By Zach Arnold | November 23, 2015
When Buster Douglas downed Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome, there was a halo effect but it lasted for a few months. WWE wanted Mike Tyson for Saturday Night’s Main Event and instead called an audible by booking Douglas as a referee to help Hulk Hogan. Remember the milk drinking promo afterwards? Douglas would go on to fight Evander Holyfield and lose. Douglas was not favored heading into the fight and showed up in worse shape than the Tyson fight.
Holly Holm now has a similar halo effect. She’s being celebrated everywhere in America, except of course on Fox Sports where they published an article claiming a link to a company that had allegedly being producing product with PEDs. At the Clippers/Warriors NBA game last Thursday, a huge ovation. The media requests aren’t stopping. And Holly is a really good interview. She shows her emotions in a very relatable way. When Holm defends her UFC title, she won’t be an underdog like Buster was. She will be a favorite and for very good reason.
Meanwhile, America’s Ronda roasting fetish remains at a 10 — especially amongst Milennials.
By Zach Arnold | November 14, 2015
Ronda Rousey’s many admirers think she is as sexy as Maria Sharapova, but it was supposed to be Holly Holm’s role to play Maria Sharapova to Ronda’s Serena Williams in the cage. Ronda was the 20-to-1 favorite who was going to vanquish the pro-boxing convert to MMA and head onto a giant fight against Cris Cyborg.
Everything changed in Melbourne. Not only did Holly Holm knock out Ronda Rousey, she put her into an ambulance ride to a hospital.
The Buster Douglas comparisons immediately started flying. Quite appropriate, given ESPN’s airing of the Chasing Tyson documentary reviewing the 90s with Tyson/Douglas at the Tokyo Dome and Evander Holyfield watching his then-golden ticket fight with Tyson blow up in smoke. We know how the story played out, including cameos from Riddick Bowe & Michael Moorer.
The Chasing Tyson formula is now UFC’s best case scenario. A scenario where Rousey somehow rebounds, Holm fights the likes of Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate, and Julianna Pena. For a true hardcore fight fan, these are wonderful scenarios. For the casual fight fan who loved or hated Ronda Rousey only and the media who helped build Rousey up to Rock-level icon status, they are now left with a feeling similar to when Mike Tyson went to jail in Indianapolis.
“[Everything] is on pause,” the venerable Charley Steiner lamented at the time.
By Zach Arnold | November 14, 2015
Prohibited association. Get used to hearing more of this phrase in the coming months and years as long as UFC has a relationship with USADA.
Prohibited association is a policy pushed by WADA & USADA to name-and-shame those caught doping by isolating them completely from any active or passive involvement in sport. The policy says that no fighter can associate with any fighter who fails a drug test. Valerie Letourneau was warned by UFC that Hector Lombard could not be in her corner because of his recently failed drug test. This means no fighter under UFC contract can associate with any fighter in or out of the cage if the person they want to be around has failed a drug test.
The fighters did not collectively bargain on this matter. UFC simply told them to accept it as part of doing business or else not fight in the UFC. Ramsey Nijem is no longer fighting in the UFC. Other fighters are protesting the scope of the USADA policy.
This new policy is ripe for two different kinds of challenge: a court challenge and a regulatory challenge.
By Zach Arnold | November 5, 2015
Better late to the party than to be early and expose yourself as a fool. I’ve kept my mouth shut about the return of Nobuyuki Sakakibara, wondering if he had as much juice as some of his cheerleaders claims he has right now. In the fight business, you never know. The wild rumors of his money marks coming from the Middle East to pachinko money in Japan. What’s real and what’s not real?
Nature abhors a vacuum. Once PRIDE died, so did the national Mixed Martial Arts in Japan. Take away the alleged dark money, the professional wrestling icons, and TV support and you’re just an American-style independent promoter.
