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The MMA heavyweight division is a tragic disaster

By Zach Arnold | January 26, 2016

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the current state of affairs for MMA’s heavyweight division. Injury-plagued and severely lacking in depth, what was supposed to be a cornerstone of PPV sales has gone by the wayside.

Another injury has forced Cain Velasquez out of his fight against Fabricio Werdum, resulting in Stipe Miocic getting an immediate title match. Which promptly lead to Werdum backing out due to his own injuries.

Injuries are nothing new for Cain, but you have to question how much longer he will remain in the sport. Given the horrific lack of talented heavyweights in the sport, he can stick around as long as he wants to. The question is whether or not his body can continue to absorb the punishing training he puts himself through.

Don Frye said it best. In MMA, it’s the training that kills you and not the fight itself.

Look at Cain’s record — he’s had eight fights in six years, five of them against two common opponents (Junior dos Santos & Bigfoot Silva). He’s got an 85% winning percentage. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking. What’s gutting is how much money injuries have cost Cain Velasquez in terms of income. He’s lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. It’s impossible for UFC to trust him as a reliable main eventer, which is even more damaging.

A cursory look at the Sherdog Heavyweight MMA rankings is utterly depressing.

Werdum is injured. Cain is injured (again). Alistair Overeem has max leverage now on UFC but could choose to bolt to a more comfortable environment like Bellator which would also allow him to fight in Japan. Junior dos Santos is not an elite contender at this point in time. Stipe Miocic is your lone bright spot. Andrei Arlovski got destroyed by Miocic. Poor Matt Mitrione got damaged by Travis Browne. Ben Rothwell is a charismatic enigma facing a real opponent in Josh Barnett. Mark Hunt is a zombie. Vitaly Minakov isn’t fighting right now in Bellator. Roy Nelson is Roy Nelson. And Mirko Cro Cop got USADA’d.

This is awful. Let’s book Jon Jones vs. Fedor already.

No wonder UFC fought tooth-and-nail last year for Brock Lesnar’s services.

Topics: Bellator, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

The Nevada State Athletic Commission wanted Nick Diaz to grovel and is now paying for it

By Zach Arnold | January 14, 2016

Nick Diaz’s five year suspension has been reduced for allegedly failing a marijuana test. The purse fine was also reduced. There were accusations of irregularities in the testing and test results when Diaz fought Anderson Silva.

Given Diaz’s history with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the Attorney General’s office, it’s not a surprise that he and his legal team were extra cautious when the administrative law body went after him again for marijuana. It’s a civil, not criminal proceeding but any answers given under penalty of perjury could be used against him if the authorities wanted to prosecute him criminally.

But that’s an issue of law. The Nevada State Athletic Commission is more interested in the subjects before them groveling. This time, however, their request for groveling has created further sympathy for Nick Diaz and complete contempt for one of America’s worst combat sports regulatory bodies.

In pleading your Fifth Amendment rights, you do so to protect yourself from self-incrimination. In a civil hearing, judges & juries & administrative officers can make an adverse inference from any one who pleads the Fifth in refusing to answer a question. Pleading the Fifth in a civil matter, such as a deposition, provides great ammunition for a trial lawyer to completely discredit the credibility of an uncooperative witness.

Take the Bill Cosby matter in Pennsylvania as an example. After the prosecutor declined to file assault charges against Cosby, he ended up taking a deposition a year later in a civil suit. Rather than plead the Fifth Amendment, he answered questions about drugs and discussed quaalude usage. That deposition was put under seal until a judge decided to unseal it years later. Now, Cosby is criminally charged in Pennsylvania based on his admissions from the civil suit. His legal team will try to get the criminal charges dismissed based on the prosecutor refusing to file charges the first time around and that Cosby detrimentally relied on his prosecutorial decision, but Cosby wouldn’t have found himself in the position he is today if he had plead the Fifth during civil deposition.

Nick Diaz had every Constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment at his appeals hearing in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The Commission had every right to make adverse inferences from his refusal to answer questions. They punished him hard. And now they are showing their… generosity… by reaching a settlement agreement with Diaz in which he “agreed” that he was wrong to invoke the Fifth Amendment in not answering questions during his appeals hearing.

