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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Hear that sound? Vitor Belfort getting title shot with win over Dan Henderson

I’m getting tired about talking about Vitor Belfort.

The man has tested positive for performance enhancers and now takes a performance enhancer for his ‘health’. He can’t fight in the US because of his history. Yet the man is insistent he’s a noble fighter who deserves a title shot after losing two.

Chris Hall of Bloody Elbow reports that during a conference call yesterday Dana White said Belfort is ‘definitely’ in line for the winner of the Anderson Silva v. Chris Weidman fight in December.

Great. Cheaters and jerks prosper as long as they knock people out.

Thankfully, with a loss, White says Belfort is out of contention.

“If [Belfort] loses to Dan Henderson, could he still fight for the title? No, I don’t think so.”

Count me as one who hopes for a certain outcome during UFC Fight Night 32 this Saturday.


The UFC going global: Mexico, Velasquez, Werdum and Singapore, Ellenberger, Saffiedine

The UFC has made some big announcements lately.

Their efforts to expand globally are moving quickly. Earlier today the UFC confirmed their first venture into Asia with a card to be crafted for Jan. 4 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. At the top will be welterweight contender (and jab test dummy for Rory MacDonald)  Jake Ellenberger against Tarec Saffiedine.

That fight card is significant more for it’s locale than the ripples it is likely to make in any of the title hunts. With the UFC ready to unveil TUF: China, a card in Asia was always a logical destination.

The more important news is where their next international card will land.

Bloody Elbow reports that Fabricio Werdum will be Cain Velasquez’s next victim, er, opponent with the fight coming in Mexico City, Mexico. The date of the card is tentatively the weekend of April 19 or April 26, 2014.

Werdum is on a three-fight win streak in the promotion. Famously, he claimed the Strikeforce title by defeating pound-for-pound great Fedor Emelianenko before losing it in a lackluster bout with Alistair Overeem before returning to the UFC. Velasquez meanwhile just defended his title for the second time.

As the story goes, Velasquez’s father, Efrain Velasquez, was a Mexican immigrant who made six trips across the blazing hot desert into the US only to be deported all six times. His seventh time across, he met Cain’s mother, Isable, an American national and was permitted to remain in the states.  Both Isabel and Efrain would work daily picking lettuce in the fields of California and Arizona in order to support Cain, his brother and his sister.

Cain went on to be an All-American at Arizona State and the rest is history. Velasquez is sure to be a big hit south of the USA border and big business for the UFC. Keep your eyes on Latin fighters like Gilbert Melendez, Diego Sanchez and Joseph Benevidez, who are sure to be at the top of the UFC list for fights on that card.

As has been the case in many foreign countries, the atmosphere is sure to be intense and passionate. It will be one hell of a show to watch.


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 🙂 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.


UFC Fight For The Troops, and what constitutes a headliner fight?

On Wednesday Tim Kennedy will square off against Rafael Natal in the headliner fight of the UFC Fight Night 31.

Some critics have called into question the fight’s legitimacy as a headliner fight. Kennedy has yet to prove a contender in the UFC while Natal is, well, who is Natal? Even Kennedy made headlines this week when he mistakenly confused him with the tennis player, Rafael Nadal.

A headliner fight is usually a great fight on paper. It is the fight meant to promote the card. It tends to be the easy-to-point-at best fight on the card (in this case, the FD is looking forward to Dennis Bermudez v. Steven Siler)

In this case, UFC Fight Night 31 was meant to have a great headliner. Originally, Lyoto Machida was to make his debut against Kennedy and instead, an injury fill-in put him against Mark Munoz – and being a high-profile fight, Machida took it. Smart move. To replace Machida, the UFC added Natal – the weak link in the fight.

The unfortunate part is that Natal is no scrub. In fact, he’s 3-0 this year in the UFC. In fact, he’s 5-2-1 in the promotion. The fact is, he’s never fought anyone remotely as high-profile as Kennedy and therein lies the rub. Kennedy has ties to the military and like Brian Stann it has inflated his profile. He is the logical fighter to headline a card that is free to US troops.

In this case, the UFC did not need a truly great fight (by whatever standards you measure that by) to headline this card – it only needed a fight that could promote it.


UFC 167, Chael Sonnen, and the issue of promotion

You know when Chael Sonnen opens his mouth (or gets his typing fingers going a la Twitter), something interesting is going to emerge.

Cue Mr. Sonnen. Via MMAMania.com, Sonnen spoke on TapouT Radio on SiriusXM yesterday and commented about the job his bosses at the UFC have done promoting UFC 167:

“…outside of my fight and St. Pierre’s, I don’t know who else is fighting that night.  The card as a whole has not been promoted. I think when you have Georges St. Pierre on a card, that at times they view that as enough. And it appears that that’s the case.”

Sonnen makes a great point. But without the strength of a union, it is a moot one for most fighters.

This is nothing new for the UFC. They often leverage the power of a single fighter for PPV cards. It is the individual fighter who people are there to watch. If the UFC felt a huge name such as GSP, Anderson Silva or Jon Jones is all it takes to win the derby, then they ride that horse. In the case of UFC 167, the UFC appears to think GSP is enough to sell it.

Conversely, this top-heavy tactic is often use by the UFC to promote weak cards, leveraging a name fighter to draw in the PPV numbers. Check the cards that Jones had headlined in the past and you will notice how incredibly weak they are. So in a way a lot of less known fighters benefit when a big name like Jones headlines their card because he draws them in.

The issue is this tactic is more often a disservice to the other fighters. The individual brand of each fighter who isn’t promoted suffers without the hype the UFC can provide. Fighters raise the issue about the lack of visibility they earn for their sponsors all the time – and this is directly tied to how well the UFC can promote that individual, as well. The FD thinks Sonnen is coming from. He says as much.

While it appears Sonnen is railing for his own purposes, he is voicing a majority concern. Sonnen – unlike most fighters – is a master of self-promotion. Not being given the chance to do his thing to its full potential irks him. Except he has a great ability to do it without the UFC anyways. Most other fighters do not have his charisma and self-promoting powers.

It is certainly an issue how a fight card is promoted. While it can be used to help a lot of fighters get eyeballs on their fights, it more often stunts their potential exposure through pre-fight hype. Unfortunately, it’s another thing for fighters they cannot control.

For your perusal, here is a look at how stacked the UFC 167 card actually is:

MAIN CARD

Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks – for welterweight title

Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen

Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald

Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley

Ali Bagautinov vs. Timothy Elliott

PRELIMINARY CARD

Donald Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham

Ed Herman vs. Thales Leites

Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story

Edwin Figueroa vs. Erik Perez

PRELIMINARY CARD

Jason High vs. Anthony Lapsley

Vaughan Lee vs. Sergio Pettis

Cody Donovan vs. Gian Villante