ROUNDTABLE: How would you grade UFC’s debut on ESPN?

By Michael Hiscoe, Managing Editor

How would you grade UFC’s debut on ESPN? Is it better, worse, or the same as the FOX broadcasts?

Michael Grocke, MMATorch Fight Handicapper

Looking at the entire package that ESPN delivered on Saturday night, I liked what I saw. I only had one glitch with the stream that was easily corrected by logging out and then back in. After that no issues at all. One complaint I do have is I don’t feel I should have to sit through commercials on a streaming service I’m paying to watch. Overall, I liked the pace and feel of the presentation.

I liked seeing highlights of the fights on SportsCenter, I think it brings more credibility to the sport. Time will ultimately tell what value both ESPN and the UFC will get from the partnership, but I think both parties gained immediate value with Saturday night’s event. I hope ESPN puts the machinery behind the UFC and starts to promote and spotlight individual fighters with compelling narratives in a real effort to create stars the sport so desperately needs right now.

Frank Hyden, Columnist – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I think it was the same. They have their formula and they’re not going to change. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it would be good if they changed things up a bit. In fairness, there’s only so much they can really do, but they should try to mix things up from time to time, like use different graphics and stuff like that. Any changes to be made are fairly minor, other than getting rid of Stephen A. Smith. Whether you like him or not, he didn’t add anything to the broadcast so he can go. Unless he really wants to stay and learn and all that, but I don’t really think that’s the case.

Sean Covington, Columnist – Covington’s Corner

I have to give it a B+. It isn’t quite as smooth as it was on FOX but it more of a sports feel to it. Stephen A. Smith was actually a nice touch, he had a very basic perspective that was and much appreciated. The card was also very solid but every card can’t be a stacked card.

ESPN had many technical issues and that can turn plenty of fans away; souring them on both ESPN and UFC.

Gary Meigs, MMATorch Contributor

I think the debut was actually pretty good. I liked the easy access to the website. Rewatching the preliminaries, the broadcast to me was just a notch below FS1 (or Fox). Give them some time and I could see it on par or perhaps above Fox.

David McGrath, Host – MMATorch Today Podcast

It was better paced. The FS1 shows seemed to drag on forever. The production and video packages were top notch. I can live without ESPN using their talking heads like Stephen A. Smith in the broadcasts though, he simply has zero credibility with MMA fans.

Christian Moore, MMATorch Contributor

I thought it was a fine start. The main card hit me as very slow and lackluster, but the main event and the PVZ/Ostovich fight kept me interested. The card could have been better, but I thought the broadcasting was great. Other than a few occasional cameos I guess, from Stephen A. and a few others, it was the same quality, which was very good. They’re looking strong, but still too early to tell.

Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Managing Editor

As our resident Canadian, my experience with this new era was unique. Little has changed up here as far as how we watch the shows. The main card aired on TSN, with the early prelims on Fight Pass and the middle prelims available on either TSN or Fight Pass.

All of the talk about how cool and surreal is to see a UFC broadcast on ESPN felt a little heavy handed to me, but that may be in part due to not having ESPN as part of our culture growing up. UFC has been on TSN for a few years now, which is one of the two major sports networks in Canada and before that, they were on the other major sports network, so it feels normal. Even going back to the “dark ages” of UFC, replays of old pay-per-views used to air late at night on TSN.

I don’t understand the hatred of Stephen A. Smith, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

Looking at the production, I did notice that they used their pay-per-view graphic packages (center clock, grey tones) rather than recycling or adapting the graphics style they used for FS1 broadcasts (corner clock, lots of yellow). Having a more consistent style regardless of the platform may be a better approach for UFC moving forward since how people watch UFC outside of the United States isn’t changing much. One thing American viewers will have to get used to is figuring out where to watch the shows each week. With events jumping around from streaming to cable and back again, and then vice versa a few times a year may become a headache.

It may have been intentional, or it may have been luck, but the main card was over at about 12:30 eastern, which is a huge improvement. The long-running cards have been a major gripe of mine for some time now. They also appear to be at least experimenting with earlier start times with some 8 and 9 pm eastern main cards coming up in recent weeks. This is a very much welcome change and one of the suggestions I made a few weeks ago before the move.


All in all, it was a very positive start for UFC with their new broadcast partner. I’m giving it a very strong A+ out of the gate.

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