Zuffa Adds to Latin Moves

February 28, 2009

Zuffa announced a new addition to their Spanish Language programming roster with the announcement Friday of the WEC being added to Fox Sports Espanol:

FSE Expands WEC® Programming with Launch of “WEC® ALBOROTO” Friday, March 20

Las Vegas, NV (USA) — World Extreme Cagefighting® (WEC®) and Fox Sports en Español (FSE) announced today that FSE is significantly expanding its mixed martial arts content with the launch of WEC: ALBOROTO, a new Spanish-language compilation program featuring some of the most memorable matchups ever seen in the WEC.

This move is in tandem with the UFC making their return to Azteca America. The Savage Science comments on the UFC’s Azteca America deal:

The UFC has a highlight show called ‘UFC Explosion’ that airs each Saturday night on the Azteca America TV network. Azteca America is based in Los Angeles and targets Spanish speaking viewers in the United States. Most sources suggest that it is the fastest growing Spanish language network in the world.


These moves bolster the current roster of UFC/WEC programming in Hispanic and Latin markets. The WEC also airs in Mexico in the Tres Cadenas network as well as UFC El Octagano also being carried on Fox Sports en Español. Zuffa has a good network of television partners in both Spanish language programming in the United States as well as in Mexico and Latin America. It still remains to be seen when Zuffa will look to take a live event South of the Border. Sources within Zuffa indicate that the company has a standing offer from the Jalisco Tourism Board to do a show in the tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta, but Zuffa has held off in order to get the timing right for their debut in Mexico.

THOMSON-MELENDEZ CHAMPIONSHIP REMATCH SET FOR APRIL 11TH

February 28, 2009

NEW YORK (Feb. 27, 2009)—Strikeforce World Lightweight Champion Josh “The Punk” Thomson (16-2) and top challenger “El Nino” Gilbert Melendez (14-2) will revisit their classic, five-round battle when they collide in a rematch for the coveted 155-pound title at Strikeforce: “Shamrock vs. Diaz” mixed martial arts (MMA) event at San Jose, California’s HP Pavilion on Saturday, April 11th live on SHOWTIME (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast).

The championship bout will be the 30-year-old Thomson’s first defense of the Strikeforce (MMA) belt and an opportunity to extend his win streak to nine consecutive fights.

In their first encounter, a fight that many critics hailed as “Fight of the Year,” Thomson continually beat Melendez to the punch en route to earning the unanimous decision win at the HP Pavilion on June 27, 2008. With the victory, Thomson regained his footing amongst the world’s top-10 competitors in the sport’s 155-pound division.

The showdown between Thomson and Melendez, former training partners who hail from neighboring cities in California’s Bay Area, had been brewing for months as both fighters continued to climb the ranks in the division.

The defeat marked Melendez’s first in the Strikeforce cage. The 26 year-old had previously been on fire, winning all four of his Strikeforce starts, including a meeting with Japan’s Tetsuji Kato in the main event of the first-ever MMA affair at the world-famous Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., on September 29, 2007.

On April 11, Melendez gets his chance at redemption.

Ironically, Thomson’s sole defeat in Strikeforce competition came at the hands of Clay “The Carpenter” Guida, the former junior collegiate wrestling star and first Strikeforce lightweight champion in history. Previously, Melendez had dominated Guida with superior striking to capture the Strikeforce title at the HP Pavilion on June 9, 2006.

The event represents the dawn of a new age for Strikeforce as it will be the first one under its new television agreement with Showtime Networks Inc. The live telecast will feature up to five fights including a thrilling main event between three-time world champion and MMA legend Frank Shamrock (24-9-1) and fellow knockout artist Nick Diaz (18-7, 1 NC) contested at a catch weight of 179 pounds.

Middleweight (185-pound limit) sluggers Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith (16-5, 1 NC) and Benji “Razor” Radach (19-4) will also meet in a featured contest.

Tickets for “Shamrock vs. Diaz,” priced from $30, are available for purchase at the HP Pavilion box office (408-287-7070) as well as at all Ticketmaster locations (408-998-TIXS), Ticketmaster online (www.ticketmaster.com), and Strikeforce’s official website (www.strikeforce.com).

