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« | Home | »

All kinds of messages sent by UFC with second show on same day as Japan event

By Zach Arnold | September 28, 2011

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With the news tonight that UFC will run a separate Las Vegas event on February 26th at the same time as their vaunted vanity Japanese event at Saitama Super Arena, it is clear that some extraordinary political & business messages are being sent by Zuffa to not just fighters but also the fans.

Some of my observations you may agree with, some you probably won’t. I don’t expect you to agree 100% of the way.

1. Avoiding trouble

We know the stories about what happened with UFC legal eagle Jamie Pollack when he was sent to Japan (for relocation no less!) to try to run PRIDE after the asset sale agreement had taken place. Pollack left quickly after there was a hostile environment with the former PRIDE employees (who largely ended up with DREAM, no surprise there). It was so embarrassing and reckless that you had Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s stooges from the wrestling promotion Hustle running angles for upcoming wrestling events out of those same PRIDE offices & at the “Takada dojo.” Within a couple of months of Jamie Pollack arriving in Japan, he was out of there (and for good reason).

When Dana White had that egregiously awful press conference at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo to proclaim a UFC vs. PRIDE Super Bowl, it was a trap. A set-up. He got snookered. It immediately allowed anti-UFC forces in Japan to portray him as the evil money-hungry outsider who was going to destroy their business. Well, the Japanese scene largely imploded on its own but don’t think that lots of people in Japan are reticent in blaming UFC for their troubles. There’s a lot of angry people right now who aren’t making money. Dana White and company immediately put targets on their backs with that Roppongi Hills presser.

One of the most fascinating questions I had going into UFC’s announcement of running Saitama Super Arena is what kind of trouble they were asking for. The only people who can largely afford to pay the expensive front-row seats are yakuza stooges who are a) looking to cause trouble and get into or bet on fights or b) look to work over foreigners and glad-hand politically in order to screw someone over. Anyone who knows the history of Japanese fighting events knows that the rackets want their protection money (often looked upon by promoters as a ‘tax’) and have crashed shows in the past. The whole yakuza scandal that imploded PRIDE was about Seiya Kawamata, a yakuza fixer whose job it was to keep to the mafia out of the front row and backstage hidden away from police.

So, you might naturally suspect (and be correct in assuming) that there’s some people who are looking forward to showing up at the UFC Japan event to cause trouble. By running a show at the same time in Las Vegas, it gives Dana White & Lorenzo Fertitta a reason to stay the hell away from Japan. And for good reason. This is smart. I just feel for Mark Fischer and anyone else Zuffa sends over to try to run the show.

Wildcard thought: If Zuffa cuts a deal with Real Entertainment to have Real manage their Japanese show, that would open up a whole new can of worms as far as associations with ticket brokers, production companies, and the like. Advice to Zuffa: if you’re smart, you won’t send Scott Coker over to the show and have him take pictures while hanging around with characters like Sotaro Shinoda.

2. Minimizing expectations.

By UFC running a show in Las Vegas on the same day as their Japanese event, it will allow them to give the media a cue to bury the importance of the Japanese event and to hype the Vegas show as the A-show. The flip-side of this, of course, is that the Japanese fans are smart customers. Already telling them to show up for a main card at 10 AM at Saitama Super Arena is a joke and now telling them that the Japanese show is essentially a B-level show is basically waving the white flag at this point. Sure, UFC could conceivably book Rampage Jackson vs. Shogun if Shogun loses to Dan Henderson, but that’s not a main event that’s going to draw a huge crowd in Japan. However, it would allow UFC to split the difference and give their American fans a reason to downplay the struggles of the Japanese show. You run Shogun/Rampage in Japan as the Japanese main event but have it air on American PPV as the semi-main event fight for a big Vegas PPV card.

Matt Hume, on Mauro Ranallo’s radio show yesterday, claims that Softbank is supporting UFC’s Saitama event.

3. Going all-in on running weekly shows.

This is a horribly Pyrrhic calculation that Zuffa is making but they are proceeding with their commitment to doing this. There’s a reason every other major sport in the world has off-seasons. Fans need breaks and the product right now does not need diluting. However, Zuffa has so many guys under contract and in order to keep guys from floating away to promoters like Bellator, you have to run a lot of shows. So, UFC had a decision to make — contract the schedule and run less shows in hopes of making them more special or run every week ala WWE and just grind things out. We’ve seen how well (not) it’s worked out for WWE. I give Zuffa credit for going all-in and sticking their necks out on the line but I don’t think it’s a very good move in terms of eliminating the ’specialness’ of their product.

