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UFC will pay zero price for being Jon Jones’ biggest enabler

By Zach Arnold | January 13, 2015

When former NFL players sued the league over brain damage, it didn’t stop the public from watching games. Ratings remain robust for broadcast network television stations in America.

When former NFL players alleged team doctors handed out drugs without prescriptions, the Feds paid attention but the fans didn’t. And that scandal went nowhere.

So why should I think that UFC or the Nevada State Athletic Commission will pay any sort of price with the public for allowing Jon Jones to fight Daniel Cormier after testing positive for using cocaine recreationally? UFC doesn’t care because, hey, Jon Jones has some sort of constitutional right to fight. I’m unaware of what section the Constitution specifically states this, but plenty of people in the fight business have always believed there’s a God-given right to pummel and be-pummeled.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission, under Marc Ratner’s tenure, was brilliant at playing the political game. Ratner and his buddy, public relations mastermind Sig Rogich, were the best in the business. Keith Kizer was terrible at the political game. His fatal crime was loving to hear his voice too much. If you’re going to have someone in place who goes along to get along, you want someone quiet and unassuming like Bob Bennett to do the job. And the commission’s current public face, Francisco Aguilar, is Andre Agassi’s lawyer. Andre Agassi admitted in a book that he used crystal meth while actively playing on the ATP. Famous athletes have vices. Film at 11. It’s my opinion that Aguilar won’t throw the book at Jones.

As for that whole CIR (Carbon Isotope Ratio) testing issue with Jones, it’s going to go nowhere. Don’t hold your breath.

Does the general public have it right to be more concerned about possible testosterone/steroid usage than recreational cocaine usage?

Jon Jones allegedly spent one day in rehab. Now the ball is in UFC’s court. Tell me what price the UFC is going to exactly pay when they book Jones to fight again shortly after leaving rehab? There is no price to pay. From my perspective, the general public that buys UFC PPV does not care if Jon Jones uses cocaine recreationally. As long as he fights brilliantly, life goes on. To each his own.

Does the general public watching UFC fights consider recreational cocaine usage to be performance enhancing? Until that answer becomes a firm “yes,” I expect all of the hullabaloo from the last 10 days to quietly fade away. Jon Jones using cocaine recreationally isn’t going to stop fans from buying PPVs if he’s fighting Anderson Silva or Cain Velasquez.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 14 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Five questions after Jon Jones cements GSP-esque status in the UFC world

By Zach Arnold | January 5, 2015

Jon Jones beating Daniel Cormier wasn’t that large of a shock on Saturday night in Las Vegas. It may have been a surprise that he manages to humble Cormier in the wrestling department but Jon Jones has always had the physical tools to be as explosive of an athlete as any modern day MMA fighter we’ve seen.

I think his future in the UFC is incredibly fascinating. I came away from his fight on Saturday with as many questions as I did answers.

1. Is he going to fight Alexander Gustafsson in a re-match?

Jon Jones the competitor would love to prove that the first fight shouldn’t have been as close as it was. Jon Jones the business probably doesn’t see a giant upside in giving Gustafsson a second chance to derail his momentum into GSP-esque territory for winning.

I want to see the rematch. And I thought Gustafsson had a legitimate case to make for winning their first fight. He’s the one guy who appears to have some kryptonite in facing Jones in the LHW division.

2. Is Cain Velasquez the one remaining roadblock in Jon Jones’ UFC career as a fighter?

I don’t know if we’ll even see Jones fight Cain, as much as the Internet exploded in interest on Saturday night over the prospects of such a fight.

It may be a natural progression in matchmaking but Velasquez is a big, big man with a lot of power and no matter how much physical ability Jones has at LHW, he hasn’t faced anyone yet who is close to Velasquez in terms of raw power and MMA-style wrestling.

3. Has Jon Jones shattered his artificial glass ceiling in terms of fan interest?

The early returns from his fight with Daniel Cormier seem to indicate he’s managed to break through his own flaws in marketing and public relations. Love him or hate him, Jon Jones is a guy who is finally getting the recognition as the top tier athlete that he’s long deserved. The question is whether or not fan interest in Jones long-term is sustainable like it was for Georges St. Pierre. GSP attracted certain demos that Jones simply doesn’t appeal to, but there’s no question that a Jon Jones fight now is viewed by the masses as “an event.”

