By Zach Arnold | February 25, 2017
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) February 25, 2017
Nothing is ever standard in Florida, especially in combat sports.
On paper, a sleepy Boxeo Telemundo event from the Tony Rosa Community Center in Palm Bay, Florida created some great drama — the kind of drama you typically used to see on random ESPN Friday Night Fight cards. The kind of drama that helped elevate Joe Tessitore to top tier status at ESPN.
The ingredients: Florida’s Boxing Commission and referee Frank Santore. Promoter All-Star Boxing. Two young, undefeated boxers in Joshua Pagan and José “Little Pacquiao” Resendez. Pagan’s father was a three time Golden Gloves champion in New York.
It’s a six round fight. Fast-forward to round six. After a couple of questionable punches, Resendez gained momentum and had Pagan in trouble. Suddenly, a Pagan supporter jumped from the crowd to the ring apron to take a swing at Resendez. A melee breaks out at ringside with cornermen, security, and Florida boxing commission officials. Nobody really knows what to do. The two boxers go in opposite corners and take a breather. Resendez is on his knees but gets back up.
When I first saw the supporter jump onto the ring apron, I thought he was in Pagan’s corner and was trying to get the fight stopped. Nope.
After everything settled down, the fight re-started with around 50 seconds left in the final round. 30 seconds in, Joshua Pagan decided to take a knee — with 20 seconds left in the round. Santore gives Pagan a standing 8 count. At this point, the television announcers start name-dropping Mike Tyson and all sorts of crazy incidents in boxing’s past.
After the end of the fight, the score cards are read… and Pagan, who took the knee in R6, won by split decision over Resendez. Time for a re-match.
By Zach Arnold | February 22, 2017
If the California State Athletic Commission is considered the lowest of the state agency boards in terms of political power, why do so many movers-and-shakers get involved with the Athletic Commission?
It’s the easiest high-profile launching pad to get to bigger and better places in California government. Wednesday’s bulletin from Governor Jerry Brown announced that former Athletic Commission board member Dean Grafilo would be taking over the reigns at the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Dean Grafilo, 44, of West Sacramento, has been appointed director at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Grafilo has been chief of staff in the Office of California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta since 2012. He was associate director of government relations at the California Medical Association from 2009 to 2012, chief of staff in the Office of California State Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani from 2008 to 2009 and a senior legislative assistant in the Office of California State Assemblymember Alberto Torrico from 2004 to 2008. Grafilo was an organizer representative at Service Employees International Union Local 925 from 2003 to 2004 and a political intern at the M.L. King County Labor Council in 2002. He was a field representative and organizer at International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142 from 1997 to 2001. Grafilo earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $176,691. Grafilo is a Democrat.
Consumer Affairs has oversight over the state Bar (attorneys), the medical board (doctors), the contractor’s board, the liquor licensing board, regulatory authority over medical marijuana, and pretty much everything under the Sun in California. Consumer Affairs has reportedly become so unmanageable that the Sacramento legislature is considering plans on combining certain boards and agencies.
The CV for Grafilo doesn’t state his tenure with the Athletic Commission but a quick search on Fight Opinion highlights Grafilo’s short-term appointment during the time when Consumer Affairs was doing everything in its power to fire George Dodd as the Athletic Commission Executive Officer. Now Grafilo is going to run the show.
Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown’s office announced the re-appointments of attorney & former boxer Mary Lehman (good) and fixer Martha Shen-Urquidez (atrocious) to the Athletic Commission.
By Zach Arnold | February 8, 2017
Hollywood is melting down over President Donald J. Trump and WME-IMG, the new owners of UFC, are reportedly creating a mega Hollywood PAC to pump huge amounts of cash to go after the Trump agenda.
This is potentially a game-changing gift for the forces who are nudging Congress into amending the Ali Act to cover Mixed Martial Arts.
Ari Emanuel and Dana White triangulated the 2016 American political scene beautifully. They played both sides of the coin and ended up helping one of UFC’s biggest supporters become President. The loyalty Dana White showed to Donald Trump is something that Trump took very seriously. It gave Dana White a direct line to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It gave Ari Emanuel, Trump’s former TV agent, a direct path to talk to the President. If they wanted Trump to veto signing an amendment to the Ali Act, they had clout to make the request and force Congress to override a Presidential veto.
With momentum building in Congress to amend the Ali Act, I switched my position from arguing that there was no chance of the Ali Act getting amended to a position where I could see a possible path of Congress amending the Ali Act, Trump vetoing, and Congress overring the veto. The chances were still slim, but growing.
Now this logic could potentially be turned upside down with WME-IMG and Hollywood going after Trump with tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of a Political Action Committee. WME-IMG just cracked the door open for Trump signing an amendment to the Ali Act and gave him a motive — revenge.
The move by Ari Emanuel and WME-IMG to turn on a dime against Trump suddenly reverses course from the political strategy new ownership had in cementing UFC’s political security. Forming a mega Hollywood PAC to go after Trump and work against the implementation of his agenda is going to piss him off. It has the potential of reversing all the carefully crafted work WME-IMG engaged in over the last 12 months to make Trump a top ally.
The problem for WME-IMG? Their Hollywood clients are so hot at Trump that WME-IMG is getting backed into a corner to abandon all the political work they did over the last six months in protecting UFC. If you’re in the camp working hard to amend the Ali Act to cover MMA, these new political developments could be just what the doctor ordered to bring much needed change.
By Zach Arnold | January 26, 2017
Not even a week after Golden Boy signed a two year contract with ESPN, Oscar De La Hoya’s world is on the rocks. He got cited for DUI, no-showed a HBO presser to promote a Fantasy Springs event, and got his antitrust lawsuit against Al Haymon terminated in Federal court.
