International Fight Week 2017: A Lesser Experience

For the past few years, the annual International Fight Week held by the UFC in early July has been the high point of my year, and I started planning my trip to Vegas around March. Being a cheap guy, I’d periodically check the airfares and hotel rates and buy when I felt the price was about as low as it was going to get. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 I was able to attend and had a great time each year. The UFC put on good fights, and had a ton of other things to do during the week, especially during the Fan Expo. Usually, it kept me pretty busy and I’d return home exhausted but happy.

This year started the same way. In March, the Nevada State Athletic Commission approved dates for three nights of UFC fights, July 6th, 7th, and 8th [LINK]. Presumably, this would include the big tent pole pay-per-view, a TUF Finale, and a Fight Night card, just like 2016’s Fight Week. For the prior years, there were the numbered UFC pay-per-view and a TUF Finale, with a third event run by a non-UFC partner – Lion Fights in 2014 and Invicta in 2015. As usual, I started planning my vacation to attend, without much caring what fights got added to the cards. I trusted the fights would be good and there would be the usual Fan Expo and other activities to keep me occupied as well.

 

 

That changed just a few weeks later, when the UFC announced in early April that instead of three fight events, there would be two – the TUF 25 Finale on July 7th, and UFC 213 on July 8th [LINK]. It was a minor disappointment, but I still planned to attend as usual. Then I read further, and saw that the usual three-day Fan Expo in an indoor venue like the Convention Center had been replaced by a two-day “Fan Experience” held outdoors at Toshiba Plaza near the T-Mobile Arena. I thought about that for a bit. Instead of doing a lot of walking and standing in lines indoors in relative comfort, I would have to do a lot of walking and standing in lines outside. In July. In Las Vegas. At my age, I’ll pass on spending several hours on hot concrete in 110+ degree temperatures.I didn’t immediately decide to skip my annual Fight Week trip, but it was no longer a definite thing that I would go. Instead, I’d keep an eye on just what the week had to offer and then make a decision. As details emerged on just what Fight Week 2017 had to offer, I reluctantly decided that I would skip it this year. First, there is the primary reason for going to Fight Week: the fights themselves. Obviously, there is one fewer fight card this year. Then, there’s my opinion that UFC 213, while not a bad event, does not compare to UFC 200 last year, UFC 189 in 2015, or UFC 175 in 2014. Besides being less enthused about the fights, there just aren’t enough of the other additional activities going on for me to justify the expense and time for my usual July Vegas UFC vacation.

 

Here’s the schedule for Fight Week 2017:

There is also a pool party on Sunday, July 9th that isn’t listed on the graphic above. Now, it looks like a fair amount of things to do, but some of that such as open workouts and weigh-ins take place for just about all UFC events. Some of my favorites, the Hall of Fame Induction and the various fighter panel discussions, used to be part of the Fan Expo, but this year they are held separately since the outdoor Fan Experience replaces the indoor Fan Expo. That leaves the tapings of two Fox Sports 1 shows and two autograph sessions. Basically, there’s nothing happening this year that hasn’t been part of past Fight Weeks, with the difference that the past events were usually on a larger scale.

 

I’ll use the autograph sessions as an example. I don’t go in for autograph signings much myself. There’s a lot of standing in lines and generally, I’m too lazy to do that. Still, a lot of fans do love it, and enjoy the chance to have something signed by their favorite fighter or ring girl and get a quick picture with them. This year there are two sessions, one lasting two hours and one lasting three hours, with a total of thirty-nine people signing.

 

 

Now compare this with last year. I wasn’t able to find a list of all the autograph sessions from Fight Week 2016, but I did find the signing schedule for the first day of last year’s Fan Expo.

 

Remember, this was just the first day of a three-day Fan Expo. Even so, you’ll see that there were three sessions with a total of forty-four people signing. The second day had a comparable schedule, and if I remember correctly, the third day had less time and fewer signers. Still, Fight Week 2016 gave fans about somewhere between two or three times the chance to obtain autographs and pictures with UFC personalities.

