UFC 92 News, Notes, And Thoughts

December 29, 2008

Thoughts

The Brand is the Key in 2009 – With the outcomes of Saturday Night’s fights, it seems more than ever that the strength of the UFC brand will be more important than ever in 2009. With Wins by Rashad Evans and Frank Mir, two of the high profile slots in the company will be occupied by two fighters that have no track record of being a draw for the company. Both fighters are faced with a situation where their ability to draw on PPV will be heavily defendant on their opponents drawing power. Rashad could do strong numbers if paired up with Rampage Jackson, but might do Anderson Silva type numbers if paired with someone like Lyoto Machida. The possibility of a Machida vs Evans main event would be a quite the test for the UFC hype machine. I’ve queried in the past why a Machida vs Evans hasn’t taken place already, well before any titles or main event slots would have been involved in order to take one or the other out of the top of the card. Mir is faced with a similar problem. A showdown with Lesnar will do huge numbers again, with Brock bringing all of the box office to the table. If Mir takes that fight, you are faced with Mir as a champ with little PPV appeal of his own and slim pickings amongst those in line for a title shot, necessitating a possibly recycling of Randy Couture back into the title picture. Again, the ability of the UFC have it’s fans show high brand loyalty will be key in 2009, something that may be assisted with a prevalence of cards similar to UFC 84 and UFC 92, with multiple “bigger” fights being stockpiled onto the same card.

Rashad the Neo-Couture?
– The rise of Rashad Evans is oddly reminiscent of Randy Couture’s road to glory in the UFC. Much has been made of Couture constantly being put in a situation to fail only to lay waste to the best of well laid plans. From his derailing of the Phenom Vitor Belfort, to his defeat of Heavyweight of the future at the time Pedro Rizzo, to his win over Chuck Liddell for the interim title in their first match-up to his five round domination of Tito Ortiz, Randy was put in multiple situations where the company would have been better off if he lost but he kept on upsetting the apple cart. Much was the case for Evans. From written off early on during TUF to playing second billing to someone named The Hillbilly Hearthrob at the TUF Finale, through to his improbable KO of Octagon legend Chuck Liddell to his capturing the the Light Heavyweight title from TUF prodigal son Forrest Griffin, Evans has been “swimming against the stream” the whole way, but has performed with aplomb. One may not be a fan of Rashad’s fighting style but you have to admire his ability to keep his eyes on the prize.

Sponsor Notes – As MMAPayout.com indicated earlier, MMA Authentics/Cage Fighter made their return to the Octagon at UFC 92.  Former Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton Rampage Jackson  was sporting a signature MMA Elite shirt, with special wolf design for the brawler known to let out a howl after victory.  Cornerman for Rampage Tiki Ghosen as well the entire Rampage crew were decked out in the shirts.  Any past tensions between the apparel brand and the UFC look to be in the rear view mirror.  Expect an announcement shorlty about a possible deal/further elaboration on the lifting of the ban.

The most ubiquitous sponsor of the night was Full Tilt Poker, a sponsor that MMAPayout has spoken on in the past. With gambling sites generally being on the no-go list for sponsors, it was a surprise to see the poker site as a primary sponsor for Randy Couture during his unsuccessful title defense against Brock Lesnar. Full Tilt also sponsored several AKA fighters, including Mike Swick and Josh Koscheck, on the Fight For the Troops card from Fayetteville, NC. The special dispensation given to those two particular camps would seem to raise an eyebrow, as neither are known for cozy relations with UFC brass. Allowing those two particular camps the sponsorship opportunity may be a case of the UFC using this as a carrot in a carrot and stick situation. It should also be noted that those two camps were the only ones allowed such deals with these poker/quasi gambling sites, with others precluded from doing similar deals. After appearances that all fighters weren’t being treated equitably, UFC Head Dana White opened up the sponsorship deal so that all fighters on the UFC 92 card were able to cut deals with poker sites, with Full Tilt being the biggest beneficiary. The end result being…… it was hard to throw a push kick on Saturday night without hitting someone that was wearing Full Tilt signage. However, these allowances pertained to UFC 92 only and policy for future cards is uncertain at this time.