Since the death of PRIDE, Fuji TV has tanked in the ratings. They’re not a major player on New Year’s Eve. As Tadashi Tanaka correctly pointed out, Fuji TV has been airing a lot of South Korean programming that the Japanese public isn’t all that into. Mr. Tanaka quipped that people were wondering whether or not Korean money was involved in Fuji TV’s ownership. The irony of this is incredibly thick given that the Shukan Gendai negative campaign against PRIDE was built around the mysterious Mr. Ishizaka (“Mr. I”), a dark money figure with alleged ties to… South Korea.
The irony is even thicker when you consider that Spike TV, the network that ran a news program laying out the PRIDE yakuza scandal, is now going to work with Rizin through Scott Coker.
With Sakakibara’s return, the promise is that he’ll bring in pro-wrestling stars and big foreign names to juice up a dead Japanese scene. Given that Antonio Inoki is back in politics, someone had to fill his (small) role as the country’s only power broker. Throw in rumors of former K-1 boss Kazuyoshi Ishii perhaps interested in Rizing and the circus is back in town.
There are simply too many missing pieces of the puzzle to put the band back together again.
First, you need big-league professional wrestling stars. They don’t exist right now to do the crossover. Only a name like Shinsuke Nakamura could do it and I have serious doubts that New Japan would risk having their golden goose get humiliated like Yuji Nagata got buried against Mirko Cro Cop a decade ago. New Japan is the only pro-wrestling player in town. I don’t see the economics adding up for New Japan to prop up Sakakibara, especially given TV-Asahi’s ownership in the company.
There was talk of Kota Ibushi, but he’s got a herniated disc and I don’t see the natural cross-over fit. There was curious talk of Go Shiozaki, but Shiozaki is not a major name and he frankly has zero business leverage with any combat sports organization. After Misawa died, bad booking and development buried Shiozaki into a permanent glass ceiling situation.
That leaves you with Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinya Aoki and Aoki vs. Montanha Silva. The public may slightly care about the first fight but care less about the second fight.
Second, money. There are three plausible scenarios on the TV front: 1) Fuji TV is putting up a small amount of cash, 2) they’re doing a barter deal with Sakakibara, or 3) Sakakibara may be paying a small amount. Fuji TV is still scarred by what happened with PRIDE. There was talk about Rizin and the TV network ensuring protocols in place that Rizin would not do business with the dark side. Even with Fuji TV working again with Sakakibara, I cannot see the network in its current state risking a lot to chase a pipe dream like reviving MMA.
Three, big names. It takes a lot of cash to develop prospects over time to make them into household names in Japan. If you’re having to rely on Sakuraba or Akebono, it’s not enough to open the window for old fans to come back through let alone create new fans who are wondering what this MMA thing is. A decade is a long time to be away from the main stage.
The smarter play would have been to go through the pro-wrestling route and try to revive UWF, then turn-key it into an MMA project. By going through the PRIDE/DREAM route, you’re risking more money with fewer promoter-friendly parts to work with.
Even when Antonio Inoki was loading big New Japan cards in the 1970s and early 80s with foreigners like Ali, Hansen, Andre, and Dusty Rhodes, there was still an ability to sell some Japanese names on the cards who would turn out to be pretty serious draws (Fujinami, Sakaguchi, Choshu). There is no one available for Rizin who is Inoki-level, let alone Fujinami-level to build around.
If you are hoping to appeal to big-name sponsors for a NYE show, the preparations usually begin during late August to book big names so that by October you have something to pitch to ad agencies like Dentsu to bring in the big bucks. PRIDE paid $5 million bucks for Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Naoya Ogawa and that turned to be a monster fight in PRIDE’s history. We’re in early November and I don’t see the major names on tap that could attract 10 million viewers on NYE. At this point, 7 million viewers would be an accomplishment. Better to set the bar low than to raise expectation levels from the past.
By Zach Arnold | September 30, 2015
Writer Jason Floyd dropped this proverbial turd in the punch bowl regarding a clause UFC fighters are being asked to sign regarding USADA drug testing:
ARTICLE 22: WAIVER AND RELEASE
As a condition of participating in or preparing for a Bout or working with an Athlete who is participating in or preparing for a Bout, Athles, Athlete Support Personnel and other Persons agree to release and hold harmless UFC, USADA and their designees from any claim, demand or cause of action, known or unknown, now or hereafter arising, including attorney’s fees, resulting from acts or omissions which occurred in good faith.
