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Two big weekend takeaways: Point fighting in the UFC & Bellator’s lifeline to Spike

By Zach Arnold | October 4, 2011

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1. Why is there growing disillusionment amongst fans who see a lot of UFC champions as ‘point fighters’ first?

MMA is a sport and a business where fans can be very emotional and impulsive in the opinions they make about fighters. Praise can be fleeting while negative reputations often remain painfully ingrained. One of the worst insults a fan can level against a fighter is labeling them as a ‘point fighter.’ Dominick Cruz is finding that out right now.

It was unfortunate that he and Demetrious Johnson found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being on Versus without any sort of TV advertising to help promote their fight. They also competed against some major sporting events (MLB playoffs, big football games) and so the deck was stacked against them.

Nonetheless, they put on a classic 5-round fight that I and others online thoroughly enjoyed. The problem? A lot of MMA fans, as compared to other UFC events, were not online and the reaction from those types of fans when they resurfaced online on Monday was one of bitterness against “Dominick the Decisioner’ as opposed to the hyper-competitive fast-paced chess match we saw on Saturday night.

It reminded me of what Rampage Jackson said to Bas Rutten a couple of weeks ago in his HDNet interview where he brought up a Japanese interviewer saying that the UFC version of Rampage is totally different than the PRIDE version. The message? The PRIDE version of Rampage didn’t care about wins or losses but rather fighting, smart or dumb, with hyper aggression and pure heart and a killer instinct. Is it an over-romanticization of Rampage’s career? Yeah, it is.

However, there is plenty of sentiment amongst hardcore MMA fans that UFC is a passionless, cookie-cutter, corporately watered-down MMA product compared to what PRIDE and other MMA organizations were/are like. You’ll never eliminate that viewpoint amongst a healthy sector of fans. That’s just how it goes.

I bring that up as context in regards to what we’re seeing now with UFC champions like Dominick Cruz, Frankie Edgar, and Georges St. Pierre. Even though Dominick did nearly finish off Demetrious during their D.C. fight (how DJ got out of that predicament I’ll never know) and St. Pierre nearly finished off Dan Hardy, there’s still a visceral and emotional reaction amongst hardcores that guys who become champions in MMA suddenly succumb to pressure of winning-first and heart-second.

It’s a very fine line. For instance, hardcore fans online voice support for those who give it their all but they don’t want you to be too stupid while featuring his trait (like Pat Barry did when he got caught with the triangle by Stefan Struve). And, yet, when Frankie Edgar outworks BJ Penn and goes the distance or makes a furious comeback against Gray Maynard, the reaction generally goes something like this:

“Great fight, but… (insert criticism here).”

While a superstar like St. Pierre, who has his own mega-fan base can withstand this criticism to a certain degree, fighters who haven’t made enough of a impression early on (like a Frankie Edgar or Dominick Cruz) risk falling into a trap where no matter how hard or how smart they fight, they are going to be plagued with the “yeah, but…” syndrome that can define their fighting reputation and legacy if they don’t manage to feverishly finish fights off in impressive fashion.

Take for instance the viewpoint of Eric Del Fierro, the trainer of Dominick Cruz. He was talking to Mauro Ranallo on Monday about what the game plan was for the fight against Demetrious Johnson.

“The mouse trap was wrestling. … The game plan was to wrestle. … People still doubt [Dominick’s] wrestling ability and he’s taken down almost everybody he’s fought.”

He successfully executed the game plan. Eric did his job as trainer. However, you can do your job and do it well… but still not manage to please the paying customers. It’s a conundrum that fighters and promoters face right now in regards to how soft the fan support may be for them down the road if they quickly gain, fairly or unfairly, a reputation that they’re a ‘point fighter.’

Matt Hume, who is about as diplomatic as anybody in MMA, framed the issue this way when he was asked about fans booing during periods of the Cruz/Johnson fight:

“You don’t just take off the players off the chess table that you don’t like to make the game go faster.”

As for the ad-nauseum argument that if only the fans going to the shows (the ones that are booing) were more educated about the sport and learned about the actual techniques being implemented during the fights…

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of educating the fans.”

2. The year 2013 can’t arrive fast enough for Bellator & Spike TV. When it arrives, the marriage will be immediately consummated.

The flip side of this, of course, is that UFC will be ready to go after Bellator with guns a blazin’ because they’ll suddenly become ‘real competition.’ That Ken Pavia lawsuit for ‘trade secrets’ will likely be used as a PR weapon to bludgeon Bellator as ‘not being good guys’ over and over in the media.

