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Zuffa Boxing bailout? The potential 2018 fight with Fox, UFC, Al Haymon vs. ESPN & Bob Arum

By Zach Arnold | November 14, 2017

The biggest UFC story for 2018 may not even involve the Ali Act being amended to cover MMA. No? What could possibly be bigger? A marriage between UFC & Al Haymon that would create a two-headed enemy against Bob Arum.

So why is the media so silent on what looks to be a major combat sports story in 2018? For the same reason there has been relatively scant mainstream media coverage of Al Haymon himself. Those who don’t know don’t care and those who know are largely on Team Haymon’s side.

ESPN, which kicked Al Haymon’s PBC off their network, poached two of his Fox guys (Brian Kenny & Mark Kriegel) with zero publicity. 2018 is now the year of a potential boxing war between ESPN & Top Rank (Bob Arum) vs. Fox, UFC, and Al Haymon.

How did we get to this point?

The Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather fight constructively turned out to be a dry run of a business relationship between Dana White & Al Haymon. Dana White has publicly trashed just about every power broker in the history of American combat sports… except Haymon. 100% nice words about Al Haymon the entire time. Huh.

Haymon is back in manager/Svengali mode with a stable of fighters who need fights. Depositions are ongoing in the Kansas shareholder derivative lawsuit against the hedge fund that reportedly poured hundreds of millions of dollars into backing Premier Boxing Champions. The lawsuit is attempting to claw back the money that was spent by the hedge fund.

Haymon has made his tens of millions of dollars. Premier Boxing Champions was his promotional vehicle to keep his stable of fighters active and dominate the boxing scene on broadcast television. It didn’t work out as planned, which is why Golden Boy’s anti-trust lawsuit against Haymon failed.

Haymon needs promotional vehicles to keep his fighters active to fulfill contractual obligations and to recruit new talent. Enter UFC Boxing.

UFC Boxing is a negotiating carrot that appears to fit the agenda of Fox Sports. Fox inks a new deal with UFC and here comes UFC Boxing as a promotional banner to book fights involving Al Haymon guys. It’s a win-win-win scenario for all parties involved. Fox gets boxing action, UFC gets to diversify their portfolio, and both UFC & Al Haymon get to recruit boxing talent that may have signed with another promoter — like Bob Arum.

Arum sniffed out what was going on when he publicly announced that UFC was attempting to buy out Top Rank’s video library for their Fight Pass web site. But that’s an agenda that appears to be skin deep at best. Arum figured something else was up. Once momentum for amending the Ali Act became real and Fox’s current TV negotiations broke off with UFC, it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

All the confirmation bias you needed came in the form of two lines of press:

1) Dana White never denied working with Al Haymon in the future.
2) Lance Pugmire in The LA Times floated the trial balloon. Lance doesn’t talk out of turn regarding UFC.

What if Fox doesn’t buy into UFC Boxing?

Fox Sports needs UFC programming for their platforms. They have to do it. I’m surprised Fox hasn’t been able to buy out UFC altogether but the complications from amending the Ali Act for MMA may make this an issue of mootness.

But what if Fox blows it? It’s a highly unlikely scenario but… if Fox won’t play with UFC, then someone in Silicon Valley will step up. I argue that Amazon is Best of Breed when it comes to buying future sports programming. The demographics also make great sense for Amazon. 18-to-49 year old demographic, perhaps getting a little older but still pliable in terms of shopping habits. It makes too much sense.

And right in the thick of all of this action is Al Haymon. The guy is a boxing zombie. He just can’t be killed. A marriage between Haymon and UFC makes a lot of sense. It has the potential to be explosive and draw the line in the sand against heavyweights ESPN & Bob Arum.

This is the kind of material sports writers would normally dream of writing columns about. So why are so many major names in combat sports writing so silent? Don’t chalk it up to ignorance. There are people who have inside knowledge and not talking for one reason or another.

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

Don’t run shows during football season: UFC’s TV product can’t consistently compete

By Zach Arnold | November 12, 2017

I swore I would never become the guy that would watch more than one sports program on multiple television sets. I gave in and now regrettably realize how impossible it is to keep up with everything.

Piercing through the white noise is impossible. There’s just too much going on.

In America, football was on all the major broadcast and cable networks from 12 PM Eastern until Midnight. So many big football brands. The NFL product is cold but College Football is red hot. And during this endless buffet, UFC is running weekly Fox Sports 1 cards. This is not sustainable.

UFC’s Norfolk, Virginia event ran against Alabama/Mississippi State on ESPN and Arizona/Oregon State on ESPN2. There was Miami slaughtering Notre Dame on ABC and Oklahoma trashing TCU on Fox. The Warriors were playing the highly watchable Philadelphia 76ers. And after Alabama vs. Mississippi State, ESPN went right to Top Rank Boxing in Fresno with a totally flying-under-the-radar bombshell: the return of Brian Kenny to ESPN!

How in the hell did ESPN manage to not publicize the return of one of their most prominent voices?

Even better, ESPN poached Brian Kenny and poached Mark Kriegel from Fox. Kenny and Kriegel worked for the Fox broadcasts of Al Haymon’s PBC events. $ignificant to some.