First, the key phrase here is good faith. It’s nebulous and extremely hard to combat in a protracted lawsuit should any fighter sue them over a mishap.
Second, this waiver could easily raise the issue of unconscionability. In other words, it’s such a one-sided adhesive agreement in which an entity with all the leverage in negotiating is pressuring fighters to give up even more constitutional rights in order to continue employment while under contract with UFC. You have the right to sue in America. You have the right to send a demand letter. Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law is on the books to enforce protection of these rights.
Lots of people sign contracts every day giving up constitutional rights as part of settlement agreements. However, signing such agreements as a condition of continued employment or else face a possible ice-out in labor participation as an “indepedent contractor” is arguably excessive.
Which brings us to two legal defeats in the past week for UFC in Las Vegas Federal court:
1) Their motion to dismiss the anti-trust lawsuit filed by Cung Le, Nate Quarry, and others was denied. Read Paul Gift’s remarkable article at Bloody Elbow detailing last Friday’s court hearing.
2) Discovery is beginning and the plaintiffs will get access to an assortment of business contracts. How much of this information will be kept under seal by the judge and how much will be made available to the press?
We’ve seen dribs and drabs over the years in various legal cases, such as the Eddie Alvarez/Bellator debacle, about what UFC contracts supposedly look like. Thanks to the efforts of Rob Maysey, we’re about to see a whole lot more and the fighters are going to get an opportunity to see some real details on UFC’s business model.
It is always amazing to see how hyper-aggressive UFC is legally in protecting their business model (e.g. making members at their gyms wear UFC-branded gis over other branded gis) and pro-actively preventing any future legal challenges. But once they actually do get challenged in court, they aren’t teflon. Their crack legal team in New York has now formulated a strategy of… gasp… trying to establish damages from NY’s MMA ban by booking Madison Square Garden in April and seeking an injunction. As Jonathan Snowden adroitly notes, UFC knows that MMA is illegal in New York and that booking MSG is a self-imposed injury. But the flipside here is that UFC drew the same judge for this new injunctive hearing as they did for their original lawsuit against New York state.
By Zach Arnold | September 26, 2015
Main card results from the UFC Fight Night show at Saitama Super Arena:
- Josh Barnett defeated Roy Nelson after 5R by unanimous decision (48-47 twice, 50-45).
- Uriah Hall defeated Gegard Mousasi in R2 in 25 seconds by TKO.
- Kyoji Horiguchi defeated Chico Camus after 3R by unanimous decision.
- Takeiya Mizugaki defeated George Roop after 3R by unanimous decision.
- Diego Brandao defeated Katsunori Kikuno in R1 in 28 seconds by TKO.
- Teruto Ishihara and Mizuto Hirota went to a draw after 3R.
The Sunday afternoon Dentsu-promoted UFC card in Japan gave some momentary glimpses of the glory days of Japanese MMA in terms of emotion and fun. I miss it very much. I still believe that MMA can be a viable sport in Japan but it’s entirely dependent on professional wrestling star power and New Japan is the only major player in Japanese professional wrestling.
I’ve long been a crusader again yakuza influence in Japanese combat sports and believe it’s the right position. However, I cannot and will not deny the crippling impact that the yakuza crackdown over the last decade in Japan has had on combat sports. Once the dark money vanished, then sponsors & television networks became reticent. It’s easy to push the cash flow when there’s already another source of cash flow being piped in. Once the dark money dried up, so did national interest. Without the criminal syndicates using old-school pro-wrestling extortion tactics to buy tickets at discounts from event promoters in order to push other businesses into buying tickets from the gangs, it became a lot harder to promote events on a regular basis.
