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Shocking UFC Fight Night Japan 2017 Saitama Super Arena card

By Zach Arnold | September 4, 2017

This event will be on DAZN in Japan. I’m not sure if it will air on terrestrial television or not…

9/23 Saitama Super Arena (8:30 AM Japanese standard time)

Under card

Main card

Since UFC’s fight several years ago in Japan, each successive event has had less and less attention. UFC has had a golden chance to take over a major combat sports market and failed to do so.

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

Andy Foster wants due process for UFC champion Jon Jones on turinabol USADA drug test bust

By Zach Arnold | August 31, 2017

UFC champion Jon Jones was drug tested by both the California State Athletic Commission and USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) before and after his UFC 214 bout with Daniel Cormier in Anaheim, California for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. USADA is contracted with UFC, hence that is a private contractual matter that fighters waive their administrative rights to. Two parallel tracks.

Jon Jones passed California State Athletic Commission drug tests. However, Jon Jones initially tested positive for the oral steroid turinabol in a pre-fight USADA test.

Jon Jones has requested that the B sample by tested by USADA to confirm the findings of the USADA A sample for drug testing. If the B sample confirms the A sample results, Jones will have to pursue a two-track legal route with an appeal before the California State Athletic Commission and arbitration with USADA.


California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster

In a strangely curious interview with MMA Junkie, California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster publicly commented about Jon Jones testing positive for the oral steroid turinabol in a USADA drug test. Foster commented on the matter while preaching for due process rights.

The horse is already out of the barn. The news about Jon Jones failing a USADA drug test should have never been made public by UFC or any administrative body until the B sample was already tested to confirm the testing results from the A sample.

By going public with the results from the A sample USADA tested, the court of public opinion has already been tainted. UFC has the right to disclose the USADA testing results since their fighters have contracted with them for drug testing services. That doesn’t make it right, however.

Even worse, Athletic Commissions who allow USADA testing of UFC fighters like Jon Jones should keep their mouths shut until the B sample testing results are concluded. There is no point in publicly commenting on USADA test results until more information is processed.

The MMA Junkie interview with Andy Foster served zero purpose other than to grab headlines and inflame a sensitive situation.

“At that point, one of two things is probably going on here: He’s either extremely careless, or he’s a cheater,” Foster said. “I know he’s already been extremely careless once in his career … but none of this makes any sense. That’s why I think it’s very important that we vet this and look at all the available evidence before we jump to conclusions and hang this guy out to dry.”

A UFC fighter, especially UFC champion Jon Jones, understands that failing a drug test is an issue of strict liability. There are mitigating circumstances to reduce the punishment but punishment is coming nevertheless.

Andy Foster commenting on possible intent is irresponsible. You either pass or fail the drug test. In this situation, it was a USADA test that Jon Jones failed and not a California drug test.

If the intent of the MMA Junkie interview was to show that California is really on the case and is on top of things, you can see why Andy Foster claimed that he has five attorneys from the Department of Consumer Affairs in Sacramento and the Attorney General’s office in San Diego handling the Jon Jones USADA drug test failure. What do you need five attorneys for? This is preposterous grandstanding. It’s also an admission of either administrative overzealousness in Sacramento or rank incompetence. Claiming that you have five attorneys investigating UFC champion Jon Jones for allegedly using the oral steroid turinabol is a gigantic waste of the Athletic Commission’s budget, no matter how large the fine is going to be against Jon Jones.

It’s time for the powers-that-be to address due process issues for fighters who initially fail drug tests. Now set a good example by staying silent until B samples are tested before you publicly comment on such matters as an administrator.

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

Post-Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor’s marriage with UFC demands a piece of ownership

By Zach Arnold | August 26, 2017

Dana White was non-committal about whether or not WME-IMG would be open to giving Conor McGregor a piece of UFC in order to keep him active long-term. After Saturday night’s fight with Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas, it is blatantly clear that Conor McGregor will continue fighting in both boxing and MMA. The question is what price it will cost the new UFC ownership to keep the gravy train going.