UFC was not only competing against major college football names, they were competing against Top Rank and Combate Americas on both NBC Sports Network & Telemundo. Show results here. The event was from Oasis Arena in Cancun, Mexico with lots of familiar faces. The Spanish commentary was good. The English commentary was no bueno. My head was spinning one minute from Lupe Contreras to Joe Martinez to Matt Brown humiliating Diego Sanchez in what should be a retirement fight for both men.

This is not sustainable for UFC. You can pop a big PPV once during American football season but you cannot build value during such a sports programming avalanche. How can any sports fan remember anything that happened with such information overload?

For UFC’s sake, they need to reconsider their full 24/7, 365 schedule. A mini two-month off-season would do wonders. It would help avoid the clutter. It would help fighters recover from injuries. It would prevent the mad dash of booking someone like Michael Bisping to fight within weeks of getting choked out. Risk management is everything here.

You can only remember so much that happens at one time. UFC’s biggest moment wasn’t even under their control. UFC’s ace (Conor McGregor) showed up in their rival’s cage and played the role of hooligan while Bellator gleefully grabbed the publicity.

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

Dana White confirms UFC Boxing is coming, Al Haymon trial balloon officially floated

By Zach Arnold | November 8, 2017

UFC Boxing is coming, right in the nick of the time as UFC is looking for a new television platform agreement.

With momentum building in Congress to amend the Ali Act to cover MMA, UFC has no choice but to diversify their content portfolio. It also gives Dana White a natural parachute to phase out of MMA duties when he wants to execute an exit strategy.

We’ve talked about this over the last 30 days on Fight Opinion and our readers caught onto what was coming in a hurry. Bob Arum saw this coming first. UFC reportedly tried to get their hooks into Top Rank first and he rebuffed.

Guess who gets the UFC Boxing lifeline now?

Lance Pugmire, who rarely speaks out of turn when it comes to relaying UFC news, included this important clue in his LA Times article:

One pursuit White could explore is dealing with powerful boxing manager Al Haymon, who has nearly 200 boxers in his stable and hires different promoters for certain fights. His Premier Boxing Champions lacks a powerful voice to promote its fighters, who include unbeaten heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.

Our October 29th article previewed how UFC Boxing could be used by Fox Sports as a promotional vehicle for Al Haymon’s stable of boxers given the impact of the Kansas hedge fund shareholder derivative lawsuit on Premier Boxing Champions. The Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather fight was a dry run for Ari Emanuel to see if Dana White and Al Haymon could work together. They can, they have, and they want to work together in the future.

UFC Boxing is absolutely a negotiating carrot for Fox. Fox needs UFC content to keep their cable sports channel stable. Fox also wants to keep their toes in the water on the boxing front as well. UFC Boxing would accomplish this. Fox gets a boxing product on TV. UFC Boxing plays promoter & middleman to get a cut. Al Haymon is able to work with big money to keep his fighters active and recruit new fighters in the process.

The behavior demonstrated by Ari Emanuel and Dana White is not difficult to understand. The question is how much cash is Fox Sports willing to pay. With Disney talking to Fox about buying major distribution & content assets, the Fox empire has made a calculation that an alliance with Disney in the streaming wars versus Netflix, Facebook, Google, and Apple is the best play. Wall Street agrees. The biggest dilemma facing Fox Sports and Disney/ESPN is that their media empires need to own, not lease original programming content. Netflix made its name leasing content and now they have poured all their assets into producing original content. UFC doesn’t want to sell during a time when Fox Sports and ESPN need to buy actual sports properties. UFC Boxing reeks of a play to keep the Zuffa portfolio of programming in the Fox family.

If the big media players won’t pay what UFC wants, UFC will have no choice but to cut bold distribution deals with Silicon Valley. AMAZON IS COMING.

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

How UFC Boxing could help Al Haymon & Fox Sports support Premier Boxing Champions

By Zach Arnold | October 29, 2017

I agree with Bob Arum’s suspicions that Dana White really, really wants to get into promoting boxing matches. You wouldn’t bother floating UFC Boxing as a weather vane unless there was some internal interest.

There are obvious questions about how UFC Boxing would work. With questions comes skepticism.

On Friday, I wrote that UFC Boxing would be a great way for Ari Emanuel to keep Dana White with UFC while throwing him a bone that he has always wanted: to promote boxing matches. To be the savior of boxing from those he calls greedy bastards stealing profits. The ego boost would be an instant supercharge.

After Friday’s article, we brainstormed with other writers some of the possible motives behind the trial balloon of UFC Boxing. If UFC Boxing was to become a reality, how would it work and who would benefit?

First motive – a hedge against the Ali Act

Momentum is picking up in Congress to amend the Ali Act for MMA. Trump will follow what his business friends Ari Emanuel & Dana White tell him to do. If they show the white flag or give the green light, Trump will sign the measure. So far, Congressional lobbying shows UFC is fighting the modification of the Ali Act.

Politically speaking, there is a scenario where Congress could vote to amend the Ali Act for MMA. Trump vetoes the amendment and 2/3rds of Congress overrides the veto. Not an unimaginable scenario. At that point, UFC has to figure out what to do next in their business plan.

Part of that new business plan could very well include offering fighters multi-sport UFC contracts. Like boxing and MMA. There’s Bellator MMA and Bellator Kickboxing. UFC can have their MMA operation and UFC Boxing. I agree that it will cost UFC more money to keep fighters happy in a boxing ring but there are ways to finance it.