The immediate impact of this decision to run multiple shows in different locations on the same night is the amount of stress it will put on the UFC production teams. They are already overworked and stretched to capacity. The more workload you place on them, the less variety there will be in the way the shows are produced. Just like WWE shows today largely look the same as they did a decade ago, UFC could fall right into that same trap. This opens the door up for mistakes being made.

4. Advancing Vince McMahon’s 1980’s strategy on a global level.

We’ve seen what UFC has done in buying out competition or putting them out of business in North America. Just like Vince McMahon raided the territories for the best wrestlers in the 80s to move them to New York, Zuffa has managed to do the same thing in 2011. Outside of Bellator, which is gasping for media oxygen right now, there really isn’t anyone who can withstand competing against the Zuffa machine.

Vince focused his primary market on the States, just like UFC has. The difference here between the two parties is that Zuffa sees an opportunity to dominate the entire world landscape. Let’s say that the company does aggressively run multiple shows in different countries and does combined PPVs. If they can dominate Brazil, Asia, Australia, and Europe then they will essentially be able to stifle any sort of environment in which a promoter wants to become a major player in their respective country. It’s a very bold and audacious way of thinking but also a very dynamic way of looking at how you want things to play out.

Understand that Vince McMahon wanted to be the world leader in wrestling but he also begrudgingly respected the Mexico & Japanese markets for a long, long time. It was only recently that Vince started to run strong in Mexico and that was helped because of the weakness of CMLL & AAA in terms of television. The WWE events in Japan are the same kind of cookie cutter shows that you see in Thailand, for goodness sakes. Vince always wanted to run the Tokyo Dome by himself and, in the end, he didn’t do it.

The great irony in all of this is that you privately hear rumors of (but not so much publicly) Shane McMahon’s name being tossed around whenever discussion of UFC trying to get into the Chinese marketplace pops up.

You don’t plan on running shows weekly unless you have a larger goal in mind. You don’t run weekly shows just to keep fighters busy and under contract because we’ve seen how many guys get hurt and have to cancel bookings at the last minute. The reason you run multiple shows weekly is to take over the world and to dominate as the major promoter in all big global markets. There’s a much higher chance that this kind of plan fails than it succeeds but we’re about to find out if Zuffa can pull off a feat that no other individual fight promoter has ever been able to accomplish.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 21 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

21 Responses to “All kinds of messages sent by UFC with second show on same day as Japan event”

  1. Norm says:

    I agree with your sentiment that “less is more” in terms of the UFC running more frequent or even same day shows.

    One of the ways I can see them pulling it off is by keeping cards like UFC 135 with Browne vs. Broughton and Hunt vs. Rothwell off PPV and on one of Fox’s lesser sister channels and stacking the PPVs with higher stakes/more championship fights.

    I’d also like to see them tighten production times on undercard fights and even PPVs so there is less down time between fights. Unfortunately, I doubt this will ever happen due to advertsing/promotion requirements and the transition away from facebook/free internet fights to Fox’s channels.

    Zach-
    I understand Japan is unusually nationalistic, but the tone in saying the environment was “hostile” and the Pollack was “run out for good reason” seems like you got some type of personal satisfaction from the incident, so I was hoping you’d explain/elaborate.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Zach-
      I understand Japan is unusually nationalistic, but the tone in saying the environment was “hostile” and the Pollack was “run out for good reason” seems like you got some type of personal satisfaction from the incident, so I was hoping you’d explain/elaborate.

      I take zero delight in the guy relocating to Japan with his family and then having to high-tail it out of there a few months later. I am virulently anti-yakuza and cannot stand what has happened in Japan.

      Jamie Pollack, unfortunately, turned out to be a pawn. Dana had that regrettable presser, the Japanese office staff from PRIDE had no loyalty to the foreigners, and it became a hostile situation where within a few months of trying to get things going in Japan you ended up seeing Zuffa giving the Japanese workers pink slips. The way in which it was covered in the media over there was also entirely predictable in the same manner in which you would see ‘big bad corporation laying off workers by posting a sign on the door saying get your stuff and go away.’

      I think it’s very smart that Dana and Lorenzo won’t hit Japan and have their escape hatch to do so. However, that won’t stop others from trying to cause trouble.

      • cutch says:

        Dana has already been back to Japan loads of times, it’s not the wild west they are’nt going to kidnap two high profile multimillionaires during a fight card.

        They have already talked of running multiple shows a night in the future, this just saves the US audience having to watch un appealing Japanese fights.

        Ed. — He has not appeared at one UFC Japan presser. Slipping in and out privately is a different ballgame than being front and center for an event with media exposure. BTW, my reaction to him running in Vegas on the same day was echoed over and over today by the major Japanese beat writers I’ve talked with. They all know.