There is a ready-made fight on the table with Conor McGregor vs. Paulie Malignaggi after their training camp fallout. There are plenty of UFC fights on the table for McGregor at big arenas. UFC has Conor McGregor under contract. They made a lot of money going along with the Floyd Mayweather charade. With as much debt financing as WME-IMG is currently exposed to with their purchase of UFC, they are all-in with homerun mega fights.

Randy Couture commented that Conor McGregor’s venture in boxing highlight to the public the financial issues facing top MMA fighters. Once the general public saw the kind of money that Conor McGregor could make in sponsorships and PPV outside the UFC financial model umbrella, Couture believes it will change the way people look at MMA fighters and how MMA fighters conduct themselves. More fighters will try their hand at boxing. The MMA promoters will essentially become hybrid promoters. As long as the Ali Act is not going to get amended any time soon, the MMA promoters are free to do whatever the hell they want.

The drama before the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight involved cable, satellite, and internet PPV providers crashing due to the high volume of last-minute PPV buys. Showtime lost money at the last minute because they could only provide a standard definition feed for some providers.

To top everything off, the level of volume at the sportsbooks for the Mayweather/McGregor fight matched or surpassed the Super Bowl. There were a series of 7-figure bets. The casinos won big. As long as the casinos are winning big, Conor McGregor’s value remains sky high.

If the UFC wants to continue their marriage with Conor McGregor, they’re going to have to sweeten the pot. Since Lorenzo Fertitta is no longer the owner, Dana White sounds open to giving Conor McGregor someone else’s money. McGregor is a fabulous self-promoter. He’s a great promoter, period. WME-IMG needs him. After the self-destruction (again) of Jon Jones, UFC needs Conor McGregor more than ever.

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

Jon Jones is the kind of UFC drug user that American sports fans hate: a lying drug user

By Zach Arnold | August 22, 2017

The UFC legacy of Jon Jones can be summarized in one sentence: the only man who could stop Jon Jones was Jon Jones. He is his own worst enemy.



Image credit: Black Sports Online

The history of Mixed Martial Arts is littered with hardcore drug users. Doping isn’t necessarily a career killer in the eyes of American sports fans. It’s how you handle the public relations. Absurd, but true. If you’re apologetic and wink-wink, fans will give you a second chance. If you are shameless and claim you need testosterone to function as a fighter and as a man (e.g. Chael Sonnen), people will laugh along with your charade and continue watching your fights. He still has a career in Bellator.

But what you can’t do is lie about using steroids once you get caught and then misrepresent your future intentions. That, for some bizarre reason in America, is when the book will get thrown at you. Call it the Lance Armstrong problem. Being unrepentant about doping won’t automatically kill your career. Lying about being unrepentant will.

Jon Jones got busted for the steroid Turinabol. Reportedly a pre-fight drug test prior to UFC 214.

How stupid do you have to be to put yourself into a situation where you were given a second chance to make millions of dollars in fights lined up against Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, and Brock Lesnar? Talk about printing money as fast as the Federal Reserve.

Now it’s all gone. Finished. You can forget about it. Jon Jones will be inactive for at least another year, if not two years. He’s fortunate in that the depth at Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight is shallow enough to allow him to come back and win again. If people were willing to pay to see Jon Jones beat Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, they’ll be willing to pay to watch him fight in a couple of years. Right?

Where does Daniel Cormier go to get his reputation back? Even without steroid usage, Jon Jones would have likely won the UFC 214 match. That’s the whole problem with doping. You’re left to try to come up with the impossible of measuring someone’s win probability clean vs. doping. Fighters use steroids to recover from previous damage due to steroid usge. Fighters use steroids to recovery from training injuries. Some fighters use steroids because they really are insecure about their performance and need that placebo effect to impact their mental game.

Jon Jones is damaged goods. Daniel Cormier’s reputation is damaged. He’s suffering the same career fate as Michael Bisping. And yet, I still believe that Jon Jones will maintain a more credible athletic reputation amongst UFC fans than Daniel Cormier will. Sad, but true.

Daniel Cormier can’t prove the intent behind Jon Jones doping but he could certainly prove that Jones, given his previous suspensions, had the responsibility and foreseeability to follow the right protocols to not get busted again for doping. Cormier can’t take back the visual image of losing to Jon Jones at UFC 214. He can’t take back the haunting post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. Those are permanent memories.

