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Fox Sports: "Zach Arnold's Fight Opinion site is one of the best spots on the Web for thought-provoking MMA pieces."

The ESPN & Fox Sports TV universe just exploded in UFC’s face

By Zach Arnold | December 18, 2017

The financial backers of UFC have found themselves in a precarious position for getting a new TV deal, thanks to the proposed dissolving of many of Rupert Murdoch’s sports assets and an internal meltdown with ESPN management.

Many of the Fox sports properties (not FS1, however) are being sold to ESPN to boost their streaming platform in 2018. Rupert Murdoch is cashing out. He didn’t see a long-term future in sports programming on pay television. The old man is getting out while the getting is good.

One of the incredible rumors swirling around the Fox/ESPN deal is that Rupert’s son, James Murdoch, would end up with a gig at Disney or ESPN. James, like Lachlan, isn’t exactly in the Fox News management mold. Such a proposal looked preposterous on paper until Monday’s bombshell announcement of ESPN President John Skipper resigning. The publicly stated reason for Skipper’s resignation was due to substance abuse issues. However, ESPN found themselves caught up in a nasty sexual harassment scandal over the weekend because of a Boston Globe report detailing allegations against personalities John Buccigross and Matthew Berry. ESPN released some of the conversations in question to the allegations but it was reportedly an issue of selective editing. Now the question is when the other shoe drops in Bristol.

ESPN management has been melting down for years despite Bob Iger’s best assurances. Iger just gave Skipper a multi-year extension and now Skipper quits?

Making things even more bizarre, ESPN just demoted Teddy Atlas from their boxing telecasts and banned him from live fight commentary. He’s now stuck doing post-fight Don Cherry-wannabe shtick with Stephen A. Smith. Mark Kriegel, poached by ESPN from Fox Sports/Al Haymon, is a total dud on the Top Rank telecasts with Tim Bradley. The reported reason for Teddy’s demotion involved, you guessed it, complaints about Teddy ripping into athletic commissions and officials.

You can rip Teddy Atlas for many things. His behavior is wildly erratic. However, if you’re going to rip Teddy Atlas for ripping into combat sports corruption, rip Teddy for not being specific or effective enough in his criticism of obvious problems. Removing Teddy Atlas and censoring his voice makes him a martyr for no obviously good reason.

To throw a further monkey wrench into UFC business with Fox, the company just drew a lousy TV rating for the Robbie Lawler/Rafael Dos Anjos fight that got next to no publicity on network television.

All of the turmoil at ESPN & Fox Sports makes Amazon look more attractive as a future UFC broadcasting partner. Turner Sports is lurking but Amazon is Best of Breed on digital technology and can monetize UFC in ways no other business partner can. The television lifelines are starting to get yanked away from UFC and thinking out of the box is required for UFC’s financial backers to make a return on their investment.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Rupert Murdoch is preparing to cash out Fox assets and UFC better respond fast

By Zach Arnold | December 5, 2017

Bulls make money, bears make money, and pigs get slaughtered. Old man Rupert Murdoch isn’t going to go to his grave getting slaughtered.

CNBC is reporting that final touches are being negotiated for a $60 billion USD Fox asset sale to Disney. The reasons for both parties to make such a monumental content deal are obvious.

But what does it mean for UFC? They have to get a new television contract soon and so far, media networks aren’t producing the kind of cash offers Ari Emanuel is supposedly looking for. Which is why I continue to say that Amazon is a Best of Breed long-term play for UFC in a content package-split. Best digital platform distributor and best at monetizing Fight Pass.

The future of Fox & ESPN in sports programming

Seven months ago, Fox Sports numbers guy/fixer Michael Mulvihill was gleeful about how much of a cash cow Regional Sports Networks were for Fox Sports. Mulvihill was also gleeful about the NFL being largely bulletproof in the new digital economy and how UFC was a great programming value because fights can combat the problem of “time poverty.”

Today, the NFL’s major network partners are taking a hit with sponsors and will either have to do make-goods or eat losses. Fox Sports is reportedly offering $200 million a year to UFC when Ari Emanuel wants $400-450 million a year. And now the vaunted RSN chain that Mulvihill said was a cash cow for Fox Sports is about to be sold to Disney/ESPN because Rupert Murdoch is bearish on sports due to rising rights fees.

