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Mark Davies: The truth about Zuffa’s business acumen

By Zach Arnold | July 27, 2008

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Written by Mark Davies of

The UFC is threatened in a way that it rarely has been. Affliction is a credible challenger, with discernible advantages in several areas. The deep-pocketed rival, and the mainstream attention it is getting, presents a challenge that even the late, lamented, PRIDE Fighting Championships never did. Affliction, Elite XC, the growing drawing power of a large number of individual stars and the press’ increasing awareness of non-UFC MMA, will test Zuffa’s management in a way that nothing ever has. The Fertittas and Dana White are certainly regarded as possessing the necessary skills to maintain their pre-eminence, but is that reputation warranted?

The UFC’s current valuation, often cited as anywhere between 200 million and 1 billion dollars, is generally regarded as conclusive proof that Zuffa’s tenure as owner has been an overwhelming success. It has been; but who deserves the credit, and specifically what do they deserve credit for?

Dana White is often lauded as the man that saved Mixed Martial Arts. He merits praise for having the foresight to realize that the SEG-owned UFC was grossly undervalued, and for pouncing on an opportunity, but what did he do beyond that? Would the UFC have prospered as much or more under different ownership? It’s hard to say. How much of the UFC’s current value was generated by savvy maneuvering as opposed to simply being in the right place at the right time? That’s our question of the day.

Extreme Championship Wrestling was an enormously influential pro-wrestling property that failed, in part, because it was extremely under-capitalized. The lack of assets led it to accept a subpar television deal, to lose valuable human resources, and to eventually fold. The visionary who built most of ECW’s value, and brand loyalty, was unable to make it profitable. The WWE swooped in, bought the trademarks and remaining assets, and turned the ECW name into something that generates huge profits. Is that because Vince McMahon was a superior businessman to Paul Heyman? Or is it because Vince McMahon had the capital to invest that Heyman did not?

Did Dana and the Fertittas profit primarily by their financial ability to wait out the anti-MMA zealots, whereas Bob Meyrowitz and SEG couldn’t? Let’s take a look at some turning points in the UFC’s history, and examine how they reflect on Zuffa’s legendary business sense.


The early UFCs were huge moneymakers. Production, salaries, and other costs were minimal and the shows generated a lot of revenue. People were paying for the idea of MMA, because there wasn’t much else there. In retrospect those early cards are an embarrassment, but they are also a testimony to the incredible value of the idea the UFC was built on. The enormous financial potential was readily apparent but so was the near mortal threat to SEG’s golden goose.

The constant problems with venue, protests and other anti-brutality forces quickly made it clear that the sport had to change. There were some, like the Gracies, who believed that the sport couldn’t, or shouldn’t, survive in a watered-down form. Others, like Dana White, saw regulation and organization as a way to protect everyone’s money and to enable the UFC to grow.

Was regulation really Zuffa’s brainchild? Is the “Zuffa Myth” that the company swooped in, cleaned up the sport, and secured athletic commission sanctions, actually true? Not really. Jeff Blatnick, the UFC commissioner under SEG, was aggressively pushing an agenda of safety and regulation. There is no question that Zuffa eventually got this done, but it isn’t as if it was Dana White’s stroke of genius. Its simply an example of Zuffa having the resources to finish something that most realized needed to be done and many were already working on.

The Ultimate Fighter

The reality juggernaut launched the UFC explosion. Whatever its effect on the quality of competition, the show brought millions of new fans to the sport. The show is a Zuffa creation. That seems to lead naturally to a conclusive answer to our lead question. It seems to… but it doesn’t. What is it that sets TUF apart from the host of other reality shows that were springing up at the same time?. Was it everyone living in the same house? No, every show had that. Was it the bickering? No, every show had that. What makes TUF more influential than Hard Knocks, the Association of Volleyball Professional’s reality show, or the WWE’s Tough Enough? Is it something about the production, structure, or pacing? No, in every sense TUF is a cookie cutter reality show. What makes it special is simply that the inevitable conflicts these shows are built around get settled with fists. In other words, the reason that TUF is a cultural landmark, whereas Hard Knocks and Tough Enough are somewhat successful, is that its about fighting. That means that Zuffa was simply doing what everybody else was doing. When the two skanky friends do porn, then the beautiful one does the same, is the third friend a business genius because more people want to see her do unspeakable things? This is another instance of Zuffa succeeding due to being in the right place, at the right time, and having the right resources.