If UFC cuts ties with Jon Jones, Bellator will sign him after his suspension and make a lot of money. UFC can’t afford to cut Jon Jones, especially if current ownership wants to sell UFC off to a group of hedge funders in a couple of years. Outside of Conor McGregor, Jon Jones is the most valuable PPV asset UFC has. Well, right now he is. He still may be their most valuable asset in two years when the time comes for a Brock Lesnar super fight.

All Jon Jones has to do is follow the right public relations playbook on doping. Is he even capable of doing so?

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

Self-financing is accelerating manipulation & political pressure on Nevada’s athletic commission

By Zach Arnold | August 18, 2017

The Nevada State Athletic Commission has always been surrounded by turmoil but managed to skate through various public relations crises. That changed when Keith Kizer took over as Executive Director. All hell broke loose with every possible faction fighting each other in a massive political tug-of-war. The turmoil blew up in everyone’s face, especially UFC’s, after the testosterone hall pass era for fighters claiming they needed the base chemical of anabolic steroids in order to function as fighters.

The political wars and legal fights took their toll. Nevada has & will continue to face difficult budgetary decisions. Power brokers on the Athletic Commission, including Keith Kizer, found exit strategies. Without warning, Nevada politicians decided to untether the Athletic Commission from the state’s general fund. Years of legal charges from the Attorney General’s office were dump-trucked on the AC as Carson City said, “you’re on your own.”

The financial changes were dramatic. No more financial support from the state. The Nevada State Athletic Commission would have to finance its own operations the same way every other major Athletic Commission in America does. The price of doing business changed as well: an increase of the gate tax on events to 8% in exchange for no television or PPV tax money. This change happened right when the Nevada State Athletic Commission expanded “enhanced” drug testing. USADA’s agreement with UFC quickly followed.

The initial spin from the Athletic Commission? Self-financing is wonderful! We’re making lots of money! Our budget is only $550,000 a year. We’re not California, where you can make $1.59M in yearly revenue but still manage to lose $50,000 in a year.

Here’s the catch:

Continue reading this article here…

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

Unusual anxiety about the biggest “money” fight ever not selling out in advance

By Zach Arnold | August 11, 2017

Two weeks ago, The Associated Press reported that tickets were not sold out for the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight in Las Vegas. As of today, nothing has changed. There’s reportedly been a cooling off of ticket sales and sponsorship appeal.

“This isn’t a damn Rolling Stones concert. That’s the only thing that sells out in seconds.”

Is this the kind of language you would expect from participants in the biggest money fight ever booked for combat sports?

Initially, it rings hollow. The fight is going to attract a ton of eyeballs, both on Fox for the undercard and on PPV platforms. Everyone is going to be a winner, as Mayweather recently told Stephen A. Smith in a sit-down interview. The IRS will win, for sure.

So why the panic? Why the anxiety? Why make moves like petitioning the Nevada State Athletic Commission for eight ounce gloves and putting that beleagured AC in a negative spotlight once again?

Remember what the expectations were before the Mayweather & McGregor press tour. A sold out MGM Grand Garden Arena (now T-Mobile Arena). An over/under of 5 million worldwide PPV buys. After the press tour, the media predictably soured on the antics. Betting margins started widening with sharps starting to place money on Mayweather. Odds for the fight were ridiculously in the 5-to-1 Mayweather favorite range.

Then came the Paulie Malignaggi stunt from Conor’s camp. Floyd comes out and says he’s going to beat up Conor McGregor for all black people while claiming that he’s “lost a step” and has had some shoulder issues.

Mayweather’s camp built a fight on pure money-grabbing bravado. They didn’t hide their motives at all. Now they’re trying to find their soul and pimp whatever they can out of it. I think they’re confusing vanity for soul.

For such an easy fight and such a historic debacle, you would think Floyd Mayweather would be happy. His camp’s actions show anxiety, even a touch of panic… not because of the prospects of Conor McGregor winning but because of the prospects of not finding seat-fillers for an event sellout. Bizarre.

