TUF 8 Casting Call

March 24, 2008

An open casting call for The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 will take place Thursday, April 10 at 9:00 AM in Boston at the Sheraton Hotel. Season 8 will feature lightweights (155lbs) and light heavyweights (205lbs). Dana White (UFC President and host), Craig Piligian (Executive Producer), and Brian Diamond (Senior Vice President, Sports & Specials, Spike TV) will oversee tryouts.

Interested applicants (must be over 21) are encouraged to sign up in advance at UFC.com or Spike.com.

Never Back Down – Week 2

March 24, 2008

Never Back Down $4,861,000 in its second weekend according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. That figure is down 43.5% from opening weekend (typical for a theatrical release), but good enough for sixth place this weekend. The film has now grossed a total of $16,824,000 in two weeks.

Affliction Commercial

March 24, 2008

Affliction Clothing is reportedly preparing for a national ad campaign roll out. A commercial featuring various fighters (MMA and boxing), musicians, and Affliction affiliated athletes is now available on the company’s website. Featured fighters include Georges St. Pierre, Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson, Josh Barnett, and Fedor.

MMA Goes Hollywood

March 24, 2008

The following article was originally published in the February 2008 issue of Fight! Magazine and is republished with permission.

They say if you can make it in Hollywood, you can make it anywhere. If that old adage holds true then not only has MMA arrived, but it looks like its here to stay. Whether it’s Endeavor representing the UFC, Creative Artists with TapouT, the IFL at William Morris, or Gersh representing fighters like Randy Couture, some of the most prestigious talent agencies in Hollywood are scrambling to enter the sport. And with their resources they have the potential to change MMA as we know it, expanding the profile of the sport and its stars further than anyone would have dreamed possible twelve years ago when the first UFC event was held.

While other MMA players may be getting their first taste of Hollywood, tinsel town is old hat for the UFC according to Dana White. “Hollywood has been in our space for a long time. We’ve been dealing with a lot of people in Hollywood for seven years. Now all these upstarts and all these other people that are popping up out of the woodwork are apparently talking to agencies too.”

The UFC’s relationship with Endeavor, home to Hollywood A-listers like Matt Damon, Chris Rock, and Jessica Alba, started when a mutual friend brought White and Endeavor President Ari Emanuel together. White is effusive in his praise for Emanuel, noting that he is the basis for Entourage’s Ari Gold and calling him “the best agent in Hollywood without a doubt. There were a lot of people that came and pitched us. We talked to a lot of different agencies. There was no doubt, hands down, that Ari and Endeavor were the best.”

When asked about the advantages of working with Endeavor, White said, “when you have an agency like them you can work on running your business and let them handle all the bullshit for you.” The agency handled all of the UFC’s recent negotiations with Spike allowing White and the UFC to maintain a good relationship with the network “because we have to work with them.”
But it’s not just the sport’s premier promotions that Hollywood is interested in. Many agencies are beginning to explore the area of fighter representation. The entrance of high profile sports agents into the sport has long been thought to be a mere formality, a matter of the money being right, but the prospect of Hollywood talent agencies entering the space has the potential to revolutionize what it means to be a professional fighter.

The first agency to take the plunge into fighter representation was the Gersh Agency, which boasts a client list that includes Jamie Foxx, Dave Chapelle, and Megan Fox. Matt Walker, Vice President of Extreme Sports at Gersh, has become a champion of the agency’s involvement in MMA thanks to his relationship with Randy Couture.

Walker was a successful baseball agent before entering MMA and it was with one of his clients, David Dellucci of the Cleveland Indians, that Walker first talked with Randy Couture and became interested in MMA. During the conversation, Couture mentioned that he had recently has his UFC hummer stolen and with it all his hunting equipment. Walker offered to help.

After some difficulty Walker was able to secure a free replacement hunting bow for Couture. “Randy realized that if I said I was going to do something, I did it,” said Walker. Subsequently, Walker’s sports agency began handling Couture’s endorsements. “Then we just organically over time built a trust and a friendship that I think is very, very special now.”

After ten years in the baseball industry, Walker was looking for a change and saw MMA as an opportunity to apply his skill set to an exploding sport. At the same time Couture was beginning to take some acting classes and becoming more serious about pursuing opportunities in Hollywood. Then, as both Couture and Walker said, the stars aligned when Walker’s sports agency was absorbed by the Gersh agency.

“Most of these athletes at the end of the day want to take the celebrity that they’ve built on the field or through their sports and translate that into other opportunities whether that is business, entertainment, or whatever they may want to do,” Walker said. With Gersh, “I don’t have to go outside of this office, all I have to do is push the buttons, find the people here that believe in MMA, believe in my client in the same way, and then you can do it all internally.”