Gameness Makes Leap From Apparel to Fight Promotion

December 26, 2008

Gameness, the largest distributor of Jiu Jitsu Gi’s in North America took the next step in establishing itself as a company willing to take bold strides to cement its locale as a player in the business of Mixed Martial Art’s when it successfully promoted the inaugural Gameness Fighting Championships fight card December 11th at the Tennessee State Fair Grounds in Nashville.

In an attempt to extend its already firm hold on the sports local scene, the fight gear producer began the long and tenuous journey from gear manufacturer to fight promoter in an attempt to provide the growing amount of competitors in and around Nashville a platform from which to showcase their talents inside the cage in the hopes of transcendence to the next level.

After a hard fought process rife with obstacles July 1st marked the day Tennessee became another in the growing number of additions to the list of states who’ve recognized the universal rules of mixed martial arts when a bill known simply as 91-4 passed unanimously with the states legislature. The passage of the bill validated the sport in the eyes of the state thus clearing the way for legally sanctioned bouts to begin.

While the legalization has only come of late, the battle to acquire the sport the legal approval began several years ago, that according to Shane Messer, owner of Gameness.

“We employed a lobbyist about 2 years ago to begin the process of trying to persuade the state to adopt the universal rules of MMA. It wasn’t until this past summer that large steps were made when we were joined in our efforts by the Memphis Grizzly’s who also operate the FedEx Forum venue and are responsible for booking shows and events there”

With the exponential growth enjoyed by MMA fight promotions like the UFC, the Grizzly’s organization was whole-heartedly in agreement with efforts begun by Gameness to garner the sport the legal sanctioning required to promote events in the state, specifically with an eye on enticing Zuffa to hold a live event at there venue.

The idea was successful and according to public statements made by UFC management, the state which is the birthplace of one of the promotions biggest stars in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson could see its first live event as soon as this coming year, possibly featuring the Tennessee native.

The revenue’s a live event can create as well as the potential tax dollars generated for the state were more than enough to convince the legislature that legal MMA was the wave of the ever changing future and they displayed their approval when they agreed unanimously by a count of 30 to 0 to ratify the bill.

While the legalization was a great victory for the sport in Tennessee, the passing of the bill presented several new logistical challenges for companies willing to brave the uncharted territory of promoting professional and amateur MMA events in the state.

Since there were no major MMA events held prior to the passage of the bill, all of the processes required to stage a successful event were being done for the first time ever. There was no handbook on how to promote and stage a live event in Tennessee, Messer and his team were creating the formula as they went along.

And the issues they faced were not minor or even ones with steps in place in order to rectify. For one, the state had no appointed athletic commission from which to ensure regulations were enforced. Not having a commission also meant no approved officials, referees, or judges. There were also issues regarding amateur bouts as opposed to professional. The strikes that make a mixed martial arts bout were now legal, so amateur bouts could now be held with no problem since the results wouldn’t count as professional, but with the lack of a governing body to sanction the professional bouts, combatants who had already gone pro would not be allowed to count the results towards their professional records.

In spite of all these potentially crippling time bomb’s presented by the lack of a governing body, Gameness pressed on and successfully promoted the first of several events it has planned for 2009 “Gameness Fighting Championship” the first and only legally sanctioned mixed martial arts event in the state’s history.

“It went extremely well, we had a paid attendance of 1500 people for our first event, and that was in the middle of a snow storm”

The inclement weather was not enough to detour these die hard fans who had been starved for high level mixed martial arts entertainment, so much so, 300 of the tickets sold for the event were walk up sales during some of the worst weather in the states history. Dedication of this magnitude would make a postal carrier proud, fans willing to brave rain, sleet or snow in support of the sport they love.

Little did those fans know the event, which seemingly went off without a hitch was a hair’s breath away from being canceled just 6 hours before it was slated to begin.