4. What would the value of Jon Jones be on the open market as a fighter?

We’ll never know this question. He’s going to remain under contract with the UFC probably for the rest of his career. If there was serious free agency in MMA, how much would he be making for a fight with someone like Cain Velasquez and HBO acting as the quasi-promoter?

5. What exactly is the fan interest & market value of promoting a fight between Jon Jones & Cain Velasquez?

I know we’re forgetting about that guy named Fabricio Werdum. It seems clear, however, that the interest level in seeing a JJ/Cain super-fight is growing and would prove to be far more interesting on a technical & athletic level than a super-fight between Anderson Silva & GSP. The door may not be officially closed on the two old war horses fighting each other but the appeal of such a super fight has lost some of its luster like Pacquiao/Mayweather has. Sure, it’ll do nice business, but the peak in fan interest has faded.

Jon Jones vs. Cain Velasquez as a major super fight looks & sounds fresh. The fans want to see it. It would be kind of an awkward fight in terms of promotion given how quiet & reserved Cain is while Jon Jones remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma in handling public relations.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 34 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Eight years later, the more things change the more they stay the same

By Zach Arnold | December 30, 2014

Christmas 2005. That was when Fight Opinion was created. Those were the days. Barely the notion of sports podcasting, let alone an MMA podcast. I was crazy enough to believe it could amount to something. I was lucky and fortunate to work with a man named Rob Sayers. Southern hospitality through and through.

The last decade has seen a million twists and turns but one thing has remained consistent — my opinion that no one will be able to make a consistent living in the MMA media remains truer than ever. Those who are doing their best to make a paycheck really have to hustle. It’s not easy and it’s not getting any easier, either.

Lots of names of the past remain as relevant (or irrelevant) today as they did a decade ago. Wanderlei Silva is in Japan for the Inoki NYE show at Ryogoku Kokugikan. His appearance long ago was billed as something of a guest spot as a commentator. In the last few days, that narrative has changed in the country’s press and now all the spotlight is whether or not Inoki will pay him what he wants to have a retirement fight in Japan. It will be interesting to see if UFC will seek an injunction in Vegas and then try to get it enforced in Tokyo.

Quinton Jackson is back with the UFC. Well, sort of. Probably not. Or maybe he is. The reality is that he has had legal issues big-time with Juanito Ibarra in Los Angeles Superior Court. I remember my previous reports on the matter and Rampage went through several lawyers. I don’t know what the current status of the case is but last I checked, it’s headed to trial. If Rampage hasn’t settled that case, there’s a fair shot that he could lose.

And now you throw into this legal mix the prospects of Bellator/Viacom potentially going after Rampage in a California state court, likely LA Superior, for declaratory & injunctive relief over his fight contract. Such a court battle would force Rampage (and UFC?) to come to the table for a settlement or else file a counterclaim arguing breach of contract. It is my personal opinion that UFC will be happy with whatever the outcome of the situation is. Time spent in the courts means Rampage not fighting in the Bellator cage. If Rampage can break free out of the contract, it’s another “name” guy for UFC to throw on TV or PPV to squeeze one last ratings or buy rate number out of. The idea that we’re talking about Rampage being a relevant Light Heavyweight player in 2015 is somewhat mystifying to me.

Then there’s the whole “everyone anticipates Brock Lesnar returning to UFC” ordeal. Combine this with the rumors of perhaps bringing in Alberto Del Rio/Dos Caras Jr. and what you have is UFC turning into a less fun yet just-as-bizarre version of PRIDE in a cage with lesser production values than their Japanese counterpart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m interested in watching the Jon Jones/Daniel Cormier fight, although the more Jon Jones talks in the press the less interested I am in investing any sort of emotion supporting or booing the guy. He is what he is. The Anderson Silva/Nick Diaz fight along with Chris Weidman/Vitor Belfort are fights that I’m interested in but I’m not sure how the fans will react in terms of picking which one they will pay to watch and which one they won’t. Something has to give here.

Since Fight Opinion started, I’m surprised at how many of the old names are still hanging around despite the vicious injury & drug cycle that has plagued the industry for so long. Here’s hoping 2015 turns out to be a much better year than 2014 for big fights and less cancellations.

