MMMA – Mainstream Mixed Martial Arts? Not so, says UFC boss

Through the cultural fabric of western society, MMA is still an oddity.

Consider this scenario: Jon Jones and Snookie arrive at a VIP lounge door at the same time. Who gets in? With Jones, the doorman would have to check if he’s on the list. Snookie just has to show up. Unless the doorman fits the profile (know what I mean?), it’s Jersey Shore over the NY kid. It’s dirty bars before armbars.

It may be unfortunate but it is true.

Dana White knows as much. As the CEO of the largest MMA promotion on the planet, its his job. His job is also to promote so it’s rare for anything to come out of his mouth to be straight truth, no spin; all honesty, no hype. That is why his recent comments point to a reality most fans know but few admit: MMA is has still not sailed into the mainstream.

As reported by Marc Raimondi of Fox Sports, White recounted a story about attending the New England Partriots against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A casual conversation with a nearby fan – a 30-something male (cough, fits the profile) – who had no idea what the UFC, no idea who Jon Jones was or that Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was related to the champ. The man even queried White if the promotion was regional.

There you have it. The average sports fan doesn’t know about MMA. Quite (hardly) a surprise. This is why the move to Fox was a massive arrangement.

The issue is that the partnership hardly won enough respect by most mainstream media. When it happened, I spoke to a local sports radio host who said, ‘The UFC is the ugly girl at the party – it’s gone mainstream.’ Even in saying this, the host couldn’t name three fighters.

Mainstream sports media is a top-heavy sector, run by baby boomers who adhere to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes and think MMA is, ‘…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Most of these individuals understand the monetary power of the sport and realize it continues to grow but are scared to accept it. They hide behind how it doesn’t whet their tastes. They choose not to talk about.

It is a condescending ignorance. The sport will continue to grow because it’s fan-base is young and diverse. Like most things, eventually there will be an audience size too large to ignore. The question of whether it reaches mainstream acceptance will be if an educated segment grows within the media, so that those speaking to fans about the sport are educated and enthusiastic.

When that happens, Dana White won’t be able to go to a football game – he’ll be too recognized.

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FIGHT!!! Dana White and Bjorn Rebney go at it

Isn’t it great when art reflects life? Or in this case, when mixed martial arts reflect life. Without throwing punches, the CEO’s of the two most prominent North American MMA promotions are landing significant strikes.

It all began when Eddie Alvarez defeated Michael Chandler. The very public, litigious battle between Alvarez and Bellator has been one of the bigger storylines in MMA this year. Which made Alvarez’s victory two-fold for the fighter – he scores a title, makes big money, and indirectly shoves it in the face of the promotion.¬† Dana White, apparently, found it more philosophical when he tweeted:

I’m hearing Djork oops Bjork got served a big fat plate of Karma tonight ūüôā Congrats Eddie!!

The direct shot at Rebney is vintage White. Whether you like it or not, his aggressive tactics are very effective in the PR sense but not in the professional sense. The two are competitors but White often brings it down to petty levels. He often chooses to not be the bigger man – though perhaps the more political one.

The meat on the bones then got tastier when video surfaced wherein Rebney is seen shaking his head behind Alvarez during the victors post-fight interview. Some have interpreted it as a slight, that Rebney was not impressed by the decision.

White made light of the situation during a press conference yesterday, when asked by a reporter (Canada’s ‘Showdown’ Joe Ferraro) to define the term ‘karma’ in reference to his original tweet. White’s response was, again, classic White. FIrst, he says he has ‘no comment on that’ then proceeds to comment in detail:

“When I sent that karma text, everybody knows what I was talking about. He tried to f–k this kid, and then he loses. What was he shaking his head about if he was so f–king pumped about his evening? If his evening was that wonderful and he was so pumped about it, why was he back there shaking his head and looked like he wanted to f–king kill himself?”

Once again, White uses his effective PR move by bringing up the head shake video. When coming from the president of the UFC, the average fan is inclined to agree – despite the fact the video is far from an indictment of Alvarez by Rebney. In the video, the fans can be heard booing the decision during the interview to which Rebney shakes his head. Either he is agreeing with their vocal displeasure by shaking his head or he disagrees by shaking his head.

Simultaneously as White’s press conference, Rebney finally fired back. In a nice piece of tact, Rebney shot back using the ratings from the Bellator card as his shield – in which the promotion scored a major solid with 1.1 million viewers.

@danawhite If Fight of the Year & 10 times better ratings than you did on your last televised show is Karma, bring me another plate.

Boom. Shots fired.


Payday for Alvarez

In a free market system, an individual contractor (i.e. fighters) can negotiate to fight under a banner based on their value. Unlike other sports leagues, the UFC and Bellator are not a collection of franchise and exist as the sole employing entity. Thus, while an NFL free agent has 32 suitors to negotiate with, a fighter only has a few promotions – thus limiting their value.

Unfortunately unlike the NFL – where there can be 8-12 teams that look very, very attractive to potential players – in the fight game there is really only one attractive destination: the UFC. All these means it’s essentially a buyers market and they are the buyer.