None of that will matter, however, to fight fans who are desperate to see a competitor to Zuffa. You know the formula and what kind of desire there is for a product ‘that isn’t Zuffa.’ Over the last month, Bellator has put on some really good fights and the shows have been entertaining. Problematically for Bellator, the last two weeks also featured UFC shows and some very high-profile college football games. I mention college football because it’s a sport where there is heavy gambling and big TV viewership. Given that UFC is a sport also heavily motivated by gambling, I wondered what kind of impact it would have on Bellator on Saturday nights. When you’re running against UFC on PPV or Versus and you have huge games like Nebraska/Wisconsin and Alabama/Florida on TV, those are marquee games.

We know MMA is not a primary sport for sports fans… but it is a primary sport for fans who aren’t big fans of other sports in general. (I get heat for saying this often but my experience with our audience is just that.)

So, if you’re a sports fan and you have to pick between a big SEC game versus a fight like Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson, more often than not as a traditional sports fan you’re watching the football game.

Bellator is in this very awkward position right now where, for the next year, they are having to proverbially stay above water until they get a life preserver from Spike in January of 2013. Spike will be motivated to help push Bellator to make things work. Despite TNA being a train-wreck of a operation, their show still attracts over a million TV viewers a week. Bellator is thankfully not TNA in terms of incompetence and I suspect Spike’s help will be significantly more beneficial to them than it has been for TNA.

How important is it for Bellator to a) move to Spike and b) get off of Saturday nights? Let Jordan Breen lay it out for you.

“First let me say that it doesn’t matter what day it is as long as it’s not Saturday. When they moved onto MTV2 with Saturday nights, the one e-mail I kept getting from MMA fans over and over and over and over again is, ‘man, I really like Bellator, I’m interested in their fighters but I just don’t have the time. On a Saturday night if I’m watching MMA, it’s going to be the UFC. I got a wife, I got kids, or I got a girlfriend or I got school or I got a job… people want MMA to be a hobby first. … Most fans want fights to be an exciting thing that they do on the weekend that they can rock to. They don’t want it to be homework, they don’t want it to be a chore. They don’t want to feel like, ‘man, I have to see the Bellator, time for me to get on Youtube or time for me to go download something like that.’ It’s not supposed to be an undertaking to enjoy sports and, yet, because there’s so much MMA (programming) I think that’s how a lot of hardcore MMA fans feel. So, just getting off of Saturday night no matter what other of the six days of the week they moved to I think would be great.

“Thursdays for TNA, I still think Thursday’s the best day. TNA I know they’re basically it’s… they’re kind of in Spike’s hands. People in the pro-wrestling world feel like if Spike TV turned their back on TNA, TNA might be down the tubes and so if they wanted to move TNA to a different night I wouldn’t be surprised because Thursday night is really the ideal night. Wednesday, Thursday both work well but I do think you probably want something a bit later in the week where people are a bit more willing to stay up late, rock the sports, just chill out in front of the TV. Thursdays are always tough because it’s a big TV night in general and you’ll have the fact that periodically there will be some NFL games or whatever but it’s still so much vastly better than Saturday night. Plain and simple, Saturday night, Bellator just gets washed over and overwhelmed, which stinks.”

“Friday I don’t think is great. I think we’ve seen, you know, from HDNet for instance hardcore fans maybe will rock on a Friday night but it’s going to be hit or miss and that’s one of the things that hurts Bellator now is being on MTV it’s just totally scattershot. Some nights they can trick enough MTV2 watchers into being (viewers) but it’s not a consistent audience which is why one week Bellator will do like 450,000 people and then the next week it’ll do 200,000. There’s a basement of hardcore fans that will watch regardless but there’s not too many people that are, you know, transient kind of TV watchers being converted to Bellator and being able to stack up in a better night I think goes a long, long way to being able to do that.

“Which dovetails with the other question, what would be ideal for the ratings (if Bellator went on Spike). If they can go on Spike and be early on in the 600,000-700,000 range and eventually try to build towards a million viewers for an episode, I think that would be a huge boon for them, a huge boon. So, I think that’s kind of what we’re looking at. We saw The Ultimate Fighter, the basement number for The Ultimate Fighter was just over a million viewers. So, if Bellator after maybe a season can start cultivating just under a million people watching their shows on Spike with proper support from a network that cares about MMA and will be kind of extra inspired to make the product work since they’ll be trying to stick it to the UFC for leaving them, that I would think would represent a pretty successful outcome for Bellator.”

Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “Two big weekend takeaways: Point fighting in the UFC & Bellator’s lifeline to Spike”

  1. Brian Hannusch says:

    Great article. I don’t go to MMA sites anymore because of twitter. Your site is my one exception 🙂

  2. Dave says:

    Fans want finishes, period. A fighter finishing is seen as them doing their job, fighting. Fighting is this thing where two guys are engaged in combat and the point is to go until the other guy can’t go anymore.