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As for the future of the site? I hope there is a future and that it’s an active one. Truth be told, I’m trying to rebuild a lot of things in my life right now and am facing some big professional challenges. To make a long story short, we could really use your financial support right now to pay for the costs to operate Fight Opinion and to pay for the research & legal costs that we need to pay going forward.

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Here’s hoping for a Happy New Year in 2015.

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

The fishing expedition that could scare potential business clients away from UFC

By Zach Arnold | December 17, 2014

The long-rumored anti-trust lawsuit against UFC was officially filed in court on Tuesday. Specifically, in the Northern District of California federal court. The plaintiffs are Cung Le, Nate Quarry, and Jon Fitch.

For significant background information on the lawsuit, I would suggest you read the following: Dave Meltzer, MMA Junkie, Scott Harris, and Josh Gross. Josh’s article has the most interesting tidbits.

One of the law firms involved is Joseph Saveri’s. That’s the same law firm that recently went after Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe over allegations of poaching & hiring in the tech industry. The settlement figure was widely panned in the business press as underwhelming.

Continue reading this article here…

Topics: MMA, Media, PRIDE, UFC, Zach Arnold | 58 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Teddy Atlas calls California State Athletic Commission boxing judging ‘criminal’ on Thursday

By Zach Arnold | December 12, 2014

The more things change, the more things stay the same. The reputation of the California State Athletic Commission under Andy Foster has been cemented as a top MMA commission and in our opinion one of the worst, if not the worst, athletic commissions in America when it comes to boxing regulation. The cards approved by Sacramento are full of mismatches, especially for TV fights. Even worse is the quality of regulation at the fights, especially the quality of judging.

Before we get to Teddy Atlas’s comments about the Athletic Commission from last night’s ESPN2 telecast, it is important for me to give you a brief primer on what the political climate currently looks like in Sacramento for the AC.

The Athletic Commission currently is considered ’safe’ politically-speaking and that’s good news for Andy Foster given how powerful the Department of Consumer Affairs is. Awet Kidane has to be happy about the AC’s current financial situation, given that Governor Jerry Brown’s point-man John Carvelli is currently the $ watchdog on the commission board. The dental HMO boss from Newport Beach is a wheeler-and-dealer. His company uses Platinum Advisors LLC in Sacramento for lobbying. This is the same lobbying firm the UFC has successfully used for years in the state capitol.

What has sailed under the radar, politically-speaking, is the fact that Governor Jerry Brown appointed 33-year old Platinum Advisors lobbyist Melinda McClain to be the deputy director of legislative & policy affairs at Consumer Affairs. Check her profile out here.

While John Carvelli is the Governor’s watchdog over Andy Foster when it comes to Athletic Commission finances, veteran DCA lawyer Spencer Walker has firmly entrenched himself as the powerhouse legal broker for all AC affairs. Watching him do his thing at each AC meeting is quite a spectacle. He sits right near the center seat at all the meetings. Spencer is a smooth operator and, as we’ve stated before on Fight Opinion, has big aspirations. He is a dominant figure without having to say too many words.

With Carvelli overseeing $ and Spencer overseeing legal affairs, this leaves Martha Shen-Urquidez to basically be Andy Foster’s consigliere on affairs such as inspectors, doctors, and officials. Especially officials. She may be a lawyer, but I would love to see one of the grunts challenge her legal authority over a recent officials competency exam she created in closed sessions. She likes to be seen and definitely heard. Our viewpoint is that she has a lot less power than she thinks she possesses but as long as nobody calls her bluff…

On the surface, the picture of what the Athletic Commission’s future looks like is portrayed as rosy. Claims of $750,000 in the bank account of the AC. Even with drug testing costs exceeding current projections, fine money from fighters who have failed tests is going to help make up some of the deficit. The AC will be on pace to regulate 130 events. The UFC event this February at Staples Center with Ronda Rousey is doing a solid box office advance.

Everything on the surface looks great. That’s one way to look at the AC operations.