Rupert Murdoch gets to cash out while he’s still flexing his financial muscle. As for Disney, they are about to load up their ESPN streaming service in 2018 with a massive buffet of sports programming rights thanks to acquiring Fox’s RSNs. ESPN is continuing to pay a premium to rent out sports programming. They need to get in the game of owning actual content. Some of the RSNs have sports team ownership. Can ESPN maintain long-term relationships with the RSNs (like the Yankees/YES)? If they can, they have a shot. If they can’t, they’re in trouble.

Disney acquiring all of the Fox RSNs is also a hedge if they end up losing Monday Night Football and need to replace the NFL with MLB or NHL content. It’s apples and oranges but the premium that ESPN has paid for the NFL has been rather costly.

The future of UFC

Fox Sports and UFC really need each other. It’s the right marriage. FS1 has no real purpose for existing without regular UFC content. UFC needs Fox Sports and its resources. However, we may be heading towards irreconcilable differences over issues such as production. Remember when Lorenzo Fertitta was criticized for wanting to keep UFC production in-house in order to maintain editorial control? Zuffa knows the product, so let them produce the product. Then came the chorus that Zuffa wasn’t a respectable sports league because they wouldn’t cede editorial or production control to a sports network. The Fox Sports deal arrived and a blended marriage of resources came about.

Now the major television players are looking to offload production costs. ESPN just fired 140 behind-the-scenes employees last week. Under Lorenzo’s ownership, UFC was happy to take on production. Under Ari Emanuel’s new ownership, UFC has reportedly being itching to offload production onto whoever their next television partner will be. If the marriage with Fox doesn’t survive, then a marriage with Amazon will require UFC to go back to in-house production. Amazon wants to stream, not produce a sports product. Amazon got the best of all worlds with NFL Thursday Night Football. If UFC wants to play with Amazon, UFC will have to go back to their production roots to make it work.

There are still too many positive reasons for the Fox Sports/UFC marriage to continue but don’t be surprised if Fox wants a new arrangement after cashing out a big chunk of their sporting assets.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Conor McGregor & Harumafuji: Bar fights and mafia revenge plots

By Zach Arnold | November 29, 2017

I built a name reporting on the largest crime families in combat sports. Skip Bayless has made tens of millions of dollars trolling athletes for saying nothing good happens at a bar or night club. The wrong guy made millions of dollars but he keeps finding suckers who prove his shtick right.

Conor McGregor is now apparently the target of one of the most powerful Irish mafia figures and is being advised to find safety elsewhere.

Chael Sonnen has correctly identified the disease that has penetrated Conor McGregor’s brain. Conor McGregor has become his own biggest fan. Of the many differences between Conor McGregor & Ric Flair, Flair understood when to put over the local rival while still getting what he wanted in the end.

Conor McGregor is on the reckless path of either dying young or going broke, possibly both. That’s a combat sports story as distinguished as The Old Testament. McGregor is on the path of having someone else writing the end of his career, kind of like famous Sumo champion Harumafuji.

Harumafuji got caught up in a timeless Japanese fight scandal: beating the crap out of a young boy and losing a career over it. Shame matters in Japan, even in 2017. You lose your career or, at a minimum, lose your hair when you shave it off when a disgraceful incident goes public.

Harumafuji’s career is over and he can’t be a stablemaster in retirement. That’s the least of his worries. Civil & criminal investigations are in play. Sumo also has a history of attracting rather colorful characters who are ready to go for the throat.

I’m having flashbacks to Asashoryu, the former Sumo champion who was offered a lot of money to go into Japanese MMA. I wrote an article ten years ago about K-1 making a big push for Asashoryu. It’s possible that Harumafuji could get an offer from RIZIN but it will be nowhere as lucrative as the offers Asashoryu received.

Just like Conor McGregor’s bar troubles are receiving worldwide attention, Harumafuji’s resignation capped off a month of heavy Japanese media coverage. One man lost his career but may have managed to save his freedom. The other man has plenty of earning power left but may never fully realize or appreciate the tenuous position he is in.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

For mobile & tablet users, access our boxing & MMA headlines here

By Zach Arnold | November 22, 2017

To make our site theme more compatible with mobile & tablet devices, we had to trim off the news sidebars. We’ve developed a temporary solution to address this problem: separate feed pages.

Access the latest MMA headlines here.

Access the latest boxing headlines here.

As you might notice, some RSS links we are trying to access don’t load properly or are dead. We are searching for updated RSS feed links. Send us some tips.

