Under the cover of darkness, Fight Pass was reborn. Sometime in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, December 3rd, the UFC re-launched their longtime combat sports streaming platform. It’s a move that was teased over the summer, but quickly forgotten among a seemingly endless stream of fight cards as the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion headed into fall.
“UFC Fight Pass is going to be the absolute destination for fight fans,” Dana White told assembled media, ahead of the Contender Series Season 3 debut (transcript via Sherdog). “If you’re a fight fan, it’s an absolute no-brainer you gotta have it. We’re working on tons of original programming right now. And obviously it’s gonna take us time to get this thing going. We’re going to relaunch this thing in the fall. Once we relaunch we’re gonna start banging [content] out. Daily.”
But if White had intended the streaming service’s re-launch to be a notable event, it ended up a much more quiet affair. Fans logging in this week suddenly found themselves confronted with an entirely new layout. No warning, no announcement; the change was made.
As for what has changed? The most notable thing for many users is that the UFC has finally ditched Flash. No more plugins asking for authorization from your browser. Videos load quickly a seamlessly once they’re pulled up. To that end, as well, the search function seems much improved. Searching for a fighter’s full name no longer gives you every video of every fight with every fighter who has either that same first name or last name—a problem that searching for two fighters only exacerbated (Matt Brown vs. Ryan Thomas could unlock just about the entire Fight Pass library).
The other major move appears to be the removal of region blocks for ESPN+ content. That may be a mistake in the new roll out, something that will be corrected later. It could be that future UFC content from ESPN+ will still be region locked, even while older content remains. But, for the moment anyway, it seems to be a nice reversal of policy from a move that more or less ruined Fight Pass as a place for subscribers to see UFC content. (Worth noting, at the time of writing the Jacare vs. Blachowicz fight card video wasn’t loading, but even events as recent as Kattar vs. Zabit were available.)
If those are the highlights, there are still some lowlights. The new layout is clearly intended to be a mobile-first design. Gone are easy access to basic functions like the search bar, or drop-down menus containing quickly curated lists of highly desired content. Clicking options like the “Fight Library,” doesn’t give users a quick list of catalogues they can search, but instead a near infinite list of pre-sorted replay packages that must be individually browsed left-to-right. Videos no longer show snapshot previews in the control bar. And any time users want to go from one video to the next, they have to back out of the video window into a search window. Oh, and every time a new video loads, it resets the volume to max, without transferring previous settings.
Much like the UFC website relaunch from a year ago, all the emphasis seems to be on making their product easily scalable between phones, tablets, and TVs. And if UFC.com is anything to judge by, any mistakes or problems with the layout design are likely to linger long term—and may actually be exacerbated, as careless data entry mistakes are repeated over and over again without correction. Slow and steady functionality improvement just doesn’t seem to be a core part of the UFC’s online business model.
So, for the moment – and especially with all the unlocked 2019 content – the new Fight Pass appears to be a general improvment. Higher quality playback, with fewer loading errors and a better search function are the kinds of core corrections the platform badly needed. Unfortunately it also comes with a layout that just isn’t designed for the desktop and likely won’t be improved, but only time will tell on that front.