Now let’s look at what last year’s Fight Week offered that this year’s activities don’t include.

Tuesday, Day 1:

  • IMMAF World Championships Day 1 – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center

Wednesday, Day 2:

  • IMMAF World Championships Day 2 – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • UFC 200 Press Conference – Noon PT – MGM Grand KA Theatre
  • UFC Lip Sync Challenge – 6 pm PT – Lagasse’s Stadium at The Palazzo Las Vegas
  • UFC International Fight Week Kickoff Party: Pandora Presents Lil Wayne powered by MetroPCS – 9 pm PT – TAO Nightclub Las Vegas

Thursday, Day 3:

  • IMMAF World Championships Day 3 – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Ultimate Alliance Wrestling and Boxing Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • UFC 202 Press Conference – 11:30 am PT – T-Mobile Arena
  • UFC Topgolf Challenge – 9:30 pm PT – Topgolf Las Vegas

Friday, Day 4:

  • IMMAF World Championships Day 4 – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • IBJJF Tournaments – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • WAKO Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • USJJO Tournaments – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Ultimate Alliance Wrestling and Boxing Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Golden Gloves Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center

Saturday, Day 5:

  • USJJO Tournaments – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • IBJJF Tournaments – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Ultimate Alliance Wrestling and Boxing Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • WAKO Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Golden Gloves Tournament – 10 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center

Sunday, Day 6:

  • IBJJF Tournaments – 9 am PT – Las Vegas Convention Center
  • IMMAF World Championships Final Day – 10 am – Noon, 2 – 4:30 pm PT – Las Vegas Convention Center

You’ll see that last year offered multiple days of various non-UFC combat sports tournaments, including amateur MMA, boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, etc. There were also some silly but fun things like lip-synch contests, along with various parties. It wasn’t listed in last year’s official schedule, but there was also a free party for Fight Pass subscribers hosted by Forrest Griffin and Dan Hardy. Free food and drinks, plus two of the crazier former fighters? You bet I went. I’m not 100% sure they’re not doing something similar this year, but I’m still a Fight Pass subscriber and I saw no invitation in my email this year. Basically, past Fight Weeks had a lot more going on, much of it free or included with your Fan Expo ticket. While I’m feeling a twinge of regret that I’m not there this year, the reduced schedule simply made it no longer worth my while. Maybe next year they’ll offer more, or I’ll settle for less.

So why the big downsizing for what is traditionally the UFC’s biggest week of the year? I’m not sure, but I have my suspicions. My guess is that the new WME-IMG owners are continuing their program of cutting costs wherever possible. Getting the plaza outside T-Mobile Arena is probably a lot cheaper than the Convention Center, and why spend the money supporting amateur MMA, boxing, and jiu-jitsu when your only interest is selling UFC products? That to me is the difference. While the Fertittas were first and foremost businessmen, they had a love for combat sports that I believe the Hollywood regime of WME-IMG lacks. Dana White is still on board, but his new bosses don’t appreciate the sport the way his old bosses did. Plus, I imagine a lot of his efforts lately have been tied up in negotiating the UFC’s interests in the upcoming Mayweather/McGregor circus.

Do I think Fight Week 2017 is a disaster? No, I don’t. If money and time weren’t an issue, I’d be in Las Vegas right now. In a perfect world, I’d happily attend every UFC event. It’s just that this year’s Fight Week has been diminished to the point where it’s not worth it to me to spend the money and effort to attend. I’ll just rely on television and Fight Pass instead. Yesterday I watched the Women in the UFC panel, and earlier tonight I watched the Legends panel and the Hall of Fame Induction. I would have preferred to be there in person, but watching on Fight Pass was good enough. My guess is that I’m not the only one disappointed in this year’s offerings, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fight Week 2017 has a significant drop in attendance, especially without a Rousey, McGregor, or Lesnar to draw casual fans.

Luckily for me, the UFC recently announced UFC 219 for Detroit in early December. It’s just a few hours’ drive and I can easily attend without breaking the bank, so 2017 won’t be the first year in a while where I didn’t attend at least one UFC event.

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