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You can sell a lot of things as a Mixed Martial Arts promoter, but selling tickets today is the hardest

By Zach Arnold | September 24, 2014

It’s tough to promote Mixed Martial Arts. On paper, it sounds easy. Selling hope. Selling the future. Selling fun. Selling violence. How can it be that hard?

Try selling the rash of injuries to top fighters booked in main events. Grab the antacid every time Chris Weidman gets hurt. Hold your breath every time Cain Velasquez fights after the main event. Just pray that Anthony Pettis doesn’t get hurt in training before a big PPV date. To put into perspective the fragility of UFC’s top champions, consider the following: Velasquez, Pettis, and Weidman combined have fought 8 times since July of 2012. During the same time period, Donald Cerrone has fought 9 times. The guys who fight the most aren’t always rewarded with top spots on PPV.

This is why you get PPV main events like TJ Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto. This is why MMA was not meant to have three or four cards a month being promoted by one promotion. There simply isn’t enough talent to book given the absolute attrition this sport inflicts on top fighters. If it’s not injuries, it’s bad weight cutting. It’s drug suspensions. Guys use drugs for performance enhancement in and out of the ring. They’re more likely to use drugs if they have to fight as often as promoters call them with offers. Nobody can help themselves here.

Put into perspective all the craziness that went down with PRIDE a decade ago. Even running one card every 45 days resulted in a ton of last-minute fighter replacements, a wild west atmosphere for supposed drug testing, and lots of guys fighting through gruesome back & leg injuries because PRIDE was the biggest show in town. $50 million dollar years. A Fuji TV broadcast platform. And lots of colorful characters at ringside flaunting a lot of cash.

If you think the promoters and their backers are crazy, the fighters they book & their handlers are just as crazy if not more so. Dana White infamously remarked that every day he wakes up from bed he is prepared for the worst. Fighters say and do really stupid & violent things.

Jon Jones should be MMA’s most celebrated golden boy. An amazing fighter by in-ring standards and just as amazingly obtuse outside the cage.

Nick Diaz can’t help but get into trouble. One minute he’s holding out, the next minute he’s retired, and a few months later he’s in a headlining fight only to get exposed for having two DUI arrests.

Wanderlei Silva is running away from a drug test while claiming the process is a conspiracy to target him unfairly. When he tries to sue to get out of a sticky situation, he digs the hole deeper for himself by claiming the need to use a diuretic… for a wrist injury. Even worse, he can’t help himself from saying stupid things on social media. I wonder who produces his videos. A week before he was going to get hammered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Wanderlei claimed he was retiring from Mixed Martial Arts and let ‘er rip on the UFC. He skipped Tuesday’s meeting in Las Vegas where he was issued a supposed “life time” ban and $70,000 fine. Wanderlei is claiming that his personal war against the authorities “is just beginning.” So much for that retirement thing.

At least the guy didn’t go to jail on domestic violence charges like War Machine or Josh Grispi. Heaven help us if an active, PPV-drawing headliner ends up in jail over domestic violence. In an industry where a quarter of the fans are female, attracting new fans who control the finances in your typical, every day household is critical for financial survival.

This is why promoting Mixed Martial Arts is so difficult. Not only do you need a bank account with at least $10 million dollars, you need experience & knowledge of an extremely volatile business that is entirely reliant on a strong television platform. The margin for error is very slim. The only way to attract money marks, as noted by MMA Supremacy on Twitter, is to sell the hope that you’ll get onto PPV within a few years. Without PPV to dangle as a financial carrot, you simply can’t attract the kind of cash needed to become a serious player. There is no college course or textbook you can buy to understand how to be successful in an industry with a failure rate above 95%. Good luck with that.

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

Even after Nevada political lifeline, Jon Jones still manages to screw up the PR

By Zach Arnold | September 23, 2014

The Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Jon Jones $50,000 for his brawl with Daniel Cormier and ordered him to do 40 hours of community service. Yes, an athletic commission acting like a courtroom judge. Laughable, but the point is that Nevada’s commission has always been about politics and public relations. This is the same athletic commission that praised Floyd Mayweather for his conduct before giving him a promoter’s license, only to see Mayweather get sued over domestic violence allegations. The same guy who spent time in jail over DV charges.

Essentially, Nevada gave Jon Jones a lifeline here. Pay a fine which will end up being worth it if it means a substantial increase in PPV buys and interest for his fight with Daniel Cormier. Do 40 hours of community service to put himself over as a babyface in Las Vegas. Of all the punishments that could have levied against him, this was tailor made public relations.

