Tonight (August 17, 2013) the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) helped debut Fox Sports 1 (FS1) with UFC Fight Night 26, live from the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. FS1, the rebranded Speed, is Fox's attempt at a dedicated sports network to directly compete with ESPN and the UFC will be one of the major properties for the channel.
To say that UFC Fight Night 26 was an important card would be an understatement. Outside of the season one finale of the Ultimate Fighter and the debut on Fox, tonight's card had the biggest long term implications for the Zuffa/Fox relationship.
Knowing this, the overall production values had to be elevated to the same level as Fox's NFL coverage. FX was great for the UFC as a platform, but an entertainment network just doesn't have the same sort of focus to details as a dedicated sports network.
The biggest improvement was by far the use of the phantom camera, which was used for those shots of the fighters on the canvas. Typically a phantom camera is used for high speed footage, such as capturing the moment when a water balloon pops. Fox Sports and the UFC utilized it to showcase the intricacies of the ground game.
It made for such a great viewing experience, especially being able to really take in the kind of work that Urijah Faber and Chael Sonnen did on the ground. Fans were able to see the set ups for submissions and grappling exchanges, which have long been the most under appreciated aspect of Mixed Martial Arts.
The other highlight was the usage of the team of Kenny Florian, Brian Stann, and Jay Glazer when the UFC needed to kill time. In the past, the UFC has resorted to re-airing preliminary bouts. Having three intelligent and competent analysts allowed for discussion that improved the overall experience.
They have a great chemistry and hearing Florian and Stann give their perspectives on fights helped relate the action on the screen to what the fighters were experiencing. It's those small discussions that helped improve a product that's often misunderstood by the casual fan.
From my couch, I didn't notice any slip ups with the overall production. This was about as perfect of a network debut as Fox and the UFC could have hoped for. The fights were entertaining and the entire production staff, from the cameramen to the folks in the truck, ensured that everyone at home got the best viewing experience.
Honestly, I look forward to UFC Fight Night 27 in two weeks. The UFC raised the standard for combat sports production tonight. Now they just need to keep finding ways to improve on it.