Help wanted

We need your advice on finding a two-column theme compatible for PC, mobile, and tablet devices. E-mail me at with all suggestions. If you can’t help us out with technical advice, send us a donation to help pay for a solution. We can and will make this happen.

Topics: Media, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Thanks for nothing: Is Congress looking to bail UFC out of Ali Act change?

By Zach Arnold | November 22, 2017

MMA fighters deserve the same limited legal protections as boxers. The fact that this is in dispute heading in 2018 is a disgrace to the American combat sports industry.

An even bigger disgrace? Offering a bailout carrot to UFC to get out of amending the Ali Act to cover MMA. The carrot? Nice business you got there, would be a shame if we changed your business model. The Department of Justice likes to call this “behavioral remedies.” In private industry, this would be called extortion – obtaining property or influence because of excessive and undue forces.

The kicker? An Oklahoma Republican is the one pushing for a big government solution in order for UFC to avoid amending the Ali Act.

When you boil it all down, there’s basically one principle from the Ali Act act that should apply to MMA fighters — the private right to sue to get out of an adhesive and unconscionable contract. The athletic commissions don’t enforce the Ali Act. Athletic commissions hate the Ali Act. If the Ali Act was enforced, how many boxing promoters would still be doing business?

Those in combat sports who have been pushing for changes to the Ali Act are doing so based on good intentions. Giving a fighter the right to sue in Federal court as opposed to state court is a minor but important gesture. It’s really the main benefit. Arguing over rankings, sanctioning bodies, OK, fine. I’m willing to listen but it’s a secondary concern and everyone knows it.

So instead of focusing on the single most important part of the Ali Act, we have a former fighter and Oklahoma Republican wanting to play fantasy matchmaker.

In general, I agree with the Congressman’s assertion that the current matchmaking we’re seeing in UFC largely stinks. It’s insulting that Marc Ratner says UFC has a fair ranking system because a bunch of goofy writers and sycophants are selecting which fighters are ranked where. But that’s not my problem. If I don’t want to watch the UFC product, I won’t pay for it. So much for the ideology of free markets with an Oklahoma Republican. I don’t need a government bailout of UFC to avoid giving fighters the right to sue out of coercive contracts in exchange for the Feds controlling matchmaking practices.

What Markwayne Mullin’s proffer tells me is one of two things:

a) He’s looking for a way out of amending the Ali Act because Trump doesn’t want to change it or the pressure from lobbyists is too great, or;

b) Mullin never was serious about giving fighters legal rights to sue and that this whole exercise was basically about him being a giant fanboy because he doesn’t like what fights are getting booked

The notion that fighter rankings matter in negotiations is delusional. Conor McGregor shattered that myth with the Floyd Mayweather fight. Georges St. Pierre shattered that notion when he fought Michael Bisping at MSG.

Title belts mean one thing to UFC and MMA promotions – the dreaded Champion’s Clause of being able to extend a fighter’s contract and pay scale. You want to give fighters a chance to make more money in business? Give fighters a private right of action to sue in Federal court. Eliminate the Champion’s Clause. Start there and everything else flows from that change.

Focusing on rankings and “real league systems” is message board malarkey.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

Zuffa Boxing bailout? The potential 2018 fight with Fox, UFC, Al Haymon vs. ESPN & Bob Arum

By Zach Arnold | November 14, 2017

The biggest UFC story for 2018 may not even involve the Ali Act being amended to cover MMA. No? What could possibly be bigger? A marriage between UFC & Al Haymon that would create a two-headed enemy against Bob Arum.

So why is the media so silent on what looks to be a major combat sports story in 2018? For the same reason there has been relatively scant mainstream media coverage of Al Haymon himself. Those who don’t know don’t care and those who know are largely on Team Haymon’s side.

ESPN, which kicked Al Haymon’s PBC off their network, poached two of his Fox guys (Brian Kenny & Mark Kriegel) with zero publicity. 2018 is now the year of a potential boxing war between ESPN & Top Rank (Bob Arum) vs. Fox, UFC, and Al Haymon.

How did we get to this point?

The Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather fight constructively turned out to be a dry run of a business relationship between Dana White & Al Haymon. Dana White has publicly trashed just about every power broker in the history of American combat sports… except Haymon. 100% nice words about Al Haymon the entire time. Huh.