And right after Nevada gave Jon Jones his lifeline, he took a giant dump on it. He claimed that he lost his Nike sponsorship and lost an opportunity to get a six-figure sponsor. I find it hard to believe that he lost such opportunities because of a brawl with Daniel Cormier. The guy isn’t a sponsorship magnet because he isn’t likeable, isn’t going to move merchandise sales, and is completely socially awkward. He’s as obtuse about his lack of awareness as Jameis Winston but doesn’t have Winston’s smile or charm.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Jones decided to go public and complain about doing 40 hours of community service.

He can’t spend one week in Las Vegas and do 8 hours of community service a day? This guy has three months to complete 40 hours of community service in Las Vegas. He probably has to go to Vegas anyways to do some promotional work with UFC to record footage to get the hype machine revved up for the Cormier fight. This is a no-brainer. Or maybe not.

Any respectable agent or manager would get a guy like this off of social media permanently. Some people can’t be saved from themselves no matter how many Herm Edwards-style Twitter symposiums you put them through. Jon Jones has this uniquely disgraceful ability to wow the masses with his brilliant in-ring talent and yet completely suppress their desire to cheer him on because of all the stupid things he says and does.

Jon Jones is an idiot savant. A savant in the UFC cage and a complete idiot outside of it.

On the bright side, at least he’s not in Wanderlei Silva’s shoes right now:

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC wanted to become like FIFA. They now have Sepp Blatter’s social street cred without FIFA’s $

By Zach Arnold | September 19, 2014

Dana White & Lorenzo Fertitta should thank their lucky stars that Roger Goodell had his pathetic press conference on Friday discussing issues relating to domestic violence. If there was 1/100th of the media spotlight on UFC that there is currently on the NFL, Zuffa would be having a full-fledged meltdown.

I’ve been very consistent in stating that UFC has no idea how to deal with real-life challenges. They live in a fantasy world bubble. They don’t like being challenged and they don’t respond well to being challenged. They wrap themselves in a cocoon. They can’t defend themselves. Whether it’s anabolic steroids or domestic violence, they don’t know how to be proactive. They are merely reactive.

While Roger Goodell was getting eviscerated by the likes of ESPN (!) after his ill-fated New York presser, the UFC was busy dealing with scandals of their own making involving Thiago Silva & Anthony Johnson. Two guys with a colorful past that is not exactly a state secret.

The first shoe to drop was UFC indefinitely suspending Anthony Johnson (whatever that means) because Brent Brookhouse reported that the mother of Johnson’s children got a restraining order over allegations of threats & abuse.

The second shoe to drop was UFC cutting ties with Thiago Silva (again) after his ex-wife, who Florida police had trouble getting cooperation from, posted videos online of Silva allegedly high on cocaine and in possession of a gun. The ex-wife further alleged that she had to have an abortion after being physically assaulted.

In both the Thiago Silva & Anthony Johnson cases, the UFC is emulating similar behavior that the Baltimore Ravens franchise displayed when they handled the Ray Rice knockout incident with his fiancee Janay Palmer in Atlantic City. According to ESPN via their Outside the Lines reporting unit, the Ravens allegedly knew exactly what had happened with Rice in the Atlantic City casino elevator within a matter of hours after the incident but decided to supposedly overrule the wishes of their head coach John Harbaugh by keeping Rice around and campaigning for leniency. Kind of like how Dana White recently said that Thiago Silva deserves to earn a living. Furthermore, the ESPN report claims that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti supposedly texted Rice with a message stating that he would have a future job in the Ravens organization.

For the Ravens organization, it didn’t matter what Ray Rice did or didn’t do in that Atlantic City casino elevator. It didn’t matter that he was becoming a washed up RB. All that mattered was the myth & belief that Ray Rice was such a great, upstanding citizen that no matter how heinous his personal behavior was that the organization needed to do everything possible to protect him and protect their image.

Similarly, UFC management doesn’t act as if they are responsible for delivering a consistent message on what kind of behavior will or will not be accepted. This organization doesn’t believe that the fish rots from the head down. It does. When you are hiring as many fighters as they book, you’re going to naturally attract people from the fringes. You’re going to attract out of control fighters who are over the edge due to the ultrahazardous nature of a very violent sport where guys suffer from traumatic brain damage & effects of significant drug usage. Cover-ups won’t work and don’t work. Making excuses and rationalizing criminal behavior is a losing proposition for UFC given their ties to Fox Sports right now.

