Friend of our site

MMA Headlines


Bleacher Report

MMA Fighting

MMA Torch

MMA Weekly

Sherdog (News)

Sherdog (Articles)

Liver Kick

MMA Mania

Bloody Elbow

MMA Ratings

Rating Fights

Yahoo MMA Blog

Search this site

Latest Articles

News Corner

MMA Rising

Audio Corner


Sherdog Radio

Eddie Goldman

Video Corner

Fight Hub

Special thanks to...

Link Rolodex

Site Index

To access our list of posting topics and archives, click here.

Friend of our site

Buy and sell MMA photos at MMA Prints

Site feedback

Fox Sports: "Zach Arnold's Fight Opinion site is one of the best spots on the Web for thought-provoking MMA pieces."

Referee Marcos Rosales claims exposure to HIV-positive fighter by athletic inspector Mark Relyea & California boss Andy Foster

By Zach Arnold | October 6, 2018

On October 2nd, we wrote a formal letter to the California State Athletic Commission. View the three-page printer-friendly graphical version here.

Boss of California athletic inspectors & Andy Foster right-hand man Mark Relyea

This letter is in response to our multi-month investigation regarding a damages claim by veteran boxing referee/judge Marcos Rosales. Mr. Rosales claims that fight celebrity/athletic inspector Mark Relyea & California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster exposed him to an HIV-positive fighter at the March 31st, 2018 GLORY Kickboxing event in Long Beach, California. Mr. Rosales claims that the exposure came as a result of Mr. Relyea not properly handling medicals (blood paperwork from an accredited lab).

Last August, we launched an investigation. Our focus? Obtain as many documents as possible and construct a real chain of evidence.

Through a series of records requests, we requested documents on:

  • fighter suspension records
  • licensing applications
  • general test results regarding how many fighters in 2018 have tested positive for HIV/Hepatitis C
  • policy & procedures manual
  • Who’s Who sheets detailing which records the Sacramento front office needed before a fighter could be cleared to fight

These records, in combination with a review of the state’s Business and Professions Code, would tell us a lot.

In the end, we received partial records. Key information was redacted or censored based on disputable claims of invasion of privacy. Our October 2nd letter was in direct response to the redactions and what legal options can be utilized next.

Our letter to the Athletic Commission members is considered protected speech under California Civil Code of Procedure 425.16 (anti-SLAPP). Here is the text of the October 2nd letter.


October 2, 2018

Dear Chairman Carvelli, Vice Chairwoman Lehman, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Wallace:

The exposure of boxing referee Marcos Rosales to an HIV-positive fighter is one of the gravest errors a regulatory body could commit. The gamesmanship displayed by both legal counsel and DCA in the aftermath has been counterproductive. The California State Athletic Commission has repeatedly expressed health and safety as the top priority. However, the actions on March 31st and the public cover-up afterwards are inconsistent with the commission’s stated values.

Business and Professions Code 18712 establishes statutory authority for lead athletic inspectors to properly collect and review lab paperwork. California Code of Regulations 546 requires lead athletic inspectors to review an original or copy of the blood work. A decade ago, case law established liability for the Athletic Commission regarding 18712. Fighting is legally classified as ultrahazardous. The California Judicial Council details two causes of action: Public Entity Liability for Failure to Perform Mandatory Duty and Strict Liability for Ultrahazardous Activities.

The failure of lead athletic inspector Mark Relyea in properly handling a fighter’s medicals resulted in a fighter, corner staff, and referee Marcos Rosales being exposed to an HIV-positive fighter. Since the March 31st, 2018 incident, there has been a push to get the State Personnel Board to re-establish the Chief Athletic Inspector position. The last time there was a rush to hire someone for CAI, Ernest Che Guevara was promoted under dubious circumstances after Antonio Margarito’s illegal hand wraps. Mark Relyea’s critical error, as addressed by Executive Officer Andy Foster internally 10 days after the HIV exposure, should result in mandatory public testimony under oath to the board about the procedures or lack of procedures that led to this HIV exposure. If Mr. Relyea will not publicly testify under oath, the board should consider disqualifying him from future promotion.

Our multi-month investigation has uncovered many facts that have not been disclosed publicly or fully in private to members of the Athletic Commission as a body. Consumer Affairs has pertinent case information available at any time for disclosure. For example, state agencies have a single Policy & Procedures Manual that all employees can reference. The Athletic Commission, however, produced 14 different manuals in a formal records request.