There are two intermingled revenue streams essential to Mixed Martial Arts. The first are the casual fans. These are the most important because there are so many more of them. The second, a less valuable but more lucrative group head-for-head are the hardcore fans. These fans who knew who Jon Fitch was when he was curtain jerking on Ultimate Fight Nights. These fans buy 2-3 pay per views a month, follow the Japanese promotions, and purchase non-Affliction merchandise.

Zuffa purchased the WEC to secure the loyalty of these diehards. By signing fighters like Urijah Faber and Paulo Filho and putting on deep, exciting cards, Zuffa won the loyalty of many fans who previously viewed the UFC with distaste. Why are these few fans so valuable? Because they consume a lot of MMA and also influence the casual fans. No fan wants to be the one who asks, “Fedor? Isn’t he the Russian guy with the beard and the vampire mouthguard?” As the new fans learn more about the sport, they start to look to their more educated brethren for guidance. How long would the UFC have lasted as the pre-eminent force if the most educated fans continued to view them as second best.


The least profitable cards currently run by the UFC are based in Europe. These cards often interrupt momentum built domestically, because they are at odd hours. These cards also generate little pay per view revenue. In fact, they often generate none because they are shown on Spike. The UFC has taken over from Cage Rage as the number one promotion in the UK. Has the financial sacrifice been worth it? Are the inroads on the continent and in Ireland, enough to justify the outlay? On this point there is not
enough information to judge.

The PRIDE Purchase

Originally viewed as a coup, this is one area in which Zuffa seriously miscalculated. What did the UFC get out of the PRIDE purchase? A deeper roster and some big contracts. What PRIDE fighters have really made an impact in the UFC? Wanderlei Silva and Nogueira. That’s it. Shogun, Hendo, and Sokoudjou have been disappointments thus far. Are those five fighters worth the purchase price of PRIDE when you take into account the fact that they still have to be paid? No. The UFC gained almost no market share in Japan, and they have not run a show in the Land of the Rising Sun since the purchase. This was a blunder and its biggest value is that it kept other promoters from purchasing PRIDE and using its fighters to challenge Zuffa, a prospect that seemed much more likely at the time.

Letting Tito, Randy, Arlovski, and Sylvia Leave

The UFC’s biggest advantage is brand loyalty. Zuffa can count on 300,000 pay per view buys for any card they care to put on. There are stars that can add several hundred thousand to that number, but the UFC name provides the baseline. In the last year the UFC has lost three of its all-time biggest stars (Shamrock, Randy and Tito). The UFC also let two ex-heavyweight champions go. It was inevitable that at least one of the UFC’s big name stars would want to test what their name was worth, without the UFC’s backing, but can the UFC maintain their dominance if they keep losing top stars at this rate. Maybe for the first time in history the UFC doesn’t have anything close to a monopoly in U.S. drawing cards. Who is more valuable: Chuck Liddell, Rampage Jackson, Anderson Silva, Forrest Griffin and B.J. Penn or Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Kimbo Slice, Fedor Emelianenko, and Andre Arlovski? Probably the UFC guys, but not by much. Zuffa also has a large advantage in second tier stars, but is it enough for them to maintain their brand loyalty? Probably not.


The question of whether Zuffa has the executive ability to maintain market share may be unfair because it suggests that someone could. It is very possible that the UFC is destined to fade as a market leader simply because a promotion must eventually rely on its fighters. In the past, professionalism in production has set the UFC apart from Bodog or the WFA but others are catching up. There was no difference in fighter quality, production value, or anything else between last night’s Elite XC show and your average UFC pay per view.

There is a reason few fans know if Kelly Pavlik holds the IBF, WBC, WBO, or WBA title. In individual sports the stars are always the athletes and eventually the athletes start demanding a commensurate share of the revenues. The UFC has bucked that trend for a
long time but can it continue to do so? Intelligent, experienced, deep-pocketed sports businessmen are starting to enter the arena. Can Zuffa continue to rule when their product is virtually identical to that being put on by Affliction and Elite XC? To the extent it may be possible, it would take a businessman, or men, of transcendant ability and intuition. That may be the Fertittas and Dana White but nothing in the above examples would make them a good bet to achieve this near-impossible goal.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC | 50 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