It’s no surprise that the Athletic Commission backed down once Diaz hired UFC’s counsel to step up to the plate. It’s one thing to save face but it’s another to go all Mayberry-ish in having Diaz claim he was “wrong” to invoke the Fifth Amendment during questioning. Undoubtedly, it was a small price for Diaz to pay to get some of his freedom back. Now that the Athletic Commission approved the agreement and the text of it has gone public, it’s made Las Vegas look even worse. The kicker, of course, is that the new Chairman of the Athletic Commission (Anthony Marnell) found himself in a sticky situation when the Nevada Gaming Commission frowned upon any casino owner applying for a marijuana permit.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

California legislature preparing to establish task force on weight cutting & dehydration

By Zach Arnold | January 7, 2016

There was a meeting in Los Angeles last month with various promoters and fighters about this issue regarding the California State Athletic Commission. Now there is legislative muscle behind the effort to address this very important health & safety issue in combat sports.

California Senate Bill 587 would establish the following by updating the Business and Professions Code:

18645.5. The commission shall establish a task force to evaluate the impacts of weight cutting, dehydration, and rapid rehydration. The task force may be comprised of physicians and surgeons with expertise in dehydration and rapid rehydration and boxing and mixed martial arts stakeholders, including licensees. The task force, in evaluating impacts, shall consider dangers of certain practices athletes undergo to meet the requirements outlined in Section 18706 and may provide recommendations to the commission that include, but are not limited to, proper techniques to detect dehydration, outreach the commission can undertake to educate licensees about dehydration and rapid rehydration, and the appropriateness of commission weight classifications established in Section 298 of Article 6 of Chapter 1 of Division 2 of Title 4 of the California Code of Regulations.

There will be a meeting on Monday, January 11th for the state Senate’s Business, Professions, and Economic Development committee to get the ball rolling on updating the B & P code.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, MMA, Media, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Masato vs. Kid Yamamoto did better in Japanese TV ratings than RIZIN

By Zach Arnold | January 1, 2016

This tweet by Enuhito got fans excited. Fuji TV has been a door mat on NYE since the collapse of PRIDE and its turn towards more South Korean-flavored programming. Enuhito is accurate. RIZIN’s telecast on Fuji TV did impact the ratings for the Tokyo Broadcasting System boxing match between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco (WBA Flyweight title match at Osaka Prefectural Gym). The expected TV rating for the fight amongst network executives was 9 ~ 10% and it pulled a 7.7% number.

However, context matters. Of the five major Japanese TV networks, RIZIN finished last in the New Year’s Eve battle. NHK’s Red-and-White music festival did a 39.2%. It still remains the country’s gold standard for NYE programming, but it’s ratings have taken somewhat of a dent since the NYE MMA wars.

Rankings: 1) NHK (39.2%), 2) Nippon TV (15.3%), 3) TV Asahi/Survivor (10.0%), 4) Kyokugen/Masato-Kid (9.0%), 5) RIZIN (7.3%)

What is notable about Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s return to MMA is the following:

  1. RIZIN was the first MMA-themed NYE show for Fuji TV in 10 years. Remember the glory days of the Man Festival?
  2. Nature abhors a vacuum and there was plenty of opportunity for someone to jump into the MMA space once PRIDE collapsed. K-1 tried and they ended up collapsing. K-1’s game plan turned out to be a Pyrhhic victory. Sakakibara, even on the cheap, came back into the MMA space without many roadblocks.
  3. Yes, Fuji TV finished last in the ratings — and the matchmaking for appealing to Japanese TV viewers was God awful. But from the network’s perspective and perhaps from Sakakibara’s perspective, both sides financially survived. It doesn’t mean they prospered, but they survived to live another day. Maybe. The next appointment is for April in Sakakibara’s home turf of Nagoya.

Perhaps Sakakibara was a student of Trump University and decided a big round number like 1 billion yen for a claim of cost projections sounded impressive?

As for RIZIN itself, I don’t know what the vision of the promotion is. What is the philosophy? MMA on the cheap with a PRIDE filter? Mismatches? Foreign aces? Who knows? What I do know is that there was as much interest outside of Japan as there was in Japan for the show, which is a strangely interesting dynamic. If you followed MMA Twitter, you would have thought that the holy grail version of PRIDE had resurfaced. Instead, it was more DREAM-like with less competitive booking of fights. That doesn’t mean that the two Saitama events weren’t enjoyable or fun to watch, but on a sporting level it was what it was.