In much the same way that the NFL has been a giant data-mining experiment for Amazon, Conor McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather was a A/B testing experiment for UFC management. The fight opened their eyes to new business options.

Second motive – UFC Boxing as a spinoff for Fox or Al Haymon partnership

The temperature is heating up in the Kansas shareholder derivative lawsuit against the hedge fund that has financed Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. Depositions begin in November.

What happens when the money runs dry for PBC?

Al Haymon is going to need Fox Sports as a television partner to help PBC continue. Fox Sports and UFC need each other. Haymon and Dana White worked together on the Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather negotiations. The relationships speak for themselves. There’s too much potential common ground not to ignore regarding Haymon, PBC, his stable of fighters, and the prospects of UFC Boxing. Cross-marketing boxing and MMA together makes some sense. Ari Emanuel hopes it makes cents, too.

Fox Sports wants PBC alive for content. Haymon wants PBC alive to give his stable of fighters some bookings. UFC would need a business partner to work with to make UFC Boxing a reality. And if PBC dies, Fox would be more than happy to pick up UFC Boxing as content for their cable and broadcast networks. Another chip in Ari Emanuel’s portfolio to raise the rights fees from Fox.

Bottom line: Do not dismiss the UFC Boxing trial balloon out of hand. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If Dana White is as bored with UFC’s current MMA matchmaking as the fans are, there’s good reason to keep him motivated. Going to battle with Bob Arum would get Dana White pumped up and Arum would relish the opportunity to make the battle a proxy war against Trump.

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

A/B testing of UFC Boxing, streaming proves Bob Arum right; is Dana White headed out of MMA?

By Zach Arnold | October 26, 2017

Dana White says UFC is ready to consider a new media deal that involves a heavy dose of streaming online video.

Like Amazon?

UFC Fight Pass has not been the success as previously touted by supporters. The Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor PPV mess showed UFCFP’s limitations. It was never meant to be The WWE Network but it was supposed to be taken seriously.

The mixed messages coming out of Dana White’s mouth reflect a combination of two factors. First, he is a human trial balloon trying to emulate A/B testing to see what provokes versus what bores. Second, Dana’s still on the same playbook from the Fertitta Era as opposed to the playbook new ownership (Ari Emanuel/WME) is using. Dana believes in keeping in-house production whereas media reports over the last year indicate WME would be open to outsourcing production and Fight Pass to the right media partner. This constant push-pull from Dana versus WME really surfaced from December 2016 to June 2017 when Conor McGregor forced his way into getting a fight with Floyd Mayweather. Dana was an effective human laser pointer for Lorenzo Fertitta because they were on the page. I question whether Dana and WME management are on the same page.

Here’s the reality: ESPN’s financial collapse ensures that Fox Sports is the only major TV player for UFC. It was very interesting to see Dana White acknowledge that reality during a recent interview with Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal. Bob Arum rightfully slammed Dana for his typical “boxing is greedy” sales pitch by noting that the renegotiating window for UFC & Fox didn’t pan out and that WME is considering diversification by promoting boxing fights under the Zuffa Boxing banner.

UFC getting a new television deal with Fox is critical. Fox Sports 1 needs UFC. UFC needs Fox Sports because their PPV buys are tanking. UFC needs Fox Sports to help manage UFC Fight Pass. And, most importantly, the new ATSC 4k over-the-air TV format will provide streaming options alongside Ultra HD content. That is the smart play. It would be the smart play for Disney to buy UFC as a league and own it, but Bob Iger and John Skipper have made a series of horrible decisions regarding the future of ESPN. They did well to bring in Top Rank and yet I could easily argue that Top Rank has not gotten the kind of support from Disney that it deserves.

One thing remains consistent from UFC: they’re not selling. I think it’s a mistake. A rather large one. If Disney or Fox can pay $6 billion for UFC, you take the money and run. Pay off the investors. Live happily ever after. There is way too much risk involved in the fight business. And if/when the Ali Act gets amended to cover MMA, the conditions will change further.

Disney really could use UFC right now to help save ESPN but ESPN is heavily over-leveraged on their NFL & NBA contracts. Netflix is heavily deep in original content spending. Which leaves us with Amazon and Twitter for online streaming options. Both entities have dabbled with NFL programming and have found it to be an absolute data-mining gold mine. Even better, those entities paid the NFL and got the streaming product while offloading the production to the league and its TV partners. Amazon is paying the NFL $50 million for 10 games. $5 million a show. How much would Amazon pay for UFC events? Could UFC get Amazon to take over Fight Pass and reframe FP as a one-stop shop for Reebok gear? UFC and Reebok would benefit enormously from Amazon.

As Bob Arum would say, one monopoly helping out another monopoly. How much is UFC really worth? We’re about to find out.

The angle I’m really interested in is UFC Boxing. Since WME took over UFC ownership, Dana White has been skipping various UFC events. This has raised suspicions about Dana’s MMA future. What better parachute for Dana to transition out of MMA than to head a boxing project under the Zuffa banner? WME could keep Dana for UFC but give him the carrot that he has really been interested in his whole life. It would allow Dana to continue his “boxing is greedy” storyline and cast him in a new story where he can portray himself as an incoming hero. It would be a great ego stroke.