50 Responses to “Mark Davies: The truth about Zuffa’s business acumen”

  1. b.w. says:

    mark. of course it takes alot of resources and a bit of luck to pull off what dana and the fertittas did with zuffa. it also took alot of hard work and business savy as well. you forgot to mention that zuffa paid 10 million of its own money to produce the 1rst season of tuf, now they are being paid millions by spike for the rights to televise tuf. if all it takes is alot of money and being at the right place, then why didnt billionaire calvin ayre suceed with bodog. he came out about the same time mma was getting hot, and he failed miserably. mma reported that the ifl started off with over 800 million to begin with from different investors and they failed miserably as well. i think your selling dana white and the fertittas a little too short. if tuf is such a cookie cutter show, why doesnt any other organization try it. the ufc is so succsesful is because dana is a real mma fan and actually cares about the sport and its fighters. i cant say the same about ayre,mark cuban,gary shaw, ed fishman,donald trump, or even tom antencio. these guys only care about making a quick buck and trying to piggyback off the ufc’s success. just wait until the smoke clears in about a year and then we’ll see whos on top and who’s still even around. i guarantee the ufc will be. and even if affliction and pro elite fail, another mogul (richard branson perhaps?) will come along and try to do the same thing and you will be writing about how great they are and how lucky the ufc is that they bought out affliction and elite when the price was bargain basement and they were just at the right place at the right time. give me a break!

  2. cyph says:

    Is the author claiming that Zuffa’s success was due mostly to luck rather than actual business acumen? I beg to differ. This article would have been much better had the author given a fair and balanced view rather than a drive-by shoot down of Zuffa.

    Regulation: The original owner may have started the road to regulation, however, the UFC have finished it. To give whole credit to Zuffa may be wrong, but to discount their efforts is even more wrong. How many states haveregulated MMA since Zuffa bought the UFC? The Ferttitas had the connections, the money, and the power to push regulation through. To think the original owner may have the clout to have accomplished it had they have more money is foolish. Do you think the original owners could have pulled in Ratner with his many connections and powerful friends to accomplish what Zuffa has in the last few years?

    The Ulimate Fighter: Business is always about being at the right time at the right place with the right resources. Do you think Bill Gates would’ve built the conglomerate he had if he started out today instead of in the late 1970’s? However, being in the right place at the right time does not necessitate success. He made the business decisions that bought MS DOS for 50k and the deal with IBM. Likewise, Zuffa had to make the decision to bankroll the Ultimate Fighter and face a loss of both capital. Additionally, they also mad the decision to throw more money in after the loss of 40 million since they bought the company. To think that anyone who bought the UFC would’ve been a success today is ridiculous. I would suggest that had any other group bought the UFC, there would be no MMA as it is today. Zuffa made the decision to push an unproven commodity like the Ultimate Fighter with an unproven cable channel Spike after hemorraging an enormous amount of money. That is to be lauded not ridiculed.

    WEC: I fail to see the author’s point on this. Zuffa bought the WEC to placate the die hards? That does not compute. The UFC could have very easily brought in those fighters to the UFC. The reason Zuffa bought the WEC is because they have another organization to grow without being obligated to the exclusivity of Spike. Furthermore, it also establish fighters in a weight class that the UFC has shunned previously.

    Europe: Europe is in the embryonic stages of MMA growth. When a product is in its early stages, it almost always loses money. If market entry is only engaged when profitability is ensured, then there would be no business ventures whatsoever. The UFC may lose money now, but once it has established a beach head in Europe, its competitiors will face a much more ardous path to profitability. Lets not miss the forest for the trees. Growth is planned in 5 year increments. The author views Europe’s expansion in terms of domestic growth which makes no sense at all.

    Pride: This is a blunder in the business sense for sure. I agree for once. However, can one quantify the blunder in terms of opportunity cost when Pride was at that time the “better” organization in the hardcore’s mind? The aura of Pride had everyone fooled, even Dana White.

    Letting Tito, Randy, Arlovski, and Sylvia leave: Tito is damaged goods who has lost against the elite fighters. Randy didn’t want to continue his contract which he signed. In light of what Sylvia and Arlovski are getting paid which very well killed any of Affliction’s chance of profitability in the near future, how can the author argued that it is a mistake to let these fighters go? Should the UFC hold on to tarnished fighters even in the light of crazy salary increases? The fact that Zuffa allowed these fighters go speak positively of their business acument not negatively. After seeing the ticket sales and PPV numbers being put out by Affliction, the author states that the value of these fighters versus the UFC is “not by much.” I believe 250k-500k buys versus 50-80k buys is a huge difference, even before comparing the huge discrepencies in salary.