In one of the most direct & blunt Motion for Summary Judgment rulings I can ever recall reading, Los Angeles Federal Judge John F. Walter essentially agreed with every point raised by Al Haymon’s legal team as to why the Golden Boy anti-trust lawsuit should be terminated. So much so, in fact, that one came away with a clear impression that even if Golden Boy had produced the evidence they had promised the court, it wouldn’t have mattered because the evidence didn’t meet the legal standards to prove the merits of their causes of action.
My charitable interpretation of what the judge told Golden Boy:
- You have unclean hands (specifically matchmakers Eric Gomez & Robert Diaz)
- You failed to provide credible evidence to back up your claims and relied on hearsay
- Your attorneys didn’t depose boxers or fully follow legal rationale such as the Rule of Reason to prove your antitrust argument
- Even if you provided the evidence you said you would, so what? Your legal arguments failed based upon the facts presented to the court
This Motion for Summary Judgment ruling was a complete and total public repudiation of Golden Boy attorney Ricardo Cestero.
Barriers to entry
Golden Boy argued that Al Haymon using PBC to sign exclusive deals with TV networks created a barrier to entry. Team Haymon argued that PBC TV deals created no barrier because Golden Boy & Top Rank could still do business in the regular channels that carry boxing. Judge Walter stated that Golden Boy failed to properly define the boxing market or show that Al Haymon created barriers for Golden Boy for doing business in the boxing marketplace.
It should be noted that ESPN claimed they started negotiating with Golden Boy after Al Haymon reached a settlement with Bob Arum in his Federal court to eliminate the PBC exclusivity clauses in television contracts.
Haymon boxers and coercion
Golden Boy argued that Al Haymon’s stable of boxers were pushed into deals that benefitted him and tied up fighters from working with other promoters like Golden Boy. The judge ruled against this argument, stating Golden Boy provided no declarations or depositions from any boxers on this matter and that Haymon’s fighters made more money as a result of working with him because fights he signed with other promoters were lucrative.
Judge Walter turned the tables against Golden Boy and used their own words against them:
In fact, the evidence suggests that it is Golden Boy, not Defendants, that has refused to deal with the Haymon Entities during the pendency of this lawsuit. Indeed, in May 2015, Robert Diaz (Golden Boy’s matchmaker) received a suggestion from the manager of then Golden Boy-promoted heavyweight, Luis Ortiz, to try to place Mr. Ortiz in a bout that is featured within a PBC show. Mr. Diaz responded, “Are you serious? You do know we have sued Haymon right?”.
Golden Boy argued that Al Haymon allegedly (with intent) booked arenas that they were wanting to use for shows and then canceled those arena bookings after he supposedly achieved his desired result of keeping GB out of the arenas they wanted to run.
Judge Walter argued that there are plenty of arenas in Southern California available for booking and that their argument of Haymon locking up only one venue doesn’t satisfy the argument they brought to the court.
In other words, even if Haymon was guilty of locking up venues it simply wasn’t possible for him to lock up *every* venue and that Golden Boy had plenty of opportunities to conduct business as usual.
Golden Boy argued that PBC, as a monopoly, would sign all the top fighters in boxing and push promoters to the side in order to dominate market share and take over the boxing market to control salaries and prices for consumers.
Judge Walter sided with Al Haymon. PBC aired on free television, lost a lot of money, and that there’s no evidence a jury would discover showing that Haymon could ever recover his financial losses to complete the circle of predatory pricing.
Ali Act violations
Golden Boy argued that Al Haymon blatantly violated the Ali Act by acting as both a manager (Haymon Sports) and as a promoter (PBC). Haymon argued that Golden Boy had no standing to raise the issue of the Ali Act because the Ali Act is meant for usage by government agencies or by boxers who have suffered financial damages, not promoters.
The judge sided with Haymon on the issue of standing, stating that the Ali Act was not intended to compensate promoters for lost profits.
“In this case, after conducting substantial discovery, Plaintiffs have been unable to present any evidence of harm to competition. Instead, Plaintiffs have merely presented evidence of harm to themselves.”
State vs. Federal causes of action
Judge Walter dismissed the Federal causes of action raised by Golden Boy against Al Haymon. He dismissed their state causes of action (Unfair Competition Law) without prejudice, meaning Golden Boy could conceivably file suit against Al Haymon in state court if they wanted to.
Oscar De La Hoya’s lawsuit against Al Haymon had the big names and pizzazz to grab everyone’s attention. In reality, it was unlikely the lawsuit would destroy Al Haymon in the first place. And the final result is that the discovery process revealed or confirmed pretty much what you thought about both sides heading into the case. Al Haymon legally admitted that he is a manager and our records requests with the various state athletic commissions proved that he was applying for licensure in Nevada. If a fighter is going to argue that Haymon is both acting as a manager and as a promoter, at least there’s documentary evidence of him legally admitting to being a manager. Find the documentary evidence of Haymon admitting or applying to be a promoter and maybe you could pursue some sort of action against him.
Although Defendants deny that Haymon Sports acts as a promoter, Haymon Sports has indicated that, at some point in the future, it may decide to become a promoter. Although the Court recognizes that there is a genuine dispute as to whether Defendants act as promoters, this dispute does not preclude the Court from granting summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ federal claims for relief.
The Golden Boy suit was not the lawsuit that was going to destroy Al Haymon. The lawsuit that has had a direct impact on Al Haymon is the Kansas shareholder derivative lawsuit against the hedge fund that backed Al Haymon’s PBC venture. It was filed in April of 2016 and took a few months to make a real impact before everything changed on the PBC front regarding the amount of shows booked. Going after Haymon’s cash was always the most effective legal (python) strategy. Nothing has changed on that front.