Just as with the discrimination claim filed by various boxing referees, legal counsel denied any sort of existence of a damages claim filed by Marcos Rosales despite admission on the meeting agenda of closed session to discuss pending litigation. What is being hidden from you? Faulty handling of medical records has been addressed in writing. (Memo enclosed).

Regrettably, legal counsel has censored public documents in records requests. Inspectors, promoters, and matchmakers receive detailed Who’s Who sheets before weigh-ins showing which fighters need which records to be produced for clearance. It is a simple yes/no box with the word NEED. There is no detailed medical information about individual fighters. Since both matchmakers and promoters receive Who’s Who sheets, there is no legal basis for an invasion of privacy claim to hide documentation from public viewing.

As a result of redactions in the Who’s Who records request, I have 30 days to file for a writ of mandate in Sacramento Superior Court. Such a request would not only cost me money but would cost the Athletic Commission money in both attorney fees for the Commission and, upon a court victory, my attorney fees.

There are many lessons to be learned from what happened to Marcos Rosales. Censorship and gamesmanship are not the right lessons. Since intentional transmission of HIV is no longer a felony in California, it is vital that Consumer Affairs informs all members of the California State Athletic Commission the truth regarding what happened and what the plans are for future implementation of policy & procedures to prevent future HIV exposure.

You deserve all of the information in this matter. The public also has a right to know. It would be better for that information to come from you rather than the public seeing it in the media.


Zach Arnold |

Topics: All Topics, CSAC, Media, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Is Jon Jones publicly screwing up his “USADA snitching” defense or is he playing dumb to cover up secret testimony?

By Zach Arnold | October 5, 2018

“Jon Jones denies snitching on anybody in MMA”

A trained attorney would parse that wording as Jon Jones saying that if he snitched on anyone to USADA, it wasn’t MMA fighters but perhaps someone on the periphery.

I’m not willing to give him that much credit. He’s just clumsy and obtuse when it counts the most in mounting any sort of public defense about his character. This is why you hire trained professionals like Howard Jacobs.

Jon Jones has to down play the snitching clause he took advantage of to get a reduced USADA sentence. There are serious issues of civil, let alone possible criminal liability involved. Jeff Novitzky made his bones as a Federal agent weaponing governmental agencies. His fiancee is currently a Federal agent. He has access to individuals who can get the ball rolling at any time for a grand jury. Grand juries can get whatever evidence they want and indict individuals at any time under a cloak of investigational secrecy.

Would you trust risking your personal freedoms in exchange for associating with Jon Jones because of a paycheck?

How much really is at stake

“I definitely didn’t give up any information on anyone in the sport, nor do I know of anybody who’s doing these things in the sport.”

In order to use the USADA snitching clause, Iain Kidd at Bloody Elbow detailed what is required under the “substantial assistance” clause.

If Jon Jones is telling the truth, he’s taking a public dump on Jeff Novitzky and USADA. He’s dumping on their credibility and on the legal viability of private contracts being enforced. Jon Jones has made many dumb decisions but I don’t think he’s dumb enough to fight Jeff Novitzky given that man’s vast Federal resources.

Take note of what “substantial assistance” means:

where the Athlete or other Person has provided Substantial Assistance to USADA or another Anti-Doping Organization, criminal authority or professional disciplinary body

“Criminal authority.”

A criminal authority like a grand jury. Like the DEA. Like Homeland Security. Like the IRS. Guess who investigated steroid pushing while at the IRS? Jeff Novitzky.

“Professional disciplinary body.”

Like an Athletic Commission.

This is what should worry people in the MMA business. You can either lose your freedom or your money. Jon Jones can’t afford to lose either. Which means he is playing a high stakes game of chicken with USADA.

The protected speech loophole

Earlier, I said that I don’t give Jon Jones a lot of credit for how he publicly defends himself. However, he is occasionally smart enough to hire someone like Howard Jacobs to navigate troubled waters.

Any attorney worth their salt would advise a client caught in the USADA bear trap to not utilize the snitching clause without some sort of protection. Why? Because any accusations made directly to USADA or a private entity regarding drug trafficking or usage is not legally protected speech. There’s no litigation privilege whatsoever. Which means you are devastatingly vulnerable to defamation lawsuits, even in states with an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. Since you’re accusing someone of involvement with drugs not to a public agency, your affirmative defenses shrink.

But read what USADA’s “substantial assistance” clause says. If Jon Jones gives testimony to a Federal prosecutor, a grand jury, or an athletic commission, his speech is suddenly legally protected and any defamation lawsuits against him can be stricken. The whole point of anti-SLAPP motions in states like Oregon, California, Nevada, and Texas is to give the public freedom to contact governmental authorities without fear of losing everything.