    “There was no difference in fighter quality, production value, or anything else between last night’s Elite XC show and your average UFC pay per view.” That sums up the essay in one line. I was very impressed with the production value last night. However, to say that the EliteXC was comparable to a UFC pay per view makes me want to ask the author this: “What have you been smoking?”

  3. b.w. says:

    #2. he’s been smoking anti-ufc weed, thats what!

  4. samscaff says:

    In my opinion, UFC deserves all the credit for making MMA mainstream by putting on the Ultimate Fighter show. I believe that is a fact.

    However, as always, it is the athletes that make the sport and without them were would be no UFC. Dana White gives himself way too much credit in that regard.

    If the point of this article is that the UFC is, at this moment, threatened by another promotion in the US than it has ever been, then I agree 100%. I dont think that could possibly be in question. One competitor is on live Network TV (while UFC isn’t) and another has 50% of the talent in the marquis division of any combat sport (Heavyweight).

    I’m not going to go so far as to say that either promotion (EliteXC and affliction) is better than the UFC. But together do they pose a significant threat to the UFC. Yes.

  5. samscaff says:

    Also, who said that Affliction only got 50-80K PPV buys? Is that documented?

    Does anyone doubt that Fedor vs. Arlovski (backed by a great card, maybe including Tito Ortiz) will sell out the Thomas and Mack, and do decent numbers on PPV??

    As long as Affliction stops paying guys live Tim Sylvia $800000, they might be able to turn a profit.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Affliction must show that the can produce more than 3 shows before give them any sort of credibility.

  7. The Gaijin says:

    …this guy’s like the mirror universe version of 45 Huddle. He makes some valid points, but by and large he’s making quite a few stretches here and avoiding a fair and balanced look at the issues.

    And Elite XC’s show last night and the average UFC PPV are no different? C’mon man…while it was a vast improvement and movement in the right direction for EXC, that’s just so far off base it’s not even funny.

  8. The Gaijin says:

    @ sam – even if the Affliction PPV garnered 100-125k ppv buys (overly optimistic in my opinion), they’re still pretty far off the baseline for UFC ppvs (~300k), which is cyph’s point. And then you have to consider the wild difference in payrolls and you start seeing a lot of holes in the author’s argument on that point.

  9. Kev says:

    The TUF analysis is way off the mark. The fights themselves was the draw. Fights backed by personal feuds only happened around once a season. And since when was the last time people needed a background story to watch a street fight?

    And re: the Zuffa Myth, it may be a lie to perpetrate it, but how the hell are you going to debate that wasn’t good business to do so?

    The rest of the article, other than the PRIDE foul-up, is either presumptuous or just bad analysis. You don’t have an understanding about the power of branding, that’s for sure.

  10. The Citizen says:

    Ha ha! A fine article and a topic that was precisely on my mind this weekend.

    Finally, we have some competition, which will lead to magnificent fights — as we have already seen.

    Now that the promotional presentation model for American audience has been created — mostly by the UFC — others can come along and do the same thing, if not IMPROVE on what has been established, which is make their own fight card seem just as good or bad as any event in the world.

    Now it is really the fighters that must fight and therefore became super-stars.

    As far as this author being on any sort of medication, I can assure those that post here that Mr. Arnold has been many years working his crystal ball in the international sense, and truth be told, this American market is a funny paper to the manga of Japan.

    As you may know, Fight Opinion covers the globe. A great discussion to continue for the second half of the most MMA anyone can watch in one year!

  11. neijia says:

    Affliction should merge with EliteXC and Strikeforce to combine their current strengths in one promotion:
    – heavyweights
    – existing network tv deal, kimbo, carano
    – le, overeem,
    I don’t know who has capital to do the acquisition but each promotion currently has only some of the strengths needed to compete effectively imho.

  12. samscaff says:

    I think it is very hard to argue that Zuffa has done anything wrong, per se. They have helped dramatically increase MMA’s popularity in America and made a few (million) bucks.

    Its hard to question the acumen of anyone who makes a lucrative business in the fight game. The fight game is notoriously treacherous and ruthless, chewing up and spitting out MANY an otherwise successful businessman over the past century.

    That being said, I think there are many aspects of the UFC that could be improved, that would help both the image and enjoyability of the sport, as well as the profitability. But then again, what do I know, I’m not Dana White.

  13. b.w. says:

    neijia. i concur. thats their only hope of succeeding imo. if they had the national tv exposure and ppv power combined, they might become a formidable challenger. it’s just splitting up the money time is when the trouble might happen.