The relationship is already paying dividends for Couture who recently sold his memoir to Simon Schuster. The book was a hot property when Gersh Literary agent Margaret O’Connor took it to the market earlier this year. “MMA is the new big realm in publishing right now. The sport is becoming part of the cultural zeitgeist, it’s infused in popular culture. It’s not a direct comparison, but seven or eight years ago there was this huge flurry of books on the personalities of the WWE. This is like the next wave.” Couture’s book, co-authored by Loretta Hunt, Becoming the Natural will be imprint in June 2008.

On the acting side Couture has just finished filming Scorpion King: Rise of the Acadian and Dave Mamet’s Redbelt, in addition to a recent episode of the The Unit. Couture’s young acting career is off a promising start according to his acting agent at Gersh, Brett Norensberg. “The interest is great, the opportunities are plentiful, and the appetite out there is quite strong,” said Norsensberg. “The studios are willing to not only cast him in roles that are lead roles, but they are willing to develop features for him. So you’re going to see a lot of Randy in the next couple of years.”

Couture originally didn’t consider acting as a potential career, but the “more opportunities that I got, I enjoyed the experience, enjoyed the process of making films, being involved with TV shows, and I started looking at it differently. I started saying, ‘you know what I find this very intriguing, this whole process, the finished products are really cool, its something I think I’d like to try.’”

His early roles were mostly as tough guys and thugs with a focus on fight scenes, but since Norensberg says Couture has proven that he can act while building an impressive resume that can overcome typecasting. “I have to tell you that a lot of the roles that we’re talking about now are not necessarily roles where he is a big tough guy. It’s not just marching into a room and beating up a bunch of people. He’s cast more as the thinking man’s hero.”

Couture said that the reception he receives while making his rounds in Hollywood varies. “I’ve gone to some meetings and had guys coming from two floors up to get an autograph and I’ve been to other meetings where it was a complete education process, telling the people you’re in the meeting with about the sport and how it works.”

At first glance acting and fighting may seem like polar opposites, but Couture says there are more similarities than you might think. “You need to have focus in both. There is an intensity that I think fighting presents that I can now translate to acting that a lot of actors don’t have the advantage of. Certainly work ethic. You either have some natural abilities and can wrap your brain around it and do it or you can’t and fighting is the same way.”

Norensberg says the goal in five years is to have Couture starring in a variety of features, but shys away from comparisons to former pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, insisting t
hat Randy will make his own way. “A lot of people make that comparison, but you could also make a comparison to Vin Diesel who is an educated, strong, thoughtful protagonist.”

When asked where he sees himself professionally five years from now, Couture responds, “I’ll defi
nitely be considered a bona fide actor and be more in the acting world, but I’ll always be involved in MMA and training, managing, helping out fighters train and see them progress in their careers. It’s a sport I love.”

As a fighter, Couture sees Gersh’s involvement as a welcomed development. “I think that there are a lot of athletes out there in our sport that are being misrepresented. They’re not being done justice in their fight careers. I think a lot of those purely fight managers don’t have the capability of helping athletes try to diversify and make the transition somewhere else.”

But not everyone is excited about the prospects of an army of Hollywood agents descending on the MMA world with promises of fame and fortune. White has been an outspoken critic of Walker during the UFC’s dispute with Couture, repeatedly referring to Hollywood agents as parasites.

“They’re parasites and what there job is to tell you how fucking great you are, how many other things you could be getting, how badly your getting fucked, and how much better they’re going to make your life,” White said. “That’s there job. But with most of the things that these guys tell these fighters, they’re lucky if thirty percent of it comes true.”

However, despite how difficult it is to break into the entertainment industry, White believes that someday someone will become a true cross over star. “I guarantee you that one of these guys, at least one of these guys, will break out of this thing and end up like the Rock. I guarantee it.

Which isn’t a bad thing, I don’t frown on that. If some guy breaks out of fighting and ends up like the Rock. Good for him, that’s awesome. You’ll never here me bitching about somebody making their life better. I’ve got no problem with that at all.”

Regarding White’s comments about him, Walker suspects that White was trying to drive a wedge between he and Couture. “At the end of the day I work for Randy, and Randy is a very well educated, grown man, and has accomplished a great deal, has a lot of respect in the industry, he’s going to make the decisions that are best for him. So [White] can blame it on me, try to make me a scape goat, that’s fine, it doesn’t bother me one bit, especially coming from him. But the reality is that I didn’t cause this situation. It’s not about me, it’s about Randy.”

When asked if he cared to respond to Walker’s comments, White said “No, not at all. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see. I have no comment. Believe me when I tell you that guy knows who he is, he knows what he’s done and what he hasn’t done. He knows.”