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

ESPN begins its march away from cable and the ramifications are huge for combat sports

By Zach Arnold | August 8, 2017

The bundling model that propped up so many televison properties on cable in America is dying fast. Disney picked up a shovel today and started digging the proverbial grave with its announcement of pulling all programming from Netflix and ESPN moving to a streaming platform in 2018.

ESPN was the biggest cash cow on American cable. It’s taking a beating because of horrific television rights deals with the NFL and NBA. With television consumers cutting the cord, ESPN is suffering a death by a thousand paper cuts. CBS added onto the pile today by announcing it would create a 24/7 streaming sports news channel that would directly compete against ESPN. Sportscenter, which had been ESPN’s marquee property for four decades, is losing relevancy by the day.

I shed no tears for any of the parties involved. ESPN is still the giant behemoth in sports programming. With a move to streaming platforms, expect big wigs in Bristol to get the axe because Burbank will be more in control of calling the shots moving forward. Cable companies will simply shift into pure internet pipeline plays and make just as much profit as they had been serving as distributors. As long as the big cable companies can build new PPV platforms, they will do just fine.

The real impact is now on the major sports leagues and American sports properties. WWE beat everybody to the punch but they are treading water with 1.5 million subscriptions. UFC Fight Pass, at this point, is an albatross for the venture capitalists and would likely be transferred for management to a media conglomerate (e.g. FOX).

The biggest question of all for promoters like UFC: do you do your own thing or do you work with the big boys and piggyback on their risk consumption? WWE went on its own path and smartly so. UFC is heading in the opposite direction by wanting to increase its rights fee three-fold or even more. At that point, your options are limited and Fox is the major player in town.

Conventional television is not dying any time soon. If anything, the new ATSC 3.0 standard coming in a couple of years to American television sets via rabbit ears (antenna) will offer 4K picture quality with streaming options to pay for addition content. Betting on broadcast television is a solid choice.

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

UFC’s debt financing is making rich fighters wealthier but the window is closing fast for everyone else

By Zach Arnold | July 30, 2017

The House always wins … unless the house is entirely leveraged or the book has suffered hemorrhaging one-sided losses.

The era of Ari Emanuel and WME-IMG ownership of UFC is quickly being defined by the notion of the “super fight.” The twist is that the super fights proposed are not the most competitively balanced and go against the ethos of old UFC management. Lorenzo Fertitta built UFC on the backs of the highest level MMA fighters in the world fighting each other. Dana White convinced a skeptical public that he would book the fights that other promoters couldn’t.

A year after WME-IMG’s purchase of UFC, we’re left with fighters like Jon Jones rightfully proclaiming Dana White to be a public face and errand boy for Ari Emanuel.

The nauseating circus of Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor has brought out the worst in everyone. The utter money-grabbing transparency of soullessness has helped lower the betting odds to a ridiculous 5-to-1 Mayweather betting range but people aren’t rushing to pay their life savings for tickets with ridiculous “service fees.”

The fight will benefit all parties involved but it not will be of benefit to boxing or MMA itself. This same pattern is what will define the future “super fights” coming to UFC.

We know the next two “super fights” on the table will be Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre vs. Michael Bisping. Ari Emanuel decided from day one of ownership that he would go for the homerun every single time rather than play moneyball the Joe Silva way.

Lost in translation and reporting by the mainstream sports media is a key motive behind making these fights that have created new leverage that undercard UFC fighters have yet to take advantage of: massive debt financing.

The United States is $20 trillion dollars in debt. The interest to service the debt is skyrocketing out of control. WME-IMG purchased UFC for $4 billion dollars on the back of debt financing. The difference between Uncle Sam and UFC is that the Feds can print monopoly money at any time and call it Quantitative Easing. UFC, not so much. The venture capitalists can spin all they want but their backs are against the wall because the clock is ticking.

To their credit, Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar is more the kind of super fight that the old ownership of UFC would have booked rather than Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather. Jones should be a prohibitive favorite over Lesnar and his chinny chin chin but you can at least make the argument that Lesnar has a chance to smother Jones with his size. Plus, Paul Heyman is easily the best mouthpiece in all of fight sports today. He knows what sells and what doesn’t.