Haymon is back in manager/Svengali mode with a stable of fighters who need fights. Depositions are ongoing in the Kansas shareholder derivative lawsuit against the hedge fund that reportedly poured hundreds of millions of dollars into backing Premier Boxing Champions. The lawsuit is attempting to claw back the money that was spent by the hedge fund.

Haymon has made his tens of millions of dollars. Premier Boxing Champions was his promotional vehicle to keep his stable of fighters active and dominate the boxing scene on broadcast television. It didn’t work out as planned, which is why Golden Boy’s anti-trust lawsuit against Haymon failed.

Haymon needs promotional vehicles to keep his fighters active to fulfill contractual obligations and to recruit new talent. Enter UFC Boxing.

UFC Boxing is a negotiating carrot that appears to fit the agenda of Fox Sports. Fox inks a new deal with UFC and here comes UFC Boxing as a promotional banner to book fights involving Al Haymon guys. It’s a win-win-win scenario for all parties involved. Fox gets boxing action, UFC gets to diversify their portfolio, and both UFC & Al Haymon get to recruit boxing talent that may have signed with another promoter — like Bob Arum.

Arum sniffed out what was going on when he publicly announced that UFC was attempting to buy out Top Rank’s video library for their Fight Pass web site. But that’s an agenda that appears to be skin deep at best. Arum figured something else was up. Once momentum for amending the Ali Act became real and Fox’s current TV negotiations broke off with UFC, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

All the confirmation bias you needed came in the form of two lines of press:

1) Dana White never denied working with Al Haymon in the future.
2) Lance Pugmire in The LA Times floated the trial balloon. Lance doesn’t talk out of turn regarding UFC.

What if Fox doesn’t buy into UFC Boxing?

Fox Sports needs UFC programming for their platforms. They have to do it. I’m surprised Fox hasn’t been able to buy out UFC altogether but the complications from amending the Ali Act for MMA may make this an issue of mootness.

But what if Fox blows it? It’s a highly unlikely scenario but… if Fox won’t play with UFC, then someone in Silicon Valley will step up. I argue that Amazon is Best of Breed when it comes to buying future sports programming. The demographics also make great sense for Amazon. 18-to-49 year old demographic, perhaps getting a little older but still pliable in terms of shopping habits. It makes too much sense.

And right in the thick of all of this action is Al Haymon. The guy is a boxing zombie. He just can’t be killed. A marriage between Haymon and UFC makes a lot of sense. It has the potential to be explosive and draw the line in the sand against heavyweights ESPN & Bob Arum.

This is the kind of material sports writers would normally dream of writing columns about. So why are so many major names in combat sports writing so silent? Don’t chalk it up to ignorance. There are people who have inside knowledge and not talking for one reason or another.

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

Don’t run shows during football season: UFC’s TV product can’t consistently compete

By Zach Arnold | November 12, 2017

I swore I would never become the guy that would watch more than one sports program on multiple television sets. I gave in and now regrettably realize how impossible it is to keep up with everything.

Piercing through the white noise is impossible. There’s just too much going on.

In America, football was on all the major broadcast and cable networks from 12 PM Eastern until Midnight. So many big football brands. The NFL product is cold but College Football is red hot. And during this endless buffet, UFC is running weekly Fox Sports 1 cards. This is not sustainable.

UFC’s Norfolk, Virginia event ran against Alabama/Mississippi State on ESPN and Arizona/Oregon State on ESPN2. There was Miami slaughtering Notre Dame on ABC and Oklahoma trashing TCU on Fox. The Warriors were playing the highly watchable Philadelphia 76ers. And after Alabama vs. Mississippi State, ESPN went right to Top Rank Boxing in Fresno with a totally flying-under-the-radar bombshell: the return of Brian Kenny to ESPN!

How in the hell did ESPN manage to not publicize the return of one of their most prominent voices?

Even better, ESPN poached Brian Kenny and poached Mark Kriegel from Fox. Kenny and Kriegel worked for the Fox broadcasts of Al Haymon’s PBC events. $ignificant to some.

UFC was not only competing against major college football names, they were competing against Top Rank and Combate Americas on both NBC Sports Network & Telemundo. Show results here. The event was from Oasis Arena in Cancun, Mexico with lots of familiar faces. The Spanish commentary was good. The English commentary was no bueno. My head was spinning one minute from Lupe Contreras to Joe Martinez to Matt Brown humiliating Diego Sanchez in what should be a retirement fight for both men.