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

After monstrous Fuji TV ratings, Bob Arum wants Ryota Murata to fight at the Tokyo Dome

By Zach Arnold | October 25, 2017

After blockbuster Fuji TV ratings were announced for WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata’s latest fight at Ryogoku Kokugikan, we predicted that Murata co-promoters Akihiko Honda & Bob Arum would aim for a big fight at the Tokyo Dome.

Right on cue, Bob Arum told the Japanese press that he is ready to go along with Teiken’s “Top of Top” marketing plan to have Ryota Murata fight Gennady Golovkin (or Canelo Alvarez) at the Tokyo Dome.

Fuji TV is back as a major power player

Ten years after the collapse of PRIDE, Fuji TV is in the driver’s seat for make a major fight with Ryota Murata happen in Japan.

Murata drawing a 20.5% overall rating on broadcast television is an NFL-sized rating that means there is significant room to generate tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship & rights fees to package a Japanese non-PPV TV fight. The money is now possible to achieve a Las Vegas-level pay day.

What makes Murata’s fast rise in Japan all the more impressive is that he gives his promoters (Mr. Honda & Mr. Arum) leverage to do business in Asia. That’s Bob’s bread-and-butter. Murata is now big-time in a heavyweight fight market. Big business can be done in Japan and it carries impact globally.

Mike Tyson fought twice at the Tokyo Dome. He fought Tony Tubbs and Buster Douglas. Booking a fight with Murata vs. Golovkin or Murata vs. Canelo Alvarez at the Tokyo Dome would likely sell 40,000+ tickets and be the biggest Japanese fight on broadcast television in decades.

What’s next?

Top Rank and Teiken Promotions want to get a couple of fights under Murata’s belt before they get to Golovkin. Canelo and Golovkin are going to re-match. If Golovkin wins, will his camp play it safe by wanting a Vegas fight or will they take the risk of fighting in Japan?

Undoubtedly, there is some risk involved in trying to plan 18 months in advance for a fight on paper that looks incredible.

Things are going very well right now for Top Rank. Ryota Murata, Terence Crawford, and Vasyl Lomachenko are all big bets for Bob Arum and he’s winning right now. Murata could end up being Top Rank’s crown jewel.

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

Ryota Murata shatters Fuji TV fight ratings with monstrous 20.5%, creating “Top of Top” plan vs. Golovkin

By Zach Arnold | October 24, 2017

Bob Arum’s big bet with new WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata is drawing enormous PRIDE-level Japanese television ratings for Fuji TV.

Fuji Boxing, which produced the Ryogoku Kokugikan telecast for the Hassan N’Dam/Ryota Murata re-match on Sunday, experienced incredible television ratings. According to Video Research, the Fuji Boxing broadcast drew an overall 20.5% rating (22.7% in Kansai area) with a peak rating at 9:04 PM JST of 26.7% (29.4% in Kansai).

The Murata/N’Dam fight drew the highest overall rating for a Fuji TV boxing broadcast in 17 years. 8,500 paid was the sellout attendance at Ryogoku. In regrettable contrast, Disney aired the fight live in America on ESPN2 but gave zero promotion for the bout.

Business for Sunday’s fight was so big that NHK has reportedly offered Ryota Murata a role on their New Year’s Eve mega Red & White Musical Festival show.

The next step

The new marketing pitch for Murata in the Japanese press is a Top of Top mega showdown with Gennady Golovkin in the next couple of years. It is predictable that many business forces will want such a big fight for Las Vegas. That wisdom can and will be challenged with the benchmarks Ryota Murata and his promoters Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) & Bob Arum (Top Rank) are reaching in the Japanese marketplace.

Golovkin can draw 40,000+ versus Murata in Japan. It will be much bigger at the arena/stadium than in Las Vegas. If a fight happens between Murata and Golovkin, it should happen in Japan. There is plenty of money to be made. Between Fuji TV rights fees, a rights fee for a building like Saitama Super Arena or the Tokyo Dome, and gigantic Asian sponsors/money marks willing to pay top dollar to get involved, there is every reason to believe that a Murata/Golovkin fight could generate a similar level of business as Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez accomplished in September.

What Bob Arum did right in Japan and what UFC did wrong

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans. Why? Because Bob Arum played by the traditional, tried-and-true ground rules a major fight promoter is required to follow to build a Japanese ace and draw significant cash in a world class combat sports market.

What are the golden rules to win big in Japan? A friendly reminder:

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the formula that works to score big in the Japanese marketplace. UFC had 10 years to make it happen and they failed. Their interest in going all-out has declined in each successive show. Octogenarian Bob Arum played by the ground rules and struck it rich with Ryota Murata. Everything is gravy right now.

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

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans

By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2017

Bob Arum is helping to fill the void in the Japanese fight business that UFC should have captured after the death of PRIDE.

Top Rank’s long-term bet on 2012 Gold Medalist Ryota Murata paid off. Murata disposed of Hassan N’Dam Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan to win the WBA Middleweight title. Murata should have won the first time but that wasn’t his fault.

Murata’s fight aired Sunday on ESPN2 with zero advertising by Disney. Another puzzling and insultingly disgraceful decision by Bristol. The Fuji TV Boxing production in conjunction with legendary promoter Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) at Ryogoku Kokugikan with Jimmy Lennon Jr. as announcer was brilliantly smooth. Everything went exactly to plan.