The other way to look at the current Athletic Commission operations is to actually focus on the regulation itself and the tenuous position that the AC is in. First and foremost, Consumer Affairs & CSAC is at the mercy of the Feds right now in regards to the Leland Yee show trial pending in San Francisco. If Yee and associates, who are accused by the Feds of trying to extort cash & resources from outfits like the Athletic Commission, do not play Let’s Make a Deal with the Feds then all hell could break loose regarding wire-taps and other evidence alleging Yee & company got their hooks into players who wanted to keep the Athletic Commission alive. I’m still convinced that Yee and company will cut deals but if they don’t, everything will go public and it would damage the image of an Athletic Commission that DCA has tried to rehabilitate.

And then there is the actual quality of regulation at events. Strip away the dollars and cents. Focus on the quality of inspectors and judges currently being used.

(For the record, I’m not talking about the referees in the ring booked for shows.)

Thursday night’s ESPN2 card from Pechanga was a lousy watch. Mismatches on the TV cards. Not as bad as say a typical Golden Boy event, but close. Just like Jermain Taylor gave Al Haymon a shoutout after his win in Mississippi, Austin Trout gave Al Haymon a shoutout for his squash match that proved absolutely nothing. Antonio Tarver, an out-of-shape heavyweight at age 46, had his own personal squash match.

However, the controversy de jour that stole the thunder on ESPN2 involved a fight between Canadian Tyson Cave and Colombian fighter Oscar Escandon. It was an awful, one-sided 12 round fight. Escandon really didn’t present much of a fight to Cave. It certainly came off as more of a club showcase fight than a competitive TV bout. The only argument heading to the scorecards after 12 rounds was how lopsided the win for Cave would be. He won, at the very least, 8 of the 12 rounds.

And then came the reading of the score cards. Raul Caiz Jr. scored the fight 117-111 in favor of Escandon. Tony Crebs scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Escandon. Max DeLuca, Andy Foster’s most-preferred boxing judge, scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Cave. At least DeLuca picked the right guy. Crebs gave Escandon 7 rounds and Caiz gave the guy 9 rounds.

Teddy Atlas ranted and raved but summarized his position in sober fashion. He’s been in boxing for 40 years and has seen countless screwjobs that he’s considered criminal in nature but where’s he going to go and what he can do about it? Nothing’s changed.

What Andy Foster must do next

Andy Foster is in a tough position here after Thursday’s troubling scoring of the ESPN2 TV fight. He could ignore the situation and let it pass, which is entirely possible but would also mean failing to capitalize on an opportunity to improve upon his image as a leader in the fight game.

He could administratively yank Crebs & Caiz Jr. off of future boxing shows, but that could create real & legitimate openings for legal challenges for administrative suspensions without due process. It would be a trap.

The correct move for Andy Foster in this situation is to summon all three judges (Crebs, Caiz Jr., and DeLuca) to the next Athletic Commission meeting and haul them in front of the commission board for a performance review. Allow the commission as a body to take action and to dish out discipline. Give the judges their due process and make them explain in public how and why they scored the fight the way they did.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, Media, Zach Arnold | 6 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC 181 perfectly displayed the company’s potentially bright yet complicated future

By Zach Arnold | December 6, 2014

The headline coming out of UFC 181 in Las Vegas was the signing of CM Punk by UFC.

“This is obviously gigantic news for a lot of people.” – Ariel Helwani

CM Punk credited Ariel Helwani with him getting a fight in the UFC. Punk stated that he had a meeting in Chicago with Dana & Lorenzo.

When pressed about the critics trashing the promotion for hiring a guy with no experience, Dana White agreed with the criticisms and said he is skeptical, too, but would be willing to give Punk a fight. He estimated that it could happen within the next six or seven months.

Immediately, several UFC fighters smelled blood in the water (and money) and challenged Punk to a fight.

First Question: If Bellator had signed CM Punk to a fight, would they be receiving the same amount of criticism as UFC is getting right now for the hire?

Second Question: Given CM Punk’s admitted history with concussions, should he be cleared to fight by a high-profile athletic commission?

And on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of talent & experience, there’s Anthony Pettis. The UFC is pushing him hard as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in MMA.

Pettis has the total package except for consistent health. He attracts a lot of female fans, which is very important right now for UFC. He has the potential super-fight with Jose Aldo. Really, everything you could ask for. Plus, Ben Askren is working alongside him.