By Zach Arnold | January 19, 2017
The news: Starting in March 2017, ESPN will air Golden Boy events on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. 18 events in 2017, 24 events in 2018, ESPN has an option in 2019. Similar to Fox Sports 1 series except ESPN will not pay Golden Boy a rights fee. Tecate will be the main sponsor.
The big takeaways
First, ESPN’s rationale for doing a TV deal with Golden Boy is being publicly stated as a result of the anti-trust settlement in Los Angeles Federal Court between Bob Arum and Al Haymon to have PBC ditch the TV exclusivity clauses in their deal.
This acknowledgement certainly will be a major component in the Golden Boy/Al Haymon trial in Los Angeles Federal court this March should the judge allow it to proceed. The motion for summary judgment happened in late November and both parties are proceeding, my opinion based on court records, as if this thing is going to trial.
Second, ESPN curiously stated that they were negotiating this Golden Boy TV deal over the last six months. That would put the timetable around July of 2016, a couple of months after the big shareholder derivative lawsuit was filed in Kansas state court against the hedge fund that backed Haymon’s PBC venture. Haymon had a big run of shows in the Spring & Summer of 2016. Things changed after that shareholder lawsuit to try to recover the alleged $525 million dollars remaining in the Media Holdings LLC shell that the hedge fund that put cash into for PBC.
Third, Golden Boy desperately needs television oxygen to recruit fighters. Once Richard Schaefer left, we saw the different direction Golden Boy was heading in with Eric Gomez and
Robert Garcia matchmaker Robert Diaz. TV exposure matters and so does having a business kingpin on your side.
Fourth, ESPN signing the new TV deal with Golden Boy is proof that the network is still interested in boxing but only on a limited, no-risk scale due to the company bleeding households by the millions. The fact that ESPN is publicly acknowledging that they are going to give Golden Boy production control is quite an admission — and one that UFC no doubt is paying close attention to.
With Joe Tessitore doing college football and Todd Grisham doing UFC, it will be interesting to see if Golden Boy will go with reliable hands like Bernardo Osuna or Beto Duran… or if they are willing to hire someone with a bigger profile.
Fifth, Fox Sports 1 should have never allowed Golden Boy to sign a deal with ESPN. They need all the programming they can get. The Golden Boy shows were unspectacular but solid on FS1. Golden Boy could have meant a lot more to Fox than to ESPN, especially given the Southern California connections. Fox blew a chance to make this work.
By Zach Arnold | January 11, 2017
Brock Lesnar’s smile at the Winnipeg Jets game on Tuesday got wiped away in a hurry after Mark Hunt officially filed a lawsuit in Federal court in Las Vegas for fraud, unjust enrichment, and racketeering.
Hunt, along with his attorney, curiously telegraphed their impending lawsuit for several months. From our vantage point, it seemed to be a transparent attempt to reach some sort of settlement before the lawsuit was ever filed. When UFC didn’t reportedly implement the kind of contractual clauses that Hunt wanted for future fighters caught doping, it became a game of chicken between UFC & Hunt.
Mark Hunt had no choice but to file a lawsuit against UFC & Brock Lesnar. If he didn’t, he would have lost all face in the matter. The good thing for Hunt is that the attorneys on his side are excellent at what they do and their first complaint filed in court is well-done in terms of length (27 pages) and writing style. Attorneys often fall into a trap of prosecuting their entire case in the complaint. Complaints get 60, 80, sometimes 100 pages long and leave lots of room in the motion game to get sliced & diced. The point of a complaint is to make your allegations that cover the elements in the various causes of action to prevent a motion to dismiss from succeeding without trying your whole case up front. Let the discovery & deposition provide the future evidence for you.
What to look for
In October of 2016, we previewed what Mark Hunt’s lawsuit would look like and it largely played out as predicted.
The first, naked twist in the complaint is the attempt to file suit in Federal rather than state court in Nevada. Hunt’s attorneys attempt to make this work by filing for the Federal cause of action regarding racketeering. Nevada has its own state version of racketeering which is similar. What makes the racketeering attempt look so transparent in trying to play the jurisdictional game is that Hunt filed for a conspiracy for racketeering COA on the state level but then cited the Federal RICO statute. The point is to keep this lawsuit out of state court, where there is a perceived advantage for UFC.
An additional point: Nevada’s racketeering law covers the last five years of business activity. The Federal statute covers a time period of 10 years. That certainly comes into play when you look at the era of the testosterone hall passes and the Chael Sonnen debacle with Anderson Silva as background for the plaintiff to rely upon in court for racketeering allegations.
What’s next: UFC’s first move will likely involve a motion to transfer from Federal to state court. If the case gets transferred to state court, then it’s onto a motion to dismiss or a motion to strike the causes of action. The success of that will likely be limited in scope. As the motion game plays out, the clock will begin immediately for discovery although UFC’s side will try to stall for as much time as possible with extensions (professional courtesy or court motions).
Why didn’t UFC pay Mark Hunt before this lawsuit got filed?
Now that Hunt has officially filed the lawsuit against UFC & Brock Lesnar, they really don’t have much of a choice but to settle this thing quickly and pay the attorney’s fees. Otherwise, this time bomb is going to produce terrible discovery for UFC’s side. The general public won’t get to see that discovery if it’s under seal but certainly could get a sneak peek if there are future amended complaints detailing the evidence discovered to buttress Hunt’s COAs.
And that’s the larger point here — Nevada has some great attorney-friendly causes of actions. California has some doozies like the nebulous Unfair Competition Law but the old-school unjust enrichment COA remains potent in states like Nevada and Florida. The principle is simple — if you’re profiting from ill-gotten gains, that’s unjust enrichment. Just as one can be criminally prosecuted for receiving stolen property or embezzlement/conversion, one can be sued for unjust enrichment. It’s a wide-ranging COA that really is a big, big problem for UFC.