More Info on UFC's German TV Deal

February 28, 2009

Free Fight Videos has the translation of DSF’s press release announcing the details of the UFC’s German TV deal. Some of the highpoints:

Over the next three years, from 2009 to 2011, DSF will televise the world’s most successful Mixed Martial Arts organization, the “Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Beginning on Saturday, 7th of March, DSF will air a weekly highlight magazine, UFC Unleashed, from 11pm to midnight in addiction to regular UFC events.

DSF will also broadcast 20 live and tape delayed UFC events. The first of which will air on the 14th of March from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 featuring Quinton Jackson and Keith Jardine in Columbus (Ohio). In addition DSF holds the rights to several other UFC shows including UFC Countdown, UFC Wired and UFC All Access.

In total DSF plans to air 170 hours of UFC programming over the 3 year years. The commentary team will consist of Tobias Drews and Oliver Copp, two of Germany’s most respected boxing and martial arts experts.

Thanks to FFV and Robert K. for the translation. The UFC wanted TV in place before their continental debut and this serves the purpose, but the benefits of the deal look to extend far beyond that. The deal looks to be a good platform to build a fanbase in Germany for the long term.

Boxing Eyeing Network Return

February 28, 2009

Newsday’s Robert Cassidy has a report intimating that talks are ongoing to return boxing to prime time network television. Showtime’s Ken Hershman gives a few details on how preliminary talks have gone:

The rumors of a deal to air boxing on CBS on Saturday nights were addressed by Showtime Network Sr. VP and general manager of sports and event programming Ken Hershman during a media roundtable luncheon at the Palm West restaurant on Friday.

Hershman was quick to point out that no deal has been reached. “I can’t tell you if we’re close or not,” he said. “It’s a process and we’re working toward it.”

It is interesting to hear this news in tandem with the info we know about Strikeforce also possibly returning to CBS on Saturday nights at some point. The pairing could yield a one two punch of combat sports that Showtime has looked to institute on their pay network. One of the drawbacks of the MMA programming on CBS has been the large time periods between the shows, so having a constant presence for combat sports on Saturday nights would be beneficial in that respect.

Commentary: The Curious Case of Kaitlin Young

February 27, 2009

onlyafleshwound


With Strikeforce’s recent asset purchase from ProElite, things seemed to be looking up for noted women’s MMA fighter Kaitlin Young. After a tough loss to Gina Carano on the initial EliteXC on CBS card, Young had been held in limbo waiting for another bout. The collapse of EliteXC further delayed her getting back in the cage. With Strikeforce’s purchase of contracts and signing of Gina Carano, things were looking up. Unfortunately, Young was not among those moving over with the new Strikeforce deal. Tom Hamlin with MMAWeekly talked with Strikeforce brass about the decision not to pick up Young:

Mendez also released a list of female talent acquired in the purchase of ProElite assets.

Confirmed to fight in Strikeforce:
-Sarah Kaufman
-Shayna Baszler
-Debi Purcell
-Jan Finney
-Melanie Lacroix
-Katrina Alendal

Conspicuously missing was Kaitlin Young, the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts prospect, who was defeated by Carano in a controversial stoppage at EliteXC’s first CBS televised event. Mendez said Strikeforce opted not to acquire Young out of a desire to develop lesser-seen fighters.

“We want to build up new talent,” he said.

The women listed above share the common trait that none have faced Carano before. The decision not to pick up Young as well as Kelly Kobald for Strikeforce denotes a disturbing trend. A loss at the hands of Carano looks to be a death sentence of sorts for women hoping to compete on the biggest stage possible. Strikeforce is that stage at this point. Strikeforce seems to be in the Gina Carano business at this point, much more so than the women’s MMA business. And at this point that is the right monetary decision, but I can’t say it is the right decision for the sport. But Strikeforce isn’t alone in this respect.