    I know that hardcores see stuff like exciting fights between two guys at a high level as a cool/great/awesome thing, but a lot of people just want to see fighters go out there and finish fights. Knockouts and to some degree submissions have always been what everybody wants to see, so it’s not hard to imagine that most fans aren’t enamored with fighters who aren’t finishing fights.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      The bottom line is that the average guy watching the UFC is interested only in the violence and could care less if the action leading up to a finish is good so long as there is one. They’d rather see a card of 15 one sided 1st round KOs than a bunch of decently matched fights.

      • Steve4192 says:

        Sadly, I agree with you.

        The finish fetishists out there would look at classic fights like Wand-Hendo 1, Fedor-Cro Cop and Shogun-Lil Nog and say they were disappointing because there was no definitive ending.

        But I also think there is a subset of ‘hard core’ fans out there who are just looking for something to bitch about. Some of the same folks who greatly enjoyed those classic fights I mentioned will bitch about modern classics like Edgar-Maynard 2, Aldo-Hominick or Cruz-Johnson. They are the same fans who sing the virtues of Frye-Takayama yet write off Griffin-Bonnar 1 as ‘too sloppy’ to be considered a great fight. Some people are just whiners.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          The pendulum swings a lot of ways. The fact that the sport has existed in its present format for about 15-16 years means that we get all sorts of ridiculous hyperbole about fights. A “classic” is a fight people look back at in 20-30-40 years and discuss about how great it was. C’mon now – if you’re gonna pick a “classic” from Cruz, you pick Johnson over Faber 2? Is either even really a classic?

          When I think “classic” I think defining MMA fights. I think Mirko/Fedor, Rampage/Silva 2, Tito/Frank, and Rampage/Forrest. I might even consider Edgar/Maynard 2 right now. A lot of these modern day “classics” are like trying to lock some cult favorite boxing fight like Letterlough/Gonzalez or Sosa/Williams 1 into the vault and pretend they’ll be relevant to people 3 generations from now.

        • Dave says:

          I think you are spot-on comparing Griffin/Bonnar to Frye/Takayama, actually. Just two tough guys murdering each other.

          Technique is cool and all, but that was one of the fights that ‘started it all’ for this boom period, it’s hard to deny. It’s kind of like in baseball, nobody really cares about those guys who keep solid averages, they care about the guys with steroid-infused bionic arms knocking balls out of the park.

  3. Norm says:

    It’s been about 15 years since I legitimately followed pro wrestling, but the “point fighter” fans vs. the “finisher” fans argument is similar to “smart” fans vs. “mark” fans right?

    To me the UFC =/= WWE, but the similarities are there and small lessons could be learned from guys like Chael Sonnen, a virtually non-descript, marginal fighter for 85% of his career who got people to pay attention to him.

    Guys like Cruz, Edgar, and GSP should realize not everyone is going to embrace their style, so why not incite people in a way to get them to watch their fights in the hopes of seeing them get beat ala Floyd Mayweather? It wouldn’t even be necessary to go to the degree of a Sonnnen or a Mayweather.

    It’s pretty clear that none of the previously mentioned guys are going to significantly change their games to start KO’ing guys or subbing them, but an heir of cockiness or arrogance could help get people interested in watching them fight.

  4. Beau Dure says:

    For now, at least, Dana is saying nice things about Bellator. And Spike, for that matter — he says the current issues are being driven by higher-ups beyond the people he always dealt with and still likes.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      The problem for SpikeTV is that they had years to use the UFC prgramming as a way to get that fanbase interested in some other SpikeTV content. They failed. And now they are throwing a temper tantrum.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    1) Sure people love finishes, but they also like a good fight. And the fanbase has shown in terms of PPV buys and TV ratings that they are pretty constant when it comes to viewership, no matter what some fans perceive as boring vs. not boring. Even there gates are relatively constant with around $2 Million for a PPV show and $500,000 for a Fight Night.

    It’s a sport. With the amount of content the UFC is going to be pushing out in 2012, it’s turning into “something people watched a few times a year”…. to “something fans just follow casually all year long”. No different then the other major sports really. People don’t get super pumped for a mid season NBA game on TNT. But the fans still enjoy watching it because it’s sports on TV. The UFC is really at that point now.

    And don’t underestimate the FOX factor. Ask your friends if they know about Dos Santos vs. Velasquez coming up and they will absolutely be curious based on the commercials. Stuff like this will just push the UFC into the sports world that much more. It’s part of the package along with MLB, NHL, NFL, and the other elite sports now. At that point, it’s not about “exciting” more more about “sports”.