UFC’s testosterone-era garbage left them vulnerable to doping lawsuits
They deserve everything they’re going to get in court and more for the last decade of anabolic steroid policy.
The established track record for UFC makes them extremely vulnerable in deposition. From Lorenzo Fertitta to Keith Kizer to Dr. Tim Trainor to Dr. Jeff Davidson to Marc Ratner, all of these people would be put under very uncomfortable depositions regarding who gave permission to which fighters and under which pretenses. Can you imagine the internal company memos produced during the testosterone era explosion in 2010?
None of this will likely come to fruition in reality. Maybe a 5% chance but perhaps I could be wrong. Perhaps UFC could be stupid enough to fight this out, thinking that the legal bills will mount and that Hunt will have to give up. But what if the attorneys are taking this case at a discounted rate (for publicity) or on a contingency? There’s a lot of money to make here on a settlement, let alone a trial. Sounds delicious for a trial attorney to me.
But what about Brock Lesnar?
Mark Hunt’s lawsuit is against UFC, Brock Lesnar, Dana White, and Does 1-50. Any of the parties involved can settle at any time. It would be in their best interest to do so and in a hurry.
What happens, though, if one of the parties involved doesn’t want to settle while the others settle?
The UFC made their money off of Brock Lesnar. Dana White indicated recently that Lesnar’s not likely to return to active MMA fighting. If UFC settles and leaves Lesnar on his own, what’s his leverage over them?
Which brings us the scenario that Team Hunt probably would dream of the most — Brock Lesnar racing to settle first and providing damning evidence that can be used against UFC to ramp up for a larger settlement.
The lawsuit contends that UFC made ill-gotten gains for UFC 200 because Brock Lesnar’s fight made the event such a success at a time when the company was in the process of being sold. The same company that gave Lesnar a USADA waiver that allowed him to immediately fight rather than engage in multiple months of pre-fight drug testing.
There are millions of reasons for the UFC to race to settle first before Brock Lesnar. There are also millions of reasons for Brock Lesnar to race to settle first and possibly help Team Hunt bolster their case to squeeze UFC by the balls to get more money and get the contractual provisions they wanted all along.
By Zach Arnold | January 5, 2017
Ari Emanuel reportedly wants to give TV networks more production & creative control over UFC for the next big television package. Be careful what you wish for.
Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s golden child whom WME-IMG had the double squeeze of juice on as both promoter and manager, is getting savaged by the UFC’s television partner. The hit men of Jamie Horowitz are ripping through the carcass.
Lorenzo Fertitta would have never let this happen under his watch. In six months time, things have dramatically changed for the UFC and not all for the better. Creative control was an absolute core belief under Zuffa’s tenure that helped sell UFC for $4 billion dollars. There was a reason that this was so important. Anyone who watched WCW a generation earlier and read the voluminous reports about Turner’s “standards and practices” knows all too well how powerful creative control is.
A week after Ronda Rousey’s decisive loss to Amanda Nunes, the verbal insanity has gone through the roof. The millionaire sports pundits smell blood in the water.
Voice #1 – Dana White
Within 45 minutes of Amanda Nunes retaining her UFC Bantamweight title, Dana White went on Fox Sports 1 television and made an ass out of himself. He bragged about how big the crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was and went on one of his “this is why I’m the promoter and you’re not speeches.” And during his rant, White stated that he could have spent $100 million dollars in advertising on Amanda Nunes for UFC 207 and nobody would have known who she was.
Dana’s theory? Fighting Ronda Rousey would make Amanda Nunes a bigger star than any ad buy UFC could ever deliver. In other words, purposely push Amanda Nunes as the b-sider and expect that defeating the A-level face of the company would instantly transfer the energy over to the b-sider. If this strategy worked, Holly Holm wouldn’t have been fighting on free television and Al Haymon would be the king of boxing.
So where was the Ronda bashing here? It wasn’t Dana bashing Ronda so much as it was a media portrait being painted after the fight of a prized former champion who somehow is an emotionally stunted little child crying for 45 minutes with boogers and snot coming out. Paired with Ronda’s refusal to deal with the media leading into the fight and it was the reddest of red meat possible for the critics. I was flabbergasted that Dana managed to weave in Godfather Promoter Dana with Uncle Dana the therapist in one interview segment.
Voice #2 – Clay Travis
Nobody smells blood in the water faster than Clay Travis. The Nashville attorney who claims that he voted for Barack Obama twice but has no qualms going after “PC Bromanis” (Bomani Jones) who view themselves as social justice warriors and speech police.
Travis scorched Rousey after her UFC 207 loss as a fraud who was propped up by white liberal feminists and social justice warriors in sports media pushing women’s empowerment. He called Ronda Rousey the Bernie Madoff of female athletes. Three months earlier, Travis proclaimed Rousey to be the most powerful female athlete ever.
Clay’s ability to make your head explode is par excellence. The problem is that if you attack the hyperbolic part of his arguments, it forces you to confront the other issues where there’s grains of truth.
Ronda Rousey did not invent women’s MMA. Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg were tearing the house down long before she came on the scene. ESPN called her a trailblazer. She was (and is). But it was embarrassing to see ESPN try to make Ramona Shelburne into Ronda’s Ahmad Rashad. It was laughable to see Ring Magazine put Ronda Rousey on its cover and ask if Ronda would take over women’s boxing as well as women’s MMA.
Ronda Rousey was great for Ronda Rousey and great for UFC.
Voice #3 – Jason Whitlock
In a scorching hot take on Thursday, Jason Whitlock refined Clay Travis’s argument and made it significantly more expolosive. Whitlock buttressed Clay’s argument that white liberal feminists, social justice warriors, and the PC police were the ones building up the myth of Ronda Rousey by adding that this same crowd intentionally pushed Ronda Rousey at the expense of powerful black women athletes like Serena Williams. Whitlock noted that when Miss Williams had her Serena (Grand) Slam in tennis, it was Rousey who ESPN gushed over for awards and their body issue.