The challenge for someone like Nobuyuki Sakakibara to make a second run in Japan is enormous. Let’s assume that his new money marks are foreigners and have a lot of cash to burn. Let’s say that he is able to buy TV access on Fuji TV or other television networks. That still doesn’t address what he’s going to do about attracting Dentsu-level sponsors. It still doesn’t address what he’s going to do about building real Japanese mainstream stars. It doesn’t address the fact that Sakakibara is a marked man in Japan who has as many powerful enemies as he has as powerful friends. The scandal that brought down PRIDE was a national disgrace that played out in Shukan Gendai magazine and amongst Fuji TV stockholders. It was a scandal that involved police investigators from the country’s largest Metropolitan police force.
Color me skeptical that the return of PRIDE is coming any time soon. I would love to see a new boom period in Japan but the ingredients that made combat sports successful in Japan do not exist right now and may not exist in the future.
As for UFC’s efforts with the sold show Dentsu affair in Saitama, it was a delightfully polite & respectful audience. Takeya Mizugaki went emo. Josh Barnett’s mic performance, Rusher Kimura-style, was more pleasing than watching his five-round gutty & grizzly unanimous decision win over Roy Nelson. To Josh’s credit, I was utterly dumbfounded by two judges scoring the fight 48-47. I had it comfortably 50-45 even though Nelson absorbed some savage rib roasters in the process.
I loved the reaction from the Japanese fans on the Mousasi/Hall fight. Mousasi was viewed as a legitimate home town star. They were intensely focused on his ground game, which looked excellent. And then Hall blew up the proceedings with a picture perfect back kick and a flying knee that should have stretchered the poor guy out of the arena.
— Shaheen Al-Shatti (@shaunalshatti) September 27, 2015
And then there was Ishihara and Hirota. They fought to a majority draw. Hirota drew laughs for talking about a crooked tooth. They went to the hospital together and were both given “six-figure UFC contracts.” If only there was a
sudden victory sudden death round PRIDE-style…
By Zach Arnold | September 21, 2015
Three years ago the UFC accidentally sent a sketchy Vitor Belfort drug test to people and then … nothing happened. http://t.co/NmWe3vrH2y
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 21, 2015
UFC’s bête noire is back in action and on one of his biggest platforms yet.
That’s an article highlighting the pre-USADA era of UFC drug testing. If you’ve read my countless articles on MMA’s testosterone plague, little of what Josh wrote in his new Deadspin article will shock or surprise you. The only surprise is, if his information is true, how long the information took to become public.
A quick summary of the lengthy Deadspin article:
- Josh Gross claims UFC e-mailed out results of a Vitor Belfort blood test to 29 fighters, managers, and trainers three weeks before Belfort’s fight versus Jon Jones in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
- Those test results supposedly showed Belfort having higher-than-allowed testosterone levels
- UFC allegedly gave Belfort a Therapeutic Use Exemption for testosterone and supposedly monitored Belfort test results from an anti-aging facility called Ageless Forever
- A paralegal from UFC & UFC top attorney Ike Epstein reportedly requested e-mail recipients to delete the Belfort test results e-mail immediately. Epstein’s message threatened legal sanctions against anyone who published Belfort’s information.
- The person who supposedly received Belfort’s blood test results at UFC HQ left the organization and is now a manager for MMA fighters. He is the brother of UFC chief legal officer Kirk Hendrick.
Onto my observations or questions:
- If the fight in question had happened to be in Nevada and not Ontario, this would be an exponentially more explosive scandal story.
- The incestuousness of MMA business relations is so Southern-fried in its nature.
- Americans have long believed that major, too-big-to-fail sporting institutions like the NFL and UFC were head-and-shoulders above others for intelligence & competence when, in fact, they have been exposed as typical corporations.
- Will UFC sue Gawker Media in Nevada Federal court and take their chances that an anti-SLAPP motion won’t survive a libel suit? Or will UFC ignore the Deadspin article? Nevada’s anti-SLAPP motion recently got watered down and it’s not as strong as anti-SLAPP motions in California, Oregon, or Texas.