If Jon Jones is cooperating with USADA with testimony to an entity like a grand jury, he has to play dumb publicly. He can’t admit what his testimony is or who he gave it to.

Bottom line: Here is our hypothesis. I’m willing to give Jon Jones just enough credit to not be stupid to take USADA head-on publicly and put that entity in a position to lose their entire credibility over the utilization of the “snitching” clause. I’m also willing to give Jon Jones’ legal representation enough credit to advise their client not to give any testimony that isn’t legally protected speech.

Which means, in our hypothetical, that the only “safe” avenue for Jon Jones to rat out anyone over drugs in MMA without facing serious legal consequences is through a governmental agency. His speech would be legally protected from civil suits. And the Feds only want the goods. They don’t want their time being wasted. The same with USADA.

Topics: All Topics | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

California State Athletic Commission has the power to suspend Victor Ortiz after rape arrest, so will they?

By Zach Arnold | September 25, 2018

Victor Ortiz was arrested on three counts of rape. Bail was set for $100,000.

Ortiz was scheduled to fight John Molina Jr. this Sunday for a Al Haymon show on Fox Sports 1 in Ontario, California.

The situation is a complete and total loss at this point. For all parties involved, having the fight proceed as planned would create an enormous amount of negative publicity. The problem is that fighters fight in order to get paid. Who’s going to make whom whole?

The biggest loser in this situation is the California State Athletic Commission. They really can’t afford to let Sunday’s fight happen. If Ortiz and his camp don’t back down, then Andy Foster will have no choice but to force a showdown. That showdown is thanks to Business and Professions Code 18842:

The commission, the executive officer and other employees duly authorized by the executive officer, shall have the power to suspend temporarily, any license until final determination by the commission when, in his or her opinion, the action is necessary to protect the public welfare or is in the best interest of boxing or martial arts.

The suspension may be without advance hearing, but the suspended licensee may apply to the commission for a hearing on the matter to determine if the suspension should be modified or set aside. The application for a hearing shall be in writing and shall be received by the commission within 30 days after the date of suspension. Upon receipt of such written request, the commission shall set the matter for hearing within 30 days.

“The best interest in boxing or martial arts” is as close to weasel-wording for a moral turpitude licensee clause as you can get. I would expect the Athletic Commission to enforce 18842 to prevent Sunday’s fight from happening.

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

After Jon Jones agreed to “snitch” for less punishment, is USADA aiming to investigate Greg Jackson?

By Zach Arnold | September 23, 2018

USADA’s drug testing schedule and… creative… due process has created a riveting incentive for MMA fighters looking to make a living outside of UFC.

For UFC fighters caught in the USADA dragnet, blame-shifting and excuse-making is the only way to prolong your career. Ask Jon Jones.

Jon Jones has been given chance after chance to return to UFC after monumentally screwing up. He’s worth money to the right individuals. In the process of saving your bacon, people will get hurt. Iain Kidd at Bloody Elbow explains how the ‘Snitching’ clause led to UFC star Jon Jones’ significantly reduced USADA suspension.

“Snitching” on other fighters makes for good gossip but that vision is too limited in scope. Go for the gold by “snitching” on top MMA trainers and gym owners. That’s how you stroke the id of someone like former FDA and IRS agent Jeff Novitzky.

With UFC having its own Performance Institute, there’s an economic conflict of interest to be aggressive against veteran MMA trainers and gym rats. The potential for abusing USADA’s arbitrary and capricious process to target gyms is ripe. With Jeff Novitzky in charge, he has a mountain of Federal contacts he can contact at any time. His fiancee is currently a Federal agent. Novitzky is in a position of persuasiveness to get the ball rolling for a criminal indictment. Or if he’s charitable, at a minimum contact athletic commissions for a discussion or two.

If you’re currently a high profile MMA trainer and you have clients in the UFC, you are at risk of rightfully or wrongfully getting dragged in the mud at any time. USADA can target fighters in clusters at certain gyms whenever they want. That’s as good as attacking a trainer’s primary source of income. You’re at their mercy.

As Iain Kidd noted at Bloody Elbow:

The clause specifically states the reduction is given when the information results in USADA or another body discovering or bringing forward an offense/violation, so Jones just saying he heard this guy does steroids wouldn’t cut it. It almost certainly involved specific, detailed information about the use or supply of drugs.

Jones is required to continue to provide this information, or his suspension will be reinstated.