  14. Brandt says:

    I didn’t have enough time to read all of the comments, but I do see references to TUF. Who was behind the start of The Ultimate Fighter reality show…Dana White certainly wasn’t.

  15. […] acumen" Interesting article (too long to quote the whole thing). Here’s one man’s take…Mark Davies: The truth about Zuffa’s business acumen | – Your Global Connection to … […]

  16. Ivan Trembow says:

    The article makes some good points, but leaves out some others. First, the primary reason for the purchase of the WEC was because Versus wanted into the live MMA game and was on the verge of signing a deal with the IFL, which would have helped the IFL in much the same way that it has helped the WEC (ie, it wouldn’t be challenging for #1 promotion, but it would have gotten some long-term viability). Zuffa couldn’t put the UFC on Versus in addition to Spike because of the basic cable exclusivity of the Spike deal, so it was necessary to buy a smaller promotion and put it on Versus in order to prevent the Versus-IFL deal from happening.

    The other point is that as far as TUF goes, not only is it standard fare for a reality show (let’s get everyone drunk in a house and film it!), but just the concept of aspiring MMA fighters competing on a reality show was not Zuffa’s idea. In fact, Dana White said in multiple interviews at the time that it was Spike’s idea, that he was pissed off when he found out that they would be doing a reality show (a video interview in which he says that is still on YouTube somewhere), and that his idea was to basically have the equivalent of UFC Fight Night as a weekly series (which will actually be happening in 2010).

  17. big boi says:

    I really wanted to stop after “Affliction is a credible challenger”. There is absolutely no basis for that statement, and the article beginning with that premise goes downhill from there.

    I want to comment on a few other statements:

    1. “He merits praise for having the foresight to realize that the SEG-owned UFC was grossly undervalued, and for pouncing on an opportunity, but what did he do beyond that?”

    Grossly undervalued? The UFC was a money pit with no prospects. It had little value at all.

    2. “Zuffa purchased the WEC to secure the loyalty of these diehards”

    Absolutely false. The reality of the MMA business, unlike what most forum posters will say, has shown time and time again that diehards matter very little in the grand $cheme of things. Zuffa purchased the WEC so that they could grab another television contract without violating their deal with Spike. Because, as they knew, if they didn’t grab it someone else would.

    3. “This is another instance of Zuffa succeeding due to being in the right place, at the right time, and having the right resources.”

    In business, success is achieved by working to put yourself in the position to take advantage of opportunities. It is not to be dismissed as luck or whatnot. It is what you spend 20 hours days, holidays, weeks away from your children to do. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right resources is ridiculously hard work.

    4. “What did the UFC get out of the PRIDE purchase?” My hunch is that when the UFC has an on-demand channel like ‘WWE 24/7’, people will understand. WEC footage, UFC footage, WFA footage, Pride footage, and now, reportedly, IFL footage. You can monetize that.

    5. “Zuffa also has a large advantage in second tier stars, but is it enough for them to maintain their brand loyalty? Probably not.”

    Ludicrous, and the type of thinking that helped kill the WCW. You maintain loyalty by creating new stars, something the UFC has been very, very good at the last several years. Shamrock is done, Tito is near done, and Randy will be done soon. You don’t continue to succeed by holding on to the past. In addition, the UFC vs. non-UFC draw comparison you mention is way, way off.

    6. “There was no difference in fighter quality, production value, or anything else between last night’s Elite XC show and your average UFC pay per view.”

    This is really too silly to comment on.

  18. 45 Huddle says:

    Until a company can make a profit over the long haul on the national market, Zuffa is still the only show in town.

  19. cyph says:


    Your version of the story doesn’t jive with what I’ve heard. How could the Ultimate Fighter be Spike’s idea when Zuffa bank rolled it? Do you have any links where Dana stated that?

    From everything I’ve read, it was the Fertittas’s idea. It makes sense, considering that Zuffa paid for the production and not Spike.

    I believe you are perpetuating another myth about the Ultimate Fighter. CNN reported in 2006 that it was the Fertittas and their $10 million that got the show going. Unless you have anything to contradict this, then I suggest you stop pushing your version of history out. Spike benefited from the Fertittas risk, not the other way around. Had the show become a dismal failure, Spike would not have lost a cent.

    It takes cajones to throw $10 down after the other $40 mil losing endeavor. To not give them credit for the success of the Ultimate Fighter and the UFC just shows that many people here are trying to rewrite history as they see fit.