Eddie Alvarez fought hard to make it to the UFC, believing the ceiling was higher in their house for his potential earnings. Yet his $160,000 payout for his fight on Saturday puts him among the top five lightweights in the game, according to MMA-Manifesto.com.

If you study the list notice that the man he beat, Michael Chandler is second on the list – which makes sense considering together they make up Bellator’s most bankable names. Meanwhile, others on the list include Benson Henderson, Gilbert Melendez, Takanori Gomi, Josh Thomson, and Donald Cerrone. None of these fighters earned their reputations in the UFC. Their big paydays came when their promotions were folded or absorbed.

Alvarez never had that ‘luck’. He certainly has an argument that he should have been allowed to go the UFC. Still, his payday indicates that the UFC has little more to offer Alvarez than to prove himself against a stronger per-fight opponent stable. If you were to ask Dana White, though, he would likely tell you about the numerous ‘backdoor’ bonuses and support the UFC fighters receive. Whether they substantially increase the quality of a fighters’ life on their roster is hard to gauge.

Alvarez got paid nicely after Bellator 106 – the only injustice is he did not get to do it in the best division in MMA.


Bellator hits a solid

The embarrassment of having to drop their first announced pay-per-view tdown to cable TV, Spike, had to sting. Solid PPV numbers go a long way towards being relevant across from the UFC.

Or you just put on a great night of fights.

Thanks in large part to the Michael Chanlder v. Eddie Alvarez rematch, Bellator 106 put on an entertaining night of fights. Granted, a number of them ended in decision – something the UFC is used to – but they carried weight. Most the fight went the distance following great action.

Two titles changed hands, first when Daniel Straus fitched Pat Curran for the majority of five rounds. The fight also had the most notable moment when Curran – likely having split rounds one and two – illegally kneed Straus as he was rising from the mat. Straus was allowed time to recover and then spent the round grinding Curran down, resulting in a two-point advantage. A big mistake.

The coup de gras was the rematch between Chandler and Alvarez. The pace was equivalent to a bantamweight weight for the first three rounds, with Chandler pushing the pace constantly while Alvarez picked his spots to counterstrike. Eventually, the two landed enough hard shots that Chandler’s left eye swole shut and his nose bled profusely while Alvarez had major swelling around his left eye as well. The damage to Chandler’s face was more extensive and likely had to sway the judges who awarded the decision to Alvarez who reclaimed his belt.

The saga appears set to continue. Bjorn Rebney said the pair were likely to meet again. Asked if the card would likely headline a pay-per-view, Rebney replied, “Not unless I have my brains removed..”

Bellator had to pull out all the stops for this card; titles aplenty, and a plethora of their best fighters. The results were mixed. The promotion did prove, however, that given the right card they can compete in entertainment value with the UFC. – it all depends on the fighters. Whether they can continue to uncover quality fighters and develop them will determine whether Bellator continue their success.


Latest UFC numbers are lackluster despite serious drawing power

The UFC has some work to do.

An impressive article by Dave Meltzer at MMAFighting.com reveals the latest pay-per-view numbers (the essential lifeblood of the promotion a la TV-revenue for NFL games) are quite disappointing.

Recent studies show certain factors result in improved PPV drawing power. Factors such as a higher weight class, well-known fighters, grudge match, rematch, etc. often determine how well a card can draw. In a bubble these factors are a great barometer. When applied to outside factors, they can shrink in influence.

Despite the two recent cards being headlined by title fights at the two heaviest weight classes – one anchored by a formidable draw of Jon Jones, who has never drawn fewer than 400,000 PPV buys – early estimates are that neither card will top 325,000 buys. This summer, Anderson Silva v. Chris Weidman topped 525,000 buys.

Meltzer breaks down the many factors that contributed to the disappointing draws.

Jones fighting a low-profile fighter in Alexander Gustaffson (who is likely more well-known now) could have contributed. There was little to no bad blood. Few experts even expected Gustaffson to be much of a challenge. More damaging was the show was a week after Floyd Mayweather Jr. v. Canelo Alvarez boxing match which drew 2.2 million buys, the second biggest of all-time. Call it a hangover.

In the case of Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, the lower numbers are very curious. A trilogy fight between two of the best heavyweights in the sport’s history would surely be a monster draw – the fight was enough to sell out Houston’s Toyota Center which did the third-largest gate in the building’s history.

It appears that being wedged firmly beside the World Series playoffs, college football (prime time meetings between Clemson v. Florida State, USC v. Notre Dame, Arkansas v. Alabama), and HBO boxing could have put a dent in its audience. If that is the case, the UFC is still fighting for mainstream relevance in the marketplace. It’s a battle they are consistently making headway in, but not winning any decisive battles.

Meltzer makes another key point: the first time American audiences on mass saw Velasquez v. Dos Santos was when nine million tuned in for their first fight on Fox. That fight barely lasted a swig of beer before Velasquez was out on the mat. First impressions can last.

Outside of the PPV’s, the recent Fox card was also disappointing. Drawing only 122,000 viewers, it signaled the second lowest draw of the five Fox Sports 2 (and before it, Fuel) cards has broadcast. This in spit of a headliner fight between Lyota Machida v. Mark Munoz – easily the most attractive on paper when compared to the other five cards.