Jon Jones is a congenital bridge burner. His behavior will never change because there’s always someone willing to jump on the bandwagon to get a cut of a future UFC pay day. If Jon Jones makes allegations of drug usage by other fighters he’s associated with, USADA’s spotlight will focus on where Jon Jones has been training and who he has been training with.

Within this context, it is relevant to highlight Donald Cerrone’s recent claim to Joe Rogan that a wrestling coach at Greg Jackson’s gym used to sell steroids while working for a college. These remarks, truthful or not, create an avenue of investigation for USADA. Combine this development along with “substantial assistance” from Jon Jones and Greg Jackson becomes an investigative target. Cerrone’s comments are catnip to a former Federal investigator like Jeff Novitzky.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical and wary about USADA targeting Greg Jackson for investigation. With Jon Jones reportedly utilizing USADA’s “snitching” clause, we will find out how far he’s willing to go to save his ass. Thanks to Jeff Novitzky’s tangled web of contacts with Federal agents & investigators, we will also find out how much of Jones’s claims to USADA end up being creatively protected by “litigation privilege” in order to kill defamation lawsuits from being filed against “snitchers.”

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

The death of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto at age 41

By Zach Arnold | September 17, 2018

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Kid Yamamoto original (@kid_yamamoto) on

Cancer has killed one of the biggest Japanese fight sport attractions of all time.

If you only knew of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto from his UFC stint, you missed what made him such a special fighter and icon in Japan. He was great and had a lot of heart.

Kid Yamamoto headlined fights that drew tens of millions of television viewers. His family is considered wrestling royalty. When K-1 went to war with PRIDE after the 2003 New Year’s Eve battle, they created HERO’s. HERO’s was Kid Yamamoto and Kazushi Sakuraba. You can’t tell the story of PRIDE’s death without talking about New Year’s Eve 2003 and the implosion of PRIDE.

For many years, the dream fight was Kid Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber. HERO’s vs. WEC/UFC. UFC already played the political game with PRIDE and bought the PRIDE assets. The rest is history.

When Kid Yamamoto left K-1, K-1 struggled to hit double-digit TV ratings.

Kid Yamamoto will forever be linked with kickboxing icon MASATO. Remember the ratings for Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos on Fox? Kid Yamamoto vs. MASATO in a kickboxing match drew four times the ratings on broadcast television.

The UFC stint for Kid Yamamoto was regrettable. UFC wasn’t going to change their matchmaking philosophy and adopt a Japanese-style marketing plan to get a last round with Yamamoto as an ace. Predictably, Yamamoto’s career in UFC went as expected. The company booked Yamamoto against Vaughan Lee at Saitama Super Arena in a decision I will never comprehend. Yamamoto lost. UFC’s ambition to utilize the required business tactics to grow business in Japan diminished.

Fortunately, Yamamoto’s 2012 UFC Saitama appearance didn’t diminish the legacy he created in Japan or his business accomplishments. There was a final Masato/Kid Yamamoto reunion on New Year’s Eve 2015 — and it managed to draw bigger ratings than Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s event.

What made Kid Yamamoto fascinating is that he didn’t fit the classic, traditional conservative image of a Japanese fighter. Shukan Gendai went after Kid Yamamoto for “marijuana parties.” There was so much media scrutiny linking Kid Yamamoto to Enson Inoue’s behavior.

Ten years ago, Enson was arrested for possession of marijuana. Trying to explain the stigma of marijuana usage in Japan to outsiders, especially Americans, is impossible. It’s the same deal with tattoos and how any non-covered up tattooed person on broadcast television is viewed as associated with organized crime.

Kid Yamamoto never changed. He stayed true to himself. He didn’t conform. What worked for him wouldn’t have worked for other Japanese icons.

Topics: Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

How do you write about the history of Japanese MMA and PRIDE? Now is your chance to help finance and promote this effort

By Zach Arnold | August 25, 2018

Author Lee Daly was crazy enough to write about the history of Japanese MMA

I’m completely bored by American MMA since the corporate takeover of UFC by Ari Emanuel. Arguing over whether UFC is worth $4 billion or now $7 billion USD as Dana White claims after the new ESPN TV deal really doesn’t move my spiritual needle.

If you grew up as a fan when modern Mixed Martial Arts was boom, you appreciate how much of a drought there currently is when it comes to real human characters in the sport. I’m not talking about the overly tattooed, Neo Nazi types either.

I’ve kept my eyes and ear open about what is happening in the Japanese scene. One FC just announced an entry into the Japanese marketplace on March 31st, 2019 in Tokyo at Ryogoku Kokugikan. I expect 2019 to be a relatively strong growth campaign for One FC. They have been slowly inching closer towards filling up the vacuum in Japan that has been left over since the death of PRIDE.