Where do you begin to attack or unpack this argument? You can’t attack hot takes with logic and facts. Logic and facts don’t persuade people. Emotion does. How you feel is what makes an impact. Scott Adams, the Godfather of 2016 American political analysis, wrote the book on this – How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
This is why you don’t give creative control over your sports product to television networks.
By Zach Arnold | December 30, 2016
This is one of the most emasculating, shaming come-uppances I've ever seen a historic, elite MMA fighter get. Garbrandt is wilding on Cruz.
— Jordan Breen (@jordanbreen) December 31, 2016
This was a very, very bad night for Dana White & Ari Emanuel. WME had the total juice on Ronda Rousey in both management & ownership and rolled snake eyes.
UFC 207 results
- UFC women’s 135 pound title match: Amanda Nunes defeated Ronda Rousey in R1 in 48 seconds by TKO.
- UFC men’s 135 pound title match: Cody Garbrandt torched Dominick Cruz after 5R by unanimous decision.
- TJ Dillashaw defeated John Lineker after 3R by unanimous decision.
- Dong Hyun Kim defeated Tarec Saffiedine by split decision after 3R.
- Neil Magny defeated Johny Hendricks after 3R by unanimous decision.
The big takeaways
Ronda Rousey showed up in better physical shape. Nothing changed in her fight style. She got torched by Amanda Nunes. Miesha Tate predicted this all week long but somebody must have gotten to her at the last minute because she did a 180 on TV and said Ronda would win based on how she looked at the weigh-ins.
Cody Garbrandt torched Dominick Cruz in the cage as much as Cruz torched Garbrandt in their vocal talk battles. Now we get Garbrandt versus a cockier TJ Dillashaw. The ghost of Urijah Faber remains omnipresent.
This was the farewell show for Mike Goldberg and Joe Silva. No fan fare on the way out. WME blew it.
Chael Sonnen defended Dana White not giving out salaries for fighters in the past because it would give greedy friends, family members, and hangers-on a chance to steal money from UFC talent. This was in response to the disclosure of Ronda Rousey getting a $3 million paycheck for the UFC 207 fight. The disclosure was from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. They regularly disclose base salaries for fighters.
Sonnen isn’t sure that this was Ronda Rousey’s last fight. When you’re winning, fans beg you to stay and keep going. When you’re losing, fans aren’t begging.
Sonnen said that judo is a terrible base to transition from for modern MMA. Hidehiko Yoshida made a fair chunk of change, thank you very much.
By Zach Arnold | December 17, 2016
Saturday’s UFC event at the Golden-1 Center in Sacramento put a lot of egg on the faces of management.
The marketing and hype packages by Foxified TV consultants in conjunction with WME certainly felt different than the Lorenzo Fertitta-era UFC. UFC went all-in on Paige VanZant. They treated viewers as children by hyping VanZant for going to multiple high schools and filming a Bissell commercial at age 13. There was the nauseating Erin Andrews interview spot. Fox Sports 1 spent the whole week focusing on VanZant, including PVZ not wanting to fight in front of her mother because she bled during fights. And right on cue, Fox aired a 4G LTE commercial with Paige VanZant after VanZant’s fight ended.
The problem, of course, is that VanZant got choked out and destroyed by Michelle Waterson. It was an adult vs. a child in the cage. Waterson was in the main event and you wouldn’t have known it until fight night. Someone from production was barking at Waterson to hurry her ring walk by giving second-by-second instructions. She was viewed as the B-side of the main event by the powers-that-be. Of course they would treat Michelle Waterson like that.
The bloodletting continued with Sage Northcutt getting worked over by CM Punk slayer Mickey Gall. Fox hyped Northcutt as being discovered by Dana White on his Fight Pass show looking for a fighter. The prodigal son got beat up. It’s a good thing the focus was on Dana discovering this young man. Too bad Dana wasn’t actually there on camera to watch the festivities.
Dana White and Joe Rogan were nowhere to be found for Urijah Faber’s retirement fight. It’s entirely valid to point out that Faber was not a Dana creation and became his own star outside of the UFC universe. Even by that measure, White not showing up on camera to pay respects to Faber sent a rather interesting message to the fans at home. Faber was the clear cut star on this show along with Nick Diaz getting his ringside cameo.
Faber had a chance to submit Brad Pickett in round one of their fight but couldn’t pull it off. I joked that Skip Bayless would give a hot take on Fox saying that WEC Faber would have finished the fight but that UFC Faber just didn’t have the clutch gene to do it. An hour later, Fox was airing a Skip Bayless hot take skeptical of Ronda Rousey having success upon her return in two weeks to fight Amanda Nunes. It was the basest of Jamie Horowitz plays and to the average viewer came across as a copy of the horrible Monday Night Football half-time First Take shoutfest between Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman.
UFC barely acknowledged Fabricio Werdum (recently punished for comments) vs. Cain Velasquez (now associated with Bjorn Rebney’s association) coming up in two weeks.
And to cap off the WME Foxified TV consultant crapfest, UFC went into promo mode with a one-sided insult fest between Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt. Another man vs. child scenario, this time on the microphone.
Speaking of childish, California State Athletic Commission main athletic inspector and Andy Foster point man Mark Relyea was in his camera-hogging glory by getting in on the TV shots before and after the Urijah Faber fight. Nobody is a bigger mark for Mark than Mark himself.
If this is what the WME era of UFC on Fox is going to be, the folks at Viacom should be very, very happy with their growing position.
