By Zach Arnold | December 4, 2013
An update to this article (Thursday, 12/5) can be read at the bottom.
I was just on this article on TMZ and there is this huge button beside the headline that says "Presented by UFC." Umm http://t.co/qE58h6aAMB
— Adam Martin (@MMAdamMartin) December 4, 2013
TMZ, the web site that floated a story about Georges St. Pierre having a dying father and baby mama drama, happens to have UFC ads on their web site via DoubleClick. A screen capture:
TMZ articles being presented by UFC is only slightly less awkward than the proposition of having Fight Opinion advertise the UFC Store, which we recently were solicited to do and to name a price. (I declined.)
Speaking of things that look strange on the surface… now that UFC appears to be taking a pass on signing Ben Askren, there’s hand-wringing online about his future. Chad Dundas is spot on about the situation in this article. Bellator seems to be closed off. Dana White was pushing World Series of Fighting. There’s One FC. For a fighter who is all about wanting to face the best competition, the league that has it doesn’t want his talents gracing their cage. Given a choice between WSOF and One FC, One FC is the equivalent of a working vacation with some travel to nice locales.
There’s a reason why Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta never say a bad word about World Series of Fighting and actually push it as an alternative for fighters who they don’t deem worthy of being under contract to Zuffa. Hint: this link will give you some of my past voluminous answers on why.
I'm convinced that the media is feigning ignorance about WSOF being UFC's unofficial bastard child & who the political fixers involved are.
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) December 3, 2013
I had a brainstorming session with a close friend who brought up the topic of WSOF and what they need to do to succeed in the MMA space. It set off alarm bells for me because most people view WSOF on a micro level. They’re the operation that randomly airs shows on NBC Sports Network with little advertising help from Comcast. I watch the shows. I watch the Boost Mobile phone giveaways to winners. And then life goes on. WSOF is involved in some interesting lab experiments in Canada and Japan, like the project they are involved in with Pancrase for next Spring with Yushin Okami. On the surface, it’s interesting chatter for a couple of minutes. But that’s about it.
WSOF’s importance is miniscule on the micro level. The macro level story is different, however. That’s where WSOF interests me. Nothing interests me more in combat sports than the politics and the scandals. Many people watch sports as a fantasy escape to avoid the daily grind and the all-consuming political campaigns that you can’t escape in the media. However, no sport sector is more enveloped & steeped in politics than combat sports. Boxing is corrupt and it has the Ali Act. MMA doesn’t even have that. It’s the wild west.
Why does the existence of WSOF matter to you, the fan, and people inside the MMA business? As I’ve written in past articles, consider who is involved in the operation. WSOF management likes to say publicly that they are not a feeder system for the UFC. They’re technically right. What they are is a placeholder operation for the UFC on an unofficial level. However, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what is really going on once you take a look at the political players involved.
The road map of cronyism
To make a long story short, all of the players involved in the UFC, WSOF, and Nevada State Athletic Commission are protecting each other. It’s their own fighting ecosystem. Let’s lay out the following in bullet form:
- The man who bankrolls the World Series of Fighting is Sig Rogich. Rogich worked for Ronald Reagan. He and Roger Ailes fight over who deserves credit for creating the infamous 1988 Michael Dukakis “Tank Ad” for the George H.W. Bush campaign.
- Sig Rogich is Nevada’s top political fixer. He owns a major public relations firm that is active both locally and nationally in the political scene. He’s considered one of the best PR guys around.
- Sig Rogich used to help Mike Tyson. Rogich was the former Chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Rogich has always been heavily involved in the boxing scene, especially when Marc Ratner was in power.
- Lorenzo Fertitta was a member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
- Keith Kizer was selected from the Attorney General’s office, which is next door to NSAC, to take over for Marc Ratner once Ratner left to go work for Lorenzo Fertitta. The AG’s office handles background checks for NSAC.
- Lorenzo Fertitta, of course, is a major player in Nevada’s gaming scene through Station Casinos.
- Harry Reid, Nevada’s long-time senator and Senator Majority Leader in DC, is backed by Sig Rogich & Lorenzo Fertitta. Reid’s power comes from the casino world & Rogich.
- Because of UFC’s political connections, they haven’t had to deal with the Ali Act being amended to cover MMA.