Which brings us to a new project that Irish author Lee Daly has just finished: Before a Fall: A History of PRIDE.

Lee Daly took risks on multiple levels writing this book. First, he assumed the risk of not doing enough homework to satisfy all types of hardcore MMA fans who still worship at the alter of PRIDE. Second (and more impressively), Lee assumed the financial risk it takes to write such a book given how undefined the marketplace is for this type of writing. To create a turn-key product like this demonstrates a real seriousness.

In order to finance the launch of Before a Fall, Lee is crowdsourcing his efforts on IndieGogo and needs to raise funds in short order. This is your chance to reward someone for doing the right thing and help foster a new era of MMA writing.

The challenge of writing Before A Fall is extremely difficult. I’ve been an active hand in reading the book through its development stages in order to give feedback. I know the history of Japanese fighting and even I am conflicted on how I would have tackled such a project. Lee Daly managed to write a book that educates every kind of MMA fan while in the process being true to the industry’s roots. It’s detailed but not overly intense. Lee tells the history of Japanese MMA in a way from the people who were actually involved in making the history in the first place.

The best way to reward this kind of writing is to show that there is a market for it and you can demonstrate that there is a marketing for smart MMA writing by contributing to Lee Daly’s Before a Fall: A history of PRIDE book.

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

Boxing refs Wayne Hedgpeth, Raul Caiz Jr. & Sr. file $100M racial discrimination claim against Andy Foster & California State Athletic Commission

By Zach Arnold | July 23, 2018

What is the value of officiating a championship prize fight?

A recent claim letter filed by attorney John E. Sweeney on behalf of boxing referees Raul Caiz Jr. & Sr. along with Wayne Hedgpeth seeks $100 million dollars in damages. The claim letter states that Hedgpeth & Caiz Junior/Senior have been racially discriminated against by California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster and that the beneficiary of the alleged discrimination were white referees — primarily Jack Reiss.

The legalese

State and Federal Government agencies have sovereign immunity. The California Tort Claims Act states that you have to file a damages claim with a state agency and wait 45 days for a response. The agency can either: a) accept the damages request, b) offer a settlement, c) respond with a formal rejection, or d) ignore the claim letter. Not issuing a response is legally deemed as a rejection.

In order for the claim to be within the statute of limitations, the last alleged tort act must take place within 180 days of the claim letter being filed with the state agency.

Demands in the claim letter

Fight Opinion filed a Public Records Act request with the California State Athletic Commission to get a copy of the damages claim. The Athletic Commission immediately responded by stating they had not received a claim letter from attorney John E. Sweeney. The agency’s reply cited Government Code 915, which deals with amended or late claim letters.

The agency claimed that if the letter was filed with the Department of General Services, DGS had not sent the Athletic Commission a copy.

After this response, we were able to independently obtain a copy of the amended damages claim letter. The letter was dated April 27, 2018 and supposedly sent via certified mail with return receipt requested. It was allegedly sent to both the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Athletic Commission’s office.

What the claim letter states

Quoting from the letter:

For the past five (5) years and continuing to date, the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs and the California State Athletic Commission have engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination against the licensed State of California Boxing Offices listed [Hedgpeth, Caiz Jr. & Sr.].

The system used by the California State Athletic Commission in assigning boxing officials, including referees and judges, to championship fights is not based on merit but on the sole discretion of an Executive Officer, Andy Foster.

Of the approximate 47 licensed fight officials in California, 33 are minorites (70.21%). Yet, the majority of championship fights for the period indicated above have been assigned to Caucasian officials.

Even when international boxing sanctioning bodies such as the International Boxing Federation (“IBF”) and both opponent fighters and their representatives have agreed to use certain Claimants, the California State Athletic Commission has refused to honor their request and assigned a Caucasian referee to those fights.

Claimants have suffered general damages and a loss of earnings and earning capacity.

Claimants will bring causes of action in their forthcoming lawsuit for discrimination based on a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code 51), California Government Code Section 11135, California Civil Code Section 43, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other related causes of action.

All of the required elements for each cause of action can be viewed in the 2018 Judicial Council of California jury instructions. Based on the claim letter, it appears any future lawsuit would be filed in state court.

The Los Angeles Sentinel interviewed Mr. Sweeney last week and he commented on what the details of an impending lawsuit would look like.

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

UFC has never made more money and encountered as much eye-bulging debt as they are right now

By Zach Arnold | July 1, 2018

Forgive me for not getting excited over a fight product that has long surpassed its expiration date.