As for the Welterweight division, Las Vegas judges really do not like Johny Hendricks. The Welterweight division has a bunch of really talented fighters who all possess different styles that will likely end up cannibalizing each other in fight after fight. Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler likely in Montreal. None of the guys in Welterweight have the star potential of Georges St. Pierre but they are all extremely respectable & diverse in skill and present some interesting match-ups on paper. I’m not sure if any of them will shatter the current glass ceiling for stardom but you never know.

Everything that took place at UFC 181 happened admist a back-drop where the company is basically greasing the skids, in my opinion, to make managers extinct with the new Reebok uniform/sponsorship deal. If signing with the UFC means they control your fight booking pay slots, have your rights/likenesses forever, and now control your sponsorship deals, why have an agent? Conversely, the company is exerting & maximizing business control during a time in which their (reported) estimated EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, etc) has gone down 40% this year.

Lucky for UFC, Bellator exists. In one respect, Bellator is a gnat in their face. In another respect, Bellator presents great cover whenever someone starts pushing against UFC for being a monopoly. The UFC has the best of all business controls right now. Everyone’s an independent contactor. They will control the sponsorships. They get to pump out merchandise for years to come with the images & likeness of past and present fighters. On one hand, UFC is facing some very difficult challenges. On the other hand, they are insulating themselves with more international TV deals.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 60 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

What you need to know about California & new Therapeutic Use Exemption proposal

By Zach Arnold | December 3, 2014

It turns out that Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons may get his wish regarding a new TUE policy in the state of California.

The California State Athletic Commission, controlled by the Department of Consumer Affairs, as far as I know/recall didn’t bother posting a direct link to an October 31st notice by OAL in Sacramento. This notice starts the clock on public comment for a 45 day period. The Athletic Commission, for unknown reasons, did not post a direct link to this notice on their web site. Here is the notice link.

There will be a hearing at Consumer Affairs in Sacramento on Monday, December 15th at 10 AM regarding the new proposed regulations to adopt Dr. Lemons’ new TUE policy. Currently, state law disallows any sort of TUEs for fighters. However, this proposal would officially change the rules on the books.

All public correspondence supporting or opposing this new measure must be sent within the next 10 days to the Athletic Commission’s front office.

Heather Jackson
2005 Evergreen Street, Suite 2010
Sacramento, California 95815
Phone: 916-263-2195
FAX: 916-263-2197

Without any sort of public opposition, the measure will be implemented. For those who want to see the actual text of this new proposed TUE policy, they have to contact the Athletic Commission ahead of the December 15th hearing.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, MMA, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Should California strip Elliott Seymour of his boxing license?

By Zach Arnold | November 28, 2014

Mickey Rourke, at age 62, had a boxing exhibition fight in Moscow on Friday against a California journeyman boxer named Elliott Seymour. The bout was stopped in round two. Seymour is only 29 years old. He’s also 1-9 as a professional.

Seymour came into the Rourke fight with four fights under his belt in 2014. All in California. All losses. Seymour’s last fight before the Rourke bout on Friday was only one month ago.

Our opinion: it’s time for Andy Foster and the Athletic Commission board to strip Elliott Seymour of his boxing license for health & safety reasons. Continuing to allow Seymour to fight, in our opinion, is dangerous and creates potential issues regarding liability. If he wants to re-apply for a new license in the future and can demonstrate proficiency in boxing skills, then let him go through the process.

In his four California fights in 2014, three different referees have officiated Seymour’s bouts: Jack Reiss, Jose Cobian, and Tom Taylor. Nine different judges have scored Seymour’s 2014 bouts: Max DeLuca, Michael Bell, Tony Crebs, Alejandro Rochin, Fritz Werner, Nelson Hamilton, Big John McCarthy, Fernando Villareal, and Raul Caiz Jr. In other words, there’s a whole lot of people who have worked California shows this year that Andy Foster can pick up the telephone and call to solicit opinions on whether or not Elliott Seymour should continue to be actively licensed to fight in states like California.

If other states want to grant Seymour a license to box, then that’s their choice and they will have to live with the ramifications. It’s our opinion that Andy Foster should take this opportunity to set an easy example that California has health & safety standards that need to be met by fighters in order to keep their licenses active. This is a matter that should be addressed in Sacramento sooner rather than later.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, Media, Zach Arnold | 15 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

The Feds may really get their show trial regarding allegations of extortion of California athletic commission

By Zach Arnold | November 27, 2014

One of the more complex, yet intriguingly fascinating stories of 2014 that we’ve been following in combat sports involve allegations made by the United States Government against California state senator Leland Yee. Yee, a powerful California Democrat, is accused of being affiliated with alleged Chinatown mobster Shrimp Boy. A multitude of charges from a multi-year investigation by the FBI produced criminal charges claiming extortion, gun-running, and other unsavory acts.