Top Rank is achieving marketing benchmarks in the Japanese marketplace that UFC should have reached after PRIDE’s death. UFC has squandered away momentum built in 2012 and has increasingly bailed on a historically wonderful combat sports country with highly motivated fans willing to spend money.

Watching a big fight in Japan is fun and, dare I say, romantic.

Compare and contrast the matchmaking strategies involving Top Rank and UFC in Japan. Arum went for the best in Murata and agreed to play the business & political game on Japanese terms. A true cooperation. UFC went with the Vince McMahon “this is how we do business” mindset. The best Japanese prospect on the most recent UFC Saitama Super Arena card is Shuri Kondo and UFC didn’t do a hell of a lot to promote her to the American fans. She’s the best potential Japanese star UFC has and it’s mostly due to her own efforts to build a cross-promotional Japanese brand. UFC is lucky to have her. I am skeptical that UFC will share Top Rank’s mindset in working with Kondo’s promoter (Pancrase) to carefully craft a Japanese-first strategy to score big with Kondo. Right now, Kondo is allowed to wrestle and do her thing. Will UFC kill that golden goose if they want her to fight under their banner long-term? It would be a big mistake to kill the best avenue she has to build an audience.

As for Ryota Murata, he expressed interest in a fight with Gennady Golovkin. The Japanese star trying to attach themselves to a big foreign name is a classic, tried-and-true headline grabbing technique that works. Top Rank is looking to book Murata vs. Olympic rival Esquiva Falcao. Arum seems confident that Murata will be a top player by the end of 2018. A fight versus Golovkin in Las Vegas would be predictable. A fight versus Golovkin in Japan would be a dream come true for everyone… including the financiers.

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

Allegedly groping female fighters with breast exams under color of law is predatory

By Zach Arnold | October 20, 2017

A public official allegedly violating a female individual by groping her boobs under the guise of legal authority is the textbook definition of sexual harassment. Literally. Read statute 1604.11 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s right there in plain English.

There’s a reason Americans trash the TSA as the spawn of satan. Groping women and children is not OK. Public agencies shouldn’t be allowed to act in such a manner.

It’s especially not OK if a doctor, acting as an agent of an athletic commission, supposedly tells a fighter that they have to undergo a breast exam or else get their fight canceled.

When two high-profile MMA female fighting legends come out and accuse an athletic commission of being groped under the color of law, that’s a story. The problem is that we don’t know enough information to fill in the fact pattern.

What is the current fact pattern?

Right now, there are allegations.

What we don’t know:

The lack of disclosure on really important details makes this an incomplete story. More data is needed before some gumshoe reporting can proceed, especially on Public Records Act requests. PRAs in Massachusetts are relatively easy to file.

I am accepting all tips & leads regarding information on these claims. My e-mail address for this story is All communications will be kept confidential if requested.

The good news and the bad news

The good news is that Massachusetts has clear instructions for any victim of sexual harassment on what to do and how to fight back. Thumbs up.

The bad news is that Massachusetts, like most other American states, has strict time guidelines in place.

If you’re an employee filing a claim against an employer with EEOC and intend on a Federal court case, you have up to 300 days to file a complaint.

If you’re filing a claim involving state law or a state agency, you have up to six months to file a complaint with the the Massachusetts Committee Against Discrimination. You can also file a damages claim against the state Athletic Commission within six months.

Filing a damages claim against an Athletic Commission goes smoother with an attorney writing the letter but you can just as easily write the claim letter with a little research and some Google Scholar background reading.

The state can either respond to your claims in a timely fashion or ignore the claim. If the state rejects or ignores your claim, you can sue. If the state gives you a pathetic settlement offer, you can also reject it and sue.

The majority of Americans don’t understand that suing a public agency is a different set of rules than suing an individual citizen. Sovereign immunity gives a public agency an advantage in knowing what’s coming and a chance to either reach a settlement or gird their loins for what’s coming next.

Filing a complaint with a state agency costs little or no money. It puts you on the right path and increases your options on what to do next.

You can hire an attorney on contingency or on a limited fee basis if you want to file in state or Federal court.

You can also go to small claims court. The limit is $7,000 in damages per case. The great news is that the state agency you sue in small claims can’t have their attorney representing them. And if you win your case, you got yourself a judgment.

Even a small claims judgment can get a state bureaucrat demoted or fired.

How should future female fighters handle breast exam ultimatums

If you don’t have breast implants… and any agent of an athletic commission orders you to undergo a breast exam (with no specific health/safety rule on the books), just say no. Force the issue. If/when an athletic commission cancels your fight, immediately file a damages claim against the athletic commission and file a claim with the appropriate state agency to start the clock.

Negative media coverage only moves the needle so much. Take action in the courts. Getting the ball rolling is simpler than it appears and it works.

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

After ABC debacle of new Unified MMA rules, UFC moves to kill extra weight classes

By Zach Arnold | October 18, 2017

UFC just gave top ally Andy Foster and the Association of Boxing Commissions the Heisman stiff-arm on adding extra weight classes to Mixed Martial Arts.

UFC has closely worked with the California State Athletic Commission on new plans to combat the grotesque epidemic of fighters having vital organs shut down as a result of cutting too much weight.