This is not sustainable for UFC. You can pop a big PPV once during American football season but you cannot build value during such a sports programming avalanche. How can any sports fan remember anything that happened with such information overload?

For UFC’s sake, they need to reconsider their full 24/7, 365 schedule. A mini two-month off-season would do wonders. It would help avoid the clutter. It would help fighters recover from injuries. It would prevent the mad dash of booking someone like Michael Bisping to fight within weeks of getting choked out. Risk management is everything here.

You can only remember so much that happens at one time. UFC’s biggest moment wasn’t even under their control. UFC’s ace (Conor McGregor) showed up in their rival’s cage and played the role of hooligan while Bellator gleefully grabbed the publicity.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

Dana White confirms UFC Boxing is coming, Al Haymon trial balloon officially floated

By Zach Arnold | November 8, 2017

UFC Boxing is coming, right in the nick of the time as UFC is looking for a new television platform agreement.

With momentum building in Congress to amend the Ali Act to cover MMA, UFC has no choice but to diversify their content portfolio. It also gives Dana White a natural parachute to phase out of MMA duties when he wants to execute an exit strategy.

We’ve talked about this over the last 30 days on Fight Opinion and our readers caught onto what was coming in a hurry. Bob Arum saw this coming first. UFC reportedly tried to get their hooks into Top Rank first and he rebuffed.

Guess who gets the UFC Boxing lifeline now?

Lance Pugmire, who rarely speaks out of turn when it comes to relaying UFC news, included this important clue in his LA Times article:

One pursuit White could explore is dealing with powerful boxing manager Al Haymon, who has nearly 200 boxers in his stable and hires different promoters for certain fights. His Premier Boxing Champions lacks a powerful voice to promote its fighters, who include unbeaten heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.

Our October 29th article previewed how UFC Boxing could be used by Fox Sports as a promotional vehicle for Al Haymon’s stable of boxers given the impact of the Kansas hedge fund shareholder derivative lawsuit on Premier Boxing Champions. The Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather fight was a dry run for Ari Emanuel to see if Dana White and Al Haymon could work together. They can, they have, and they want to work together in the future.

UFC Boxing is absolutely a negotiating carrot for Fox. Fox needs UFC content to keep their cable sports channel stable. Fox also wants to keep their toes in the water on the boxing front as well. UFC Boxing would accomplish this. Fox gets a boxing product on TV. UFC Boxing plays promoter & middleman to get a cut. Al Haymon is able to work with big money to keep his fighters active and recruit new fighters in the process.

The behavior demonstrated by Ari Emanuel and Dana White is not difficult to understand. The question is how much cash is Fox Sports willing to pay. With Disney talking to Fox about buying major distribution & content assets, the Fox empire has made a calculation that an alliance with Disney in the streaming wars versus Netflix, Facebook, Google, and Apple is the best play. Wall Street agrees. The biggest dilemma facing Fox Sports and Disney/ESPN is that their media empires need to own, not lease original programming content. Netflix made its name leasing content and now they have poured all their assets into producing original content. UFC doesn’t want to sell during a time when Fox Sports and ESPN need to buy actual sports properties. UFC Boxing reeks of a play to keep the Zuffa portfolio of programming in the Fox family.

If the big media players won’t pay what UFC wants, UFC will have no choice but to cut bold distribution deals with Silicon Valley. AMAZON IS COMING.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

How UFC Boxing could help Al Haymon & Fox Sports support Premier Boxing Champions

By Zach Arnold | October 29, 2017

I agree with Bob Arum’s suspicions that Dana White really, really wants to get into promoting boxing matches. You wouldn’t bother floating UFC Boxing as a weather vane unless there was some internal interest.

There are obvious questions about how UFC Boxing would work. With questions comes skepticism.

On Friday, I wrote that UFC Boxing would be a great way for Ari Emanuel to keep Dana White with UFC while throwing him a bone that he has always wanted: to promote boxing matches. To be the savior of boxing from those he calls greedy bastards stealing profits. The ego boost would be an instant supercharge.

After Friday’s article, we brainstormed with other writers some of the possible motives behind the trial balloon of UFC Boxing. If UFC Boxing was to become a reality, how would it work and who would benefit?