- Because Keith Kizer was hand-picked to take over for Marc Ratner at the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he still maintains a lot of political protection despite being a total screw-up. If the UFC or Rogich wanted him fired, he would more than likely be fired on the spot.
- Sig Rogich is the money man behind the World Series of Fighting. The promotion can function as a stalking horse for Bellator. It has signed former UFC fighters like Jon Fitch, Josh Burkman, Jacob Volkmann, and Rousimar Palhares. WSOF is able to run Las Vegas without interference from the UFC. They don’t have to deal with a hostile business environment unlike other organizations that wanted to run in Vegas in the past.
When you focus on the people involved in the Las Vegas political scene, everything we are watching play out with the UFC, WSOF, and Nevada State Athletic Commission makes sense. I’ve laid out this case in the past publicly and a few people in the MMA space have picked up on it but not enough, either because they can’t get their heads wrapped around it or else they are playing dumb.
Focus on the big picture
So, what does this mean for Bellator? The UFC would love nothing more than for Bellator to get into a battle with WSOF and have WSOF suck away some oxygen from the conversation. The closer UFC can make WSOF look to Bellator in terms of being perceived as a #2 MMA operation, the tighter the squeeze they can place on Viacom image-wise. If Viacom wants to open the purse strings and battle WSOF, there’s no way in hell Sig Rogich will compete. However, if Viacom continues to run Bellator on the cheap as an MMA property, then it allows WSOF to remain a viable stalking horse. That is the major point of WSOF’s existence and how it benefits the UFC.
How should Bellator/Viacom approach WSOF? Ignore their existence. However, if there’s a sudden reason to go on the attack against WSOF, then they must be able to communicate what I wrote up above to explain how WSOF is nothing more than an organization that is helping out the UFC. Trying to explain Rogich, Ratner, Lorenzo, and Harry Reid in a political nexus takes too long. Bellator would be best served to ignore WSOF but to tell their fighters and free agents that signing with WSOF basically is the equivalent of fading away from the spotlight. Sure, you might get a look from UFC if you do well in WSOF, but that opportunity is unlikely to happen. Bellator provides a much more stable media platform to be in the public spotlight.
The existence of WSOF fascinates me. What WSOF is up as far as the actual shows they promote fascinates me to a lesser degree. WSOF doesn’t work as a stalking horse if fighters view signing with Bellator as a good opportunity. The fact that MMA free agents are leery of Bellator’s reportedly onerous contracts, however, is why WSOF can be an effective stalking horse for the UFC.
As for the issue of collusion regarding UFC & WSOF? As long as Bellator exists, it’s hard for anyone to move the needle on that claim even though it’s clear from public comments by UFC management that they are encouraging fighters to sign with WSOF. We know why they are. When Ben Askren closed the door on Bellator, he boxed himself into a big corner. He would be better off signing a new deal with Bellator at this point.
Here’s your update
The Las Vegas Review-Journal dropped this bombshell about close Lorenzo Fertitta friend/ally Tim Poster, who got rejected by the Gaming Control Board for suitability. The rejection means former Nevada State Athletic Commission members who are on the Nevada Gaming Commission will have to save Poster in two weeks in order to get him a gaming license.
Tim Poster was rejected for suitability due to illegal gambling issues & past ties with Rick Rizzolo, former strip club guy with alleged ties to mobsters.
Troubled gamer Tim Poster catches a break when Gaming Control Board only rejects him. A denial would have been much worse. #lvrj
— John L. Smith (@jlnevadasmith) December 4, 2013
Poster now says Pinnacle paid him a commission for losing wagers; Poster called them a discount. GCB is worried it looks odd.
— Howard Stutz (@howardstutz) December 4, 2013
Regardless of that outcome, the much more intriguing story is that both Lorenzo Feritta (UFC owner) & Sig Rogich (bankrolling WSOF, Nevada’s top political fixer) showed up at Poster’s hearing in Carson City to gain approval for suitability to get licensed.
LVRJ notes that Poster was a founder of Ultimate Gaming. Guess who owns that now? Station Casinos.
— Tom Breitling (@tombreitling) November 26, 2013
— Dana White (@danawhite) November 26, 2013
The fact that Lorenzo & Rogich showed up to defend this guy publicly in Carson City should raise eyebrows. The fact that these guys continue to not hide their business ties & connections publicly, given who is involved, is certainly worthy of watching.