The kind of security & investigative protocols currently in place in the UFC would be considered unacceptable at the casinos that the Fertitta family empire operates. Zuffa doesn’t need to create a pseudo-FBI investigative unit in the UFC but they do need some fresh perspective and a dose of common sense from upper management. Even if you accept the situational ethics from the powers-that-be, Dana White fighting for Thiago Silva’s job security is as stupid as the Ravens fighting for Ray Rice’s job security. These guys aren’t at the top of their profession.

Congratulations, UFC. You are getting close to the same level of credibility & respect amongst your fans as Roger Goodell & Sepp Blatter have with their disgruntled audiences. Unfortunately, your MMA company’s bank account will never match theirs. Fortunately, the people who love MMA really love MMA and will not let your poor judgment get in the way of their enjoyment of the sport.

Fox Sports has a lot of stake with both the NFL and UFC. Friday was not a good day for the Murdoch sports empire in America.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

The Ultimate Disservice: TUF 20 115 pound all-female edition, so far, is a bore

By Zach Arnold | September 18, 2014

There are many things bad reality TV shows can be guilty of but the cardinal sin of failure is being boring. The Ultimate Fighter 20, the all-female MMA fighter edition on Fox Sports 1, is the worst of all Ultimate Fighter worlds. Every lousy aspect from previous seasons, so far in the first two episodes, has been compiled into one package of awfulness.

This is not what I envisioned when UFC announced an all-female version of The Ultimate Fighter. I can’t imagine that long-time supporters of women’s MMA are enthralled by Zuffa’s presentation so far.

Before the launch of TUF 20, I was asked by a national media reporter how UFC would market TUF 20 and women’s MMA in the future. I said the biggest problem facing the company is the fact that 80% of UFC’s current demographic is male and that their main concern is promoting female fighters would be trying to market it towards men the same way Spike TV marketed Manswers. The same way that Jim Rome asked Ronda Rousey about sex. There’s a reason fans thought it was OK to ask Ronda Rousey about her sex life after the Jim Rome interview.

While I was concerned about the way UFC would present female fighters on The Ultimate Fighter, my concern was about how UFC would portray the female fighters and if they would do it right. Right meaning not scripted. Right meaning educating fans on a women’s MMA world they didn’t know much about. Right meaning that we would get to see how complex & difficult the road has been for them to make it to the UFC. There’s a lot of compelling stories to tell.

Too bad UFC and Fox decided to blow it on the storytelling front. This show, so far, is excruciatingly boring and not very educational at all.

Continue reading this article here…

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

Andrei Arlovski knocking out Bigfoot Silva perfectly symbolizes UFC’s 2014 campaign

By Zach Arnold | September 13, 2014

Never has there been so much MMA activity and yet so much of it is insignificant.

Andrei Arlovski vs. Bigfoot Silva headlining a card in Brasilia with 8,000 fans was the perfect symbolism of what UFC is now in 2014. Arlovski, who struggled to get booked and ended up finding a home in the UFC-friendly World Series of Fighting, got a call from Zuffa to come back as a card filler a main eventer. His cable fights recently were on NBC Sports network with WSOF and not on any Fox platform under the UFC banner. (Ed. — After Andrei Arlovski and Anthony Johnson were granted releases from WSOF to get back into UFC, WSOF put a halt to the practice.)

UFC asked fans to pay to watch Andrei Arlovski’s last two fights on either PPV or an internet stream. Within the last three months. In 2014, no less. On the same night of a Floyd Mayweather fight. If Andrei Arlovski is considered a top 10 UFC Heavyweight by the end of 2014, then I don’t want to hear anyone attack the plausibility of a Brock Lesnar return.

Arlovski, who should have retired long ago, proceeded to have an all-time ugly fight with Brendan Schaub in Vancouver. His reward was getting booked for an Internet card. He was supposed to be cannon fodder for one of the poster children of the testosterone plague in MMA, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. More time was spent this week talking about Bigfoot needing surgery after the Arlovski fight to fix his medical ailments than the Arlovski fight itself. It was supposed to be a fait a’ccompli.

And right on cue, Arlovski knocked Bigfoot out. Yeah, the same Bigfoot who failed a drug test after his zombie Australia fight with Mark Hunt.