New data shows that without Al Haymon & WWE’s cash, California’s athletic commission would be hurting bad
By Zach Arnold | December 13, 2016
A deep dive into a recent financial document dump by the California State Athletic Commission reveals some alarming conflicts of interest and troubling financial realities for the state agency.
Without cash from WWE and Al Haymon, the athletic commission would be dealing with financial problems. And in both cases, not coincidentally, the state agency is skirting the law in how they deal with both entities.
On page 48 of the document dump, there is a list of taxes regarding how much the commission has made from various sports. Here is how the breakdown looks for the first four months of Fiscal year 2016-2017:
Boxing – $114,953.27
Wrestling gates – $124,797.25
Radio/TV tax – $85,619
Commission fines – $18,304.41
MMA taxes – $24,293.22
The numbers are worth highlighting for a number of reasons.
- Andy Foster was brought in as an MMA revolutionary to California four years ago. Today, MMA is struggling for relevancy in the state of California as a big-ticket attraction.
- WWE is, in essence, being extorted. There is no regulation of their events. The Athletic Commission is sending a couple of inspectors to go to the box office of the arenas WWE is running and demanding, through the power of the state, a check of 5% per event on the gate plus demanding a TV tax check (of up to $35,000) for a TV/PPV event. No other wrestling company is treated in the same manner as WWE. WWE refuses to file for an injunction against the Athletic Commission to stop the disparate treatment. Without WWE’s money, the Athletic Commission would be in the red.
- By a nearly 5-to-1 margin, boxing revenue surpasses MMA revenue in California.
This data sets the stage for more claims presented by the Athletic Commission in their financial document dump. On page 77, there is an executive summary. Of the 140 shows regulated in 2016, 90 of them are boxing and 44 MMA. Of the total revenues brought in, 18% of the total pie comes from Al Haymon shows via front man Tom Brown. 15% of the revenue comes from UFC. 13% from Golden Boy. 12% from Tom Loeffler.
Now you have a possible financial motive as to why the state of California has refused to consider bringing any criminal or civil action against Haymon on behalf of the Athletic Commission.
If Al Haymon’s operations slow down or halt completely, California is beholden to UFC for financial stability. We’ve detailed just how dependent Andy Foster is on UFC. After Andy gave Conor McGregor a boxing license, a media frenzy ensued. California got some free publicity for giving McGregor his boxing license. Then came the heat. And now the ass-kissing is underway. At this week’s commission meeting in Sacramento, the Athletic Commission will celebrate UFC:
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a world renowned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promoter licensed by the California State Athletic Commission (Commission), promotes many high profile MMA champions and contenders, such as California residents Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey, Urijah Faber, and Dominick Cruz. These events have allowed greater opportunities for California licensees to participate in major professional MMA contests in California.
In just the last 4 years, UFC has promoted a total of 10 events in California, totaling $773,480.88 in Commission revenue. One example of the positive impact to the California economy is that ticket sales alone for these events generated approximately $11 million dollars. Additional revenues are generated from television contracts, concessions and promotional items. Most significantly, UFC has demonstrated a commitment to California MMA fans and we know they are planning to hold many more high profile events in California.
Accordingly, to show the Commission’s appreciation to UFC for holding their events in California and in the spirit of Business and Professions Code 18640.5, Chairman Carvelli has requested that the Commission recognize UFC.
You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube after giving Conor McGregor a boxing license.
The financials for California’s commission are not as solid as they appear on the surface. Once Al Haymon’s activity slows down, there goes a chunk of revenue. If WWE decides enough is enough and puts up a fight in court, that would stop a significant flow of cash. And if UFC decides to play political hard ball, they can not only limit revenue flowing to California but also put the clamps on the help of their lobbyists whom the Athletic Commission relies upon for political power in Sacramento.
UFC’s three economic weapons for retaliation against Andy Foster for giving Conor McGregor a boxing license
By Zach Arnold | December 1, 2016
Things are about to get chilly between California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster and Dana White. With an upcoming show in Sacramento, it remains to be seen if UFC will read the riot act to Mr. Foster for granting Conor McGregor a boxing license.
What we can likely guess is that McGregor getting a boxing license does not sit well with UFC management.
By granting Conor McGregor a boxing license in California, Andy Foster has opened the door for Conor McGregor to get a boxing license in other states. This would automatically create a scenario of leverage for McGregor to fight outside (or under) the UFC banner in a boxing exhibition or legitimate contest. It opens the door for issues relating to the Ali Act since McGregor would be acting in a capacity as a boxer, not an MMA fighter. The Ali Act for MMA is dead. It’s not dead for boxing. What kind of legal rights could McGregor assert if his UFC contract prohibits him from boxing?
Regardless of how slim the odds are for Conor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather, McGregor being granted a boxing license by Andy Foster escalates the business tension between the Lightweight champion and UFC. Adding intrigue to the story is this reported claim that the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to give Conor McGregor a boxing license.
The co-dependent relationship between UFC & Andy Foster
Andy Foster’s biggest ally since taking over the job at the California State Athletic Commission has been UFC. We’ll elaborate later on just how significant that relationship is and what the pressure points are.
And if you remember, Andy Foster was prepared to move from Sacramento to Las Vegas due to various reasons if it meant getting the Executive Director job at the Nevada State Athletic Commission after Keith Kizer’s departure. For both personal and political reasons. Andy and his wife were having a child. The Athletic Commission was coming off of a reported extortion attempt by crooked California senator Leland Yee in order to keep the agency alive. Yee was exposed for having connections to famous Chinatown organized crime boss Shrimp Boy. Yee was given tickets to a UFC event in San Jose.
Andy Foster ended up as one of the finalists for the Nevada job. He didn’t get it. The interview, which was done publicly, didn’t go so well. For the purposes of UFC, having Andy Foster remain in California allowed them to maintain power over both California and Nevada.