The hubris of billionaire’s and their companies often lead them to make statements and latch on to catchphrases. Mr White will go on the Carmichael Dave Show and state that “we are mixed martial arts”, but such a boast brings with it a responsibility beyond just the $$$ of the sport. Dana has said that there aren’t enough top level stars in women’s MMA, but if that is true, and he truly is going to represent his company as the be all and end all of MMA, then they would make the investments to make the situation viable, much like they have with MMA legalization and investing in international expansion.

On the other hand you have companies like HDNet that tout themselves as “Your Home For MMA”, but it doesn’t seem that it is a home for wayward girls, er, women or the sport of women’s MMA. Women’s MMA is very much an orphan at this point. Through their leverage with fight promoters they have deals with and the reach of their television network, they have the ability to make a meaningful difference in the visibility and growth of women’s MMA. Unfortunately the will seems lacking in making such a commitment to the female version of the sport. They need to work with promoter’s to get one or two women’s fights on the card’s they televise for HDNet. If they are on the undercard, tape them and pull them together in a themed show, like they do with the KO’s, submissions, or best of Dream series. It isn’t a situation were they would even need to spend much money to do this, just have a will to make the effort.

I’ve been called an idealist before, but idealism is comforting when reality is depressing. An ideal situation would be one of the parties above (Strikeforce, HDNet, UFC) stepping up to the plate.

Fight Biz Quote: Frank Shamrock

February 27, 2009

Besides Nick having a great game, he’s also that personality that I think represents MMA wrong. I don’t want my daughter to grow up and like Nick Diaz. …….It’s my chance to put on a good show vs. a well matched opponent. It’s also my chance to clean up the sport a little more in my opinion.

-Frank Shamrock just getting warmed up in hyping his Nick Diaz fight, during his interview with Sam Caplan.

Behind The Scenes Marketing Key to Profitability

February 26, 2009

While most fans usually see the overt marketing efforts (TUF seasons, Countdown shows) in trying to get them to purchase a PPV, often there are back-end efforts that help make these PPV shows a huge success for companies like the UFC. Success often builds on success. Long term sustainability is driven by building and maintaining a customer base, and one of the keys in doing this are things like direct mailings. Deliver Magazine has an excellent article on the WWE’s efforts in this respect as a driver PPV sales:

WWE also does slightly more traditional mailings, too, as part of its overall integrated marketing formula. “We use direct mail as a direct-response tactic, dropping one to two weeks before our PPV events,” Richards explains. “We work with our cable and satellite partners, because they have the lead list to target WWE fans, so we know who our fans are.”

In explaining how WWE leverages its cable/satellite partners in direct mail, Richards offers the example of the company’s marketing campaign for its 2008 WrestleMania XXIV extravaganza. To push the event, WWE sent out 8-1/2 by 5-1/2–inch tiered “inline mailers” featuring a feast of information about the festivities and the related promotions/events.

Included in the mailers was a 2008 WWE pay-per-view calendar, info about a co-branded sweepstakes in which fans could register to win a custom WrestleMania chopper and details about WWE’s 24/7 On Demand gift-with-purchase promotion. WWE also provided space in the mailers for cable and satellite clients to hawk their own promotions. The mailers went out to 1.6 million fans in 24 states and three Canadian provinces in March 2008 — 10 days before WrestleMania XXIV. Sustainability

“We had our clients pull lists of all WWE pay-per-view buyers, so whoever purchased PPV in the last couple of years were targeted,” Richards says. “We use our partner’s database so we can profile and look at the crossovers. We can target anyone who purchases WWE pay-per-view, and we can target ‘like’ fans. So we really rely on (the cable/satellite provider’s) database.”

While the WWE is the basis of the article, the UFC is in much the same situation here. They have amassed large databases that they can work with cable and satellite providers in order to “get out the vote” so to speak when it comes to getting fans to purchase their PPV’s. Dana White’s video blogs have on occasion shown the UFC hosting the likes of Direct TV and the like at events, and the passage above notes the symbiotic relationship that the PPV providers and companies like the UFC and WWE. The increase in buyers over the past few events for the UFC are great from a revenue standpoint, of course, but they have also provided a wealth of new information upon which they can leverage for future growth.