One of the allegations levied against Yee is based around claims of supposed extortion of individuals who wanted to keep the California State Athletic Commission alive in March of 2013. It was around this time period in which there was a sunset bill in the California Legislature to extend the life of the athletic commission for two years. Andy Foster had just gotten the job as Executive Officer in November of 2012. The Feds claim Yee extracted money and political support from multiple individuals in order to get his support to back the sunset bill.

Despite a few embarrassing episodes (like an undercover agent that supposedly may have gone rogue with cash), the Feds have largely gotten what they wanted so far in San Francisco court. Given the wide scope of charges the Feds have charged Yee & associates with, the judge in the case has split off the political corruption charges from the Feds monstrous criminal complaint. Translation: there could be a trial early next year relating to Yee, his associate Keith Jackson, and others regarding the Feds claims of bribery. This would theoretically include any charges the Feds filed against Yee in regards to the California State Athletic Commission.

It’s “Let’s Make a Deal” time for Yee and company. We know the track record of Federal prosecutions — over 90% success rate in getting convictions. History also largely tells us that deals will get cut in order to save face and to perhaps keep some records sealed permanently.

However, Leland Yee is a fighter. His defense team has chipped away aggressively at the credibility of the Feds in the case. Yee is no ordinary politician and certainly an extraordinary man in California politics. Under any other normal circumstances, Yee would cut the best deal possible and move on. However, the Feds have created enormous leverage here by throwing the kitchen sink against Yee in their criminal complaint. Yee may simply fight on because he’s cornered by the Feds. It’s entirely possible the Feds could drop the other charges against him if he waves the white flag here on the political corruption charges. It would be the predictable outcome. It’s a move most people would rationally expect.

If Yee and Jackson cut deals with the Feds, it’s hard to say how much evidence in the case will remain sealed by the judge. If it goes to a show trial, that is when all hell breaks loose and we could find out all sorts of information about what the Feds claim exactly happened with the Athletic Commission. It would be highly embarrassing if there were wire taps and other sorts of secret communication that revealed some very ugly secrets. It’s the last thing the Department of Consumer Affairs wants to deal with.

My expectations are low that we will really find out the full scope of what exactly happened. It’s all in the hands now of Leland Yee.

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

The view from 30,000 feet regarding the health of the Mixed Martial Arts industry

By Zach Arnold | November 25, 2014

I’ve been absent. Maybe you noticed. Friends (and enemies) did. Perhaps some of you didn’t. Good for you. Sometimes, real life beckons and you have to deal with issues outside of the MMA bubble. That’s where I’ve been the last 45 days.

While I’ve paid attention to everything that has happened in the industry and stayed (somewhat) in the loop, the recent absence has kind of forced me to step out of the information bubble and look at the MMA scene from a distance. What I see is not very encouraging for the sport’s long-term health unless dramatic changes are made by UFC.

The UFC may be making solid cash, but you don’t lose 40% of your EBITDA without some major problems. Cancellations & injuries helped dig the hole but there is a much larger issue at play here. The UFC has done its fighters and itself a major disservice with the brand-first approach. There are simply too many television & internet fights and too much of a “random guy A vs. random guy B” vibe. Nothing is special any longer. This vibe discounts all of the hard work & sacrifices made by so many who are chasing a dream that only the top 2% in the sport can attain. The pool of cash is shrinking unless you are a big name or made yourself into a big name outside of the sport (see: Brock Lesnar). I’m extremely concerned about this. The industry continues to rely too much on either casino cash or dark money and the pool of dark cash has evaporated in a hurry. Once PRIDE left the scene, so did a lot of the loose cash in the Asian fight scene. Morally and ethically, I support what police & politicians have tried to accomplish on this front. But the damage has been very real to combat sports, even deeper than I first thought.