A funny thing happened, though — MMA revenues have steadily declined in California. Boxing revenue is king. The second top revenue source remains taxation on WWE, a gross abuse of the athletic commission’s authority. Taxation without real regulation. Confiscatory. WWE could easily appeal such disparate confiscation in court but have chosen not to do so. Without wrestling revenues, the California State Athletic Commission would face a financial squeeze despite the reserves they have built up in the bank.
UFC’s pressure points on Andy Foster
Andy Foster has granted a lot of people boxing licenses over the last few years. Some of them never deserved a license in the first place, like a nearly 60-year old 200-pound female boxer. Comparatively-speaking, it’s a hell of a lot less dangerous having Conor McGregor in a boxing ring than a 60-year old amateur. But granting Conor McGregor a boxing license is politically explosive with UFC.
If McGregor can parlay his boxing license into something bigger that drags UFC into a business situation they don’t want to be involved in, they’re going to reasonably point the finger at Andy Foster for giving Conor McGregor a boxing license. If UFC wants to retaliate, they have three significant economic attacks they can launch against Andy Foster.
1. Pull shows out of California
This is the easiest weapon of choice for UFC retaliation. UFC just pulled their PPV from Anaheim. Their events are the only significant MMA money makers for the state. The members of the Athletic Commission board love to act like celebrities at these events and one member in particular loves acting like a barking gloryhog with authority they do not possess. Take the fame and money away by not having as many shows in the state.
2. Stop helping the Athletic Commission with cash on lobbying efforts
This is the mutually-assured destruction option that would really screw over Andy Foster.
UFC has top Sacramento lobbying firm Platinum Advisors on a retainer. They’ve spent over $750,000 on lobbying efforts in California, with $200,000 of that cash over the last seven reporting quarters. Without UFC’s lobbyist cash, Andy Foster wouldn’t be able to get things in Sacramento at the Capitol. He just wouldn’t.
WME-IMG also spend an inordinate amount of cash on lobbying efforts in Sacramento. If WME wants to pull the plug on helping out the Athletic Commission in advancing statutes regarding weight cutting, taxes, and other safety regulations, they can do it. Nothing would destroy Andy Foster’s political power faster than UFC not spending their lobbying cash to push his agenda.
3. Remove any chance of a post-Athletic Commission golden parachute with UFC
It’s unlikely that Andy Foster is going to land another major athletic commission job given the current political terrain. Who would want to work in New York? Florida has their own bureaucratically-controlled attorney in place. Texas has new leadership. Nevada is a mess.
Which means that California is likely his last destination for an job with an Athletic Commission. If he retires or quits or gets removed from his California job, landing a golden parachute from UFC would make sense. Or at least it would have used to make sense. Lorenzo Fertitta took care of Marc Ratner and Armando Garcia.
Now with WME-IMG? That open door policy isn’t so open, especially if Ari Emanuel and Dana White see Andy Foster as helping out Conor McGregor obtain leverage in a labor spat.
When you have a family to feed and bills to pay, UFC employment used to be a very secure option with Lorenzo Fertitta. That security blanket is gone now. The venture capitalists have taken over. Andy Foster needs to keep his job in California. He can’t afford to have UFC screwing him over financially or politically. Once he’s out, he’s out.
By Zach Arnold | November 30, 2016
The realization of a Donald J. Trump presidency has set in for proponents of reforming the MMA business.
The season of Trump means death to the Ali Act. There are 30 days left to try to pass an Ali Act during the Congressional lame duck session. Highly unlikely, especially with Trump appointing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife to the Department of Transportation.
With no Ali Act to fight for, Rob Maysey’s anti-trust lawsuit may lead to a result that attorneys dread: mootness. Rob’s biggest fear is fighters unionizing in order to establish a Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would (in essence) nuke the anti-trust route and close the door permanently on amending the Ali Act for MMA.
Ari Emanuel’s blood rivals, Hollywood powerhouse agency CAA, are throwing down the gauntlet with their (un)official support of Dana White nemesis Bjorn Rebney by organizing a group called the MMA Athletes Association. This group potentially has the muscle that PFA, the attempted group by sports agent Jeff Borris, does not.
Interestingly, Bjorn Rebney says this new Association will not be a union. Which means this will be a competing venture against Maysey and Borris. Most intriguingly, former Bellator employee Zach Light is with the new Association. He sued Bellator for wrongful termination and they sued him back. That fight is ongoing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Which brings us to this question: what is the value of an Association if the Ali Act isn’t going to be amended for MMA in order to establish legal rights for fighters for freer movement & a private right to sue to get out of an adhesive contract?
@mikedyce If they don't want NLRB certification then no but if you withhold services (strike) w/o that – subject to anti-trust violations
— Lucas Middlebrook (@lkmiddleb) November 30, 2016
Vulture capitalism primed the conditions for organizing fighters
We knew that Ari Emanuel would hollow out UFC in order to launch an IPO or flip the venture Bain Capital-style. Our concern is that the hollowing out process could result in more of a Cumulus dumpster fire.
Consider the following developments over the last week:
- Rumors of WME-IMG wanting $450 million USD a year for UFC TV rights
- Rumors that as part of the $450M/yr deal that UFC’s video library/Fight Pass could be licensed or sold altogether
- Rumors that WME-IMG could give up in-house production of UFC and offload it to the highest bidder
- Rumors of WME willing to give the highest bidder a % of PPV buys and ditching “hype men” like Joe Rogan & Mike Goldberg
- ESPN, one of the likely possible landing destinations for a UFC TV package of sorts, has reportedly lost 1.2 million households in the last two months and is in a death spiral
- UFC stripping Conor McGregor of the featherweight title and creating yet another interim title belt
In none of these developments do you see any benefit whatsoever for fighters. More and more fighters are publicly voicing their displeasure about comp tickets, show money, canceled fights, and issues with drug testing.