White went on to say, “I’ve got no problem with the Randy Couture thing. It’s the way it was handled. Just like that parasite said, we’re all grown men and there’s tons of paths out in front of us and we all have to choose which path we want to walk down.”

Regardless of White’s sentiments, it’s inevitable that other agencies will follow Gersh’s lead into fighter representation, especially with the early success Gersh has enjoyed. The agency’s investment in the sport is already paying dividends with an ever expanding client list as well as interest from some of the top names in the sport. It has produced results not just with Couture, but also with Gina Carano, who is set to star in NBC’s prime time revival of the American Gladiators in 2008, and Cung Le, who has landed several movie parts prompting comparisons to Jet Li. Walker has also recently secured a trading card deal with Donruss, poster deal with Wall Bangers, and action figure with Round 5.

Walker believes the sport is just scratching the surface of it’s potential and sees even bigger and better days ahead. “Eventually it’ll be the biggest sport in the world because it gets back to our roots. It gets back to the roots of mankind, its gladiators, its one on one, it’s just such a pure sport, and that’s coming from someone who didn’t grow up around it. I’ve never, ever in my life felt the energy that I felt at the Randy Couture-Tim Sylvia fight. It was unbelievable. In my humble opinion, I honestly think that in five years it’ll be the biggest sport in the country.”

For his part, White said that Hollywood can have its expectations, but “the bottom line is I’m driving this fucker.” White went on to say, “I’ll tell you exactly where it’s going. We’re going global, we’ve got our office in the UK and now we’re starting to move out into Europe. We haven’t even scratched the surface of how big this thing is going to be in the United States. People think this is big and mainstream now, you haven’t seen anything.”

For better or worse, wherever MMA goes in the years to come, it looks like Hollywood will be there to play its role.

Happy Easter

March 21, 2008

Good Friday marks the death of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the Easter Holiday. While Christians around the world observe the death of Christ today, it is His resurrection on Sunday that is the foundation of the Christian faith. John 3:16 perfectly captures the essence of this faith and the significance of these three days:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In Christ’s resurrection our hope is found that in the end even death itself will be defeated. Easter is a celebration of the power of love to conquer death. As Henry Knox Sherrill observed, “the joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.”

During this awe inspiring time, let us join together and give thanks to God Almighty for the glory of His grace and the power of His love.

Happy Easter and may God bless you,

Adam Swift
Editor of MMAPayout.com

UFC Owners Defendants in Xyience Lawsuit

March 21, 2008

I have a piece up on Sherdog.com this afternoon detailing the latest developments in a civil lawsuit brought by Xyience shareholders against the company and its directors. The lead:

Xyience’s bankruptcy proceeding is set to come to a close April 1 with a public auction, but the dispute between dissident shareholders and the company’s directors appears to be far from over. Publish Post

Last December shareholders, led by Ronald Soloman, who controls 35 percent of Xyience’s outstanding shares by proxy, filed suit against Xyience and its directors for breach of fiduciary duty to the company’s shareholders.

On March 13 the plaintiff shareholders amended their complaint to include Fertitta Enterprises and Zyen, private companies owned by UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, as defendants. The complaint alleges that Zyen and Fertitta Enterprises aided and abetted Xyience’s corporate directors in breaching their fiduciary duty to shareholders as well as engaged in a conspiracy to defraud shareholders.

FULL STORY: UFC Owners Defendants in Xyience Lawsuit

EliteXC's CBS Debut Takes Shape

March 20, 2008

Today EliteXC officially announced the first details of its CBS debut. The first broadcast will air on Saturday May 31 from 9-11PM EST live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Kimbo Slice will headline the card against a yet to be named opponent with Robbie Lawler defending the EXC Middleweight Title against UFC veteran Scott Smith in the co-main event. The card will also feature Gina Carano against an opponent to be announced. Showtime Sports will handle the production.

Ken Shamrock’s loss earlier this month was a major setback, but all things considered this looks like about the best show that could put together. The phenomenon that is Kimbo Slice is well documented, but don’t discount the chance for Lawler and/or Carano to catch fire coming out of this show as well. Lawler has a marketable style and look and his fight with Smith promises to be a brawl. Carano on the other hand has that it factor, as evidenced by her popularity on American Gladiators, and a history of exciting fights.

