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Volume 23 No. 29
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How the UFC has remade itself since UFC 100

Though not technically the headliner, pro wrestling crossover star Brock Lesnar not only is the biggest man, but also the owner of the biggest name, on the much-anticipated UFC 200 card, scheduled for July 9 at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Brock Lesnar returns to a UFC much different from the one of 2009.
Photo by: UFC.COM
This is as it was seven years ago, when Lesnar shared top billing at the then record-shattering UFC 100 event, which had 1.6 million pay-per-view buys and delivered a gate of $5.1 million. But much has changed in the sport, and particularly for UFC parent company Zuffa, which has been aswirl in rumors of an impending sale that values the property at a staggering $4 billion or more.

Here’s a look at five ways in which the UFC has remade itself between its centennial and bicentennial events.

A broader broadcast strategy

When the UFC moved from Viacom’s Spike to Fox in 2011, it not only was a network change but a shift in overall broadcast strategy. Already strong among

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
young males, the UFC hoped to grow its fan base by getting in front of mainstream sports fans who watched football, baseball and NASCAR on Fox. Fox wanted programming heft for the new FS1 and FS2 sports networks it was launching, which meant the UFC would have to put on more fights.

In the year leading up to UFC 100 — July 12, 2008, to July 11, 2009 — a dozen of the promotion’s 21 events aired on pay-per-view. In that same span heading into UFC 200, the company will have put on that same number of pay-per-views. But this time, it will be out of 39 events — or almost twice as many.

Not counting preliminary fights leading into its pay-per-views, the UFC aired nine events on Spike in the year before UFC 100. In the last year, it will have aired 21 events on the Fox networks, with 17 of those on FS1, where it provides about 29 percent of the network’s prime-time programming and delivers 32 percent of its prime-time audience.

In 2013, the UFC launched its Fight Pass digital subscription service. Largely a repository of the UFC fight library at its start, Fight Pass has grown into a channel for more than archival footage and fringe events, as evidenced by the decision to place the February return of iconic former champ Anderson “Spider” Silva on the over-the-top service.

“We used to say we were a pay-per-view company,” said UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta. “Now we’re a content company. That’s what we do. We’re kind of ambivalent about whether a piece of content sits on pay-per-view, sits on a broadcast platform, sits on a cable platform or now sits on an OTT platform.

“We’re looking at the world differently now. It’s about creating content and making sure our content lines up so we’re maximizing revenues. Or sometimes it’s not about revenue, but it’s about marketing or exposure.”

Spanning the globe

Vegas, baby. That’s where UFC 100 was held. It’s where UFC 200 will be held. And it’s the early, and prohibitive, favorite to be the site of UFC 300. But the schedule that surrounds those core Vegas events now looks nothing like that of seven years ago.

GROWTH SINCE UFC 100


New broadcast agreement with Fox (2011)
Opened three international offices: Toronto (2010); São Paulo (2013); Singapore (2013)
Acquired two MMA promoters: WEC (2010) and Strikeforce (2011)
Launched UFC Fight Pass digital subscription service (2013)
Debuted two video games: EA Sports “UFC” (2014) and EA Sports “UFC 2” (2016)
Established athlete outfitting policy (2015)
Introduced anti-doping policy (2015)
Expanded athlete roster from 200 to more than 500

The UFC thought of itself as increasingly international back then, hosting three events in the U.K., one in Germany and one in Canada. But 16 of its 21 events were in the U.S., with half of those in Vegas.

In the year leading up to UFC 200, the promotion will have hosted 14 shows in Vegas, but that will be out of 39 events. The 15 events outside the U.S. shake out this way: Brazil (3), Canada (2), the U.K. (2), Australia (2), Mexico, Ireland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Japan and South Korea.

Sports bras

There were none. At least not in the octagon.

The UFC had no women’s division in 2011, when it purchased rival promotion Strikeforce, at that time home to a handful of increasingly popular female fighters, including Olympic judo medalist Ronda Rousey and her rival, Miesha Tate. When the UFC absorbed the Strikeforce fighters onto its roster, it created a division for the women.

Fertitta and UFC President Dana White knew the move would broaden their audience but never could have predicted the impact that awaited, as Rousey grew into the sport’s most recognizable face — and one of its two biggest pay-per-view draws.

“She in a lot of ways is becoming a gateway drug for the UFC,” Fertitta said late last year, when Rousey’s star was at its peak. “She’s the first point of contact for the vast majority of new fans. People who aren’t necessarily buyers of pay-per-views or the demo that we would typically market to are coming in to watch and buy the Ronda fights.”

The long-term plan for next month’s event always included Rousey, but that was sideswiped when she was upset by Holly Holm in November. Holm then lost to Tate, who is scheduled for her first title defense at UFC 200.

Squeezing out the juice

Within days of signing to fight Lesnar at UFC 200, Australian heavyweight Mark Hunt launched his first volley at his massive opponent, describing him as “juiced to the gills.” While Hunt did not substantiate the accusation and Lesnar denies it, this much is certain: The PED testing landscape in the UFC today is far different from what it was the last time Lesnar appeared.

Last year, the UFC introduced an anti-doping policy similar to that used in the Olympics, with athletes subject to both in-competition and out-of-competition tests for a wide range of substances.

As of mid-June, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reported conducting 450 tests of UFC athletes in 2016, with 386 of those coming during out-of-competition periods.

A more uniform approach

Standing, arms raised, in the octagon after his technical knockout victory at UFC 100, Lesnar was attired as most fighters of the time, in a silver and white graphic tee emblazoned with the requisite sketch of skulls, chains and daggers.

Lesnar’s shirt was from his own apparel brand, Death Clutch. It also included the logos of Lesnar’s sponsors: Jack Link’s beef jerky, Dymatize Nutrition, Spencer’s Gifts, Fight Factory, Minnesota Martial Arts Academy and Henson & Efron, a Minneapolis law firm that represented him.

Should Lesnar strike that same pose after UFC 200, he will be dressed quite differently.

The six-year, $70 million exclusive uniform provider deal the UFC struck with Reebok at the end of 2014 cleaned up the sport’s look, creating a handful of shorts and shirt designs from which fighters can choose, done in colors tied to the nation each represents. Rather than selling space to sponsors, fighters collect licensing checks ranging from $2,500 to $40,000 per fight, based mostly on tenure.

“The day that we announced the Reebok partnership we got a call from one of the major sports networks that said, ‘This is the smartest thing you’ve done,’” Fertitta said. “‘This elevates you into the upper echelon of major sports brands. And this gives [our network] a lot more comfort in being able to cover this sport. We’re not showing content on our network where you’ve got Bob’s Plumbing and Dynamic Fastener, or brands that aren’t of the same magnitude you’d see in the NBA or NFL.’”