Bellator’s success feels largely independent of UFC right now. It may last a few years and go away. It may last longer. I don’t think Bellator right now really is expanding the pie. What I do think Bellator’s November show in San Diego proved is that they can win over some disgruntled UFC fans and also bring in the casual MMA fans who simply haven’t kept up with the current scene. Any time some of the older fighters can continue getting pay days, that’s a good thing. As long as those fighters are still in good enough physical shape and are not in danger of permanently damaging their bodies, then there’s nothing wrong with veterans getting fights. At the same time, I will be interested to see if Bellator & Spike can get the star rub onto guys like Will Brooks and make them into household names. The UFC will undoubtedly poach Bellator’s top stars with higher frequency. Bellator will be able to survive as long as they are able to attract some big names and mix them onto cards with fights of importance and value.

The UFC, on the other hand, needs a complete reboot. From the production values to the matchmaking, there needs to be a dramatic overhaul and it needs to be done fast. 45 shows a year is putting so much pressure on the production staff that it simply does not allow the hard-working employees any time to breathe or gather their collective thoughts. It’s backbreaking work. Burt Watson and others get paid a respectable wage but it’s not nearly enough for all of the turmoil they have to manage & put up with. Dana White is skipping more and more shows. There’s this processed, antiseptic, automated feel right now for the UFC product that feels stale, old, and unimportant. Even the current 115-pound female version of The Ultimate Fighter on Fox Sports 1 is underwhelming in presentation.

In pro sports, you fire the GM and the coach when you need to shake up the scenery. There are also off-seasons where the athletes have a chance to catch their breathe and regroup. The UFC suffers from the worst of both worlds — ownership can’t remove itself from the scene, isn’t willing to make dramatic changes, and they have no desire (like WWE) to implement a seasonable format. Every time you compare a UFC event to a college football or pro-football or NBA game, it will always feel like a last-place sports product for importance.

UFC management has become the one thing they mocked a decade ago — conservative.

I enjoy Mixed Martial Arts. I have great respect for the athletes who have so much at risk in attempting to accomplish their professional & personal dreams. I also know that the industry’s long-term shelf life has some real question marks and I’m not sure the power brokers in Las Vegas fully understand the gravity of the current situation they are facing.

I’m not sure ESPN gets it either by hiring Chael Sonnen to be the face of their MMA coverage. You go from Josh Gross & Mike Fish exposing the industry’s testosterone plague to hiring the poster child of said plague and making that person the face of your MMA coverage.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Topics: Bellator, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 29 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

How many fights does the body of a UFC champion possess in 2014?

By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2014

Cain Velasquez out with a right knee injury, derailing the building of Ultimate Fighter in Mexico and the highly anticipated main event against Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City. In steps Mark Hunt. Werdum is putting his best motivation forward.

When Cain Velasquez fights, he is one of the most gifted giants we’ve ever seen. His determination to be the best has made him an incredibly gifted heavyweight. The problem is that, like Chris Weidman, he has the injury bug. The toughest champions in UFC also seem to absorb the most punishment to their bodies. In retrospect, it makes Georges St. Pierre’s decision to temporarily step away look smart.

The UFC has invested so much into promoting Cain Velasquez and for good reason. However, he has difficulty maintaining his health to frequently defend the championship. What do you do if you’re UFC? I don’t know.

Guys like Cain are once-in-a-generation type fighters. In MMA, generations usually last 7 years or so. How much longer will he be able to last as an upper echelon heavyweight? It’s the heavyweight division. The lifespan of a solid heavyweight lasts much longer than fighters in other weight classes. We’ll see more of the big man soon enough. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 55 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Fight Opinion Radio discussion: How can UFC be growing so much, yet face so much uncertainty?

By Zach Arnold | October 10, 2014

Some days, being an MMA fan feels like fighting a two-on-one handicap match.

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The current UFC business model is proving to be very unique. How can the UFC be experiencing record international business growth in markets like Mexico and yet face real uncertainty regarding their next television deal in Canada (!), an office closure in China, the release of Asian middleman Mark Fischer, and now the reported mass resignations from UFC’s Singapore office? With a Singaporean report claiming that UFC is only interested in sold show-type zero-risk deals to run in big Asian markets due to their supposed unwillingness to change their product & business practices to mesh with cultural concerns, what is UFC’s plan for growth in Pacific Rim markets outside of Australia?

