UFC London: BT Sport risks wasting momentum built by Leon Edwards and British stars

Look at Leon Edwardsand you will see gold and green. Romantics will see it in the flickering of the Jamaican flag behind him; cynics will see it in the glare of his UFC title and the money he can make.

When, to put it mildly, the Kingston native welterweight became Second UK Champion in UFC history in August – fighting from behind knock out Kamaru Usman with a minute left British MMA finally has a moment to outshine Michael Bisping Champion title in 2016.

This was not only due to the miraculous nature of Edwards’ victory, which came from headbutt from heaven against the king of pound for pound, the man who had already beaten Edwards; this was also due to the fact that a 31-year-old man suffered failure after failure over the years leading to his eventual title shot.

Nothing, it would seem, could take away from the moment its romance, and Edwards’ upcoming fight also seemed impenetrable. On March 18, Edwards will defend his title against Usman in the main event of the tournament. UFC 286 at London’s O2 Arena. — almost three years after the Briton lost his headlining match with Tyron Woodley at the same venue due to the start of the Covid pandemic.

Additionally, UFC 286 follows two tumultuous Fight Nights at the O2 last year when British fighters lit the fuse that will see MMA explode on these shores as Edwards’ left shin touched Usman’s skull in Salt Lake City.

Why then would anyone be disappointed with UFC 286 before it even starts?

After many fans were prevented from attending the event due to ticket prices (the cheapest seats are around £200), home goers are now also at risk of being left without prices.

BT Sport, the sole UFC broadcaster in the UK, announced on Wednesday that UFC 286 will be broadcast on pay-per-view for £19.95. This number will apply to both one-time customers and subscribers, with the latter already paying a monthly fee of £29.99.

To be fair, BT Sport rarely go to the box office when it comes to the UFC; but then again, that has been part of the allure of mixed martial arts growth here in recent years. While most of the biggest boxing matches are almost automatically placed on Box Office, the UFC was at least somewhat more accessible, though still on a subscription platform.

Now that mixed martial arts has been at its most prominent in the UK since the sport’s inception in the early 1990s, there is a risk that it will become blurred again.

Leon Edwards (left) and Kamaru Usman will clash for the third time when they headline in London (Getty Images)
Leon Edwards (left) and Kamaru Usman will clash for the third time when they headline in London (Getty Images)

As ubiquitous and respected as the Edwards name may be among MMA fans and fighters, there is a path that this name will ring in every home. Only Conor McGregor has achieved such success. Also, new fans who know about Edwards’ knockout over Usman and want to see his first title defense may not have invested enough to pay the price of PPV just yet.

And despite Edwards’ big fight against Usman 3, the undercard at the O2 Arena isn’t as well built as many UFC PPVs – for example, last week led The long awaited return of Jon Jones.

Usman vs. Edwards is a great main event among four consecutive headlines that enchant UFC fans (Makhachev vs Volkanovskiy, Jones vs GeinAnd Pereira vs Adesanya 2 be different); in fact there is an argument that one of these other maps would be better suited for UK PPV rather than next week’s event.

BT Sport has done a great job in developing MMA in the UK, and this is not only due to its status as the sole UFC broadcaster in that country; video packages and interviews of the broadcaster’s fighters are among the best in the world. In addition, UFC London events will sell out and achieve impressive PPVs regardless of fan disappointment.

But there is a danger of taking such success for granted, a move that will do a disservice to the work that Edwards and his colleagues have done to develop the sport here.

The step back with UFC 286 pricing is easy to beat the step forward BT took with the UFC, but it could be a step back at the wrong time.

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