Exclusive Interview with UFC Vice President James Elliott “It’s going to be the biggest night in Fight Pass history without question”

First of all congratulations on being shortlisted for the Brand of the Year and Best International Marketing Campaign at the BT Sports Industry Awards for 2016

Thank you very much, it’s a massive endorsement of the work we have been doing over the last couple of years both in the UK and also across Europe so to be recognised by the Sports Industry Award and to be put there against the other brands who we are up against, established long time well received well accepted brands such as adidas and Land Rover and Eurosport you know life is about the company you keep and we’re not doing too badly now.

So what can we expect for 2016, I know you have announced Rotterdam on May 8th and Croatia on April 10th, can you announce any other events yet or how many there will be.

We will end up with between five and six, so obviously we’ve got one today and then we’ve got the other two announced like you’ve said so we will probably do between two and three more throughout the course of the year we are still working on exactly were that’s going to be but we’re in the exciting position of having too many places wanting us to come and not enough events to put them there so times are good.

How long does it take to put these events together, I can imagine it takes a long time to actually set up?

It all depends really; it depends on whether it’s a new territory that we’re going in to or if it’s somewhere that we have been before. Obviously like you say the logistics behind all of these events is massive, it’s a very small but very hardworking team that put these events on for us in Europe. The process for a new market kind of begins almost a year out really, of scoping out the best cities to go to then scoping out the best arenas within those cities finding the hotels finding the medical facilities making sure the gyms are appropriate for people to go train at when they’re here, there is a huge amount of planning that goes in to it and we’re aiming to have a file on every major city in Europe or across EMEA really by the end of this year so we can be ready to go at the drop of a hat but it takes a long time there is a lot of hard work that goes in to it but it is always gratifying when you then decide to take an event to a new city like we did last year with Glasgow and it sells out in a matter of hours it means we are targeting the right places.

Speaking of tonight’s event UFC Fight Night 84 which is taking place in London, the UK fans were looking for a big main event on the card the UFC answered that request and Eric Winter was talking to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour and he said that it was actually the UK UFC PR team that were to thank as they were on conference calls with America to organise Bisping vs. Silva, can you tell us a bit about the decision to change from the original match with Gegard Mousasi because as we all know the event was actually sold out before you even made this match up?

I think that’s something we can be very proud of and certainly the UK fans can be very proud of, they have been calling for a big fight a big stardust fight for a number of years now and I think this is a great reward for those fans who have stuck by us over the last few years and bought tickets when there was only one fight announced and that is something we don’t see in very many markets and I think that really was noticed by Dana and Lorenzo and the matchmakers and they wanted to see what we could do to make the event as big as we possibly could because London is a very important part of our plans on a global basis it’s a very important place for us as a business and we were very disappointed to not to be here in 2015, so now we’re back we want to make a big splash so to make that decision once we had already sold the tickets out I think is an indication of the commitment we have to both these fans and it’s region.

UFC London sold out within 27 minutes did that surprise you?

It did take us a back I will be honest, we expected it to sell very well but we weren’t quite expecting that reaction, so that was a very happy Friday afternoon in the UFC London office I can tell you that much!

And you are going to air Bisping vs. Silva exclusively on Fight Pass which is fantastic can you tell us about your decision to do that?

We are always looking for ways, you know in similar ways to saying that Lorenzo and Dana wanted to kind of reward the UK fans we also wanted to reward our subscribers on Fight Pass and the European shows that aren’t transmitted back on to US TV have never been part of the arrangement that we have with BT. They have moved around we have had Channel 5 we have had Pick, we kind of looked at it and thought we didn’t really want to do a one off deal with a fight like this and we decided that Fight Pass was the best place for us to go to. We are still in the middle of our TV negotiations with a number of parties and we thought it was best to kind of not muddy those waters and to use our own platform and award our subscribers we already have on there and give them a bit of a bonus.

And do you expect it to be the biggest weekend they have ever had on Fight Pass?

Absolutely, the current position has blown all of our expectations out of the water and I think this weekend we are going to empty the water even more it is going to be the biggest night in Fight Pass History without question.