First motive – a hedge against the Ali Act

Momentum is picking up in Congress to amend the Ali Act for MMA. Trump will follow what his business friends Ari Emanuel & Dana White tell him to do. If they show the white flag or give the green light, Trump will sign the measure. So far, Congressional lobbying shows UFC is fighting the modification of the Ali Act.

Politically speaking, there is a scenario where Congress could vote to amend the Ali Act for MMA. Trump vetoes the amendment and 2/3rds of Congress overrides the veto. Not an unimaginable scenario. At that point, UFC has to figure out what to do next in their business plan.

Part of that new business plan could very well include offering fighters multi-sport UFC contracts. Like boxing and MMA. There’s Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing. UFC can have their MMA operation and UFC Boxing. I agree that it will cost UFC more money to keep fighters happy in a boxing ring but there are ways to finance it.

In much the same way that the NFL has been a giant data-mining experiment for Amazon, Conor McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather was a A/B testing experiment for UFC management. The fight opened their eyes to new business options.

Second motive – UFC Boxing as a spinoff for Fox or Al Haymon partnership

The temperature is heating up in the Kansas shareholder derivative lawsuit against the hedge fund that has financed Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. Depositions begin in November.

What happens when the money runs dry for PBC?

Al Haymon is going to need Fox Sports as a television partner to help PBC continue. Fox Sports and UFC need each other. Haymon and Dana White worked together on the Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather negotiations. The relationships speak for themselves. There’s too much potential common ground not to ignore regarding Haymon, PBC, his stable of fighters, and the prospects of UFC Boxing. Cross-marketing boxing and MMA together makes some sense. Ari Emanuel hopes it makes cents, too.

Fox Sports wants PBC alive for content. Haymon wants PBC alive to give his stable of fighters some bookings. UFC would need a business partner to work with to make UFC Boxing a reality. And if PBC dies, Fox would be more than happy to pick up UFC Boxing as content for their cable and broadcast networks. Another chip in Ari Emanuel’s portfolio to raise the rights fees from Fox.

Bottom line: Do not dismiss the UFC Boxing trial balloon out of hand. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If Dana White is as bored with UFC’s current MMA matchmaking as the fans are, there’s good reason to keep him motivated. Going to battle with Bob Arum would get Dana White pumped up and Arum would relish the opportunity to make the battle a proxy war against Trump.

Topics: Boxing, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

A/B testing of UFC Boxing, streaming proves Bob Arum right; is Dana White headed out of MMA?

By Zach Arnold | October 26, 2017

Dana White says UFC is ready to consider a new media deal that involves a heavy dose of streaming online video.

Like Amazon?

UFC Fight Pass has not been the success as previously touted by supporters. The Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor PPV mess showed UFCFP’s limitations. It was never meant to be The WWE Network but it was supposed to be taken seriously.

The mixed messages coming out of Dana White’s mouth reflect a combination of two factors. First, he is a human trial balloon trying to emulate A/B testing to see what provokes versus what bores. Second, Dana’s still on the same playbook from the Fertitta Era as opposed to the playbook new ownership (Ari Emanuel/WME) is using. Dana believes in keeping in-house production whereas media reports over the last year indicate WME would be open to outsourcing production and Fight Pass to the right media partner. This constant push-pull from Dana versus WME really surfaced from December 2016 to June 2017 when Conor McGregor forced his way into getting a fight with Floyd Mayweather. Dana was an effective human laser pointer for Lorenzo Fertitta because they were on the page. I question whether Dana and WME management are on the same page.

Here’s the reality: ESPN’s financial collapse ensures that Fox Sports is the only major TV player for UFC. It was very interesting to see Dana White acknowledge that reality during a recent interview with Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal. Bob Arum rightfully slammed Dana for his typical “boxing is greedy” sales pitch by noting that the renegotiating window for UFC & Fox didn’t pan out and that WME is considering diversification by promoting boxing fights under the Zuffa Boxing banner.

UFC getting a new television deal with Fox is critical. Fox Sports 1 needs UFC. UFC needs Fox Sports because their PPV buys are tanking. UFC needs Fox Sports to help manage UFC Fight Pass. And, most importantly, the new ATSC 4k over-the-air TV format will provide streaming options alongside Ultra HD content. That is the smart play. It would be the smart play for Disney to buy UFC as a league and own it, but Bob Iger and John Skipper have made a series of horrible decisions regarding the future of ESPN. They did well to bring in Top Rank and yet I could easily argue that Top Rank has not gotten the kind of support from Disney that it deserves.