Memo to UFC: Having alleged pirates agree to goofy shaming settlement press releases name-dropping copyright law firms like the infamous Lonsteins in Albany isn’t going to curb your piracy problems. What’s going to curb your piracy problems is presenting a product that is affordable and priced fairly in the market place.

The only bright spot from UFC’s Brasilia card was Jessica Andrade, who is well on her way to major league stardom. She is a machine that is only getting better each fight. Andrade says she needs two years more of development before fighting Ronda Rousey. I think that assessment is a fair one.

As for the rest of the action this week in boxing & MMA? What a joke it was for Fox Sports 1 to market Luis Ortiz vs. Lateef Kayode as “the fight of the year.” Spike TV may have delivered the two most interesting moments with Liam McGeary pulling off the inverted triangle and Emmanuel Newton finding his back-spinning fist mojo to knock out Joey Beltran. Marlon Moraes had little trouble with Cody Bollinger in the main event of WSOF’s Pennsylvania show. Good crowd at the Sands. The East Coast fans deserve a lot more fight cards.

Floyd Mayweather/Marcos Maidana pretty much turned out the way we all expected the fight to play out, sans the biting accusation. It’s been years since a Mayweather fight had such little heat going into it. He says there are two fights left in him. The next one will have to be against Pacquiao. He better pray that Pacquiao wins and wins convincingly in Macao.

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

After Goodell meltdown, UFC/Bellator must establish policy for domestic violence cases

By Zach Arnold | September 10, 2014

Dana White spent the week of UFC 177 in Sacramento telling the press that he wasn’t upset about GQ Magazine naming him a sleazebag for not paying his fighters enough money. The mask came off during the Fox Sports 1 prelims broadcast when he went after GQ & Dave Meltzer. I’m sure Dave Meltzer & Wade Keller had visions of Vince McMahon media relations circa 1991 in their heads all over again.

When it comes to handling any sort of media challenge or criticism, UFC melts down. Whether it’s issues relating to fighter pay, anabolic steroid usage, or domestic violence, the UFC never has a consistent or coherent message. I’m sure they have access to some fine public relation specialists but it’s hard to craft a message for individuals like Dana White who are impulsive and lack the kind of discipline & responsibility required to be taken seriously on a big stage.

Roger Goodell may survive the firestorm right now over the way the NFL has handled the Ray Rice domestic violence situation, but the damage has been done long-term. When you are paid $44 million USD a year to make billions of dollars for owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, you are a target. You’re an even bigger target when you view yourself as judge, jury, and executioner for determining punishment against athletes for various transgressions.

Continue reading this article here…

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

Fight Opinion Radio: Will Spike TV’s 2005 MMA marketing playbook win fans over a decade later?

By Zach Arnold | September 6, 2014

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If you watched the Friday night wars in Connecticut between UFC & Bellator, you know exactly what happened. Spike TV is going all-in with a pro-wrestling vision against the vision of MMA that UFC & Fox is pushing right now with a flood of cards and rankings.

The UFC has great business going in Mexico. The momentum is on their side for the November 15th Mexico City PPV with Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez. Bellator is countering with their own event in San Diego head-to-head on TV with Stephan Bonnar vs. Tito Ortiz and Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks.

The new direction of Bellator has elicited a love-it-or-hate-it response. That much is clear. What we don’t know is whether or not the decade-old Spike TV playbook will work or not in a climate where MMA has (somewhat) matured as a sport. The gap between Stephan Bonnar and Jacare Souza in talent is as wide as the Grand Canyon. What Bellator is gambling on right now is attracting a segment of MMA fans, new and old, who are disgruntled with UFC’s current product and think the fun is missing.

Enter Sean Wheelock, the voice of Bellator on Spike TV. We had a chance to sit down with him this week on Fight Opinion Radio and talk about a number of issues, both past and present. Sean recently co-authored a book with UFC founder Art Davie. Davie came from an advertising background and created UFC from scratch. Today’s UFC product is a far cry from what he was trying to market. Hell, it’s a far cry from X-ARM extreme arm wrestling.

Nobody is better equipped to talk about past MMA history and frame it in context to what is happening in today’s MMA landscape than Sean Wheelock. His interview on Fight Opinion Radio is definitely worth your time to listen to. He not only brings an insider’s perspective but also a genuine fan’s perspective on what is good and what is missing in today’s MMA product.

For us, there is one simple question that Spike TV must answer with Bellator’s new creative direction: what can Spike TV do to lure in burned out MMA fans or create new MMA fans? What is it going to take? Is this a matter of growing the audience pie or is this a matter strictly of competitive intrusion?