- Why would Jeff Novitzky agree to take a job as a drug test overlord for a sports company that issued their own Therapeutic Use Exemptions and now is partnering up with an entity in USADA that may have different standards for TUEs than state athletic commissions like Nevada?
Ben Fowlkes responds: Let us remark on how utterly insane MMA’s testosterone era was
Erik Magraken talks about the Deadspin story in context of assault, informed consent, fraud, and CTE should someone decide to sue UFC in the future.
By Zach Arnold | September 14, 2015
Nick Diaz suspended for 5 years for marijuana. Absurd how they got to that. This is a dark day for combat sports.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) September 14, 2015
Imagine if he had been involved in a hit-and-run or proclaimed he needed medicine from Thailand.
I personally feel that Nick Diaz getting what amounts to a lifetime ban for a non-PED is absolutely insane!! Out of touch with reality
— Jimmy Smith (@jimmysmithmma) September 14, 2015
What’s another writ of mandate lawsuit amongst friends?
Read Brett Okamoto’s pain-staking summary of Monday’s Nevada State Athletic Commission meeting. Ben Fowlkes dispenses with the Barney Fife-level quasi-police attitude that was on display with the commission board. Mike Chiappetta on the unconscionable nature of a five year ban.
By Zach Arnold | September 11, 2015
This was supposed to be a triumphant week for Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. His last victory lap after dethroning Manny Pacquiao.
Instead, Mayweather got sued by a woman for defamation for pre-fight comments and both Pacquiao & Arum got sued by fans for fraud due to Pacquiao’s shoulder injury.
Even worse, there is virtually no mainstream media attention for Mayweather’s victory lap fight against 35-to-1 underdog Andre Berto. Literally nobody cares. This was not how the master plan was supposed to work.
When the sharks smell blood in the water…
Thomas Hauser, firing on all cylinders. blitzed USADA & Floyd Mayweather with a devastating article at SB Nation claiming that USADA allowed Floyd Mayweather to use an IV that would have been banned under WADA standards. Hauser also claims that USADA does not allegedly disclose their drug testing results with athletic commissions. Hauser’s article raised the issue of granting “retroactive” Therapeutic Use Exemptions to certain fighters.
Nevada’s commission, once again, was backed into a corner. They denounced USADA’s granting of a TUE to Mayweather for two saline IV mixes.
Hauser’s article also hit on USADA’s lack of usage of Carbon Isotope Ratio tests for detective synthetic testosterone usage. Instead, Hauser alleges that USADA uses standard T/E ratio tests and that previous T/E ratios for Mayweather drug tests were 0.69 and 0.80, below a standard 1:1 T/E ratio for the average human being.
All of this matters because the UFC has entered into an agreement with USADA to oversee their personal drug testing program. Jeff Novitzky is the front man for UFC. Already, there is a growing fissure between Nevada’s athletic commission and USADA. On Thursday night, Lance Pugmire of The Los Angeles Times dropped this bomb:
Told by Nevada commission members that UFC fighter Frank Mir similarly obtained a TUE from USADA last week that Nevada ruled inadmissible.
— Lance Pugmire (@latimespugmire) September 10, 2015
The same Frank Mir who once got permission to use testosterone was getting permission from USADA to use Adderall. Pugmire’s LA Times article on this story details how furious Nevada is for creating confusion amongst the fighters as to what is allowed and who has jurisdiction regarding what is allowed thanks to USADA.
Throwing another monkey wrench into the proceedings is the alleged fact that parties signing contracts with USADA are bound to confidentiality clauses, at least if you believe what promoter Bob Arum has to say. Arum’s rather toned-down response this week to the Mayweather IV discovery was remarkable because of how realistic yet fatalistic the situation was. He could scream to the mountain top about USADA letting Mayweather use an IV but what good was it going to do Top Rank or his client?
- If athletic commissions like Nevada are going to no longer accept third-party drug testing results, then what good is it for UFC to work with USADA?
- If USADA isn’t going to disclose drug test results to athletic commissions, then they are going to disclose them only to UFC? USADA claims they will release all drug tests results to the public. Will they disclose all results?
