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Behind the scenes broadcasting the Conor McGregor v Khabib Nurmagomedov fight

Jack Davenport

Senior Journalist, BBC Radio 5 live

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BBC Radio 5 live is broadcasting a mixed martial arts fight between Conor McGregor (pictured) and Khabib Nurmagomedov at 3am on 7 October

This is the third UFC MMA (Ultimate Fighting Championship Mixed Martial Arts) fight that 5 live has covered, but as far as I’m aware it’s the first time commentating has ever been attempted on live radio in the UK.

It means to a large extent we’re inventing the genre of UFC commentary on the radio as we go along.

There’s been live boxing on the radio since the BBC began, but UFC MMA is a different sport, the rounds are longer for example. It’s almost entirely descriptive for the commentator, to keep up with the action and give people as clear a mental picture as possible, whereas the expert analyst or former fighter will mention the details they’d notice and explain why what’s happening is happening.

There’ll be 14 fights and 5 live will only be broadcasting five of them. But we commentate, as though live, on fights early on to get into the rhythm. It’s a really good team, and hopefully we’ll nail it for Saturday night.

At the moment, Vegas is without doubt UFC’s town and Conor McGregor’s town. You just notice how busy the city is overall: the airport is right by the Strip where all the hotels are and over the course of the week you can watch this spot of tarmac, a ‘car park’ for all the private jets get busier and busier, hundreds of them arriving and being parked up. It’s a high rollers weekend, and just talking to people here it’s one of the biggest of the year.

The BBC MMA Show has been providing daily podcasts during fight week

We haven’t done anything live from any of the press conferences because of the time difference being eight hours behind UK time, although we did a live hit onto 5 live Sport earlier on Thursday from my phone with an app.

It was working on the Wifi, and while I’m not sure I’d do an hour-long programme on it, for a five-minute ‘this is what’s happening’ it’s great. Even during just the past few years, this sort of thing has become a lot more reliable and is becoming more prevalent in broadcasting.

I’ve got a bag of gadgets that means we can plug microphones into phones or five sets of headphones into one phone, and we've done a live programme standing out on the Las Vegas Strip, just in the street, via a phone back to the UK.

There’s a different setup for fight night, with a sound engineer and mixing desks, like a traditional studio. It’s a complicated event, as different feeds are ordered from the host broadcaster, to mix the crowd noise up and down, or inside the octagon so the sound of the punches slapping into the fighters or their footsteps on the canvas, or the MC who gets in the ring, or the two corners between rounds so audiences can hear what they’re saying.

It's one of the most technically challenging mixes for a sound engineer that we do, in terms of single day, two-hour programmes.

The mixing will be done on location, then sent to Salford studio engineers, and from Salford it’s broadcast to the world.

Social media will be incorporated into the coverage, working with BBC Sport online so our coverage feeds into their live text, joining up so people through their tweets and texts can be part of the show.

We’re a small team, but have produced a podcast every day, interviews, and an hour-long live show, as well as serving other outlets like the World Service or BBC television.

The main events of the week are happening overnight, so the way coverage is being planned is that all the material is there for you first thing in the morning, so you can wake up in the UK and see what you missed overnight, all the craziness, the press conference and weigh-in, the insults and so on. Ultimately though, who knows what’s going to happen!

Listen to all the action on BBC Radio 5 live from 3am on Sunday 7 October, or listen to a replay of the coverage here.

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