  20. Jeremy says:


    While nobody knows exactly what Affliction did, Dave Meltzer is reporting that the initial estimates puts it in the 50-75k range.

    The article has some good points, but it is pretty clear the nature of the writer’s bias.

    The UFC was hardly undervalued at the time of the purchase. Even after being bought, it was years and millions before the shows made any money.

    Zuffa got lucky with TUF, and it was indeed Spike that wanted a reality show. Of course we don’t know who came up with the actual concept, so Dana and co may have been the creators of the show, but they would have only done so because that is what Spike asked for.

    So while fate played a part in the UFC’s success, credit must also be given to Dana and co for the blood, sweat and tears they have put into the company.

    Regarding U.K. shows, Zuffa should have put ALL of the U.K. shows on Spike. While they make less money, those shows have drawn good audiences and thus increase both the company’s, and the fighters, exposure.

    As far as Affliction being ready to challenge the UFC, even they have admitted that the upcoming shows need to make money for Affliction to contimue to run MMA shows. They have also made comments that suggest that they will be scaling back on the amount of money they will spend.

    EliteXC: Looking at the ratings for the second CBS show, it is clear that Elite still has some ways to go before they are a major force.

    Elite is still in the hole tens of millions and have a limited roster.

    When Pro-Elite releases the 10-Q for the second quarter (the quarter with the first CBS show), it will show they are still consistantly losing money.

    If Kimbo and Gina bring back the casual viewer for the third show, it will be good, but still shows a very major problem: The first show did not make Lawler and Smith even minor stars. They had the fight of the night, but that was not enough to bring folks back for this show.

    Elite needs to develop some stars that will put fans in front of the television. They can’t rely solely on Gina and Kimbo.

    Regarding the WEC: Ivan already pointed out that the writer is completely off base on his statements regarding the WEC. Even after buying it, there are still online folk that will attack everything about the UFC.

    What has helped the UFC? Making new stars out of GSP, Hughes, Forrest, Rampage and others. I think Anderson Silva is one more big fight away from getting there. The UFN had 4.8 million watching him and that should have helped his standing with casual fans.

    Regarding Pride: It would not have mattered who bought the company, since the contracts would not have transfered. Since we have no idea just how much was spent, we don’t know how badly Zuffa got screwed.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this article should have been called My opinion about Zuffa’s business acumen since it is clearly an opinion, and also clearly based on some biased and, in some cases, incorrect info.

    Zuffa has done some things well, and screwed up other things. Clearly the good have outweighed the bad. And as long as that continues to be the case, they desire credit.

  21. jose bastillo says:

    OK, so the whole point of this piece is that Dana and company just happened to be in the right place at the right time with all the resources and knowledge and were just lucky enough to pull it off… time after time they were just in the right place, again and again. With the resources and knowledge, lucky again and again.

    Isn’t that what everyone, who were working on the same ideas, wishing they had? I don’t see the problem here. Zuffa had the knowledge, and they had the money, and got it done each step of the way. So why shouldn’t they be acknowledged for it?

    Why should we always replay this story? Are you hoping it will have a different ending where Zuffa is merely a bunch of lucky guys merely stumbling into success time after time?

  22. The Gaijin says:

    It’s pretty common knowledge that Dana White was totally against the idea of an “next big mma star reality show”.

    His ORIGINAL idea was actually a reality show/documentary about himself. It was to chronicle his day-to-day business affairs and work as a promoter of ultimate fighting – it was going to something along the lines of that one reality series that followed the two brothers who were trying to make it big reviving an older casino (cannot recall the name). Spike balked at the idea so they presented an ultimate fight nights concept and then the idea for TUF was tabled by Spike.

    Fact of the matter is UFC wanted to have a show on Spike to promote the UFC and not being a bankable commodity at the time they were forced to pony up the production costs to make the show in order to be given the timeslot. This isn’t some radical way of doing things in the tv business.

  23. PizzaChef says:

    Woah wait? ECW? Vince may have bought ECW’s assets but he put out a bastardized version of ECW that gets poor TV ratings (even by Sci-Fi’s standards), has nothing to do with the original ECW, alienated a core audience, and doesn’t make as much money as you stated. Infact, in the future WWE is going to kill off the ECW brand and merge it into RAW or Smackdown.

  24. cyph says:

    Please show a link that states this “common knowledge,” because it’s not, at least to me. Without a source, it’s all hearsay.

    In any case, Zuffa as an entity is run by the Fertittas as well as Dana White. I highly doubt that all the genius moves were made solely by Dana White alone.