In an emergency meeting of the states governing body which had been previously charged with the responsibility of regulating only professional boxing, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance requested the presence of Messer and others involved to get an explanation as to what the evening’s event would entail. After the session with the board, the event was subsequently approved for amateur bouts only. Since there was no approval for the professional bouts, they would now be forced to become exhibitions.

Upon hearing the commissions decision Messer reluctantly accepted the boards decision but not before he informed the panel he would be back with a request for a 30 day temporary license similar to the one the state granted HBO for its recent televised boxing match between former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and former fellow Olympian Jeff Lacy. The cable giant was granted a temporary license for its event held in Nashville and since mixed martial arts was now legal in Tennessee, common sense would lead one to believe that a if a license for boxing was acceptable, legal mixed martial arts should be as well…Right?

Well unfortunately only time will tell. Messer told us that he only hopes his next “appointment” with the board will bring him a step closer to bringing the local fans what they want and the local fighters the vehicle they need to make the jump to the larger promotions by granting his request for the 30 day temporary license. This will allow the professional bouts to count towards the fighter’s records and provide more opportunities for the fighter’s advancement as well as solidify the promotion as a viable organization.

The rousing success of their first event did more than its share to clear the way for the second set to take place February 14th once again at the Tennessee State’s Fair Grounds.

With efforts continuing to ensure the professional bouts slated for the card will count towards the fighter’s records, Gameness is undoubtedly doing its share to ensure the sport of mixed martial arts continues its proliferation throughout the great state of Tennessee and further establish its position as the fastest growing sport in history.

A Little Holiday Reading

December 25, 2008

TUF 205 lb Champion Ryan Bader is taking advantage of the break after his Finale win and not needing to cut weight anymore to enjoy a little holiday food, including some cookies and fudge. He is waiting to hear from the UFC for his next match.

Jay over at GymTops.com has a good piece detailing the MMA gifts you wish you had gotten today instead of the socks, sweater, or tin of popcorn that you got instead. Those cutouts are sweet, but I’m not so sure about the Octa-bed.

The Las Vegas Review Journal details holidays past and present with UFC 92 participants Forrest Griffin and Wanderlei Silva.

Countdown to UFC 92 Rating

December 23, 2008

MMAPayout.com has learned that the premiere of Countdown to UFC 92 on Spike drew 733,000 viewers. That is a strong number, especially in comparison to Countdown to UFC 91 on Spike drew only 537,000 viewers, also on a Monday night airing. The number is also significantly higher than the average Countdown viewer total for the year of around 600,000 viewers, mainly in a slot later in the week. Using the rating as a general gauge of mainstream interest in the show, the number should portend a higher than expected number for the PPV buys.

Cage Fighter Nearing Re-Entry Into Octagon

December 23, 2008

Conspicuous in their display during last night’s Countdown to UFC 92 was the Cage Fighter clothing brand. Cage Fighter is the best known of the brands from MMA clothier MMA Authentics. In a well publicized falling out with MMA Authentics, Cage Fighter and its’ sister brands were banned from the Octagon and any UFC related events. The dispute centered on MMA Authentics MMA Elite brand beating out the UFC for shelf space at Wal Mart. The prominent display of the brand during Countdown is the latest sign of a lessening in tensions between the UFC and the clothing brand.

Despite being banned from the Octagon, the lines of communication between the fight promotion and the clothing company have remained open. MMAPayot.com has learned negotiations heated up between the two in consultations in and around the TUF 8 Finale card and have been heavy since. A deal between the two seems imminent, with negotiations already being in place for several athletes to possibly wear Cage Fighter into the Ring for UFC 92, including Rampage Jackson.

MMAPayout.com has also learned Cage Fighter/ MMA Authentics is trying to lock up exclusive lifestyle apparel rights for UFC. The TapouT brand would still be a cornerstone of the UFC’s apparel strategy, with the co-existence of TapouT and Cage Fighter merely being a case of semantics. The terms of the possible deal are unknown, but a similar deal between the UFC and TapouT for exclusive promotional rights is rumored to involve the UFC taking profit participation points from TapouT.