I’m most interested in the following two questions as a result of the fallout from UFC’s new matchmaking strategy:

  1. How will it impact interest from television networks in regards to what they will pay for a new television deal? Ari Emanuel reportedly thinks he can quadruple television rights fees.
  2. How many new sports agencies are going to enter into the MMA space and replace the old guard?

Fighter representation has never been more critical. The adoption of an Ali Act for MMA has never been more important to give fighters a legal tool to challenge adhesive contracts. The window for fighters to amass leverage and entrench new-found power will slam shut once WME-IMG can pay back their debt financing or spin off UFC to yet another venture capitalist group. The top names have been able to take advantage of this window so far but the majority of fighters have not.

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

Conor McGregor proves to be Floyd Mayweather’s lifeline to the IRS

By Zach Arnold | July 10, 2017

If only UFC had known about Floyd’s tax problems, they could have put a squeeze on him in negotiations.

Floyd Mayweather has petitioned IRS tax court in Las Vegas to get a reprieve on paying 2015 taxes he owes to the Feds. And his carrot? The upcoming Conor McGregor fight.

Fighters having tax & child support problems is old hat. What makes the Mayweather case so… special… is his claim that his “substantial” assets are restricted or illiquid. In other words, assets that can’t be immediately used or sold off.

Like the Bugattis or private jets Mayweather bragged about getting thanks to Al Haymon?

What happened to all the cash that Mayweather reportedly uses to place massive sports bets? Or is that on credit?

It’s zero surprise that Mayweather’s burn rate is as high as it appears to be. And if it is true that Mayweather has a bunch of cash tied up in retirement accounts, that’s a good thing for him. I’m not sure a gentlemen’s club is an illiquid asset but that’s not enough to finance his ongoing lifestyle.

Which means Floyd is going to have to continue fighting. He got an easy pay day with Conor McGregor. The pay day after that with either Gennady Golovkin or Canelo Alvarez (rematch) won’t be as easy. If, by the grace of God, Jeff Horn gets a rematch with Manny Pacquiao and can win that, I guess Mayweather could toy with the idea of fighting him. I’m not sure about a fight with Terence Crawford…

Floyd needs opponents in a hurry. He’s spending himself back into active competition. Uncle Sam is doing his part.

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

The spin stops here: ESPN underachieves with Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn drawing 3M viewers

By Zach Arnold | July 4, 2017

Bob Arum and his business partners, including ESPN, didn’t pay Manny Pacquiao a reported $10 million dollars to draw 3 million television viewers.

ESPN’s spin on Monday, bought hook-line-and-sinker by media fish, is that the rating for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight last Saturday night was the network’s best showing in 10 years. When you put it that way, basic media types will take it at face value as ESPN saying they were happy with the initial results of their new marriage with Top Rank. Rephrase the news as Manny Pacquiao drawing three million viewers on ESPN and suddenly things become much clearer.

Who’s to blame?

The easy scapegoat is Pacquiao. He’s 38 and his reputation was permanently damaged by the Floyd Mayweather fight. The stink bomb of all stink bombs. The fact that he struggled to draw three million American cable viewers should signal the alarm in the Top Rank offices. That’s bad.

I don’t buy Pacquiao’s ceiling on cable as less than 3 million viewers. Most combat sports fans probably don’t either.

The problem is ESPN. They simply are incapable of long-term marketing & hype campaigns for sports outside of the NBA or NFL. Their marketing of MLB is dreadful. Their day-to-day coverage of baseball coverage is, at best, mediocre and has been recently scaled back.

Incompetence is bad enough. A lack of desire to be great is an entirely different insult to level at ESPN. I’m ready to level it.

ESPN’s recent shotgun marriages with both Golden Boy & Top Rank signal an understanding of how bad they blew the Friday Night franchise. They half-assed it, just like they do with so much other network programming, and decided to outsource content to Al Haymon’s PBC in order to save money. He had the fighters and the cash. They had the air time. And look what happened. The network did next to nothing in advance marketing to hype Haymon cards. They barely mentioned his name. They gave next to no air time in interviewing fighters or building shoulder programming content in the weeks, if not months ahead of major fights. Al Haymon was the john and ESPN was the pimp. A very lousy pimp.