Billboard DVD Chart

March 20, 2008

Billboard Recreational Sports DVD Sales Chart for this week:

  1. NFL: Super Bowl XLII Champions New York Giants
  2. WWE: The Legacy Of Stone Cold Steve Austin
  3. WWE: Royal Rumble 2008
  4. WWE: The Best Of Raw: 15th Anniversary 1993-2008
  5. WWE: John Cena: My Life
  6. UFC 78: Validation
  7. WWE: The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak & Triumph
  8. WWE: Rey Mysterio: The Biggest Little Man
  9. NFL: Favre 4 Ever
  10. UFC 76: Knockout

Crossover Appeal?: Mayweather-WWE & Silva-Jones

March 20, 2008

Crossover is the current buzzword in sports management. For today’s athletes competitive accomplishments are merely a means to an end. Building a brand, reaching new audiences, and crossing over into the mainstream of American culture is the name of the game. As Matt Walker, agent for Randy Couture and Gina Carano, told FIGHT! Magazine, “most of these athletes at the end of the day want to take the celebrity that they’ve built on the field or through their sports and translate that into other opportunities whether that is business, entertainment, or whatever they may want to do.”

Cases in point: Floyd Mayweather and Anderson Silva. Mayweather is currently engaged in a month long tour of duty with WWE, culminating at Wrestlemania on March 30 in a match with the Big Show, while Silva has made news in recent weeks by challenging Roy Jones Jr to a boxing match. But all crossover opportunities are not created equally.

A $20 million appearance fee was floated by WWE and Mayweather’s management as the original justification for Mayweather’s WWE deal, but it has now become clear that his actual compensation is probably much closer to $2 million plus a pay-per-view bonus. The only remaining rationale is his manager’s stated goal of exposing the boxer to WWE’s audience of roughly 5 million viewers each week.

Thus far the mainstream buzz generated by the angle has been low with most of the exposure ambivalent at best. Furthermore, according to a recent marketing study cited in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, only the Jerry Springer show has a more negative image among advertisers than pro wrestling. Therefore it would appear that any benefit gained from WWE would be more than offset by the negative effect on Mayweather’s brand of being associated with professional wrestling.

Mayweather’s profile has never been higher coming off high profile fights with Oscar de La Hoya and Ricky Hatton, including valuable exposure on the critically acclaimed 24/7 promotional vehicle, as well as a spin on the last season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. On the heels of that type of mainstream exposure, professional wrestling seems like a step back, particularly with mainstream sponsors.

Silva’s challenge of Jones Jr. on the other hand, while certainly risky and perhaps bordering on quixotic, has a tremendous potential upside for Silva and MMA. The first high profile meeting of a martial artist and boxer, whether in the cage or ring, is going to draw significant mainstream interest. Such a contest would legitimize MMA in the mainstream by elevating Silva to the same stature as a legendary boxer.

If Silva were to beat Jones at his own game it would establish MMA as a legitimate sport and mixed martial artists as skilled athletes instead of bar room brawlers in the eyes of the mainstream media. Even in a close defeat, with Silva demonstrating competence in a secondary discipline, Silva and MMA as a whole would be elevated.

The greatest risk of course is an embarrassing loss, particularly a knockout, which would be seized by the established media to paint MMA as boxing’s inferior unskilled cousin. That storyline would prove irresistible, despite the obvious fact that boxing is not MMA and Silva is not a boxer by trade. Furthermore, a convincing loss would hurt Silva’s air of invincibility, the one thing he has going for him as a draw right now.

The calculus of a potential Silva-Jones boxing match will ultimately be weighed by Dana White, not Anderson Silva. Even if Jones agrees to the bout, the final decision rests with White per Zuffa’s standard exclusivity contract clause which covers boxing and professional wrestling in addition to MMA. The proposition is high risk, high reward, which just happens to be White’s business philosophy in a nut shell.

Fedor Not Under M-1 Contract; More Details on Golden Boy/Affliction Promotion

March 19, 2008

Today Sherdog.com confirmed a story that has been circulating since last December: Fedor Emelianenko was never under contract to M-1 Global. In fact, despite a public announcement to the contrary in October, Emelianenko’s only tie to the company was a letter of intent and a $1.5 million signing bonus. According to Sherdog.com, the highly regarded heavyweight will be completely free of the agreement once his signing bonus is returned to M-1.

Sherdog.com also reported that the leading candidate for Emelianenko’s services is promotional partnership involving Affliction and Oscar de La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.

Adding more intrigue to the story, Kevin Iole of Yahoo! confirmed with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer that the company, along with Affliction, will promote MMA events later this year. Schaefer told Iole that he is speaking with a “very well known, very well-connected individual” whom Iole speculated was Mark Cuban.

Schaefer said that the new company will offer equity stakes to a handful of established fighters, following Golden Boy’s boxing model.

Consolidation is key if the UFC’s industry dominance is to be challenged. A partnership between Affliction, Golden Boy, and Mark Cuban’s HDNet Fights would be hard for Dana White to dismiss, especially with an HBO and/or ESPN television deal. Such a promotion has the potential to completely shake up an already turbulent, to use Schaefer’s word, industry.

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