Once Lorenzo Fertitta got out and an official price tag was slapped on the UFC, the dam broke. Before Trump takes office in late January, there will be a mad rush for organizing fighters & filing lawsuits. Once Trump hits DC, everything changes — no more Ali Act, a change in the composition of the National Labor Relations Board, and UFC ownership having a direct phone line to the White House.
By Zach Arnold | November 15, 2016
The UFC feared the movement to amend the Ali Act for MMA so much that they were willing to risk significant political capital in order to win the battle even if it meant losing the labor wars in the long term.
Proponents for amending the Ali Act to cover MMA now have two months in the Congressional lame duck session to get something passed before the door is permanently slammed shut. Once that legislative door is slammed shut, there will only be two paths left for labor to fight UFC:
- Wait and see how the MMAFA anti-trust lawsuit plays out in Las Vegas court with a potential settlement or
- Organize quickly under the PFA banner with Jeff Borris and Lucas Middlebrook
The latter option would likely result in a Collective Bargaining Agreement which would probably kill any future antitrust litigation.
You know which way the winds are blowing. So does the UFC, which makes their public gamble in backing Donald Trump all the more breathtaking in hindsight. They calculated a medium-risk, high-reward play. Get Trump in the White House and the return on investment would equal the power brokers in the fight industry enjoying the most political power ever. Trump has spent decades promoting and celebrating the likes of Don King, Vince McMahon, and UFC. It’s in his blood. And now he’s going to return favors in a big way, starting with UFC & WWE as big beneficiaries. Linda McMahon may even land in Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Whether you like or loathe UFC’s political power play here, UFC was going to be fighting on behalf of Trump one way or another. If Lorenzo Fertitta had retained ownership of UFC, he and casino owners like Sheldon Adelson & Steve Wynn would have found themselves in a nasty proxy war against Bob Arum and the Culinary Union in Nevada. It would have been a statewide bloodbath. Once Lorenzo Fertitta sold UFC to Ari Emanuel, then the next political strategy came into the equation: triangulation. WME-IMG & the Emanuel family are tight in the world of the Clintons. If Hillary Clinton had won the Presidency, she wouldn’t have changed the Ali Act to cover MMA. UFC made the gamble that Dana White backing Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention would cover their ass on both ends. They executed their triangulation strategy perfectly.
The two major flashpoints since WME-IMG bought UFC
Once the price tag was announced of $4 billion dollars for the purchase price of UFC, fighters suddenly started getting friskier and less respectful of ownership despite the fact that WME-IMG is way more powerful than Lorenzo Fertitta ever has been in the business world. What Lorenzo knew best was manipulating the emotions of fighters & managers. He made fighters feel like they were building equity in UFC that everyone would share in. A family atmosphere.
That all changed when there was an actual sticker price attached to UFC.
Fighters are either speaking out about wanting a piece of ownership or extra cash because “they know their value”. Fighters are considering retirement at an earlier age. More fighters are not making weight for fights because the repercussions aren’t serious enough. UFC will likely have to address this later on with liquidated damages clauses in new contracts. With heavy pressure to cut costs due to a high debt load, WME-IMG will be in Mitt Romney mode to try to shed as many financial obligations as possible in order to either setup an IPO situation or flip the company like a typical venture capitalist after obtaining a new television deal in a few years. With the landscape of sports television collapsing due to plummeting household numbers, it’s not going to be as easy to cash in as first thought. With ESPN losing 600,000 households a month and Fox Sports 1 losing 300,000 households a month, how much are the biggest corporations willing to spend on UFC? WME-IMG is hoping to end up with a Bain Capital result instead of a Cumulus dumpster fire bottom line.
And now the other shoe is about to drop because of UFC’s public support of Donald Trump.
The activist Left is pissed. They’re organizing new strategies through ANSWER, George Soros (Democracy Alliance), and other powerful Democrat Party entities. If history is any indicator, they’re going to raise hell for at least the next four years. The same campaigns that targeted advertisers associated with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O’Reilly will now be pointing lasers at Dana White, Vince McMahon, & Peter Thiel. The last time McMahon was politically targeted, he infamously came up with the Right to Censor group.
UFC took the risk of backing Trump in order to destroy the bipartisan attempt of amending the Ali Act for MMA. What makes this move such a fascinating calculation is that it conflicts with a good portion of their audience. UFC’s online audience in the 18-to-34 demographic is as rabid as you will find with any sports property in the world. It’s also heavily liberal and the media writers that cover UFC are heavily liberal. It’s very similar to what the NBA online fan & media base looks like. The issue is that the offline UFC fan base, much like the offline NBA fan base, is a whole lot different politically than the online fans & media consuming the sport.
This is going to create some tension for UFC. The stakes got bigger after UFC ran their monster event at Madison Square Garden. There’s a whole new cast of political activists paying attention now. Black Lives Matter, backed by George Soros, is sabre-rattling their intentions on targeting UFC. You know that David Brock, integral hatchet man in the world of the Clintons, will be looking for his pound of flesh (despite the Emanuels being involved) and UFC will easily become one of his new targets. Things are about to get hairy for UFC.
I don’t know what the internal political & financial calculations were for UFC killing an Ali Act for MMA but they must have assumed that such a change to their business model would have seriously impacted their bottom line. Dana White was rather flippant in his latest response to the idea of fighters organizing. You can act that way when you have cashed out for a few hundred million dollars and have an exit strategy ready at your disposal. The UFC won this political battle but they may lose the labor war in the long term. The question is whether Dana White & WME-IMG will stick around to see those potential concessions before they pull the rip cord and leave the mess for someone else to deal with.