A major component of the California reformation plan involves adding more weight classes. Andy Foster, the Executive Officer at California’s commission, used his perch with ABC to get the trade organization on board with adding more weight classes. This is the first step to get ABC to politick the major state athletic commissions to adopt ABC recommendations.

The politicking strategy has failed terribly so far in regards to pushing a newer, modified set of Unified Rules for MMA. Some states have said yes, some have said no. Predictably, as a result, it has led to mass confusions for fighters and officials who have to memorize two different sets of fighting rules.

The same ABC politicking strategy that failed on pushing new Unified Rules has gotten a death sentence from the UFC on adding more weight classes. Dana White officially delivered the edict.

Even if you buy into UFC’s argument against adding weight classes, there’s a bigger issue at play: title belts. Adding more MMA title belts is bad for business.

So what’s the good news?

The good news is that UFC’s top lobbyists, especially in California, are pushing forward on many different ideas to combat dangerously scary weight cutting.

So far, the results have been… mixed. California pushed for early morning weigh-ins on the day before fight shows and it has resulted in a remarkable increase of fighters missing weight. The logic behind the idea was simple: give fighters more time to regain weight before the night of the fight. 36 hours is better than 24 hours.

Unfortunately, life is full of unintended consequences. Giving fighters extra time to gain weight before fight night has resulted in nutritionists and fighter assistants botching their weight-cutting schedules. Risk management has gone haywire. Crazy things are happening all over the world.

Patience is a virtue and it’s a safe bet that California, in conjunction with UFC, will figure out the right recipe to fix this crisis. It is a crisis when fighters are pushing their vital organs to the brink of shutting down while fighting off staph infections. It shouldn’t be up to the promoters to absorb all the financial cost and responsibility for irresponsible behavior.

Athletic commissions have increased fines for fighters who miss weight. That’s not working. I suspect it would be a much different story if fight promoters increased liquidated damages clauses in their fighter contracts for gross violations of missing weight. We may have reaching that point shortly.

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

UFC may have breached Mark Hunt’s contract but saved themselves from a much bigger lawsuit

By Zach Arnold | October 18, 2017

If I die fighting, that’s fine.”

Mark Hunt’s health admission is a career killer but potentially a life extender. It’s also an opportunity for UFC and Mark Hunt to reach a divorce settlement.

Erik Magraken (@ErikMagraken) of Combat Sports Law recently did an interview with our friend Jordan Breen at Sherdog (listen here to Press Row). The somber discussion revolved around whether or not UFC had a legal leg to stand on for removing Mark Hunt from their UFC Sydney fight card after his Players Voice interview where he claimed to be suffering from slurred speech and sleeping problems. Hunt would later claim that his words were taken out of context.

If Players Voice took Mark Hunt’s word out of context, he should sue them for defamation. Instead, Hunt appears to be preparing a breach of contract lawsuit against UFC. Hunt already has one lawsuit against UFC stemming from his UFC 200 fight with Brock Lesnar.

Breach of contract vs. negligence claims

After the Players Voice interview was published online, UFC removed Mark Hunt from their UFC Sydney fight card. In response, Mark Hunt claimed that he passed medical examinations from Australian regulators and that he had spent $100,000 on his training camp for the UFC Sydney fight.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what causes of action Mark Hunt would be preparing to sue UFC over.

First, breach of contract. UFC booked Mark Hunt. Hunt claims he passed his medicals. UFC backed out of his contractual booking. Hunt suffered economic damages from his fight getting canceled.

Second, breach of implied covenant of good faith. Hunt and UFC have a history of bad blood. His Nevada lawsuit is Exhibit A. Hunt will argue that his Players Voice article was used as a pretext for UFC to retaliate against him for the legal troubles he has caused.

Hunt claims he detrimentally relied on UFC’s word and spent $100,000 in preparation to perform his contractual duties. Hunt will want damages from lost fight money and training camp expenses.

On his breach claims, Mark Hunt probably has a fair chance of winning a financial settlement against UFC.

UFC has a business to run. If they have to pay Mark Hunt to go away, they will. They are less concerned about a breach lawsuit and more concerned about a major lawsuit involving negligence.

When a fighter says he has brain damage, take his word seriously. Erik Magraken highlighted this succinctly in his Press Row interview.

“Contractually, they might not have the right to pull the guy from the fight.

“But if they put the guy on, that becomes the indefensible decision especially if something goes awry for Mark.”

UFC and its venture capital investors want no part of a wrongful death suit. They do not want to see a replay of what happened with Magomed Abdusalamov in New York.

Brain damage is a physical disability. It is more probable than not that Mark Hunt has suffered serious physical damage over his 20 year fighting career. UFC has a duty to care about the safety of their fighters. Letting Mark Hunt fight would be a breach of their duty to care. UFC could let Australian regulators absorb liability but they chose not to.

UFC’s decision to pull Mark Hunt is entirely reasonable. It’s also reasonable to argue that UFC potentially engages in disparate treatment regarding the health and safety of their fighters. It’s the whole point of Mark Hunt’s first UFC lawsuit over the Brock Lesnar fight. Additionally, Daniel Cormier claims that UFC told him not to address Kevin Lee’s staph infection at UFC 216 even after the Nevada State Athletic Commission gave Kevin Lee the green light to fight.