Special thanks

To Zack Nelson for his past & present support of Fight Opinion Radio.

Topics: Bellator, Fight Opinion Radio, Jeff Thaler, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold, podcasts | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Spike TV goes all-in with a pro-wrestling vision to battle UFC & Fox Sports in the MMA space

By Zach Arnold | September 5, 2014

The visions of Spike considering a joint Bellator/TNA PPV sounded goofy when I wrote an article about this subject last April. Now? The cross-over is starting.

Friday night’s dueling Connecticut events featuring Bellator & UFC exposed the fault lines for what looks to be a rather entertaining battle between Spike & Fox. UFC has the talent. They have their rankings. They have the inferior cable channel. They also have a cold product right now in the ratings.

In contrast, Bellator doesn’t have nearly the roster that Zuffa does in terms of depth. However, they have the stronger cable channel. They have the energy on TV. They also have a plan to combat the UFC/Fox combination.

Spike TV has gone all in with what they know from 2005. Stephan Bonnar? They made him. He’s the guy involved in the greatest fight ever that helped create the MMA boom. Or something like that. Tito Ortiz? He and Ken Shamrock drew big ratings. And how did Spike TV build UFC? They built it off the back of Vince McMahon when RAW was on Spike TV.

I just didn’t imagine how blatant, how transparent, and how all-in Spike TV executives were going to be with their strategy to counter the UFC.

Scott Coker is now a TV figurehead like Bjorn Rebney was a TV star. A commissioner role. Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz had a stare-down. Bonnar dragged Justin McCully under a black mask but forgot to tell the public who he is. They all share the same agent. What ensued was a strangely entertaining back-and-forth that had the Mohegan crowd engaged. Then came the bombshell that the fight is being booked for November 15th in San Diego, running head-to-head against the UFC Mexico City PPV with Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum. Michael Chandler vs. Will Brooks will also be on that San Diego card.

Dana White was busy telling people earlier in the week that he didn’t mind giving Bonnar his release to go kick Tito’s ass. I bet he isn’t singing the same tune tonight.

The differences between Bellator & UFC on Friday night

The UFC Foxwoods show had a lot of world-class talent, although hearing Bruce Buffer put over Strikeforce when introducing both Gegard Mousasi & Jacare Souza was something. Bruce never cheats the fans every time he works a show. The guy’s energy level is off the charts.

Jacare completely neutralized & dominated Mousasi. He got what he wanted and won in the right style. Naturally, it felt like he should be given a title shot against Chris Weidman. Instead, he’s taking a back seat to Vitor Belfort. There’s no doubt that Jacare has the charisma and fight style to really draw. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have known it given the… intimate… setting at Foxwoods. The crowd appeared smallish on television with not a lot of heat. It sounded like a quiet UFC B-level show. Meanwhile, the energy & presentation by Spike with Bellator at Mohegan Sun Arena felt more lively.

Spike went all-in with the Antonio Inoki creative direction by pushing Bobby Lashley hard as TNA champion in hyping up his Bellator fight against Josh Burns. The fight pretty much turned out the way you thought it would. It was a glorified sparring session for Lashley on the mat. Eventually, he got the choke sleeper hold submission win. He looked great. It was the perfect set-up for Bellator. I find it hard to believe that Spike is going to get rid of TNA now that they have an arrangement for Wednesday nights. If anything, the Lashley fight & presentation Friday night demonstrated that TNA isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The pro-wrestling connection is alive and well.

The contrast between Bellator & UFC is very stark now. You’ll see nostalgia a plenty with Spike. You’ll see a pro-wrestling crossover as opposed to the now rankings-based presentation by Fox. It was amazing to see Matt Mitrione, after knocking out his opponent, talking about Top 10 rankings. The rankings are meaningless. Fox has sprung this trap onto UFC. I wish they would get rid of the rankings and in a hurry.

With Spike going all-in to attract disenchanted pro-wrestling fans to watch Bellator, there will be pressure next year on UFC to sign Brock Lesnar. Alistair Overeem had a chance to really build a case for a re-match against Lesnar but managed to fumble it away when he got tagged by self-professed brain-damaged testosterone user Ben Rothwell. Nary a peep from UFC or Fox Sports about either of those guys in regards to their past drug usage. Fox finds itself in a very unusual position where they are the cheer-leading channel for UFC but without any of the credibility of a sports network. Lesnar/Overeem could have drawn a big buy rate, say 700,000 buys, if Ronda Rousey was also fighting on the card. You can forget that now, but there are still plenty of enticing match-ups for Lesnar in UFC should he return. And they don’t have to involve Cain Velasquez, either.