The UFC is allegedly experiencing big time TV growth internationally and yet their PPV revenue has declined substantially. One minute, Dana White is claiming that Conor McGregor is bigger than Brock Lesnar or GSP and the next minute you have estimates of UFC 178 drawing 180,000-230,000 PPV buys. Additionally, none of the current UFC champions appears to be an all-time Top 10 UFC PPV box attraction.

Dana White is busy telling The Financial Times that UFC could be worth billions. The next minute, another publication claims they’re worth a billion. What is the UFC brand really worth without Lorenzo Fertitta or Dana White? If UFC’s growth is so explosive, then why do the people who have an interest in Zuffa’s debt seem concerned about the company’s future earnings?

If you’re a manager or agent, how do you navigate the negotiating waters now with UFC given that their PPV buys are declining? Do you have more leverage given the volatility of UFC’s current business situation or do you have less leverage given that UFC has said the hell with it, we’re going to proceed with a McDonaldification of four or fight cards a month with line-ups consisting of bouts where fans only know 25% of the fighters participating?

It’s one thing to experience international growth. It’s another thing to maintain that growth & to retain, let alone maximize, your gains.

With so many UFC events happening globally, expect more colossal mistakes like the botched HGH drug test of Cung Le to happen. The amount of stress on the employees involved in regulation & the production teams is enormous and things will slip through the cracks. When mistakes are made, UFC rarely admits or takes responsibility for their problems.

So, what’s next for UFC? What’s next for the fighters? What about the fans? Jeff Thaler & I discuss all of these angles on this week’s edition of Fight Opinion Radio.

Special thanks

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

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Topics: Fight Opinion Radio, Jeff Thaler, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold, podcasts | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Has UFC lost all credibility drug testing their own fighters for self-regulated shows?

By Zach Arnold | October 8, 2014

Is UFC’s HGH drug testing of Cung Le their ugly Roger Goodell moment?

Cung Le went into his Macau fight against Michael Bisping with a ripped physique. After he got Freddy Krueger’d by Bisping, UFC announced last week that Le had failed a post-fight HGH drug test. UFC initially suspended Le for nine months, then came back and stated that they made a mistake and the suspension would be a year-long ban.

Le’s camp argued that the Hong Kong lab UFC used wasn’t WADA-approved. The blood sample was collected after the fight. The IGF-1 test wasn’t used for HGH detection. The HK lab only kept the blood sample for one week. The WADA standard for keeping a blood testing sample is 10 years. There was no chance for appeal (the B sample) because the blood sample taken had allegedly been destroyed.

These are very specific allegations being made here. The claims should be easy for UFC to refute. Instead, UFC issued a no comment.

The blowback from defending Le’s protest was swift. On Twitter, Scott Carasik argued that the fighters signed contracts agreeing to let UFC handle the testing and that it is up to Le & other fighters to prove that UFC violated their own drug testing policy & protocols. In other words, UFC isn’t guilty of anything unless they contractually stated that their HGH testing had to be done at a WADA-approved lab. The counter-argument to that point is that UFC attempts to mirror various state athletic commissions and commissions like California and Nevada use WADA-accredited labs.

Whatever your opinion of the situation may be, it appears that UFC got caught with their pants down here. It is entirely reasonable for fans to believe what UFC is claiming regarding Le’s supposed HGH usage while at the same time recognizing that they screwed the pooch here on the process.

Smelling blood in the water and providing an appropriately aggressive defense, Cung Le’s camp is firing back again in the press. Previously, no appeals process was going to be granted by UFC. How can you have an appeal if the blood sample taken was allegedly destroyed?

Then came the U-turn today with ESPN reporting that UFC will allow Le to appeal his HGH test with a third-party arbitrator. The arbitration process will take place in America even though the testing happened overseas. UFC is now claiming that they will never use a non-WADA accredited lab again for blood testing. If you’re a fighter competing on a card where UFC is controlling the drug testing, how can you trust their protocols now? How can UFC stop the paranoia in which fighters & managers will be suspicious of drug testing results being used against their clients as a hardball financial negotiating tactic?

Gabriel Montoya published this damning article today at Bloody Elbow with comments from Don Catlin & Gary Ibarra (Le’s manager). Le’s camp claims that the drug testing results were not in English.

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

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