- Does this set up a situation for possible blackmail where an athlete could be forced to renegotiate an existing contract or give up money via a “fine” in exchange for not having a failed USADA drug test result go public?
If Nevada declares war on USADA, what will it mean for other state athletic commissions? At last week’s California State Athletic Commission in Los Angeles, USADA was on the meeting agenda to obtain approval as an approved drug collector for CSAC. What now?
By Zach Arnold | September 7, 2015
@MattRoth512 our 44min nice produced interview w/ dj did less views than Alex Chambers. It's astonishing how little fans care about him. ????
— E. Casey Leydon (@ekc) September 7, 2015
As technically skilled of a champion in modern day Mixed Martial Arts, Demetrious Johnson unfortunately doesn’t fit in the current zeitgeist that is UFC.
He isn’t trademarking and barking phrases like “do nothing bitch.” He isn’t writing Internet rants about women and yoga. He isn’t a domestic batterer. He doesn’t talk about his opponents in terms of prison rape. He’s not, at least to anyone’s knowledge, a steroid abuser. He’s also under 145 pounds.
In today’s marketplace, that’s a recipe for not drawing paying customers, let alone respect amongst UFC’s heavily pro-wrestling dominated audience base. They want loud, they want crass, they want over-the-edge, and they want Lightweight-or-higher size.
Henry Cejudo is the last real test on the horizon for Demetrious Johnson. Cejudo would be UFC’s marketing dream, at least on paper. Perhaps he could pull off the impossible and make a sub-145 pound weight class a household division. Probably not, though.
In a perfect world where there was real global MMA competition, especially in Japan, Demetrious Johnson would have significant more opportunities to build his reputation up as a star. He would have been a perfect fit in PRIDE. Even though the Takanori Gomi-led Bushido series didn’t draw as well as the main PRIDE cards, the Bushido events still drew enough attention and produced some outstanding fights. With the Japanese space largely in a vacuum due to the crackdown on dark money & TV shareholders nervous to step back into the void, guys like Demetrious Johnson and Bibiano Fernandes don’t have the financial opportunities as other champion fighters do. They come into the sport with some marketing disadvantages and on a UFC-type stage, those disadvantages become magnified. Thanks to UFC’s deal with Reebok, Microsoft is paying the company and not the fighter to advertise their product.
UFC can no longer afford to put Demetrious Johnson fights in main event slots on cards. It’s a shame, too, because he can be a finisher but the fans are now conditioned to believe that the smaller, faster fighters simply go the distance. The bathroom break portion of the show.
By Zach Arnold | September 3, 2015
Tuesday’s California State Athletic Commission meeting in Los Angeles was a circus and the star of the show was Antonio Margarito’s former trainer, Javier Capetillo.
If you’re a veteran reader of this site, you know the story about Antonio Margarito’s illegal hand-wraps that were caught before his January 2009 Staples Center fight against Shane Mosley. Margarito’s trainer, Javier Capetillo, was suspended in 2009 after athletic inspectors Dean Lohuis and Mike Bray were alerted by Shane Mosley’s trainer Naazim Richardson that Margarito had plaster wraps. Che Guevara, working as an athletic inspector at Staples Center, missed it. When it came time to suspend Margarito and strip Capetillo of his license, Lohuis and Bray were thrown under the bus while Guevara was promoted to Lohuis’s position as Chief Athletic Inspector.
Guevara, a main player in that Margarito incident, was at Tuesday’s athletic commission to receive a posthumous award for the late Michael King, a boxing promoter who made his King World fortune syndicating Oprah Winfrey’s TV show and by acting as a mega-bundler in Pacific Palisades for President Barack Obama.
Rather than asking Guevara to stick around and testify about what Capetillo had done, he was nowhere to be found during Tuesday’s hearing regarding Capetillo appealing the Athletic Commission for reinstatement.
There was a lot of Barry Horowitz-style hand-patting at Tuesday’s meeting for both the NABF & WBC giving Andy Foster awards and acknowledgement of service performed as Executive Officer. Perhaps they haven’t been paying attention to what is going on with the Javier Capetillo licensing situation in California.