    2) By the time 2013 starts, Bellator might be sold to new owners or might be out of business. And they are still screwed when it comes to expansion. Running cards at casinos means they probably can’t do a weekday series. They are forced to do Saturday shows. And as tha ratings have shown, Bellator gets wrecked when anything else (including the UFC) is on against it. It’s just not the first choice for the 250,000 viewers they can potentially get anyways on MTV2.

    And Breem is insane if he thinks Bellator can get close to 1 Million viewers on SpikeTV. It will be a 400,000 to 500,000 viewers constantly sort of thing and that’s it at best.

    You are 100% correct that there is still a fanbase that wants and needs a UFC competitor. But that is the small internet fans who are the same that watch Bellator right now. As we have seen in the past, that fanbase is not big enough to keep a company around.

    It’s funny to read some fans on The UG basically cry that Bellator isn’t being covered more. These fans are just immature and looking to be different.

    SIDE NOTE – Even with this article…. There is a sense that the longtime fans have little man complex still. The UFC has a 7 year contract with FOX/FX/Fuel. They are not the little man anymore. There is no real competition anymore. The sport has been excepted by a main stream entity. Stop worrying about if the fans will except a champion…. And embrace the fact that fans are getting very interested for the biggest title fight in the history of the sport…. And at this rate…. It could potentially see 10 Million viewers for the one hour program.

  6. Tradition Rules says:

    I like to see finishes, and PREFER to see finishes,….but casuals can go screw themselves.

    They have NO idea what these guys go through. Cruz breaks his hand the first round, goes on to dominate and almost finish the fight. If anybody says “Great fight, but… (insert criticism here)” they can go stick their head in a toilet,…because they are obviously a $hit head.

    Like I said, I WANT to see finishes to fights, but I’d MUCH rather see an exciting fight then something like the Silva/Belfort fight, which seemed like it was over in seconds.

    That may be just me, but all my friends who watched were disappointed as well, not because Silva won, or because Belfort lost, or because it was an amazing KO,….it was just kind of like “That’s it?!” for such a hyped up main event. I’ll take a competitive fight over that any day.

  7. Jonathan says:

    I will come out of exile and add this:

    People (hardcores & casuals alike) really want a champion that is dominant like GSP and finishes like Anderson Silva. They want the best of both worlds. If Anderson Silva did what he did to Vitor Belfort and Chris Leben to fighters like Cote, Meia, etc…..he would be hailed as, far and away, the BEST fighter ever.

    People just want truly dominating champions that finish EVERY fighter in a miraculous and utterly destructive way.

    *returns to exile*

  8. Chris says:


    Most of the ridiculous “point fighting” arguments come from the pro wrestling segment of the MMA fan base. They are not fans of stick and ball sports, so they don’t have an appreciation for the importance of winning if it does not result in a finish. But give them a fight with tons of sloppy grappling and punches devoid of any serious technique they want to call it “fight of the year”.

    Cruz-Johnson was a tremendous contest. If a fan can’t appreciate the level of skill displayed in that fight, then they are not very educated about the sport.

    • Columbo says:

      Dana White himself loves sloppy striking with no technique. I guess he must’ve been a pro-wrestling fan then. Matt Riddle/Sean Pierson at UFC 124 displayed pathetic striking yet Dana White called it Fight of the Night!

      Hell, Lorenzo said on Twitter that he won’t cut Dan Hardy because he likes guys who WAR!!

  9. 45 Huddle says:

    And that fraction of the fanbase who come from Pro Wrestling will be around no matter what. They complain and still stick around.

    The UFC really doesn’t need them. What they want is that more sports oriented fan who will watch anything semi important in the sporting world every weekend. And FOX has the potential to bring that.

    Honestly, it;s about time that Pro Wrestling base screws themselves. They have done nothing dgood for this sport…. but complain and try to bring it down. It’s trash. And half of the media is like that too….

  10. David m says:

    I was at the dc show and the overwhelming majority of the crowd was really into the main event.

  11. pretorian says:

    The same dweebs that complain and whine about the “point fighters” turn around the next day and bitch about Jones because he mentioned his faith, or because of the way he smiled. Nevermind that he goes into ever fight and destroys elite level opponents.

    These are worthless opinions you are basing your analysis on. The MMA world could be perfect and they would find something to cry about.

  12. fd says:

    “hardcore fans” online bitch about Cruz not finishing. The fans that actually bought tickets were on fire for that fight.