After ditching Haymon, ESPN tried to save face with a new TV deal featuring Golden Boy cards that had been on FS1. ESPN has so far treated Golden Boy fights on the network with less hype and marketing than the 4th of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joe Tessitore came out of nowhere to return to boxing duties on ESPN two Saturdays ago for a Golden Boy event in Frisco, Texas that ran head-to-head against the Andre Ward/Sergey Kovalev fight. There was no advance warning or heads up at all. What makes that remarkable is that Tessitore is viewed and treated as the rising star, the impending ace, of ESPN and is all over their college football & variety programming. Tessitore returns to boxing and nary a peep.

A week after the Frisco event, Golden Boy had an ESPN2 fight that was buried an hour before NBA Free Agency marathon wall-to-wall coverage. And not only that, the fight had next to no advance notice to ESPN viewers.

Management in Bristol has no idea what they are doing, nor do they care about details big or small.

What’s next for Bob Arum?

Bob Arum’s nightmare scenario unfolded in Australia. Manny Pacquiao didn’t stop Jeff Horn. Horn won a terrible unanimous decision. Manny got paid $10 million dollars. The fight drew three million viewers in America.

Now what?

A re-match will happen. Likely Australia, but Las Vegas certainly seems to be an option. Has ESPN lowered their ratings standards enough to put in a bid to air the re-match on cable or on ABC? What is the ceiling for the rematch? Does ESPN even know how to market the fight? The network choose not to discuss Jeff Horn until the fight took place. He was treated as a nobody. Screaming Stephen A. Smith buried Horn right before the fight started. It was a clown show. Never in ESPN’s judgment did they ever consider that Horn would have a close enough fight with Pacquiao to build him up, either for a re-match or for more TV fights.

ESPN spent fight week hyping a marketing campaign in which they claimed that the marriage to Top Rank would create “a resurgence for boxing” because a) Top Rank is the NFL of boxing and b) it’s ESPN. Nevermind the fact that we got to this point because HBO slashed it’s boxing budget and didn’t want to pay for certain TV fights. For ESPN, marrying up with Top Rank was more about giving themselves a chance to market Bristol as boxing’s savior than it was about actually promoting the upcoming fights.

Which brings us to Terence Crawford. Crawford is the fighter Top Rank needs to succeed the most on the ESPN platform. Crawford is the crown jewel. The plan, as hinted by Joe Tessitore, was for Crawford to end up facing Manny Pacquiao in a passing-of-the-torch fight. Instead, Pacquiao is stuck with Horn in a re-match. Crawford has Julius Indongo on home turf in Nebraska.

There is clearly an increase in fan interest in Terence Crawford. 806,000 viewers for the John Molina fight and 961,000 viewers for the Felix Diaz fight. Crawford vs. Indongo should do better than a million viewers on ESPN. But I don’t know and I can’t say for certain that’s the case. ESPN is the wild card here and that should scare some people in the boxing business. Are they going to spend a week hyping Terence Crawford? The network spent one week hyping Manny Pacquiao and bombed. They need to spend a month, by their standards, hyping Terence Crawford.

If Crawford’s fight with Indongo disappoints or bombs in the TV ratings, Bob Arum will have every legitimate reason to give ESPN a tongue lashing. ESPN blew it on the Pacquiao/Horn fight. Will their navel gazing continue to produce disappointing results?

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

ESPN’s telecast of Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn was the clearest warning to UFC not to leave Fox

By Zach Arnold | July 2, 2017

By ESPN standards, hype week for the Manny Pacquiao/Jeff Horn fight in Brisbane, Australia was decent in terms of effort. By normal respectable TV standards, it was a half-assed job. Such is life in Bristol, Connecticut.

The new marriage between ESPN & Top Rank has all the good and ugly features of Bristol politics. Joe Tessitore apparently got the memo the last two weeks to call Floyd Mayweather a no-action, selfish moocher who takes but never gives back to boxing. Teddy Atlas is about showcasing Teddy Atlas. Jeff Horn was barely mentioned by name for fight week. The only semblance of an attempt to showcase Horn was a pre-fight video package. There was a Friday night dump pre-taped version of First Take with Andre Ward.

In other words, hype week encapsulated all the managerial issues that have dogged ESPN for the past five years when it comes to promoting non-football or NBA programming.

