow regarding security issues with UFC Fight Pass. What steps has the UFC taken to protect its customers?
Zelaznik: Having a secure product is always a top priority for us. The system we use for UFC Fight Pass is the same as UFC.tv, and we are always evaluating ways to ensure we continue to deliver a secure environment. When we see the need to update the service, we will, and the fact of the matter is we have been evaluating this as part of our normal course of business.
At what point doe a UFC event stop living in the now and become a part of history?
The question is not as esoteric or conceptual as you might think. Unlike the WWE, UFC is not offering live streaming pay-per-view as part of the Fight Pass package. The premium shows will still need to be purchased at UFC.tv.
When will pay-per-views make their first appearance on Fight Pass? The answer will vary depending on the show.
Bleacher Report: At what point do new pay-per-view events become part of the archive? For example, how long will Fight Pass customers have to wait before they see UFC 169 offered on the service? A month? More?
Zelaznik: We have certain contractual agreements in place that affect this answer. Without disclosing the confidential nature of our deals, we will be pushing to get all our events onto the UFC Fight Pass service within as short a window as possible. In some cases it could be 30 days; in others it could be longer.
I can understand why some UFC fans have cooled on Fight Pass. It was built up in a big way when it was launched, but what fans actually saw was a stripped-down beta version.
I'm personally still bullish about Fight Pass' potential. The first live stream looked great, and the extra features on the Fight Pass version of old pay-per-view fights, things like corner audio and different camera angles, can make viewing a familiar bout a brand-new experience.
UFC Fight Pass, as it exists right now, is a questionable value at $9.99. The Fight Pass that Zelaznik is describing, however, is a must-buy. I trust in the UFC to deliver on its promises and can't wait to start streaming an obscure show like UFC 29—just because I can.