    “hardcore fans” online bitch about Guida being a lay and prayer against Pettis. The fans that actually bought tickets started multiple “Guida!” chants during that fight. Every time I watch in a bar, Guida gets huge reactions from the crowd.

    “hardcore fans” online are not representative of the UFC’s fanbase as a whole. Zuffa largely ignores them, and they’re right to do so.

  13. Jason Harris says:

    I think one of the big mistakes is confusing the complaining hordes on internet forums with the average casual fan.

    GSP is apparently the most boring fighter there is, if you believe the internet forums. Yet somehow he’s still one of the biggest draws in the UFC…how is that, exactly? Randy Couture almost never had an exciting finish in his whole career, yet he was consistently a top draw. Tito Ortiz stayed a top draw in his championship run despite being a GnP guy who didn’t finish.

    Conversely, Anderson Silva, who gets piled on praise like he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, has shown time and time again that he does not draw big numbers on his own, and is one of the lowest drawing champions outside of the two new divisions.

    The point of all this is the internet fanbase is not AT ALL representative of the MMA fanbase as it exists now. The vast majority of vocal forum posters are the “PRIDE NEVER DIE” type who are still holding on to this “UFC vs. PRIDE pick one ONLY!” grudge from 2004. There is a large contingent of people on the internet who like anything not UFC because it’s not UFC, and they chose their side back in ’03 while converting Yen to USD to order a Saku shirt on the internet. Meanwhile, the massive explosion in the sport’s popularity has the majority of fans watching, and enjoying, the UFC product as it stands.

    The complaining hordes, on the other hand, don’t change their viewing habits at all. They either keep buying the PPVs, or keep pirating them like they were in the first place. They complain to complain, and there’s always something new to bitch about.

    • Dave says:

      Kind of a side note, but there is going to be a point where this mythical PRIDE NEVER DIE fan strawman will go away and people will realize other people simply have different tastes than them.

      • Jason Harris says:

        Who says a PRIDE fan has different tastes than me? Seeing PRIDE stuff is what got me really into MMA. If you don’t notice that the same guys who bash UFC’s every move list all of the PRIDE guys as their favorite fighters or love Strikeforce on principal just because it’s not UFC (or wasn’t) then you aren’t paying attention.

        • Dave says:

          These people don’t exist anymore, these people who sit around and say PRIDE WAS THE BEST, UFC STINKS BECAUSE IT ISN’T PRIDE. Sure, there might be a few dozen in existence on forums, but the internet in general writes off differing MMA opinions as from out of touch fanboys all the time. That would be fine if true, but I’m not sure that it is anymore.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Those fans certainly exist. Just go read The UG for a few hours and you will see them all around. They might not be yelling “Pride Never Die” in every post, but they certainly are from that era and bring along that mind frame at any UFC related discussion.

  14. cutch says:

    Just seen Dana talking about a live Japan show leading into the PPV but since that would mean the Japan show would have to start at 7am local time.

    What they should do is run the Japanese show in a normal time slot and stick it on live on either FX or Fuel and then run an edited replay of the card hours later and just before the Vegas PPV.

    You have to think say Rampage-Shogun replay would draw a much bigger number than any live prelim they normally put on.

    • Chromium says:

      Technically 8 AM local time, since Japan doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time…. but as I tweeted at Zach, I give up, he was right, if the UFC is really gonna do it this way, they’re being complete and utter dicks.

      • cutch says:

        I doubt they would lose much ratings in the US, if they ran the show at a normal time for the Japanese audience and did an edited tape delay show on FX just prior to the PPV.

        They could even air the whole card live on Fuel/FX for the hardcores who are willing to stay up and then they can’t moan if they see the results spoiled as they could have always stayed up and watch it and it will only be a prelim to the PPV show anyway.

        • Chromium says:

          I’d be fine with a strong Saturday show on tape-delay, with live airings on FX/Fuel/Facebook repeated on FX/Fuel during the afternoon, although the UFC seems to be more and more hesitant on tape delays. They used to do them for Versus and Spike shows for the west coast and then finally stopped that shit.

          Honestly, this Two-Shows-In-One-Day experiment would have been perfect for the U.K. They could have done a 4 hour lead-in show in England that started at 8 PM locally, and had that lead into a four hour U.S. show starting at 8 PM Eastern time. Or done a four hour U.K. show starting at 9 PM lead into a 3-hour show in the U.S. Either way it makes more sense for both markets.

          As for Japan, it might work if the U.S. was the lead-in. Starting a show at 10 AM or 11 AM in Japan isn’t quite as onerous and they’d probably have a UFC PPV-quality card with a world title match. Yes, it wouldn’t attract casual fans but almost nothing would at this point, and I still think hardcores would be interested with the right line-up.


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