More eyes than ever are on the UFC® thanks to the promotion's new broadcast deal with ESPN.
The agreement makes ESPN the official digital distributor of UFC content in the United States. As part of the deal, ESPN will feature 42 live UFC events per year, which mostly consists of UFC Fight Nights.
For long time fans of the UFC and MMA as a sport, the difference between UFC Pay Per Views and Fight Nights are well known, but the newer audience might still be scratching their heads when hearing about the two types of events.
Let's break it down, clearly and simply, for fight fans old and new.
UFC Pay Per View
Pay Per Views are the most important events run by the UFC, bar none.
These are the numbered events that the UFC runs either monthly or semi-monthly and require a purchase to watch through a PPV provider service.
A recent example of a typical UFC PPV was UFC 232, where Jon Jones headlined the event by defending his light heavyweight championship against Alexander Gustafsson.
The UFC's biggest fights are typically reserved for Pay Per View events, as fans are more likely to pay to watch a marquee matchup or a card with multiple intriguing fights. For example, a fighter such as Conor McGregor, Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier will only be found fighting on Pay Per View at this point in their careers.
Pay Per Views usually feature a championship fight as the main event, unless another matchup worthy of the top spot is warranted. When McGregor fought longtime rival Nate Diaz at UFC 196, and again at UFC 202, the bout was hyped up enough to earn a main event slot without a title being involved.
But there's also circumstances where Pay Per Views feature multiple title fights. For the upcoming UFC 235, both the light heavyweight championship and the welterweight title will be on the line. In rare cases, three titles find their way onto a card — most recently this happened at UFC 205 and UFC 217.
While Pay Per Views are not completely comprised of championship fights, they normally consist of bouts on the main card between ranked opponents or those one or two fights away from a title shot.
The last thing to note about Pay Per View is that the main card is the only thing available for the purchase. Both the undercard and preliminary fights are available through either UFC Fight Pass (the UFC's subscription-based video service) and broadcast television. Prelims used to air on Fox Sports 1, but now find themselves on ESPN or ESPN+.
UFC Fight Night
UFC Fight Nights are main cards that are broadcast on live television. Before the UFC's deal with ESPN, Fight Nights were hosted on Fox's platforms such as Fox Sports 1, Fox and FX. Now they call ESPN and ESPN+ their home.
Fight Nights vary on significance based on location, date and fighters involved. They also allow the UFC to appeal to more specific audiences instead of trying to accommodate an entire PPV audience. For example, the UFC on ESPN+ 2 Fight Night was held in Brazil and featured mostly Brazilian fighters.
The UFC uses Fight Nights as a promotional tool to either put the spotlight on up and coming fighters by giving them a spot higher on the card than they'd have on Pay Per View, or allow fighters who don't bring in as much Pay Per View money a chance to fight in the main event. A good example of this practice would be when the lower weight classes, which typically bring in lower PPV numbers than the heavier classes, are given the main event spot on Fight Night cards. In the UFC's debut on ESPN+, Flyweight champion Henry Cejudo faced off against T.J. Dillashaw in a bout that likely fared better in front of a broadcast audience than PPV.
Fight Nights will also feature maybe one or two big bouts, with the rest of the card being filled with unranked fighters or fringe top 15 contenders. The reasoning behind this is that it's still technically a free card, so you can't give too many of the goods away.