Station Casinos Draws $239M of Revolving Credit

December 23, 2008

Yesterday Station Casinos announced that it was drawing down $239 million of its revolving credit line. According to a filing with the SEC,  the casino asked for the remaining $257 million available under its revolving credit facility and as of last Friday $239 million of that had been funded. The money will be used for general corporate purposes.

Standard and Poor’s reported that Station’s bonds were “fairly active” relative to the rest of the high-yield market following the announcement. The company’s 7.75% notes due in 2016 were trading as low as 19.25 yesterday morning, down over three points from last week. The casino’s 6% notes due in 2012 were also down over three points from Friday at 20 according to the report.

The news come on the heels of the failure of the company’s proposed distressed-debt exchange last week. The deal failed to garner the necessary support of 60% of bondholders despite two extensions prior to cancellation. The deal offered bondholders the opportunity to exchange their bonds for new 10% secured term loans due in 2016 in order to reduce overall debt.

K-1 Dynamite Available as Online PPV

December 22, 2008

(PRESS RELEASE) — The world’s biggest combat sports event, DYNAMITE!!, is tipped to become a live online global phenomenon.

Talks are underway for an historic online pay-per-view to over 100 countries, including the United States of America, United Kingdom, entire European Union, China, South East Asia, Russia, India, Australasia, and South America.

Held December 31st (New Years Eve) at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan, the Dynamite!! event is described as the Superbowl of Mixed Martial Arts.

The internet deal is expected to be made official in the next few weeks.

The www.eventmagic.tv broadcast would be an unprecedented and uncut PPV transmission allowing fans to enjoy the entire scope of fighting and entertainment that is Dynamite!! including the superstar staging, incredible sound, and the awesome pyrotechnics of every ring entrance as well as multi camera perspectives of every round of every fight. With more than 15 fights on the night, Dynamite!! is building into a brutal end of year finale.

Dynamite!! 2008 will take place at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. The magnificent venue, which is home to DREAM MMA events and was the former home of PRIDE Fighting Championships, has also played host to the FIBA Basketball World Championships, NHL Hockey, NBA Basketball, WWE professional wrestling and concerts by Mariah Carey and Queen.

For the first time ever Dynamite!! will pool together the greatest fighters from various arms of FEG’s promotional juggernaut including DREAM, K-1 GP, K-1 MAX and K-1 Koshien (under 18’s).

Former PRIDE darling “The Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba will finally take on his arch-nemesis Kyoshi Tamura in a battle many years in the making. PRIDE and K-1 star, Mirko “Cro Cop” is said to be making a highly anticipated return to the ring, while awesome Brazilian lightweight JZ Calvan takes on DREAM Light Weight Grand Prix Champion Joachim Hansen, who has big wins over the likes of Takanori Gomi, Caol Uno, Masakazu Imanari, Yves Edwards, and Shinya Aoki to name a few.

More superbouts of epic proportions will be announced in the lead-up to the event.

Mr Jeremy Ta’kody, Managing Director of Event Magic TV, believes an online pay-per-view broadcast of this years Dynamite!! will reach many fight fans who otherwise would be unable to see the fights live.

“Using new video streaming technology we are able to deliver a high resolution, full-screen, live event experience over the internet to millions of viewers, even over very low bandwidths,” says Mr Ta’kody. “Dynamite!! is an event like no other and we would be thrilled to deliver this supershow to every single person on the planet.”

Those unable to watch Dynamite!! due to time zones or other New Years Eve commitments will still be able to watch the event in all its glory via pre paid video-on-demand at a time that is convenient to you.

“We would be thrilled to host the biggest fight spectacular on the planet and give fans a real treat on New Year’s Eve,” says Mr Ta’kody. “Dynamite!! is an event like no other. It has the biggest crowds, many of the best fighters, and the highest production values in lighting, staging, sound and pyrotechnics that are out of this world. In short, it’s amazing.”