Hypocrisy never moves the needle but it’s a solid legal argument to make.

The big money behind UFC has every right to be risk averse when it comes to Mark Hunt. Negligence is “the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.” Letting Mark Hunt fight would be the textbook definition of reckless: substantial and unjustifiable risk. It would be unconscionable.

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

Liability panic for California commission, fighters after Jerry Brown signs Scott Wiener no-felony HIV bill

By Zach Arnold | October 11, 2017

Want to know what kind of health & safety law sends a chill down the spine of law enforcement and regulators such as the California State Athletic Commission?

KNOWINGLY exposing others to HIV will no longer be a felony in California

Do you feel safer knowing that someone in California can intentionally give you HIV on purpose and not be convicted for a felony?

Outside of traumatic brain injury and paralysis, the highest health & safety risk concern for an Athletic Commission is the transmission of a virus or disease such as HIV and staph. Except if you’re Nevada’s athletic commission and you let a fighter like Kevin Lee compete with staph. Combat sports is legally classified as ultrahazarous for a good reason.

Athletic Commission liability for issues relating to transmission of viruses such as HIV is high. Really high. In 2005, veteran California boxing referee Ray Corona worked a fight in which one fighter had HIV and the fighter in question had shed blood. The Athletic Commission sent Corona a letter to advise him on getting tested for HIV. Corona sued the Athletic Commission for negligence and had to win a fight in the 4th District Court of Appeals in order to prove that the Athletic Commission didn’t have immunity. Google Scholar has the easy-to-read appeals decision here.

The Attorney General fighting Ray Corona in 2009 was Jerry Brown. Eight years later, Governor Jerry Brown signed the most explosive HIV public policy law in the country.

What California’s new HIV law covers

Senate Bill 239 modifies California’s Penal Code to make willful and intentional transmission of HIV through sexual intercourse from one person to another (or a third party) a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The legislation intent behind SB-239 is largely about prostitution.

SB-239 modifies California’s Health and Safety Code regarding general HIV transmission:

SEC. 5. Section 120290 is added to the Health and Safety Code, to read:

120290. (a) (1) A defendant is guilty of intentional transmission of an infectious or communicable disease if all of the following apply:

(A) The defendant knows that he or she or a third party is afflicted with an infectious or communicable disease.

(B) The defendant acts with the specific intent to transmit or cause an afflicted third party to transmit that disease to another person.

(C) The defendant or the afflicted third party engages in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transmission to that person.

(D) The defendant or the third party transmits the infectious or communicable disease to the other person.

(E) If exposure occurs through interaction with the defendant and not a third party, the person exposed to the disease during voluntary interaction with the defendant did not know that the defendant was afflicted with the disease. A person’s interaction with the defendant is not involuntary solely on the basis of his or her lack of knowledge that the defendant was afflicted with the disease.

SB-239 is oriented towards prostitution but the impact of this bill will be far-reaching into many high-risk social activities. Like combat sports.

Current HIV testing rules for Athletic Commission

California Business and Professions Code Section 18712 specifies that any fighter applying for a license or license renewal provide proof of HIV & hepatitis testing up to 30 days before application submission.

Once the license is granted, a fighter has up to 180 days (six months) to get tested again for HIV & hepatitis.

If a fighter isn’t licensed because they test positive for HIV or hepatitis, this information is not disclosed to the public and the appeal is held in a closed hearing. The Athletic Commission cannot disclose to other athletic commissions which fighters test positive for HIV.

Who should be concerned or panicked?

First, the Athletic Commission. The current HIV testing law has a loophole that you can drive a truck through once someone gets licensed. The original push in the Legislature when the BPC section was negotiated involved testing every 90 days. Sacramento said no and demanded a softening to every 180 days.

An increase in exposure to HIV is terrible for referees, judges, photographers, doctors, and fans at ring side. You can’t develop a bulletproof system of protection but it’s hard to minimize risk when you pass a law that gives an opening for fighters to intentionally give others a costly disease like HIV.

Second, fighters — especially poor or minority athletes. Vulnerable is a strong but accurate word to describe the situation. Many are uninsured and cannot afford out-of-pocket to pay for their own HIV testing. If someone contracts HIV and doesn’t know it, they can give it to another fighter or athletic commission staff member. If someone contracts HIV and knows it and decides to spread the virus to others, there’s no longer a stigma or fear of criminal punishment. This could disproportionally impact those who are the least protected.

What can the Athletic Commission do to mitigate SB-239 risks?

The Athletic Commission cannot pass a rule or regulation that conflicts with the Business & Professions Code statute regarding the 30/180 day testing rule. In an ideal world, the AC would pass a regulation to have fighters tested more frequently.

So now what?

Given the political temperature of the Sacramento Legislature, the Athletic Commission needs help from their Medical Advisory Committee (AC doctors) and UFC-backed lobbyists at Platinum Advisors to amend the BPC code on testing. The most reasonable proposal would be to amend the BPC code to keep the 30/180 day testing rule in place but to add a section requiring fighters to take an additional test a week before they fight. This would give the front office time to process test results in a timely manner.

Every stakeholder is impacted by SB-239. I’m not happy at all if I’m UFC or Bellator. It’s not good for business to have an increased risk of HIV transmission. I’m scared to death if I’m the athletic commission because the fighters and employees are at an increased risk. Nobody wins here except trial attorneys.