Then came fight night. There was no advanced notice of two other fights airing on TV, including Mick Conlan. The fights just aired. And did you know that Steve Levy and Screaming Stephen A. Smith would have frequent TV appearances during the night? I’m certain that Max Kellerman, given his contractual obligations to HBO, wasn’t available but that doesn’t diminish expectations of competency for SAS. Unfortunately, SAS didn’t pass muster and got worse as the night went on.

Which brought us to Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. Joe Tessitore did a good sell job on the 51,000 fans in Brisbane. The rugby stadium looked great. Michael Buffer was Michael Buffer. Then came the fight and Tessitore doing his damnedest hard sell for the first two rounds. As the fight wore on, it was relatively clear that Pacquiao was going to cruise to a decision victory. Then came R9 in which Horn got rocked hard and under different circumstances with perhaps a more respected finisher (at this point in time), the referee would have stopped it. Referee Mark Nelson almost did. But he let things go on. At that point, Horn was looking to survive and save face.

When the scores were read – 117-111, 115-113 x 2 – I was nodding my head and waiting for Pacquiao’s hand to be raised. When Jeff Horn was declared the winner, I lost it. Everyone lost it. But true to form for ESPN Embrace Disgrace, writer Steve Bunce declared the negative reaction as drama queen material and called for Pacquiao to retire.

The conflation of two entirely different issues, in order to score cheap clickbait points, is what brings out the worst in Bristol.

The warning signs for UFC

As the outrage was unfolding on live television, viewers were girding their loins on the impending eruption of Atlasville and the U.S.S. SAS. Atlas lived up to his end of the bargain, going so far as to say that it was outright intentional corruption that Horn won. Screaming Stephen A. Smith called for the “mugshots” of the three judges and demanded addresses to send them some gifts. He completely lost it when he found out that two of the three judges were American. That’s kind of a big detail to leave out of the immediate “home cooking” post-fight story line.

Even worse for the judging analysis, there was no attempt within an hour of post-fight coverage to GET THE ACTUAL SCORE CARDS in order to look at how the fight was scored round-by-round. Instead, viewers were treated to Screaming Stephen A. Smith proclaiming that this horrible decision was exactly why UFC is taking over while boxing is bleeding like a stuck pig. A creative narrative to pull off given ESPN proclaiming Top Rank to be “the NFL of boxing” and ESPN as a network “leading the resurgence in boxing” by airing Top Rank fights that HBO didn’t want to pay for any longer.

Ignorance and lack of detail permeated the post-fight coverage. It was exactly the kind of parody someone from the outside who hated ESPN would have conjured up in a cartoon come to life.

It was a clear and present warning to UFC not to leave Fox Sports. Fox Sports has an exclusive negotiating window with UFC right now. Ari Emanuel and WME-IMG have a reported desire to split the UFC product onto multiple networks in order to cash in. If they choose to split part of their product with ESPN, they’ll be giving up some of the production control to the network they do business with. ESPN’s handling of the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight should be a five-alarmer for every UFC fan.

ESPN does train wrecks, personality debates, and Embrace Disgrace. Fox Sports is unfortunately headed in the same path. The difference between the two networks is that Fox will let UFC do what it needs to do to produce the right kind of show. There is no such quality quality in Bristol and it showed.

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

Golden who? ESPN labels Bob Arum, Top Rank “the NFL of boxing” and recycles Al Haymon spin on exposure

By Zach Arnold | June 30, 2017

It’s amazing how fast allegiances can change at ESPN. Four months ago, a bunch of C-level and B-level Golden Boy events were being heralded by the Mouse as a chance for the rebirth of boxing on basic television.

Today?

Bob Arum & Top Rank Boxing are being heralded by Joe Tessitore as “the NFL of boxing” after shifting events from HBO (slashing their budget) to ESPN. This includes booking Terence Crawford for an August fight in Lincoln, Nebraska. Tessitore pontificated, during a Friday ESPN radio interview to promote the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight, that Pacquiao could face Crawford in a passing-of-the-torch fight next Winter.