If Fuji TV didn’t pay expansive rights fees to Sakakibara, that means he needed to rely more on the house show gates. The 12/29 Aoki/Sakuraba event claimed over 12,000. I could not find an attendance in the papers for the 12/31 show. The promotion claimed 18,000.

Heading into the event, Sakakibara made it very clear that he wants a pro-wrestling connection to RIZIN because he needs that star power. Wrestling is the star manufacturer. The problem for Sakakibara is that there’s only one major wrestling company left in Japan and that company does not want a relationship with him or MMA. Which means he’ll have to try to recruit foreign wrestling stars to try to build up big fights. Easier said than done.

Unless someone steps up to compete with Sakakibara on a regular basis, RIZIN is the only Japanese ball game in town. It does not mean that he is the #2 player in the business. Bellator remains substantially more relevant. Spike TV will go along with the RIZIN circus as long as it provides an avenue for Bellator fighters to appear in on an international platform, look like stars, and win.

On a final side note: It is very interesting that UFC didn’t put up a legal fight with Kid Yamamoto over his bout with Masato. A month ago, one former agent claimed that he would not be surprised to see more foreign UFC fighters appear in Japan, specifically fighters who do not have assets in America and who come from countries where their legal systems do not recognize certain American civil causes of actions. Japan is an interesting test case scenario because you can transfer American civil court judgments over to Japan but it comes at a price.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Why did UFC leak info on Anderson Silva/Michael Bisping on Christmas Eve?

By Zach Arnold | December 24, 2015

Anderson Silva will fight Michael Bisping on February 27th in London. The event will not air on Fox Sports — it will air on UFC’s Internet site instead.

The obvious question: what’s the motive? The conventional wisdom is that UFC is trying to boost the value of their OTT (over-the-top) play in order to gain leverage when the Fox Sports deal expires. If that’s the wisdom, I don’t buy into it at all.

UFC has value for Fox Sports 1. It does not possess value for big Fox. The network TV cards simply aren’t promoted right. After the Cain Velasquez fight went so quickly, so did the amount of advertising by the television network.

The problem for UFC is simple — ESPN is in rocky shape long-term. Disney knows it. I would not be shocked to see major firings at ESPN early next year over the bloated new TV rights deals signed with the NBA and other sports properties. ESPN was very interested in Al Haymon’s PBC because he was paying the bill, not ESPN. So far, the PBC experiment has been lackluster to say the least.

The combination of ESPN tying itself up with significantly bloated TV rights deals along with cord shaving/cord cutting means Disney has a real problem on their hands. Their most recent filing with the SEC shows some damage. A couple of years ago, ESPN would have been in prime position to poach UFC away from Fox. Now? Not so much. ESPN has been rather generous in giving UFC publicity and Dana White has played ball with them much more than he has Fox Sports 1.

If ESPN isn’t in the picture for leverage, then UFC has to create something as a leverage point to create even the appearance of a bidding war. Or, in this case, an Over-The-Top play.

I wasn’t bullish on WWE Network but at least I got the logic. Jonathan Snowden said that WWE Network and other OTT plays would take the concept of PPV and shoot it in the head. WWE Network is proving that the cost for obtaining complete control over distribution of your product is significant because people aren’t willing to pay as much for your product in the future.

UFC Fight Pass is boxed in a corner. Fight Pass is not meant to be like WWE Network in moving away from PPV but it’s also not meant to be simply a niche multimedia portal. The problem is that when you try to be all things to all people, it usually disappoints.

I have no doubt that Anderson Silva’s return fight will boost subscriptions to Fight Pass. How many subscribers will it be worth? Can you get more than 50,000 additional subscribers?

When you have an announcement on this level, you usually don’t see it buried in a Christmas Eve news dump. We’re living in interesting times.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, UK, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Look at the bright side: We’re one step closer to Conor McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar

By Zach Arnold | December 20, 2015

If you missed the Fox UFC broadcast from Orlando on Saturday night, you didn’t really miss much. Rafael dos Anjos obliterated Donald Cerrone in 66 seconds to retain the UFC Lightweight title belt. It was a great showing by the champion. It also derailed the momentum for a Cerrone fight with Conor McGregor. I suspect both UFC & Team Conor are not thrilled by this.

We’re one step closer to Conor McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar. It’s a fight the fans want to see. It’s a more marketable fight than a McGregor vs. RDA fight.

There was so much talk between McGregor and Cerrone. It was a fight worth tens of millions of dollars for UFC. Now it’s gone.

