When Michael Bisping makes the walk to the Octagon to defend his UFC middleweight title against Dan Henderson in Manchester on October 8th, he will be fulfilling a lifelong dream. For so long Bisping was the nearly-man of the UFC. On three separate occasions a UFC title shot was within the Mancunian's grasp only for him to falter at the final hurdle until, earlier this year, Bisping filled in for an injured Chris Weidman and blasted through Luke Rockhold to claim the belt that had eluded him for so long.
It's a dream fight for Bisping and a huge moment for his hometown fans. The only thing is that Bisping's supporters inside the Manchester Arena will have to wait until around 5am to see their man.
Why is this? For all the UFC's claims of it being a global sport, the company still very much panders to their US audience. If they were to broadcast a pay-per-view event at the local time of the area in which they were holding it, Manchester for example, it would mean that the show would begin at midday in Las Vegas and, as the theory goes, this would lead to a massive drop in revenue when it comes to pay-per-view buys.
While it's true that when the UFC holds a Fight Night event in Europe, such as the two recent shows in Dublin for example, they are broadcast at local times but the numbered events - such as UFC 204 - tend to feature the biggest names in the sport.
It was a similar situation when the UFC held an event in Sweden in January of last year. Alexander Gustafsson had emerged as a huge star in the light heavyweight division and was placed into a high profile main event in Stockholm against Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson. By the time the fight started, it was 5am and the local crowd was muted and worn out. Gustafsson was knocked out just over two minutes into the first round and the reaction of the audience was one of stunned, tired silence - hardly the atmosphere that the UFC were trying to capture when they booked the show.
WME-IMG, the new owners of the UFC, announced when they took over the company that they are "focused on the continued global expansion of mixed martial arts and committed to further promoting [the fighters] on the global stage" but it could be argued that until there is a level playing field when it comes to the times events begin, the UFC (and by extension MMA) will never really be a truly global sport.
In his recent column with the42.ie, John Kavanagh touched on this when discussing the oft-mentioned potential UFC show in Croke Park.
I would say to the UFC that this is something that should be done to suit local time, rather than the US. I really don’t agree with this 4am nonsense that’s happening in Manchester for UFC 204 in October.
MMA is a global sport, not just American. Let all the fighters compete at their best. We’re not designed to be doing strenuous activity in the early hours of the morning. Let the Americans set their alarm clocks and get up early for once.
We couldn't have said it any better ourselves.