Bellator Fighting Championships Announces 4/3 Debut

February 26, 2009

Los Angeles, Calif. – February 26, 2009 –  Bellator Fighting Championships, the first mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion to secure an exclusive agreement with any member of the ESPN family of networks, announced today that its debut event will be held in the Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida on April 3, 2009.  The event will air during prime time on April 4 on ESPN Deportes.

“We are thrilled to be premiering at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino,” said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.  “The Seminole Hard Rock has a superb track record of hosting world-class, sold out MMA in their state of the art arena.  And as South Florida has some of the most passionate MMA fans in the country, the Hard Rock is the perfect location for our debut.  We look forward to showcasing our highly competitive single elimination tournament fights for Florida ’s MMA fans and for the world through our alliance with ESPN Deportes.”

The event will feature tournament bouts in the Featherweight (145 lbs.), Lightweight (155 lbs.) and Middleweight (185 lbs.) divisions, showcasing two of the world’s best Lightweights (Eddie Alvarez and Jorge Masvidal) as well as featured non-tournament bouts and a top women’s fight highlighting Miami’s own Jessica Aguilar, an American Top Team fighter who has established a 5-2 record.  Tickets will go on sale Tuesday March 3, at 12:00 pm EST, and can be purchased at the Hard Rock Live Hollywood box office or Ticketmaster.com.  Ticket prices are $25, $50, $100 and $150.  The fight card is detailed below:

Tournament Bouts:

155 lbs. – Eddie Alvarez (16-2) vs. Daniel Morales (5-1)

155 lbs. – Jorge Masvidal (16-3) vs. Diego Garijo (3-1)

145 lbs. – Nick Gonzalez (14-6) vs. Yahir Reyes (12-5)

145lbs. – Estevan Payan (6-1) vs. Luis Palomino (9-4)

145 lbs. – Joe Soto (4-0) vs. Ben Greer (11-4)

The bout between Alvarez and Morales pits an aggressive and hungry Alvarez against the notoriously tough Daniel Morales.  Though Morales has only been to decision once, his bout with Alvarez marks a significant step up in competition for the former Cage of Fire Lightweight champ.

Taking a similar step up in competition is Diego Garijo, a decorated grappler who is in the best condition of his career.  He will face off against Miami ’s own Jorge Masvidal.  Masvidal is known for his strength and endurance at Lightweight and with Garijo’s stellar conditioning, their bout promises to be a strong contender for fight of the night.

The event will also feature exciting matchups in the Featherweight division, including Nick Gonzalez who will compete against Yahir Reyes.  As both are tremendous stand up fighters, this battle will likely be the best match up of striking skills of the division.  Estevan Payan and Luis Palomino are set to compete in the Featherweight division as well.  With aggressive, “in your face” styles, Payan and Palomino are expected to give tough fights until the end.  The Featherweight matchup between Joe Soto and Ben Greer will be an interesting technical battle.  Both are dominant wrestlers with solid jiu-jitsu backgrounds; their fight promises to be a true test of who rules on the ground.

Bellator Fighting Championships’ premiere season consists of 12 two-hour events to be broadcast weekly in primetime on Saturday nights.  The nationally televised events will feature a combination of tournament and non-tournament special feature bouts. There will be four simultaneous tournaments taking place in season #1 over a three month period: one in each of the Featherweight (145 lb.), Lightweight (155 lb.), Welterweight (170 lb.) and Middleweight (185 lb.) divisions.

For tickets to the live event, please visit Ticketmaster.com beginning Tuesday, March 3, 2009.

For more information about Bellator Fighting Championships, visit www.bellator.com.  A Spanish version of the website, www.BellatorEspanol.com, will be launching in March 2009.

About Bellator Fighting Championships

Bellator Fighting Championships is a Mixed Martial Arts promotional company with offices in Los Angeles and Chicago .  Bellator’s founders, Bjorn Rebney and Brad Epstein, are experienced fighting sports and entertainment professionals with a deep commitment to the purity and integrity of the sport of MMA and its athletes.  Bellator Fighting Championships’ executive team is comprised of top industry professionals in the areas of live event production (including Rob Beiner, winner of 12 Emmy awards for sports programming), fighter relations, venue procurement, sponsorship creation/development, international licensing, marketing, advertising, publicity and commission relations.