One of the interesting points made by Donald Cerrone in his trash talking leading into the Orlando fight was about USADA and the IV ban. He pointed out the obvious: a lot of physiques for top fighters has changed. It’s created more chaos. USADA busted Mirko Cro Cop but Mirko was sloppy. Most MMA fighters who use drugs are not the smartest about hiding it. Combine the USADA testing, the IV ban, and the focus on weight cutting and what you have is an environment that is dramatically changing the fight product we are watching.

There was a California State Athletic Commission meeting this past Thursday in Los Angeles with representatives from the Association of Boxing Commissions, UFC, and Bellator in regards to what to do about IV vans and weight classes. ABC’s proposal is to do away with the modern weight classes and go with 10 pound increments up to 205 pounds. Rather than go with 230 pounds or 235 pounds as Cruiserweight, you would have a 225 pound weight limit and the current Welterweight limit of 170 pounds would be abolished.

I share the same sentiments as John McCarthy that changing the weight classes alone would not have a real impact on preventing extreme weight cutting. A fair amount of fighters have damaged their endocrine systems by cutting weight irresponsibly.

The most interesting note from Thursday’s meeting was Andy Foster’s suggestion that California’s commission attempt to pass an emergency rule/regulation through the state’s Office of Administrative Law to ban the use of IVs by all fighters for California bouts.

Topics: CSAC, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Conor McGregor saved Dana White’s Great White Hype Express from total derailment

By Zach Arnold | December 9, 2015

There were high expectations about Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s return to MMA but for those of us cynical about his financial backing, he produced a card that is the proverbial dog’s breakfast. Which means that UFC’s back-to-back-to-back fight cards on Thursday through Saturday is the real highlight to close out this fight calendar, even though there is an Orlando show a week later.

Thursday’s Fight Night 80 event at The Chelsea/Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas (internet):

Namajunas came into the fight as even money or a slight underdog, which goes to show how much people still buy into the UFC hype machine. She beat down PVZ as badly as GSP beat up Jon Fitch in Minneapolis. There is a long ways to go for Paige to develop into a top fighter…

Friday’s Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale event in Las Vegas (Fox Sports 1):

Frankie had zero trouble with Mendes and the troubles for Alpha Male in Sacramento continue. Zero surprise that Tony Ferguson would be involved in another ultraviolent fight. That’s all he does. The haves rose up and the have nots sunk further.

Saturday’s UFC 194 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Fox Sports 1/PPV):

Faber challenged TJ Dillashaw (or Dominic Cruz) for a title match. Been there, done that. The only intrigue is whether or not Dillashaw would humiliate Faber and hurt business for Alpha Male.

The officiating in the Romero/Jacare fight was a mess. Classic example of a fight that Jordan Breen begs 5 rounds out of instead of the standard 3.

Gunnar Nelson went into the fight against Demian Maia as a favorite. Yes, a favorite. And Maia did what you expected him to do, which was stop the winning streak of an up-and-coming star.

Luke Rockhold looked great against Chris Weidman. Chris Weidman did not look great. He took a beating. Poor guy. His title fight was barely advertised heading into the show.

With PVZ, Weidman, and Ronda all in the losing column, Conor McGregor was the last chance to save Dana’s weekend from turning completely sour. All the noise heading into the fight, from the humiliating press conference tour series where Conor stole Aldo’s belt to Aldo having problems with the proposed USADA IV ban to Aldo’s wife claiming Dana made him fight injured, there was acrimony everywhere to be found. McGregor wiped everything away with a 13 second KO.

“THIS IS GREAT FOR BUSINESS!” screamed Jonathan Coachman on ESPN.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 36 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

ESPN: Is America cheering Ronda Rousey’s demise because “she behaved like she had a dick?”

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.

Continue reading this article here…

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 17 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Six feet Down Under for UFC’s portrayal of Ronda Rousey as Mike Tyson

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.

Continue reading this article here…

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 44 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC & USADA are using anti-yakuza style civil policies on doping. Will it work? A bridge too far?

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.

Continue reading this article here…

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Rizin from the graveyard of golden oldies

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.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, PRIDE, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

The freedom to contract means the freedom to indemnify UFC from responsibility

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:


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.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 4 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

A bowling shoe ugly UFC slobberknocker in Saitama

By Zach Arnold | September 26, 2015

Main card results from the UFC Fight Night show at Saitama Super Arena:

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.

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…

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

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