One thing remains consistent from UFC: they’re not selling. I think it’s a mistake. A rather large one. If Disney or Fox can pay $6 billion for UFC, you take the money and run. Pay off the investors. Live happily ever after. There is way too much risk involved in the fight business. And if/when the Ali Act gets amended to cover MMA, the conditions will change further.

Disney really could use UFC right now to help save ESPN but ESPN is heavily over-leveraged on their NFL & NBA contracts. Netflix is heavily deep in original content spending. Which leaves us with Amazon and Twitter for online streaming options. Both entities have dabbled with NFL programming and have found it to be an absolute data-mining gold mine. Even better, those entities paid the NFL and got the streaming product while offloading the production to the league and its TV partners. Amazon is paying the NFL $50 million for 10 games. $5 million a show. How much would Amazon pay for UFC events? Could UFC get Amazon to take over Fight Pass and reframe FP as a one-stop shop for Reebok gear? UFC and Reebok would benefit enormously from Amazon.

As Bob Arum would say, one monopoly helping out another monopoly. How much is UFC really worth? We’re about to find out.

The angle I’m really interested in is UFC Boxing. Since WME took over UFC ownership, Dana White has been skipping various UFC events. This has raised suspicions about Dana’s MMA future. What better parachute for Dana to transition out of MMA than to head a boxing project under the Zuffa banner? WME could keep Dana for UFC but give him the carrot that he has really been interested in his whole life. It would allow Dana to continue his “boxing is greedy” storyline and cast him in a new story where he can portray himself as an incoming hero. It would be a great ego stroke.

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

After monstrous Fuji TV ratings, Bob Arum wants Ryota Murata to fight at the Tokyo Dome

By Zach Arnold | October 25, 2017

After blockbuster Fuji TV ratings were announced for WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata’s latest fight at Ryogoku Kokugikan, we predicted that Murata co-promoters Akihiko Honda & Bob Arum would aim for a big fight at the Tokyo Dome.

Right on cue, Bob Arum told the Japanese press that he is ready to go along with Teiken’s “Top of Top” marketing plan to have Ryota Murata fight Gennady Golovkin (or Canelo Alvarez) at the Tokyo Dome.

Fuji TV is back as a major power player

Ten years after the collapse of PRIDE, Fuji TV is in the driver’s seat for make a major fight with Ryota Murata happen in Japan.

Murata drawing a 20.5% overall rating on broadcast television is an NFL-sized rating that means there is significant room to generate tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship & rights fees to package a Japanese non-PPV TV fight. The money is now possible to achieve a Las Vegas-level pay day.

What makes Murata’s fast rise in Japan all the more impressive is that he gives his promoters (Mr. Honda & Mr. Arum) leverage to do business in Asia. That’s Bob’s bread-and-butter. Murata is now big-time in a heavyweight fight market. Big business can be done in Japan and it carries impact globally.

Mike Tyson fought twice at the Tokyo Dome. He fought Tony Tubbs and Buster Douglas. Booking a fight with Murata vs. Golovkin or Murata vs. Canelo Alvarez at the Tokyo Dome would likely sell 40,000+ tickets and be the biggest Japanese fight on broadcast television in decades.

What’s next?

Top Rank and Teiken Promotions want to get a couple of fights under Murata’s belt before they get to Golovkin. Canelo and Golovkin are going to re-match. If Golovkin wins, will his camp play it safe by wanting a Vegas fight or will they take the risk of fighting in Japan?

Undoubtedly, there is some risk involved in trying to plan 18 months in advance for a fight on paper that looks incredible.

Things are going very well right now for Top Rank. Ryota Murata, Terence Crawford, and Vasyl Lomachenko are all big bets for Bob Arum and he’s winning right now. Murata could end up being Top Rank’s crown jewel.

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Ryota Murata shatters Fuji TV fight ratings with monstrous 20.5%, creating “Top of Top” plan vs. Golovkin

By Zach Arnold | October 24, 2017

Bob Arum’s big bet with new WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata is drawing enormous PRIDE-level Japanese television ratings for Fuji TV.

Fuji Boxing, which produced the Ryogoku Kokugikan telecast for the Hassan N’Dam/Ryota Murata re-match on Sunday, experienced incredible television ratings. According to Video Research, the Fuji Boxing broadcast drew an overall 20.5% rating (22.7% in Kansai area) with a peak rating at 9:04 PM JST of 26.7% (29.4% in Kansai).