As if the night couldn’t get any stranger, the New York Times published a long-form article about New York City’s biggest marijuana dealer ever busted by the Feds and guess who was one of the guy’s friends? Georges St. Pierre.

Friday night proved to be interesting on a lot of good and awful levels. The UFC decided to pick a fight with Bellator in Connecticut and Spike has decided to push back twice as hard.

Topics: Bellator, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 11 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

The current zeitgeist for UFC, Bellator, and what Sean Wheelock says is missing: fun

By Zach Arnold | September 4, 2014

Friday night will mark the second chapter between the UFC and Scott Coker in MMA competition. No one is better equipped to bring a qualified perspective to the table on what’s about to take place than Bellator MMA TV announcer Sean Wheelock, the man who just co-authored with Art Davie the book on how UFC started in the first place called Is This Legal? Art Davie was a man who came from an advertising background and created a concept that has lived on for over a generation.

For those of us who were around since day one, you know how much the UFC has changed over the years. From freak show to corporate spectacle. Davie promoted it like a fight project. Zuffa has promoted UFC like a sport. While there is still some emotional attachment to fighters like Ronda Rousey, most fans are burnt out on the UFC’s current presentation. Brand-first, volume-heavy has destroyed the UFC’s bottom line through over-saturation.

In contrast to UFC’s precipitous and self-inflicted downfall, Bellator finds itself in a very unusual position. Bjorn Rebney, after all the criticism he had received for the way he operated Bellator, got Bellator into a position where the promotion went on PPV (finally) and beat internal expectations. His reward for exceeding PPV expectations? Getting thrown out the door by Spike officials. And entered Scott Coker.

When we interviewed Sean Wheelock this week for Fight Opinion Radio (the show will be made available in the next day or two), we asked Sean about what Bjorn Rebney did wrong and, more intriguingly, what the guy did right.

Continue reading this article here…

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

A preview of UFC vs. Bellator in Connecticut and UFC’s busy September schedule

By Zach Arnold | September 1, 2014

Event: UFC Fight Night on Friday, September 5th at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut
TV: Fox Sports 1

And this card goes up against Bellator’s show booking…

Event: Bellator 123 on Friday, September 5th at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut
TV: Spike TV

As for what the rest of UFC’s September calendar looks like…

Event: UFC Fight Night on Saturday, September 13th at Nilson Nelson Gym in Brasilia, Brazil
TV: Internet

Event: UFC Fight Night Japan 2014 on Saturday, September 20th at Saitama Super Arena
TV: Internet

Event: UFC 178 on Saturday, September 27th at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: Fox Sports 1/PPV

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

TJ Dillashaw shows he’s a true professional while his UFC bosses melt down in California

By Zach Arnold | August 30, 2014

On episode 4 of UFC 177 Embedded, the cursed fight card becomes a Cinderella story as the main event changes on weigh-in day. Title challenger and former champ Renan Barao bows out for medical reasons, creating a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Joe Soto, a former belt-holder in other organizations about to make his UFC debut on the prelim card, until he got the call that would change his life. TJ Dillashaw proves he’s a company man and true champion willing to fight anyone, anytime by accepting a new challenger on one day’s notice. UFC President Dana White lambastes the negative media and implores his fighters to seize the opportunity to prove all the doubters wrong. UFC Embedded is an all-access, behind-the-scenes video blog series focusing on the days leading up to the UFC 177 bantamweight title fight, Saturday, August 30th on Pay-Per-View.

The polish is off the turd.

There was Dana White trying to pump up the fighters on one of the company’s most horrific fight cards ever by using a pedantic “blame the media” strategy. The media says the show sucks. The media is dumping all over you. You mean nothing. It was classic coach spin. It came off pathetic from a guy who was trying to tell the press earlier this week that he wasn’t bothered by the negative mention in GQ Magazine in regards to how (little) he pays his fighters.

And then came Saturday night during the preliminary fights on Fox Sports 1. An all-time meltdown from Dana White with Ariel Helwani under the tag line “Is UFC 177 cursed?” Dana ripped into the GQ mention days after claiming it never bothered him. He ripped into Dave Meltzer for claiming that the Sacramento gate would be $500,000. That turned out to be an old report. Dana ripped “journalists” for telling fans not to buy UFC 177 and for dumping on the fighters. The fact that this even aired on Fox Sports 1 to promote a PPV was amazing. The funny and predictable part is that the anti-Meltzer backlash amongst hardcore UFC fans started right away on Twitter after the “War Dana!” moment on cable television.