Meltzer goes on to point out it was not isolated to the UFC alone. The World Series of FIghting card that Saturday on NBC Sports drew 161,000 viewers (the lowest of its promotion to date) and Bellator on Spike the evening before did 520,000, its lowest this year as well. It appeared to be a bad weekend for MMA all around.

The UFC expects the upcoming 167 and 168 cards are each expected to top five million live gates, a figure the company has only hit six times in its history. Let’s hope they draw similarly on PPV, or this could be signalling a stagnating mark for the sport.

 


GSP says he will fight Ben Askren, but who will decide if he gets to?

Georges St. Pierre has dominated the welterweight landscape for five years, compiling nine consecutive title defenses.

He has fought grapplers (Josh Koschek, Jon Fitch),  BJJ specialists (Matt Serra, Jake Shields), strikers (Thiago Alves, Nick Diaz, Dan Hardy), and balanced fighters (BJ Penn, Carlos Condit). He has displayed an adaptability both mental and physical Рaltering his strategy to each opponent while focusing his game around exceptionally  crisp striking and stifling wrestling. Some would argue amongst those fighters are a few world-class level practitioners.

Talking with MMJunkie.com, St. Pierre stated he would like to fight Askren, “He’s a good fighter, undefeated, and yes, if he comes, I’ll fight him. No problem.”

The question is if GSP will ever get the chance.

There are a number of parties and politics at play. On one side we have the UFC by extension Dana White and GSP while on the other is Bellator by extension Bjorn Rebney and Askren.

According to Dana White after last weekend’s card, the UFC plans to talk with the Bellator champion. It would appear as such that the ball is in Askren’s corner. Until it isn’t.

The issue is the same as with Eddie Alvarez: Askren has a matching clause in his contract. Per Josh Gross of ESPN on Oct. 10, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and Askren have an agreement in place regarding the use of the matching clause Рshould the UFC offer Askren an immediate title shot, Bellator and Rebney will waive the clause.

The likelihood of that is slim. Immediate title shots are rare (they traditionally have gone to fighters who are consolidated onto the UFC’s roster a la Gilbert Melendez and Strikeforce) for a reason. This would make it appear as if the UFC is in the driver’s seat. Dana White has in the past expressed doubt whether Askren is capable of fighting even the tope contenders in the promotion.

Which ultimately brings us back to the champ. Realistically, GSP is in the most influential position. While GSP tried to assert to MMJunkie that, “I am the champion, and I have no choice, so it’s no problem.” That’s largely a lot of bunk. GSP surely has a choice. He had the choice to fight Anderson Silva and chose not to. He had the choice to fight Hendricks or Nikc Diaz and chose Diaz.

If GSP feels Askren is not deserving of an immediate shot or that he would like to take a long break (such as, oh, retirement), what leverage does Askren have? What would motivate the UFC to enter into a contract battle for Askren’s services and a title shot? It would take a huge deal which Bellator could not possibly match – to which Bellator will probably do anyways.

In the end, we won’t know until GSP v. Hendricks has taken place – because the outcome can change everything. If Hendricks wins, GSP retires (as some have rumored he would with a loss), the UFC would absolutely offer Askren a title shot for no reason other than to pilfer him from Bellator san the matching clause.

This could get very interesing.


Bellator Scores A Win Against The UFC

Wow.

Normally, a monster corporate beast like the UFC simply consumes all around them. Winning, as Charlie Sheen would say.

Over the last number of years, the UFC has pilfered top talent from its competition with regularity – the promise of better competition, better pay (via PPV sharing), and publicity are too much for fighters.

Eddie Alvarez, former Bellator lightweight champion, was one of those fighters. With his contract expiring last year, he had his mind set on departing the promotion for the green (albeit, bloody) pastures of the UFC’s deepest division. That is until Bjorn Rebney dropped a a poison pill in the water.

Rebney essentially used the language of the expiring deal called a matching provision that provided Bellator with the right to match all the material terms of a deal offered by another promotion.

As Rebney explained it to Brian Hemminger and Matt Bishop during an appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio earlier this year, “…we literally took the UFC contract, took it out of a PDF format and we changed the UFC name to Bellator and we signed it and we sent it back to Ed.”

Soon after, lawsuits were filed and Alvarez has not fought since. His legal options were short and he was forced to concede in August to the terms of a new deal with Bellator. While Alvarez is surely unhappy (also known as infuriated), this was an ugly situation waiting to happen. Bellator is trying to prove it won’t be pushed around by the UFC, and since its takeover by Viacom, it wants to prove a viable competitor. Alvarez surely had to know this. Bellator was not likely to let him walk without a fight.

Now with the Ortiz v. Jackson fight dead, Alvarez will tangle with Michael Chandler for the belt on Spike TV this Saturday. In what amounts to a ‘save the card’ -type fight, Alvarez can get paid nicely and maybe win a title. Presumably, he’ll also ponder to himself whether or not to stick in the knife now that Rebney needs him more than ever. Who knows? That would be fun to watch.