By Zach Arnold | August 4, 2015
Nobody is better in combat sports at generating social media traffic than the UFC & Ronda Rousey. It may not always be the nicest or most pleasant of comments from a rabid 18-to-34 year old demographic, but it’s voluminous.
ESPN decided long ago that they were interested in promoting UFC as much as Fox Sports… and it’s Fox who has the $90 million a year TV contract with Zuffa.
There has been financial pressure exerted on ESPN management by Disney regarding the salaries of on-air personalities. The network has gone all-in with expenditures for live programming. Costs are exploding. The mentality of promoting the brand over the talent won in the end, as Colin Cowherd & Keith Olbermann were shown the door.
There’s a reason ESPN immediately embraced a reported pay-for-play contract with Al Haymon’s PBC. ESPN no longer needed to spend $50,000 here and $50,000 there for filler boxing programming. Haymon paying them was music to the Mouse’s ears. However, automatic loyalty to promoting boxing is not a guaranteed proposition with ESPN. The network has gone all-in with Ronda Rousey. They put up with her PR blitz against Floyd Mayweather and gave her an award over Serena Williams. In Disney-land, Rousey’s a hotter property than Serena is right now.
Combine UFC’s ability to dominate social media traffic with ESPN’s hunger to bring UFC aboard in the future and you end up with the kind of positive coverage we have witnessed on ESPN’s platforms for UFC content in 2015.
When UFC’s contract with Fox expires in a couple of years, ESPN will undoubtedly make an offer to steal UFC away from Fox Sports 1. Whether ESPN will pay $90 million a year to UFC is one question, but it’s entirely another question to ask whether or not UFC sees an opportunity to offer programming for both networks. Will Fox drive a hard bargain at the negotiating table and demand exclusive TV rights or will UFC be able to shop around different programming packages similar to what NASCAR has done in the past?
ESPN never promotes a sports property they don’t have a piece of… except for UFC. Ask the NHL. Ask NASCAR. Ask EPL.
It is clear that Disney wants a piece of the action with UFC and they most certainly want a piece of the action with Ronda Rousey. She appeals to all demographics and hits the marketing sweet spot. Plus, she’s not losing a fight any time soon given the (lack of) depth in the 135 pound division. There is some staying power here.
Listen to how Bob Ryan & Michael Wilbon, two of ESPN’s venerable sports-writing voices, described Ronda Rousey’s place in the general American sports landscape:
“WILBON: Rousey is now 12-0 but more importantly the dominant figure in combat sports today, UFC or traditional boxing. People are comparing her recent fights to those of a young Mike Tyson. I never watch MMA but I’ve paid to watch Rousey and I find her irresistible. No matter what you think of UFC, Bobby, how important in the landscape of sports right now is Ronda Rousey?
RYAN: The big question is, what took her so long? I mean, 34 seconds? She’s had three, 104 seconds, last three bouts. She has become THE touchstone figure in all of sports. She’s what’s everyone is talking about. The other jocks are talking about her. LeBron James is tweeting about her. I even referenced her at the Martha’s Vineyard book festival on Saturday. You can’t ignore her!”
It was interesting to watch the mainstream personalities on ESPN react to Saturday’s fight as opposed to some of the more hardcore reaction, such as Chael Sonnen’s disappointment in the way things turned out with the late time start and the lack of opponent depth. ESPN personalities acknowledged the horrible mistake UFC made with 7 fights on the PPV main card and the late start time, but Rousey’s quick & explosive finish all but sugarcoated the proceedings.
The question UFC has to ask itself is a challenging one: how high is the ceiling for Fox Sports 1 and is it higher than what the ceiling could be for UFC on ESPN?
Right now, UFC has the best of both worlds — they have Fox’s money and exposure with ESPN’s powerhouse marketing apparatus. At some point, ESPN is going to want more than they’re currently getting in return. Is there enough room financially on both sides of the aisle to make a new marriage work? As long as Ronda Rousey is relevant, UFC has options with ESPN. The advertisers can’t enough of her.