The Bain Capitalization of UFC by its vulture investors is now complete. John Nash at Bloody Elbow notes a Moody’s report claiming UFC made over $700 million USD of revenue in 2017. The company’s current debt load is allegedly $2 billion USD.

With the new ESPN/Disney TV contracts, UFC is primed within the next five years to get flipped to another owner. Look at this impactful graphic created by Paul Gift regarding UFC’s PPV buys over the last decade:

If you chart stocks, you’ll immediately spot what looks like a “head and shoulders top” pattern. Given the dramatic change in the UFC business model, expect PPV buys to continue decreasing.

I don’t particularly have much interest in UFC at this point outside of the physical & financial health of fighters. On one battle front, fighter Leslie Smith had initially gotten a positive ruling in Philadelphia with a regional section of the National Labor Relations Board. Smith is trying to fight the independent contractor classification that UFC uses for all its talent. However, her case has now been transferred to The Swamp in Washington D.C. for “further review.”

The administrative state giveth and taketh away. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the temperature for action against UFC in DC under Trump given that UFC’s owner was Trump’s former Hollywood agent and Dana White was enthusiastically promoted as a prime guest speaker at the 2016 GOP Convention. Putting Leslie Smith’s case on ice in DC is meant to send a chill.

What does interest me is UFC’s positioning in the macro sports content wars. It’s ESPN (with UFC, Top Rank, and Golden Boy) vs. former ESPN boss John Skipper at DAZN (with Matchroom Boxing & Bellator). Disney is paying a premium to try to thrive in the streaming business. There are no guarantees. It reminds me so much of mainstream American sports media companies throwing tons of cash at the MMA scene a decade ago to hire any and every writer only for everything to blow up in corporate faces. You have to get the money while the getting is good.

The calculation behind the DAZN/Bellator relationship is fascinating. Viacom is in huge turmoil with the Shari Redstone vs. CBS & Les Moonves court battle about the possibility of a remarriage between the two media empires. Using Bellator to test the profit margins in the streaming business is an interesting play for Viacom. Do they eventually cut a deal with Netflix or Amazon and risk their platform business model to become a pure content play? Bellator’s success or lack of success on DAZN will prove to be a worthwhile test case.

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

ESPN buys the rest of UFC programming and it makes sense if they’re ditching the NFL

By Zach Arnold | May 23, 2018

Both WWE and UFC are filthy rich from new television deals.

RAW is staying on USA Network reportedly at triple the original price and Fox just paid $1 billion dollars for five years of Smackdown.

ESPN and Disney just bought the rights to all UFC programming. $150 million a year for 15 shows and now an additional $300 million a year (for the next five years) to get 27 more shows. 42 shows a year, with a significant portion of events streaming on ESPN+.

The television rights fees being paid to both WWE and UFC are outrageous but also justifiable.

American sports media boss Clay Travis has been screaming that WWE television rights fees have been dramatically undervalued. How many years did television executives suppress the value of WWE content by claiming that WWE’s audience demographics are young but poor? In other words, a bunch of undesirables and deplorables. Now NBC & Fox are paying WWE a premium for a consistent, stable audience. That’s the value of stability in a media landscape with no stability. Timing really is everything.

As for UFC venture capitalists getting $450 million a year from Disney? As we discussed two weeks ago, this fascinating story is all about the survival of ESPN. You can’t say Disney isn’t going all out here. Paying $450 million a year for UFC content is a huge risk. What Fox Sports discovered with UFC is that UFC fans really care about UFC and will watch UFC programming but converting that audience into fans of other Fox Sports programs didn’t pan out. Without UFC, Fox Sports 1 is largely irrelevant in comparison to ESPN. ESPN took out the major cornerstone for FS1’s justification to be carried on major cable providers. Fox had no choice but to go all-in with WWE. WWE will be a big part of Fox Sports 1 moving forward, either through shoulder programming or NXT down the road.

Where does UFC fit into the equation with ESPN?

You don’t pay UFC $450 million dollars a year for a cold product unless you anticipate another shoe dropping. That shoe could very well be the end of ESPN’s relationship with the NFL.

It is very well possible that UFC and Top Rank programming could replace Monday Night Football if the NFL takes their ball and goes elsewhere.

The NFL’s relationship with ESPN is completely dysfunctional. The NFL isn’t even hiding their disdain anymore for ESPN, especially with the multi-channel broadcast of the NFL Draft on Fox. Mel Kiper is practically an American sports institution and the NFL tried to kill that off (but it didn’t work).