  2. E. J. Helwig says:

    I’ve lived in WuHan, HuBei, China for over 1 year and I have seen a total of 1 UFC related topic on any Television channel here. It was a CCTVNews (An English Speaking Channel) news piece about UFC Rio and I remember super vividly the 2 people they interviewed.

    The 1st man was a “UFC Fan” who was there in Rio because he loved the brutality of a street fight and it was all legal in the Octagon and the 2nd was Lorenzo Ferritta talking about how China had a long fighting and Martial Arts history and how a Chinese fighter could be successful in the UFC.

    The UFC, at least here in WuHan (Central China), has absolute no presence. The name means nothing. To be honest, Basketball and Football (Soccer) are king here. There are alot of educated sports fans here but usually in Sports that Chinese people excel at. For example, I’m sure there are more people in China who know who Dayron Robles (Olympic 110M Hurdle Champion) than in the US. Why? Because the current World Record Holder and 2004 Gold Medalist in 110M Hurdles is LiuXiang (???.

    Basically, if the UFC wants to make any splash here than a true legitimate Chinese star has to emerge so that the people here can get around. Without them, than it’s just a bunch of crazy WaiGuoRen (Foreigners) doing Crazy WaiGuo Things.

    It’s not like Korea or Japan where MMA is mainstream. I think the UFC does have a TV deal but if not mistaken it’s with a smaller station but it’s not even on Basic Chinese Cable. The only I way I manage to watch the cards are through Sohu.com. so on top of having a bad TV deal you really have to go out of your way to find it.

    I think it’s obvious that Zuffa have yet to start really trying to penetrate this market in anyway but I think once the Zuffa Hype Machine gets rolling than some big changes could happen.

    Oh, and I’m especially interested in seeing if anyone brings back the classic Hiromichi Momose “Hat & Sunglasses” for the UFC in Japan!

    • Chromium says:

      There just is not nearly enough indigenous talent in China yet. They really should let the local MMA scenes develop more on its own before Zuffa even thinks about running China or India, those are fool’s gold, to steal a phrase Zach used the other day.

      Korea may not have a huge wealth of star power but they have some, and in general Seoul seems like such an obvious choice that I’m really surprised it hasn’t been attempted yet. Lots of MMA fans, lots of knowledgeable MMA fans, no real controversy associated with the sport that I’m aware of, a local scene that’s been built up, some native talent that is legit UFC level (they could also pad this with a couple more guys like Won Sik Park), and mainstream celebrity Akiyama to bolster them even more. Seriously, why the fuck aren’t they trying to run Seoul?

  3. Alan Conceicao says:

    To me it just as much sounds like a backup plan in case they need to cancel the Japan show and move the fights.

    Also, I don’t see how this proves they are doing “weekly shows”. If they were, they need a lot more TV dates to justify it than what they have. They’re probably going to have about as many live events as this year on TV plus the same number of PPVs – just on different networks.

    Ed. — One concept is to run multiple live shows at the same time and essentially cherry pick fights from the two shows for either TV or PPV.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      They just wouldn’t do a Japanese show if there was that great of a chance that it wouldn’t happen.

      Zach is right. It’s a way to cherry pick. And to build on that…. It’s a way to basically run a show that will appeal to the Japanese market (whatever is left to it)…. And only taking the fights that are interesting to the American market for us to see over here.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      I’m sure that may be in the plans. But as they’ve done with other international shows (like Abu Dhabi) they’ve generally booked another venue as a backup plan too. I also have a hard time seeing people getting excited about tape delayed fights on PPV as part of a larger broadcast.

      I dunno. Point is that obviously the UFC doesn’t really care if the show succeeds or not.

      • Zach Arnold says:

        The discussed plan is to run two shows live at the same time. Meaning, say the Vegas card has an Anderson Silva title defense and the Japan card has Rampage/Shogun… they run the Japan show at 10 AM (I know, it’s absurd) local time and advertise Rampage/Shogun as Japanese main event but as US PPV semi-main event. That’s the way it has been discussed publicly so far.

        It’s one thing to run two different shows (say, LA and Vegas) but to run an international show in an awkward time zone and another in the States is going to present some challenges for them.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          Well, yeah it’ll be tough. The toughest part though is that they don’t even have a fight booked yet for either event. Its all dependent on guys staying healthy.

          As ridiculous as it sounds, they might as well offer a low money deal to M-1 for Fedor/Cro-Cop II.