Continue reading this article here…

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 13 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

As UFC goes big in Mexico, Bellator needs a battle plan & Stephan Bonnar fighting won’t cut it

By Zach Arnold | August 29, 2014

Next week is the big head-to-head battle in Connecticut between UFC & Bellator. I’m not sure why UFC decided to do this, but what the hell. They are obviously preparing for the Scott Coker era at Bellator. While they seem to be preparing for the competitive intrusion, they are busy selling more than 20,000 tickets for November’s Mexico City fight between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum. Hopefully the fight drums up some interest in the States.

The irony of this is thick when you consider that Bellator started out as a Spanish-language TV proposition on ESPN Deportes and has now completely moved away from attracting Hispanic fans.

While the UFC was doing their thing this week, Bellator was also busy with their own announcements. They announced that King Mo signed a new deal. They also announced that Stephan Bonnar would become an announcer and perhaps also fight Tito Ortiz. And everyone groaned loudly.

In one sense, I understand why Kevin Kay and the Spike crew decided to bring in Stephan Bonnar. It’s always dangerous to try to read the minds of power brokers in combat sports, but I could imagine the logic looking a little like this:

He’s Stephan Bonnar. He had the greatest fight in UFC history with Forrest Griffin. We made UFC. We gave those guys the platform. The guy’s an icon. We long for the days of the 2000s when we made UFC. He still has juice left. Let’s bring in the nostalgia with Tito. It’s our version of cotton candy. Harmless. Only upside. He has name ID. The fight will pop a rating or perhaps draw some PPV buys.

Welcome to Corporate MMA. Spike is an odd ball with a lot of cash. They’ve put up with TNA for a decade and yet only got worked up when TNA lied about bringing Vince Russo back. Spike is always looking for the next big thing, so why does their gut always seem to be centered around guys from a decade ago?

The truth is, Bellator needs a battle plan. I’ve written a five-point battle plan of sorts and it makes a lot of sense. Of course I would say that — I wrote the damn article. But you get the point. Outside of Australia, the UFC is struggling to make big waves in the Asian marketplace. Canada at this point seems to be a lost cause on a big scale without Georges St. Pierre. The UFC is still viewed as a West Coast entity. Most people don’t really know what Bellator represents or what their philosophy is going to be.

We have some clues so far. We know that the women’s division is going to get ramped up and that’s a good thing. We also know that names like Jason “Mayhem” Miller are also being considered. That is a horrific thing. He was popular during the MySpace era. Remember those days?

In boxing, you can establish fighters over a much longer period of time. In MMA, the eras seem to last about every five years. Right now, Ben Askren is this era’s Jake Shields. The guy who has figured out how to build leverage outside of the UFC model on his terms in order to eventually get into the UFC. He’s someone that Bellator can bring back into the fold under the guise of co-promotion with OneFC.

The biggest question that Spike has to answer with Bellator is this: what is the overarching business goal?

We know they are cutting back from 26 shows to 16 shows a year. It’s gone from a cheap weekly TV property that attracts solid, slightly increasing ratings to now… what exactly? Ever since Bellator drew the numbers they did for their Memphis-area PPV, everything has turned upside down. If you’re going to cut down from 26 to 16 shows as a TV network, obviously you either think Bellator can significantly increase the TV ratings for the 16 shows about to be produced or 12 of those shows will draw what Bellator normally draws and 4 of the shows will end up as PPVs.

If the strategy is the former, guys like Stephan Bonnar aren’t going to crack the million viewer mark. If the strategy is the latter, guys like Stephan Bonnar aren’t going to break 100,000 buys on PPV.

I would rather build up new stars on TV shows drawing 700,000 fans than worry about drawing a million viewers to watch a fight like Stephan Bonnar vs. Tito Ortiz that does nothing for the company’s future.

For as tiring as watching 26 episodes of Bellator was on Spike, at least I got the strategy. Budget $60,000 a week to spend, draw some good ratings in key demos, and stay active. I have no clue what Spike wants to do with their new MMA play toy now. Let’s hope they actually have a clue. I think Bellator’s September 19th event at the big Savemart Center in Fresno may give us some positive or negative clues.