With over 15 bouts on the card there will be plenty of opportunity for spectacular knockouts and mixed martial arts styled submissions from some of the worlds best fighters.

Dynamite!! is renowned for producing match-ups fans have only dreamed of, with past offerings of Dynamite!! NYE and Dynamite!! USA featuring: Brock Lesnar’s MMA debut; Sakuraba vs Funaki; Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie; Akebono vs Royce Gracie; Genki Sudo vs Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto; Jerome LeBanner vs Bob Sapp; Yoshihiro Akiyama vs Francois Botha; Genki Sudo vs Butterbean; and Melvin Maenhoff vs Dong Sik Yoon.

“Should the deal go ahead we are working on a surprise for everyone,” says Mr Ta’kody. “An end of year gift. You will have to wait and see what it is.”

For further information and event bookings register your interest at: www.eventmagic.tv Sponsors can contact Event Magic TV via email info@eventmagic.tv.

UFC's Euro Drug Testing a Faustian Bargain

December 22, 2008

We are less than a month out from the UFC’s most recent foray into their European adventure, UFC 93 from Ireland on January 17th. If this were a card emanating from Las Vegas we would be hearing the news that all athletes had cleared their out of event drug testing. Nevada’s out of competition testing is seen as the benchmark for the sport, a long needed step in the right direction to ensure that athletes are competing clean. Nevada’s testing plan is being hailed by the California State Athletic Commission as a model that they hope to implement in their recent overhaul of their often assailed drug testing procedures. With Nevada’s model becoming the de facto standard for Steroid testing, it is curious the testing regimen of the UFC has chosen for their Euro shows.

Little if anything is known about the drug testing procedures of the UFC when they put on their European cards. These cards take place by and large beyond the scope of any athletic commission to provide adequate testing of athletes. The only real information that surfaces comes when an athlete on one of these Euro cards tests positive, like Chris Leben from their card in Birmingham this past October. MMAPayout.com sought to get more information on how the drug suspension of Leben was handled, but UFC brass referred back to a vague press release on the company’s website. The lack of transparency by the UFC in respect to their steroid policies is not the ideal situation if they want to give the public the impression that their fighters are not using performance enhancers.

One seeming thing that can be deduced from the UFC’s testing is that they aren’t doing out of competition testing, instead deciding only to test after the competition. Such a plan can be the only explanation why Leben was able to perform in the the main event of the Birmingham card against Michael Bisping. Out of competition testing prior to the event would have popped Leben well in advance of the event. The alternative is that they do have out of competition testing and Leben was allowed to compete anyway, which I don’t believe is the case. Such a scenario would be a PR nightmare that wouldn’t be worth it for such a high profile sport still in its fledgling stages.

The UFC seemingly goes with a less than optimal drug testing procedure, but the reasoning behind the moves aren’t hard to guess. After the fact testing like the UFC implements for their Euro cards has the least amount of impact on the card. Any drug failures aren’t learned about until after the fact, allowing for a more stable product to sell to TV viewers or PPV buyers, whichever may be the case. It is a strategy that comes off as more cynical than safe, and more bottom line motivated than competitive minded. The Leben pairing was an ill fated one from the beginning, with their first scheduled date being sidelined by a period of incarceration for Leben. Using out of competition testing prior to their Birmingham bout would have only served to further torpedo the match-up. The seeming conclusion to be drawn from the UFC’s testing decisions is that convenience trumps completeness when testing is left to the whims of the the promoter. Questions about the UFC’s durg testing procedures will only increase as they ramp up the volume of their international cards in 2009.

BSN Sponsors Forrest, Nog

December 22, 2008

Finn McKenty of the Lifestyle Marketing Blog noticed during the recent TUF Finale that UFC Supplement sponsor BSN has gone beyond just the organization and has moved into sponsoring individual fighters:

First, they sponsored the perfect fighters, Forrest Griffin and Antonio Rodrido “Minotauro” Nogeuira. Forrest, the newly crowned UFC lightheavyweight champ TUF season one winnger, is incredibly popular with casual fans. He’s begrudgingly earned the approval of hardcore fans like me after beating Shogun and Rampage, and you really couldn’t wish for a better spokeperson for mainstream fans. He sported a BSN hat and t-shirt during an interview on last night’s TUF finale for a good 2 or 3 minutes.