There were a lot of fans outside yesterday queuing for the weigh-ins, I noticed there were a few complaints to Dana on Twitter about fans being turned away at the doors due to capacity. Dana apologised and said there had been a bit of a mess up, was it originally meant to be held in the Arena instead of the Indigo can you explain what happened?

Space is a commodity in London and unfortunately we couldn’t turn the o2 around in time after the Brits this week! We were really clear with fans to get to the weigh in early to grab a seat but the demand was more than estimated and exceeded the space that we have. Bottom line is, the experience our fans have is incredibly important to us and we don’t want anyone left disappointed. So we will ensure it’s a larger venue next time with assurance that people won’t turn up and be disappointed next time.

MMA is growing in Europe with European talent rising in the UFC from Conor McGregor, Makwan Amirkhani, to the younger stars coming through like Arnold Allen can we expect to see more big fight cards being put on for the European fans like UFC London being headlined by Anderson vs. Silva and also just announced UFC Rotterdam being headlined by Arlovski vs. Overeem?

Absolutely, we have had big fights for a while now, the narrative has always been that the cards aren’t as big as they could be but when you actually look at them every UFC card is a great card, the athletes all the way down from the first prelim right through to the main event are the best in their field, these are the best fighters on the planet so every card we put together is a fantastic card but if you look back over the last two years or so we have had Conor we have had Joanna Jedrzejczyk, we have had Alexander Gustafsson, we have had Anderson Silva we are having Alistair Overeem, Arlovski, we’ve got Ben Rothwell and Junior Dos Santos fighting in Croatia, these are proper fights at the top level that we have in the UFC so I think its just reward for the European MMA fans who have supported for us a long time so we like to put on a show wherever we go and we are doing everything we can to make everything we do as big as possible.

The UFC have announced their partnership with BBC Three this month which is huge, what are your thoughts on the partnership and what it can do for the sport?

We are really excited, any partnership with the BBC is huge for any sport particularly a new one such as ourselves, we have always been looking for our rightful place in the sporting landscape and it’s great that BBC Three is the broadcasting platform of the future which is what they are looking to be and they have looked toward us and thought of the future as well so we are always trying to help the people who are looking to innovate and open themselves up to new ideas so I think it’s a huge statement for MMA it’s a huge statement for where the UFC is as a brand in this country and we are absolutely delighted by the enthusiasm and the excitement that the BBC have now for working with us, I think it’s going to be a very fruitful partnership for us both.

It’s great to see the mainstream press are now taking an interest in the sport and they are becoming more knowledgeable. The UFC London media day was the busiest UFC EMEA event I have seen; can we expect to see this keep growing?

We are doing everything we can, we have an extremely talented team here in Europe and as you know the communications team work night and day to get the message out there to as many people as we possibly can and they do a fabulous job. We genuinely have a feeling this thing is gathering huge momentum and we have only just begun so this is definitely an exciting time for everyone involved in the sport particularly UFC

And finally how do you expect the atmosphere to be at the o2 Arena for UFC London and which fights are you most looking forward to?

Obviously I’m looking forward to the main event it’s going to be wonderful to see Anderson and Michael up close they both look in fantastic shape and they are both very up for the fight I think the atmosphere is going to be incredible. The o2 is a fabulous arena the fans are always very vocal, the show we did in 2014 which was raucous it was everything they were expecting it’s a very knowledgeable crowd in London as well so I think they are going to be looking forward to seeing these guys perform. In terms of the fights which stand out for me other than the main event I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Breese; he is a very interesting exciting fighter he is someone I was very impressed with when I saw him in Dublin so I think that’s going to be something to look out for and just to see Brad Pickett walk out in London will be a great moment. He has been a fantastic ambassador for UK MMA and for the UFC for a long time so I’m glad that he is going to have the spotlight trained on him for a bit so I am looking forward to that. I think the roof will come off when he walks out.

Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us and we look forward to the future events coming our way!

Article by Jade Morris

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