CAGE FASHION MMA SHOW CAUSED A ROAR IN LAS VEGAS

February 26, 2009

New York, NY, February 20, 2009 – Las Vegas known for the
spectacular over the top glitz is commonplace, so it was no surprise
that the first ever MMA fashion show could fit it in so well and still
cause a stir, a cagey stir that is.

The fashion show appropriately called Cage Fashion was all glamour
and celebrities on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at the trendy
hotspot MIX at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Among the
celebrities that attended were rising star MMA fighter Eddie Alvarez,
top UFC fighter Lyoto Machida, Roger Huerta, Frank Trigg to Randy
Couture whose Xtreme Couture MMA clothing were showcased in
the fashion show.

Other top notch mixed martial arts brands that participated on the
catwalk included Guillotine, Witness, Warrior Wear International,
Fight Chix, Punishment, Vandal Eyewear, Junk Food Clothing
and UFC clothing. Models who strutted mixed martial arts brands
were styled by Rodney E. Hall and make-up / hairstylist Debra Weite.

The mastermind and creator behind the fashion show was Marcus Mera
who is a Director of Cage Fashion, LLC., with Terry Mera who is a
designer and the head fashion designer of MMA brand Guillotine.

Mike Straka from Fox News Fight Game on Foxnews.com was the
commentator/host and UFC celebrity sensation Arianny Celeste cohosted
the event which aired live simultaneously on Fox News Fight
Game Show and with IBN Sports, the premier destination of Live
Sports Network programming including on-demand Sports
programming of world class competitions.

The who’s who of brands that participated at the Cage Fashion show
included Athletic Body Care, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.,
Hollywood Tans, Bajio, Mix and Hooters Las Vegas. Others who
attended the event included EA Sports (game series such as Madden
NFL, NBA Live, FIFA, NHL to NASCAR) to WAMMA (fan and fighter
organization promoting the integrity and longevity of MMA).

The Cage Fashion show was so successful that a rematch could
possibly be in the cards for another fashion show to be showcased for
MMA and UFC in the future.

For more information, interviews and or to speak to a representative,
please visit www.cagefashion.com.

If you missed the
show please check it out on ibnsports.com in demand section.

Martin: Akiyama Signing Marks Potential Shift in MMA Landscape

February 26, 2009

At first blush, the UFC’s signing of Yoshihiro Akiyama doesn’t seem like a headline-grabbing news story. Middleweight rivals Denis Kang and Kazuo Misaki signed American deals to limited fanfare. However, the signing is a very significant move both in terms of what it symbolizes and what it could mean for the future.

Akiyama, 12-1 with two notable no contests, is an ethnic Korean who was born in Japan. Koreans and Japanese have a longstanding mutual distrust, and Akiyama is viewed under very different lens across the body of water known alternatively as the Sea of Japan or Sea of Korea. In South Korea, Akiyama is a star MMA fighter with an impressive record and exciting style. In Japan, he is seen quite differently.

In 2006, Akiyama was put in a high profile New Year’s Eve fight with aging Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba. K-1 was grooming Akiyama to be its MMA flag bearer, and a win over Sakuraba was thought to be the fight that would put him over the top. While the fight did make Akiyama a much bigger star, it ended up backfiring as far as how Akiyama was viewed.

Akiyama destroyed Sakuraba with strikes, after easily brushing off Sakuraba’s takedown attempts. The fight drew a massive 25 rating and was tied for the highest rating on K-1’s biggest show of the year. It looked like Akiyama had taken himself to another level. What developed instead was a scandal. Sakuraba accused Akiyama of cheating, greasing his body prior to the fight so Sakuraba couldn’t take him down. Things got worse when video evidence surfaced of Akiyama doing just that.