The reason for the animosity between the two parties deals with ESPN’s coverage of the NFL regarding political and medical issues. The more talk there is about concussions, doping, and the national anthem, the worse it is for the NFL’s bottom line. It’s worse for the NFL because the team owners are largely clueless on how to react to hot issues.

Now this same poison is ready to surface between ESPN and the UFC. The difference is that Dana White has a couple of decades of experience fighting the media and bullying those who are most critical about him. Given what has happened with the NFL, will new management at ESPN tell its employees to lay off of UFC scandals? Or will we see new conflict at a level Dana White has never had to manage before?

Bottom line? Fox offered $200 million a year to keep the UFC and the venture capitalists found a more desperate customer in ESPN willing to pay the premium. WWE immediately grabbed Fox’s offer and ran with it. In the process, WWE’s stock has tripled over the last year and Vince McMahon has made the kind of money never thought possible in professional wrestling.

Topics: Media, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC’s $150M/year deal with ESPN: “Iger’s taken the Disney trolley off the tracks”

By Zach Arnold | May 10, 2018

Amazon is Best of Breed in maximizing cloud computing but they’re not stupid nor desperate enough to reportedly pay UFC $150 million dollars a year for a bunch of events. ESPN & Disney are, however.

The collapse of carriage fees on cable for ESPN means they are competing in a cutthroat streaming business market. One big competitor in the combat sports space is DAZN, who just hired former ESPN boss John Skipper. DAZN is going all-in with promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing for $125 million dollars a year. ESPN+ has Top Rank Boxing and will now have UFC content.

The biggest challenge for ESPN is being able to produce content that doesn’t conflict with contractual obligations to the various major cable providers. In order to get UFC content on ESPN+, it was going to cost a premium. $150 million a year for 15 shows is ridiculously reckless. In comparison to DAZN ponying up $125 million a year for Matchroom Boxing? Maybe not as heartburn-inducing as first thought.

ESPN+ is $5 a month or $50 a year for a full-time subscriber. Between the amount of subscribers needed along with digital advertising, Disney’s “investment” in UFC is a really risky proposition. It’s the equivalent of buying a mansion as an income property in hopes of paying off the mortgage using cash flow from others.

Amazon was never going to be able to offer UFC $150 million dollars a year nor should they have even considered doing so. What Amazon could do was provide an explosive platform to grow merchandising and advertising revenues. What Amazon represented was not a guarantee but an opportunity. For vulture venture capitalists, the guaranteed cash always beats out the promise of opportunity. The financiers aren’t playing around.

If you had told me from the start that someone was willing to pay over $100 million dollars a year for streaming rights, then I would have never considered Amazon to be a serious threat. Amazon could have made Fight Pass bigger than anything UFC could have ever imagined but what’s the point when Disney is throwing cash at you like a drunk sailor?

The story of UFC’s new marriage with ESPN speaks much more to the state of Disney’s health than it does the health of UFC. Disney is in a Comcastic death grip over the fight to acquire Fox Sports assets. Comcast pressuring Fox with a 15% premium over Disney’s largely stock-based offer means a future explosion. ESPN used to be the safest, take-it-to-the-bank business play. It was the 30-year American T-note. You could never fail with all those cable carriage fees because it didn’t matter whether or not people actually watched the network. The ESPN+ business model is no guarantee and Disney’s reliance on UFC to save their sports network is a remarkable turn of events for those of us who covered the sport of Mixed Martial Arts from its very modern beginnings.

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

The $400 million dollar TV question for UFC: Balls (Amazon 100M subs) or brains (ESPN/Fox)?

By Zach Arnold | April 18, 2018

Venture capitalists want guaranteed cash. It’s their fiduciary responsibility to keep foreign ownership of company debt very, very happy. It’s why the reported ESPN/Fox dual offer for television rights is so tempting. An offer reportedly worth $400M/year with two stable broadcast television partners.

Betting against Disney is risky. Rejecting $400 million dollars yearly is crazy. Disney is all-in with the new ESPN+ online streaming platform. They need UFC.

The risk for Disney is that they are still renting sports content. They are not owning the content they produce, which is why Netflix has as big a market share as Disney right now. Paying $200 million a year for limited UFC rights is a huge premium for Disney. ESPN+ faces an enormous, uphill climb.

Which is why Wednesday’s memo from Amazon king Jeff Bezos about 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers is a game changer. My argument for a UFC/Amazon marriage was based on 80+ million subscribers. 100 million subscribers is 25% more juice.