The Murata/N’Dam fight drew the highest overall rating for a Fuji TV boxing broadcast in 17 years. 8,500 paid was the sellout attendance at Ryogoku. In regrettable contrast, Disney aired the fight live in America on ESPN2 but gave zero promotion for the bout.

Business for Sunday’s fight was so big that NHK has reportedly offered Ryota Murata a role on their New Year’s Eve mega Red & White Musical Festival show.

The next step

The new marketing pitch for Murata in the Japanese press is a Top of Top mega showdown with Gennady Golovkin in the next couple of years. It is predictable that many business forces will want such a big fight for Las Vegas. That wisdom can and will be challenged with the benchmarks Ryota Murata and his promoters Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) & Bob Arum (Top Rank) are reaching in the Japanese marketplace.

Golovkin can draw 40,000+ versus Murata in Japan. It will be much bigger at the arena/stadium than in Las Vegas. If a fight happens between Murata and Golovkin, it should happen in Japan. There is plenty of money to be made. Between Fuji TV rights fees, a rights fee for a building like Saitama Super Arena or the Tokyo Dome, and gigantic Asian sponsors/money marks willing to pay top dollar to get involved, there is every reason to believe that a Murata/Golovkin fight could generate a similar level of business as Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez accomplished in September.

What Bob Arum did right in Japan and what UFC did wrong

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans. Why? Because Bob Arum played by the traditional, tried-and-true ground rules a major fight promoter is required to follow to build a Japanese ace and draw significant cash in a world class combat sports market.

What are the golden rules to win big in Japan? A friendly reminder:

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the formula that works to score big in the Japanese marketplace. UFC had 10 years to make it happen and they failed. Their interest in going all-out has declined in each successive show. Octogenarian Bob Arum played by the ground rules and struck it rich with Ryota Murata. Everything is gravy right now.

Topics: Boxing, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans

By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2017

Bob Arum is helping to fill the void in the Japanese fight business that UFC should have captured after the death of PRIDE.

Top Rank’s long-term bet on 2012 Gold Medalist Ryota Murata paid off. Murata disposed of Hassan N’Dam Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan to win the WBA Middleweight title. Murata should have won the first time but that wasn’t his fault.

Murata’s fight aired Sunday on ESPN2 with zero advertising by Disney. Another puzzling and insultingly disgraceful decision by Bristol. The Fuji TV Boxing production in conjunction with legendary promoter Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) at Ryogoku Kokugikan with Jimmy Lennon Jr. as announcer was brilliantly smooth. Everything went exactly to plan.

Top Rank is achieving marketing benchmarks in the Japanese marketplace that UFC should have reached after PRIDE’s death. UFC has squandered away momentum built in 2012 and has increasingly bailed on a historically wonderful combat sports country with highly motivated fans willing to spend money.

Watching a big fight in Japan is fun and, dare I say, romantic.

Compare and contrast the matchmaking strategies involving Top Rank and UFC in Japan. Arum went for the best in Murata and agreed to play the business & political game on Japanese terms. A true cooperation. UFC went with the Vince McMahon “this is how we do business” mindset. The best Japanese prospect on the most recent UFC Saitama Super Arena card is Shuri Kondo and UFC didn’t do a hell of a lot to promote her to the American fans. She’s the best potential Japanese star UFC has and it’s mostly due to her own efforts to build a cross-promotional Japanese brand. UFC is lucky to have her. I am skeptical that UFC will share Top Rank’s mindset in working with Kondo’s promoter (Pancrase) to carefully craft a Japanese-first strategy to score big with Kondo. Right now, Kondo is allowed to wrestle and do her thing. Will UFC kill that golden goose if they want her to fight under their banner long-term? It would be a big mistake to kill the best avenue she has to build an audience.

As for Ryota Murata, he expressed interest in a fight with Gennady Golovkin. The Japanese star trying to attach themselves to a big foreign name is a classic, tried-and-true headline grabbing technique that works. Top Rank is looking to book Murata vs. Olympic rival Esquiva Falcao. Arum seems confident that Murata will be a top player by the end of 2018. A fight versus Golovkin in Las Vegas would be predictable. A fight versus Golovkin in Japan would be a dream come true for everyone… including the financiers.

Topics: Boxing, Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

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