  25. The Gaijin says:

    All else being equal – to question the business acumen and savvy of the Fertitta’s is borderline ridiculous. They built a multi-billion dollar casino empire in a niche that no one thought to exploit in the way they did. They’ve done the same thing with the UFC and have proven to be both aggressive and intelligent in their business ventures.

    If you can build an empire the way they have and see the ambitious plans they have for the future, you soon realize these guys are simply not people who are successful because they “get lucky”.

  26. The Gaijin says:

    Go back into Zach’s archives – there’s several articles that are right on this point on this very site. I’ve read pieces on other sites with the same information.

    I’ll try to find some time to hunt it up though, but I’m positive I’ve read them here before.

  27. The Gaijin says:

    The casino show was called American Casino and White wanted a show called American Promoter, iirc.

    I’ll post a link when I find it.

  28. cyph says:

    I have a feeling you’re reading Ivan’s misplaced history for he has often repeated this notion many times on Fight Opinion before.

    If we put this notion through careful analysis, we’d find that it is very implausible.

    For one, I’ve never found evidence to support this. I’ve heard that Dana White hated the idea when the Fertittas approached him about it. However, he relented. Which jives with everything that has been written.

    It doesn’t make sense for Spike to approach the Fertittas with the idea of a reality show, and then not even be coproducer of the show. Furthermore, the TUF “idea” which would belong to Spike if that was the case, could not be shopped around to other networks by Zuffa. That would be impossible because because Zuffa would not have owned this intellectual property. Zuffa did not want to produce the show at all because that was too risky. However, the only way Spike would agree to put the show on was on the condition that Zuffa pay for and produce the show, owning all content in the process.

    It worked out well for Zuffa in the end. But hindsight is 20/20. At the beginning, TUF was an extremely risky proposal.

  29. The Gaijin says:


    Ya know what? I’m going to have to retract my previous common knowledge statement. I’ve found the one link here and there’s several other links to other sites with the same information and source – Ivan Trembow.

    I just remembered that I had read it several places a while back and didn’t realize it was all from the same person. I’m not saying Ivan isn’t a credible individual or source, but I can hardly claim it’s common knowledge when it’s coming from only one person to various outlets.

    Here’s the link:

    And it provides another link to an interview where Dana says he didn’t actually like the “TUF” idea initially. (*I didn’t watch it myself – slow connection at the cottage)

  30. The Gaijin says:

    I think we’re on the same page now bro.

    And I completely agree with your final paragraph @ 27. As I said before, to say these guys aren’t savvy businessmen or successful risktakers is not a very intelligent statement.

  31. Jeremy says:

    While I don’t know exactly what occured, could it be that the brothers made the decision to run a reality show and Dana had no say in it?

    None of us know exactly what occured, but this would jive with everything that has been said.

  32. “samscaff Says:

    Also, who said that Affliction only got 50-80K PPV buys? Is that documented?”

    The source is one of the industry’s most reliable journalists for MMA & Pro Wrestling, Dave Meltzer. In Meltzer’s addition of “The Wrestling Observer” newsletter, he states that independent sources are predicting 50,000 to 85,000 buys for “Banned”.

    In the past, Dave Meltzer is usually very accurate when reporting ppv numbers. For example, Meltzer refuted that PRIDE once claimed they did 150,000 buys for their US debut back in 2006; when the number was actually 40,000.

    Overall, this looks like history repeating itself, so there could be a lot of posturing going on from Affliction.

  33. b.w. says:

    #14 brandt. why does it matter to you wether it was dana’s or the fertittas idea for tuf. they’re all zuffa. next time you might want to read all the comments before making your own. obviously you have an opinion on the matter, an mmaopinion, so why not share it.

  34. Ivan Trembow says:

    One of several interviews in which Dana White expresses how surprised and “pissed off” he was when he found out that the UFC was doing a reality show:

  35. samscaff says:

    “The Gadget Link Says:

    In Meltzer’s addition of “The Wrestling Observer” newsletter, he states that independent sources are predicting 50,000 to 85,000 buys for “Banned”.”

    Um, that sounds like a pre-event prediction. Doesnt mean shit.

  36. Jeremy says:


    During this last week, Meltzer reported that the initial reports he was hearing was between 50-75k.

    This was after the fact.

  37. Mike says:

    No offense, but what are this guy’s credentials to write a credible column on the business of MMA? None that I can see.