Cheating in competition was viewed very unfavorably in the nation of Japan, where honor is valued very highly. The fact that it occurred against a national hero like Sakuraba made it all the worse. Imagine if evidence had surfaced of Georges St. Pierre rubbing Vaseline all over his own body in the dressing room prior to fighting B.J. Penn, and that the bout took place in Hawaii. Akiyama’s victory was changed to a no contest, and K-1 suspended Akiyama indefinitely.

When Akiyama returned from suspension, he got crowd reactions practically unheard of in Japan. Japanese fans rarely boo or jeer fighters, but Akiyama was serenaded with unprecedented hostility and became the biggest villain in Japanese MMA.

With anger has come interest. Akiyama’s four fights since each drew the biggest rating of their respective shows, including a high profile Yarennoka show and the finals of Dream’s lightweight and middleweight tournaments. UFC was not bidding against itself with Akiyama. He has serious value in Japan and South Korea.

UFC wasn’t always interested in Japan’s top stars. When the UFC purchased Pride, the most notable stars besides Fedor Emelianenko who didn’t join UFC were Japanese. When asked about Takanori Gomi or Shinya Aoki, UFC president Dana White indicated he was pleased with his roster at the time. The Japanese stars who did join UFC were mostly secondary stars like Akihiro Gono and Kazuhiro Nakamura.

This business philosophy made sense. All things being equal, fighters are generally going to fight where they have the most value because that location ought to be able to offer them the most lucrative contract. International MMA stars were for years worth the most in Japan because that’s where the money interest was highest. Now it is highest in the UFC. But top Japanese stars are still for the most part going to be worth more in Japan than they are in the UFC.

This isn’t the first time one country has raided the MMA talent of another. Earlier this decade the shoe was on the other foot and it was Pride luring over top talent from the United States. Mark Kerr, Dan Henderson and Royce Gracie were among the big names who left the UFC and came to Pride to fight.

There is, however, a difference in the two situations. In Japan, there is a long history of top foreign fighters coming to Japan to give credibility to the native Japanese stars. This has a cultural legacy dating back to the days of Rikidozan, and the tradition carried through to the likes of Muhammad Ali and Alexander Karelin. From World War II to present, the Japanese public wants to see their countrymen invoke their fighting spirit against the most dangerous competitors from other countries.

In the United States, there isn’t the same dichotomy. The biggest grossing boxing, MMA and wrestling bouts have typically featured Americans against other Americans. There is no great call among the sporting public to see them tested against other nationalities if the public believes the best competition to be other Americans. In short, elite Americans mean more in Japan than elite Japanese (or Koreans) mean in America.

The UFC’s signing of Akiyama could have one of two principal motivations. The first is that the UFC is targeting Japan and Korea, and is bringing in the big guns. The second is that UFC simply wants to have the best fighters, and is willing to pay a little extra if they happen to have special appeal elsewhere. Whether the former or latter is more true will become evident over the next couple years. But it ultimately doesn’t matter when it comes to the battered Japanese MMA landscape. Both top MMA promotions are struggling and a full-on UFC raid could prove crippling.

UFC has given signals that it could go further. The company has openly talked about bringing in Satoshi Ishii and Kid Yamamoto, and both have attended Zuffa events in recent months. Ishii, a gold medalist in judo at over 100 kilograms, has perhaps the biggest MMA drawing potential of anyone in Japan. His size and background brings comparisons to past top draws Hidehiko Yoshida and Naoya Ogawa, and he is only 22 years old.

If Ishii has the potential to become Japanese MMA’s biggest star, Kid Yamamoto likely holds that distinction today. Yamamoto is an elite fighter and the top ratings draw in Japanese MMA. If Yamamoto and Ishii were to join the UFC, it would be a devastating blow to Japanese-based MMA.

With that consideration in mind, UFC needs to be careful in where it goes from here. If the company feels it can successfully break into the MMA market in Japan and South Korea, it will need the stars to be successful. However, if the company signs Japan’s top draws and then can’t get the proper breakthroughs in that country, it could prove to be bad news for all parties involved.

UFC could end up paying big money contracts to fighters who mean little in the United States and at the same time could do irreparable damage to Japanese MMA. No one would gain from the death of mainstream Japanese MMA.

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