The impact of SB-239 on the Athletic Commission

You have to be a little reckless in order to be a fighter in a sport that is legally classified as ultrahazardous. There are lots of smart, law-abiding participants. There are also lots of fighters who are reckless in and out of the ring. Recklessness is engaging in substantial and unjustifiable risk. Not every fighter is a member of a seminary.

The impact of SB-239 is instant in the news headlines it generates. It’s a giant neon sign to lots of careless individuals that you can intentionally inflict a lifetime of emotional distress and financial hardship without much legal consequence. The poster child for this behavior is Thomas Guerra, convicted in San Diego and sentenced to only six months in prison by a judge who really wanted to throw the book at him.

HIV isn’t the death sentence that it once used to be (thank God). However, you would be hard pressed to find a District Attorney who would refuse to prosecute a person for murder/manslaughter if their intentional transmission of HIV resulted in a victim’s death. The cost of HIV drugs is expensive.

California has a significant base of boxers and MMA fighters. If the stigma of transmitting HIV to a third party is gone because of SB-239, what can the Athletic Commission do to decrease the risk of HIV transmission to other fighters, officials, inspectors, and even fans at ring side? An emergency plan is needed.

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

Can Bob Iger save ESPN’s cable future by acquiring UFC before he leaves Disney in 2019?

By Zach Arnold | October 4, 2017

Intrepid MMA veteran writer Damon Martin is reporting that Fox Sports’ exclusive negotiating window with UFC has expired. UFC is now free to negotiate with other television networks. Fox will undoubtedly be given a right to match any offer. The network views UFC programming as critical to the future of Fox Sports given MMA’s product format of quick action and tight time windows.

A lot of things have changed in the television landscape in the last four months.

First, Bob Iger is leaving Disney in the middle of 2019. Iger has branched out into politics and those who have speculated a political run in his future aren’t looking so stupid right now. Iger, along with John Skipper, have been driving forces behind turning ESPN into a rabid political machine. With ESPN’s core cable business in decline and Trump television ratings hot, ESPN management embraced America’s political civil war. Trump is the raging topic in NFL and NBA social circles. Going to war against Trump is a pyrrhic victory for ESPN that will lead to long-term ratings erosion.

Disney is pushing ESPN into the world of streaming in 2018. The problem for ESPN is that they can’t air 100% of their cable content on their OTT platform due to contractual obligations. ESPN needs content that they can both own and stream without legal obstacles in the way. ESPN will be competing with both legacy cable networks and Silicon Valley pipelines (Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Hulu/Roku, Playstation Vue).

A collapsing ESPN would be a permanent stain on Bob Iger’s business legacy. Trump has already managed to weaponize ESPN as a tool in America’s cultural wars and has played a winning hand so far. Iger was on Trump’s business council but resigned over the Antifa vs. White Nationalists battle in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bob Iger admitted on Tuesday at a Vanity Fair summit that he personally got involved in ESPN personnel matters when ESPN host Jemele Hill called Trump a white supremacist.

The media coverage in 2017 about ESPN has been everything except sports. The latest salvo involves ESPN vs. Altice (Cablevision) in New York City. Conditions are deterioriating for ESPN and Disney is in the crosshairs. Disney needs to stop ESPN’s bleeding.

The best way to stop the bleeding is to take away the original cornerstone of Fox Sports 1. A marriage between ESPN and UFC seemed unthinkable as recent as six months ago. Not any more. Because…

Second, Amazon and Twitter are compiling huge amounts of video viewership data from their customers on streaming NFL programming. After two weeks of airing NFL games produced by CBS & NFL Network, Amazon executives are publicly stating how aggressive the appetite is for professional sports content on Amazon Prime.

This is disastrous news for ESPN. Amazon was already interested in obtaining the British video rights to the English Premier League. Amazon is in bed with the NFL. The NFL won’t be their last sports programming deal. WWE will be available in the coming years. ESPN has long-term marriages with the NFL and NBA that are costly and deliver much less bang-for-the-buck when compared to Twitter & Amazon. Not only has Silicon Valley swallowed up sports rights, they’ve managed to do it in a way where they aren’t putting out major expenditures on production.

The biggest, tastiest sports property on the market right now is UFC. UFC means a lot to Fox Sports. It’s hard to justify Fox Sports 1 surviving long-term as a television network without the channel being the home of major UFC events. The value is too great.

Keep in mind that Amazon has as many Prime subscribers as ESPN has households on American cable bundles. Amazon obtaining the rights to some, if not all, UFC programming along with managing Fight Pass would be a huge win for Amazon, UFC, and Reebok. It could create explosive merchandising growth opportunities for UFC.

ESPN needs to sign UFC to fend off both Fox Sports and Silicon Valley. Disney received a giant gut punch two months ago when Netflix poached away prolific American television power broker Shonda Rhimes. Disney is still very profitable and in good shape but ESPN is the albatross. It’s unlikely that Disney will be able to sell ESPN to venture capitalists given its monster television contracts with the NFL and NBA. Disney needs to give ESPN CPR and the best way to do it is to go all-in for UFC. Otherwise, ESPN will continue to bleed thanks to a death by a thousand paper cuts.

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

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