Ultimate Fighting Championship: Loud, Aggressive, and Brickwalled!

There is nothing “nice” about the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s not about glamour. There are no Roger Angells or George Wills to chronicle its graces. It’s about two guys going at each other using every limb they have until one of them can’t do it anymore. And, according to Mike Sak, audio supervisor for Las Vegas production company Zuffa, which produces the broadcast events shown on Spike, Versus, and pay-per-view, it sounds like it.

“It’s heavy metal, it’s aggressive, it goes from a whisper of a slap to the noise of a jet engine when the crowd gets crazy,” he says. “It’s not about sonic beauty. It’s two guys hitting each other in the head, and that’s what it sounds like. Compression and limiting are key parts of it. It can get pretty heavily compressed, even brickwalled,” he adds, referring to the tradeoff between loudness and dynamics.

Most of the audio energy comes from the crowds, like the 55,000 who showed up for the UFC 129 light heavyweight bout at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, goaded by metal music played through the venue’s PA system and picked up by as many as four Sennheiser 816 shotgun microphones.

Inside the Octagon, as the chain-link–sided fight ring is known, three more shotgun mics mounted on cameras catch the 360-degree action, complemented by an AKG D-112 kick drum microphone under the floor mat. The referee is miked, as are the corner men, shouting instructions to their fighters. The shows are done in stereo; PPV’s lack of a central headend for distribution means there’s not enough control of the audio after it leaves the plant for 5.1, Sak explains.

(According to the Wall Street Journal, UFC’s owners are in talks to acquire their own cable network. NBCUniversal’s sputtering G4 channel is reportedly a major focus of the talks. UFC’s deal with Spike expires at the end of the year, the Journal reported.)

The microphone mapping is reminiscent of Wrestlemania’s audio, but Sak points out a crucial distinction: “UFC is not scripted. We never know how it’s going to turn out. A match can last for four seconds or 45 minutes. The A1 really has to watch the show closely and try to anticipate as much as they can for the mix.”

Another aspect that sets UFC apart is that all the audio is recorded as 48 discrete tracks to Avid Pro Tools for postproduction into packages for rebroadcast. In that process, references to local events or sponsors have to be edited out of the audio to make it less time-specific. All the audio elements in the show are sent to their own tracks, including direct feeds from the FOH live mix console and from prerecorded music and SFX on EVS drives arriving via MADI feeds.

As a result, A1s Pete Adams and Jeff Cohen have to pack a lot into two speakers. “The mixers do a great job,” says Sak, adding that the audio does clip and distort occasionally. “As an audio professional, that’s not OK with me, but it’s part of the show, it’s the way it is. It’s raw, just like the fighting.”