ESPN & Fox are offering $400 million in guaranteed cash yearly. Amazon can’t make that offer but what they can offer UFC is the kind of upside on supercharging merchandising sales and streaming of live events that no one else in the world can compete with. I am a believer that Amazon’s marketing power is worth tens of millions of dollars to UFC on merchandising alone. Reebok would be estactic.

Amazon was always a dark horse, at best, to get a foothold in the UFC television negotiations. Amazon can offer potential but no guarantees. Venture capitalists sell potential but take the easy money when it’s on the table.

If Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta still owned UFC, would they take the guaranteed cash or would they gamble and become pioneers by expanding their sports empire with Jeff Bezos in their corner?

If current UFC ownership won’t take the plunge with Amazon, a major sports entity will do so and reap the future rewards.

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

Conor McGregor lost his UFC belt and maybe his freedom but what about UFC’s TV deal?

By Zach Arnold | April 5, 2018

Conor McGregor channeled his inner Mike Tyson and attacked UFC vehicles transporting fighters for their UFC 223 event in Brooklyn.

Well, on the bright side… UFC 223 got publicity.

“This is the kind of thing bad boys do in sports,” chimed Fox Sports social media honcho Jason McIntyre.

Now we have Fox Sports, UFC TV partner, debating whether Conor McGregor’s Brooklyn attack is worse than Malice at the Palace. MatP was considered the NBA’s darkest moment even though sports fans react to it as strongly today as they did when the incident actually happened.

“He has really burnished a brand as a thug,” Jason Whitlock claimed. “Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.”

Four months ago, people were worried about Conor McGregor’s safety after a reported bar brawl involving some powerful & organized individuals.

The TV angle

2018 means everything for UFC. The vulture/venture capitalists want their new television deal. There’s a reason UFC went all-in on Brock Lesnar 24 hours ago. I think the water has largely been squeeze out of that sponge but I could be wrong.

The Conor McGregor situation inflamed an already delicate business situation into a crisis of confidence.

TV executives want stars. Jon Jones. Conor McGregor. Ronda… well… The stars are vanishing. Daniel Cormier will likely retire as the non-Jon Jones 205 champion. Stipe Miocic is slowly building his American profile. They’re great fighters and I care about them. I’m not sure television executives are as enthused.

McGregor likely faces criminal charges and a suspension. He needs the UFC to stay active both in and out of the ring but does he need the money? Fighters always need money. UFC needs a television deal and all the money that comes with it. Are we headed for a separation?

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

Canelo Alvarez clenbuterol suspension: Why bother fighting in Nevada?

By Zach Arnold | April 3, 2018

The fight between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez will be pushed back a few months due to Alvarez testing positive (twice) for clenbuterol.

The best MMA writer today, Iain Kidd, has a simple & accurate Bloody Elbow read on what likely went down.

The re-match will happen in a few months. The media and Golovkin’s team will take their doping shots at Canelo to juice up interest. Always happens in these kinds of scenarios. The fighters and promoters will still make their money.

However, there are bigger questions to be asked now because of Nevada’s actions to suspend Canelo Alvarez.

Why bother fighting in Nevada?

This is the big question now. If you’re a top fighter, why do you need to fight for a WBC belt if the WBC is going to require you to go through third-party supplemental drug testing that the Nevada State Athletic Commission treats differently than by WADA/USADA standards for punishment?

Nevada’s commission made it clear to third party drug testing operations to work with them and to go by certain guidelines. If this is Nevada’s long-term policy, then the results of those tests must be treated exactly as they would be on a global stage.

Erik Magraken neatly explains Nevada’s legal policy on mitigating circumstances regarding ingestion of contaminated products.

The end result of the Canelo Alvarez incident is the formulation of Nevada administrative case law where a positive test for clenbuterol is being adjudicated differently by a state athletic commission than it would be by an actual testing agency.

The tax breaks aren’t worth Nevada’s administrative headaches

You can fight in Texas or Florida and not pay state income tax. Television taxes are also relatively competitive.

Fights featuring the level of boxers like Gennady Golovkin do not require casinos to prop up for interest. You don’t need to rely on sold shows.

Why are we stuck on Las Vegas? You can make your money elsewhere without as much interference, inconsistency, or incompetence. You can still do VADA testing as well.

Nevada doesn’t have the prestige that it once had. Motives are constantly questioned. The state’s athletic commission is no longer attached to general funding. How is it any different than other garden variety administrative agencies? The power of the purse gives promoters much better options inside and outside of America to produce fights. Better deals are to be made outside of Nevada in 2018.

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

« Previous Entries Next Entries »