— Carl's Jr. (@CarlsJr) August 2, 2015
Ronda’s won every business battle in 2015 but still has some unfinished business with former manager Darin Harvey. A final determination regarding their arbitration proceedings in Los Angeles Superior Court is scheduled for mid-January.
Trump card: In scorching critics, UFC management burns Gannett/USA Today & stokes Reebok dumpster fire
By Zach Arnold | July 24, 2015
When you’re running the Rolls Royce of MMA operations but your behavior is as goofy as the XFL, it’s easy to see why you get called too cheap and too petty when you disown the people who helped make your company what it is today.
The UFC/Reebok six year, $70 million deal was a clunker in principle and has produced predictably disastrous results in execution. In and of itself, UFC making independent contractors wear uniforms while killing off their sponsorship money was ludicrous, greedy, and unnecessary — especially during a time when the company is dealing with an anti-trust lawsuit.
In the process, Reebok has drawn unprecedented level of scorn from fight fans for decisions that UFC management has made before and after the Reebok deal. The wrath of anger has been directed towards the wrong entity. However, Reebok is the sitting duck because they’re the business partner that decided to work with UFC. After the firing of Stitch Duran over his comments about cut men losing sponsorship revenue due to the Reebok uniforms, Reebok found itself on the defensive:
UFC fans: We have no input on decisions of UFC employment or fighter compensation. Our focus is providing the best gear for fighters & fans.
— Reebok (@Reebok) July 22, 2015
The anger online has been palpable – canceling Fight Pass subscriptions, threatening to boycott lower-level UFC PPVs, and direct fire aimed right at UFC’s designated lightning rod Dana White.
When you have a raging dumpster fire burning out of control, you don’t pour more lighter fluid on the dumpster fire. However, this is the only way Dana White knows how to conduct & defend business decisions in public.
Dana’s response to the Reebok & Stitch Duran criticism has been typically childish. USA Today, a content partner with MMA Junkie, took notice of Dana’s online behavior.
Furious, White trashed his own business partner and outed their relationship:
— NavyekMMA (@NavyekMMA) July 24, 2015
“u know its a bad news day when USA Today does a story about my Twitter. About time they covered us without being paid @USATODAY”
It’s one thing to pick a fight with a fan online. It’s another thing to pick a fight with a major corporation and leave Reebok & Gannett to fend for themselves based on anger produced by your own bad behavior. The newspaper industry may be having a rough time financially but Gannett doesn’t need the UFC. UFC needs Gannett. There are reasons UFC is supposedly paying Gannett for coverage.
Ascribing motives to the behavior of UFC management about the way they treat their business partners is a dangerous idea. I can’t say with certainty what they are thinking in Vegas. Perhaps this was a warning shot from UFC against MMA Junkie/USA Today to try to cower them into silence with an unspoken threat of less money or future scoops. Perhaps it was simply a childish message board-style troll-job hit for a cheap score.
In responding to their critics, the Ringmaster wants you to follow his attack lead and go after his targets for deflection. It would be easy to trash media entities or writers allegedly accepting payoffs for media coverage. For nearly 20 years, I’ve been giving opinions and advice to anyone in public and in private about what the combat sports media landscape really looks like and where the money is or isn’t.
By the same token, it takes two to tango on a pay-to-play scheme. What does it say about UFC that they, in their own words, need to pay off media outlets in order to get mainstream sports coverage? What does that say about the health of their industry as a mainstream sport when UFC has to grease the palms of major media outlets in exchange for coverage?
Dana White isn’t the majority owner of UFC. The Fertitta family owns the majority of UFC. Dana’s destructive behavior is nothing new but the stakes have never been higher. I would assume that if the Fertittas told Dana to shut up, he would shut up. So far, he isn’t shutting up. It’s only getting worse. Reebok has gotten torched for their relationship with UFC. UFC is now torching one of their biggest media partners in Gannett. What kind of message is this sending to potential business partners who might want to work with UFC?