        • cutch says:

          It should help PPV buys in the US, UFC Rio did’nt get a big buy rate for a number of reasons but one of those was the US media not travelling to Brazil and thus not giving the card as much coverage.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Has Dave Meltzer confirmed the UFC Rio buyrate yet?

          And there was a hurricane hitting the states…. That is the biggest reason for the bad buyrates. Nothing more, nothing less.

  4. nottheface says:

    I pretty much agree with all your points. To expand my own thinking on them:
    1. There is a lot less risk of embarrassment for Dana and Co. if they aren’t in japan. No one is going to kidnap or murder the Zuffa brass, but a George Bush shoe incident incident isn’t out of the question either.
    2. When one looks at the how foreign shows do sales why, it makes some sense to book a domestic show to also air so that their is a little more attention paid to it by the American media. Throw in the fact that a Japanese show is most likely going to be headlined by a lot of fighters that the US casual fans don’t care about, and it gives them a chance to put together a more marketable card. What I don’t understand is that if they are going to pick and choose fights from the twp cards why they don’t run the Japanese show 7PM Tokyo time and 5am EST and then just tape and rebroadcast the fights they want only a few hours later? A few taped delayed fights has got to be better than a completely empty arena.
    3 & 4 go together but it goes back to theory I’ve espoused for some time that the UFC is primary concerned about keeping a monopsony over the top talent. Keeping the fight purses low, much lower than they’d be if there was any competition. The secret to their vast profits has been that the stars of the product are paid much less than they would be if there was any sort of competition for their labor. I know a lot of fans refuse to acknowledge this, but anyone whose worked a minute in any form of the talent/entertainment business is going to be shocked at how little of the revenue is earmarked for the talent itself.

  5. RST says:

    Gosh!

    I figured that at least the Japan show could be a test for penetrating another market.
    But the more I read about the fight business in Japan (Some of which I suspected, some of which is even more insane then I would have expected), the more I’m just not seeing any reason for it.

    And the stranger and more suspicious the whole idea is sounding.

    Weird.

  6. smoogy says:

    I think Zach is right. I think they were dismayed by the less than stellar reaction to the initial announcement of the event and now they’re hedging. How telling would it be if Dana wasn’t even in the building for his “dream” event?

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    The more I think about it…. The more I think this double booking has nothing to do with Japan.

    The UFC only has so many available TV dates a year. First, FOX will only want so many. Second, the fans can only tolerate so many.

    For the UFC to penetrate so many markets, they are going to have to overbook.

    This also allows them to tailor the cards more towards that countries preferences…. Which might not be the same as what the American fans want. They can attract the locals with 8 fights that they care about to get the local cards. And then they can have 2 or 3 fights that the American fight fans care about. Do this for 2 cards in the same night, and then the American telecast will still be 100% tailor made for the American audience.

    It also plays into them wanting to do TUF’s around the world. Most of the American fans aren’t going to care about the TUF Brazil Finale.

    I have a feeling if this works out well, this could be the future for most shows going forward…..

    • Chuck says:

      If any of this happened then we would have main events like Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic for Australia events or Pat Barry vs. Mark Hunt in New Zealand events.

  8. gjapan says:

    I think UFC could have a successful show in Japan if they prioritised it & kept all of the fighters that have a connection with Japan on ice. They haven’t done that, as other shows needed guys like Wanderlei and Nogueira. I’ve noticed my Japanese MMA fan friends have started to lose enthusiasm for the event as have I. It is coming across very much like, we are a foreign company and we don’t really understand what you want, you’re just going to have to like what we give you. Zuffa need to realise that the guys like Gomi who stayed around after PRIDE closed are greatly diminished as draws & people like Omigawa & Hioki were never marketed properly in Japan. The fights that would sell tickets would be matches along the lines of Nog-Cro Cop and Akiyama-Silva.

  9. ergface says:

    I won’t pretend to know a damn thing about Japan or drawing business there, however I hope the UFC does not take the predictable path everyone is talking about and book a bunch of worn Pride vets + Japanese fighters who would be cut from the roster if the Japan show were not on the schedule. Surely there are new Japanese prospects they can book? Especially as the US audience will have its own show with familiar faces, the UFC should fill the Japan undercard with guys that might actually unfold into competitive UFC fighters given this experience. And surely whether the Japanese audience currently approve of where his career unfolded or not the Japanese absolutely should be shown Yushin Okami. He is the single active shining example of competitive UFC success coming out of Japan. As nationalistic and idiosyncratic as the Japanese audience may be, isn’t theirs a culture that also honors genuine competitive success? The show shouldn’t be about nostalgia, it should be about showcasing what it takes to make it in MMA today + giving a shot to domestic guys still young enough to adapt and make it.

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