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

What is UFC’s master plan to expand into mainland China?

By Zach Arnold | August 25, 2014

There were lots of interesting stories coming out of UFC’s active weekend in Macau & Tulsa. Talk about two different worlds. There was Michael Bisping doing his best Freddy Krueger impersonation on Cung Le’s face and perhaps putting the guy into retirement. At the Macau event, UFC regulated the whole ball of wax and yanked a judge after the first two fights due to poor performance. Let the hand-wringing commence.

There was the arrest of Jordan Mein’s father, Lee Mein, for sexual battery. UFC barred Lee Mein from being in the building to watch his son fight but Lloyd Irvin was in the corner of James Vick. I’m fully expecting UFC’s political critics to start tagging the sport with the “rape culture” label. And, truthfully, MMA is in a perilous spot on that front right about now.

Then there was Rafael dos Anjos blitzkrieging Ben Henderson and John McCarthy catching hell for his stoppage in that fight. I suspect Jason Herzog probably would have let this fight play out a bit more.

Given these interesting stories, I still find myself asking one over-arching question about what UFC is up to right now and it’s a question that I don’t think the company has done a very good job of answering:

What exactly is UFC’s grand plan into expanding their brand into mainland China?

If there is one thing UFC is brilliant at, it’s corporate sloganeering. World Fucking Domination. Their bravado is unmatched except perhaps with FIFA propaganda material. Ironic given that UFC claims MMA will be as big as soccer in the next 10 years. So why has UFC been strangely silent about their goals & benchmarks for success in the Chinese marketplace?

Zuffa has ran two three Macau events at The Venetian and ran one Fight Pass show in Singapore. Cung Le headlined two of the Macau shows. UFC has Ultimate Fighter China. And that’s about it. Meanwhile, One FC with Victor Cui is setting the table long-term to expand his footprint in the Asian marketplace as a serious arena player. RUFF is the one active MMA promoter right now on the mainland. There’s the proposed M-1 Challenge event this November in Shanghai. Why hasn’t Zuffa been able to buy their way into the marketplace? A lot of it probably has to do with their corporate ideology and the refusal to change their matchmaking to bend to cultural tastes & sensitivities.

Is the plan simply to wait for others to pave the way and then swoop right in with arena shows? If UFC can’t conquer New York politics, how the hell are they going to conquer Beijing?

I understand why Bob Arum is running fights in Macau with Manny Pacquiao. For Manny, it’s about the taxes. For Arum, it’s about the site fee he can command because Manny and big name boxers can attract huge whales to gamble significant cash on fights. Plus, Top Rank has Ryota Murata. Of all the major combat sports right now, MMA is the least likely to attract the big whales. Luca Fury can generate a living as an online handicapper but the casinos want warm bodies in their buildings to blow cash at the tables & at the sportsbooks. MMA simply isn’t attracting that kind of fan given the demographics. Great TV demographics with 18-to-34 year olds but not-so-great casino spending demos.

It’s hard to put into perspective what is happening with UFC’s grand vision of what to do in Asia. They fired Mark Fischer and have inserted Garry Cook into the equation. One colleague of mine described him as an MMA version of Karl Rove, a kind of guy with a gift for gab & strategy that UFC is counting on to transcend cultural boundaries. The problem is that cultural boundaries are everything when it comes to the combat sports business in Asia. I’m amazed that UFC hasn’t bothered hiring Chinese or Japanese business executives who potential sponsors & power brokers can relate to on business matters. Even WWE has their own president for Japanese operations.

Unlike most, I was not critical of UFC’s initial disclosure about plans to run a reality TV show in Japan that’s based on a different format than Ultimate Fighter. As long as they can partner up with some Japanese promoters and get on network television, anything can happen. But they announced those plans when Mark Fischer was around. He’s gone. We’re one month away from the Saitama Super Arena event which has a bizarre card headlined by an even stranger yet intriguing main event of Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson. Things have really cooled off for Dentsu since they inked their deal with UFC a few years ago. UFC achieved what they wanted on the first show. What is their goal now in Japan?

Normally, the UFC is very certain and public about their marketing pronouncements. They know what they want and know what their talking points are. Curiously, you aren’t seeing such bravado right now from the world’s only major MMA promoter. Until they come up with a disciplined, smart, adaptable strategy to address the cultural tastes of the various Asian markets, they’re chasing their own tail. They would be better off focusing all their energy on Australia at this point in time.

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

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