Arum experimented with Crawford on PPV last year because HBO didn’t want to pick up a fight. That fight reportedly sold 60,000 PPV buys and drew 378,000 viewers for an HBO replay. Yahoo Sports writer Kevin Iole quoted Bob Arum anticipating 125,000 PPV buys. The fight reportedly drew half that figure.

Getting exposure for Top Rank fighters is an issue for Bob Arum. It’s why he cut a deal with ESPN. What’s funny to watch is ESPN giving Arum more support than Golden Boy after Golden Boy filled the void when ESPN split from Al Haymon. Golden Boy went with the FS1-level cards. Arum is going in a different direction to build up future PPVs or perhaps a Disney bid for an ABC slot.

Network support for Bob Arum vs. Al Haymon

By any objective standards, today’s ESPN does a really lousy job of promoting sports outside of the NBA, NFL, or college football. They half-ass it. They simply don’t go all in with shoulder programming or ad inventory to promote a fight. They haven’t advertised the Golden Boy shows at all. It’s really a slap in the face. What Oscar De La Hoya has encountered with ESPN is similar to the kind of treatment that Al Haymon has encountered with the networks he has bought TV time. Haymon has spent tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, on networks like CBS and Fox to promote real fighters only to discover the networks giving little to no advertising support. Nothing. Haymon is left with the bill and not much else. That’s a recipe for disaster when TV networks are taking your money but not acting as full-throated partners.

To Bob Arum’s credit, so far he has got ESPN’s attention to at least run some shoulder programming, interviews, and themed advertising for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn fight. Pacquiao is over a 6-to-1 favorite but the fight is on Horn’s home turf in a rugby stadium. Arum needs at least one of the fighters to shine bright in order to get ESPN/ABC involved in a bid for a much bigger fight down the road.

We’ll see how much effort ESPN actually puts into the partnership with Bob Arum. The one ace up Arum’s sleeve is Max Kellerman and First Take. Given how much oxygen ESPN has spent building up Stephen A. Smith, it’s the network’s natural ally to promote anything Arum wants. Arum is also a good guest with a rapier wit. At some point, though, Todd DuBoef is going to have to gain some experience hyping fights on television.

If you’re Al Haymon, you have to wonder what the hell happened. Haymon brought the checkbook. Haymon brought a very big stable of marketable fighters. He demonstrated the willingness to put major fights on broadcast television. Why is ESPN so cooperative now with Bob Arum when they could have done the same deal with Al Haymon two years ago?

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

High-risk gamble by Mark Hunt attorneys to sue UFC for racketeering may be backfiring

By Zach Arnold | June 27, 2017

A strategic legal calculation to grab media headlines and Federal jurisdiction has possibly put Mark Hunt’s historic doping lawsuit against UFC in jeopardy.

Part of a court transcript quoted in Dana White’s motion to dismiss court filing against Mark Hunt reveals that the Federal judge involved in Hunt’s lawsuit versus UFC & Brock Lesnar is extremely skeptical about a mixture of both Federal and state (Nevada) causes of action filed. Outside of breach of contract and breach of implied covenant, the judge in question (nicely) is highly skeptical of the lawsuit filing by Team Hunt.

That doesn’t mean the judge will automatically toss out parts of the lawsuit filing. It’s possible parts could be removed and the judge gives Team Hunt a chance to amend the complaint. The big problem for Team Hunt is whether or not the judge tosses out the Federal RICO (racketeering) cause of action.

If the Federal RICO cause of action doesn’t survive, it means there’s no Federal jurisdiction for Team Hunt to sue UFC & Brock Lesnar. Which means the case, should it survive, would move to Nevada state court. The belief is that a state court would be a much more favorable venue to both UFC & Brock Lesnar. I’ve argued against this conventional wisdom.

Nevada, like Florida, is a state where old-school causes of action like unjust enrichment still exist. Concealment and fraud are also on the table. There are plenty of options in state court that make Team Hunt’s attempt to sue in Federal court an unforced error.

I still think Mark Hunt has a decent chance of getting a settlement or winning a court case against UFC. Discovery and deposition is going to be a pain in the ass for both UFC & Lesnar. It is in Lesnar’s best interest to settle this case as quickly as possible. The question is whether or not Team Hunt will be able to get one party to turn on the other.

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

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