  38. The Gaijin says:

    Are you talking about Meltzer or Davies? I’m assuming Davies, because I don’t think Meltzer needs much introduction as a credible journalist with excellent knowledge and inside connections to both pro wrestling and MMA here and abroad.

  39. Ivan – Are you able to get/find any of those articles with White’s quotes about Spike coming up with the idea for a reality show? I’m not calling you or anything, I’m just interested in the story. The idea that it was Spike TV’s idea to create the reality show and then habe the UFC pay the $10 million in production costs is kind of odd, but anything can happen.

  40. Michaelthebox says:

    This article sucks.

    “How long would the UFC have lasted as the pre-eminent force if the most educated fans continued to view them as second best.”

    Pretty much all that needs to be pointed out in regards to the author’s flawed view of the MMA promotional game.

  41. Ivan Trembow says:

    Hi John, that YouTube interview includes the quote “when I found out we were doing a reality show,” which generally indicates that he didn’t come up with the idea to do a reality show. Beyond that, I can remember interviews on MMAWeekly in which the statement was made that Dana White wanted to do a weekly live event series (in the vein of the old USA Network Tuesday Night Fights series), but Spike wanted to do an MMA reality show (this was after The Contender was already on NBC), and the feeling from Zuffa’s side was that they agreed to do the reality show even though they didn’t like it, simply because it was so important to get a TV deal of some kind to get their proverbial foot in the door.

    As it turns out, they’re going to get to realize the “weekly live event series” concept in 2010 when that series launches.

    They also have at least one new reality show on the way that will be another “MMA version” of the prototypical reality show formula… filming the home lives and professional lives of celebrities. But on this show, instead of it being an actor or musician, it will be Matt Hughes. No idea when that one is launching, though; I’m not even sure if it’s past the pilot stage at this point.

  42. Grape Knee High says:

    I think the article would have sounded a lot more credible without all the half-baked ideas, non-sourced conjecture and outright fallacies.

  43. cyph says:

    Stop rewriting history, Ivan.

    That interview shows that it wasn’t Dana’s idea and it was the Fertitta’s. How you go from that to a jump in conclusion that TUF was Spike’s idea is amazing. You have always been one of biggest anti-UFC voice on here. Your hate of the UFC is clouding some of your judgement.

    Dana also hated the idea of moving the promotion to LA and other parts of the country. We all know who runs Zuffa behind the scenes, and only now it’s official that one of brothers will run Zuffa, business wise.

    Dana != Zuffa.

  44. Grape Knee High says:

    What we really need is a Point/Counterpoint debate between 45 and Ivan. It would be hilarious and brilliant all at the same time. Zach, make it happen!

  45. Ivan Trembow says:

    This is the last post that I’m making in this thread, as it has grown tiresome and repetitive. First off, I don’t hate the UFC. If I hated everyone that I criticized, then by that logic I would also hate the IFL, EliteXC, and most everyone else associated with the sport. Second of all, I’m not going to get into a long, drawn-out pissing match where I say “Please believe me!” and you say, “No, I still don’t believe you!” If you don’t want to believe what I’m telling you, then by all means don’t. That’s your business.

  46. zack says:

    “What we really need is a Point/Counterpoint debate between 45 and Ivan. It would be hilarious and brilliant all at the same time. Zach, make it happen!”

    They can just cuddle and talk about how much they hate Gary Shaw and Kimbo.

  47. The Gadget Link says:

    “samscaff Says: Um, that sounds like a pre-event prediction. Doesnt mean shit.”

    Meltzer’s estimation was made AFTER the event. Given a choice between Meltzer’s PPV numbers or Atencio’s PPV numbers, Meltzer would be an obvious choice due to his credibility within MMA & Pro Wrestling circles. Meltzer’s PPV numbers have been pretty accurate in the past.

  48. Peter H. says:

    A lot of the success of the UFC was due to good business moves, mostly The Ultimate Fighter, but also to the fact that they were really the only game in town. MMA in America has been branded as “Ultimate Fighting” for a reason.

  49. Here’s an example of how the UFC could care less about their fighters. Remember a while back when Xyience announced a brand new contract with the UFC? Next thing you know Harley Davidson replaces them in the middle of the mat. Now, at the time the contract was signed the Fertitta Brothers had a huge ownership interest in Xyience. Also at that time Xyience owed a few hundred thousand to a bunch of its sponsored fighters. But, rather than pay those fighters with Fertitta money, the Fertitta-controlled Xyience paid their own organization sponsorship. There’s more here:


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