What’s really brilliant, though, is that they also sponsored Nogeuira. Nog is an absolute legend who is universally respected and loved by hardcore fans. He’s mostly known for his fights in Japan, so his profile is the US is much lower than Forrest’s, but assuming he beats both Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar (pretty likely), he should enjoy much higher awareness.

The deal between BSN and Nog and Forrest further cements a trend that MMAPayout.com expounded on in a feature piece on SI.com. The UFC brings in sponsors on the corporate level and part of those sponsorship dollars trickles down to the fighter level. As the role of the UFC increases in this area, it is incumbent on the corporate brass to do the proper vetting of said sponsors to ensure that the fighters are taken care of. One of the lower points in the Zuffa-era UFC was the pushing of Xyience at the highest levels that encouraged fighters to do deals with the company, and Xyience subsequently stiffing fighters on their endorsement fees. Thankfully, the UFC is luring a higher class of sponsor that is making thing like the Xyience Affair a thing of the past.

UFC to Montreal in April 09?

December 22, 2008

UFC Middleweight fighter Jason MacDonald does his blogging over at Sportsnet.ca and he dropped a little hint about the UFC’s next possible foray into the Great White North:

I don’t know what the new year holds for me. The UFC is supposed to be back in Montreal in April. But I would love to squeeze a fight in before that, perhaps in early February.

That would be a year after the showdown between GSP and Matt Serra. April would be an interesting date for the match-up. Many fans have cynically stated that it would be another year before the UFC came back to Canada, requiring all the Canuck fans to re-up their UFC fan club memberships in order to get first dibs on tickets for the show. Looks like they may have been on to something.

Any UFC event in Canada is more than likely going to see Georges St Pierre as the headliner on the card. Such a card would come quickly on the heels of a GSP vs BJ showdown in late January, giving St Pierre only two to two and a half months to prepare for the showdown. Also of interest would be his opponent. Thiago Alves is regarded as the number one contender and next in line for a title shot. Also looming is a possible fight for GSP at 185 with Middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva. Does the UFC jump straight to the mega fight and put on Anderson Silva vs GSP in Canada and watch the money roll in? Fighting BJ Penn with a quick turnaround to face Anderson would be a tall order for anyone, and most likely one that would get vetoed by a fighters management.

The other possible scenario is a GSP vs Alves showdown with Anderson Silva also featured on the same card, with the build being toward a late summer showdown between the two beltholders. Putting Anderson as the co-main with GSP vs Alves might assuage Silva’s unhappiness with his financial situation with the UFC. Anderson is paid on a PPV structure, but his poor drawing ability gives him a salary that isn’t commensurate with the status conferred upon him by Dana White as the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Silva recently nixed a showdown in London with Thales Leites, I would assume for financial reasons. A Euro PPV that usually draws a bit over 200k buyers would pay him even less than the usual 300k buys he does when headlining a PPV. Putting Anderson as the number 2 on a GSP in Canada card would ensure him a payday to keep him happy and set up another payday in the showdown with GSP. If the two are in separate bouts for the Montreal show it could still be economically feasible, since neither of the guys they would face would be receiving PPV cuts. In this respect it would be similar to UFC 87 where both GSP and Brock Lesnar were on the card but not facing opponents that were PPV draws worthy of a PPV cut.

All of this would presume GSP making it through a gauntlet of BJ Penn and Thiago Alves, which is far from a sure thing. How ever the fights are laid out, GSP looks to have a full dance card for the 2009 calendar year. If he is able to come out the other side of the year undefeated he’ll be able to lay claim as not only the best pound for pound fighter in the sport but also quite possibly the best mixed martial artist of all time.

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