Point, Counterpoint: Affliction Killed Affliction

July 28, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

Welcome to the latest addition of MMA Payout: Point, Counterpoint!

After reading Payout contributor Jonathon Snowden’s latest piece entitled “Who Really Killed Affliction?” I feel compelled to respond and engage in some healthy debate here on the website.

In his article Jon argues for the following:

As the smoke cleared from Affliction Entertainment’s implosion, the media vultures were quick to assign blame for the promotion’s demise. Some pointed a finger at Tom Atencio, the organization’s front man and the architect of fight cards filled with untenable contracts, cards too good and too expensive for an upstart promotion. Others blamed Josh Barnett, the self destructive enigma who once again allegedly resorted to using illegal performance enhancers to prepare for the biggest fight of his career. But the real culprit is a true American hero, or a titular one at least. Yes, Randy Couture killed Affliction and he did it all the way back in September 2008.

Fedor vs. Randy

Although Fedor vs. Randy may have been an epic fight, it would have been a far less epic PPV for Affliction.

Randy Couture is an enigma in the sense that he’s quite well regarded – a legend in fact – by most within the sport, but he hasn’t been able to match the success of men like Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz in the PPV department. He’s managed to headline some record shows (e.g., UFC 57 or UFC 91), but he’s never done it on his own.

If you were to assess Randy’s drawing power at the time of the proposed Fedor fight, you’d have to look at fights like UFC 68 or UFC 74. He was the main attraction in both cards (aside from having GSP on the undercard at 74) and drew in the solid, yet unspectacular range of 520-540k.

Fedor’s numbers, on the other hand, were downright dismal: 30k and 50k for the Bodog and Pride events respectively.  

While I understand the hype surrounding the fight, the simple reality of things was that Couture could not have carried a “super fight” on a somewhat unknown promotion, against a virtually unknown fighter.

The fact that some were expecting Fedor vs. Randy to break PPV records under the Affliction banner speaks to just how much the MMA community underestimated the value of the UFC brand and marketing push in comparison to the individual drawing power of great fighters like Randy Couture.

The subsequent performance of Affliction I and II – both of which featured former UFC heavyweight champions, Sylvia and Arlovski – is further support to this line of thinking.

Bad Gamble, Bad Business

I concede the points that Randy Couture was likely the basis for which Affliction’s promotion was formed and that Affliction seemingly bet the farm on Fedor vs. Randy.

However, I object to the notion that Randy Couture killed Affliction. 

Affliction made a bad gamble when they decided to bet the farm on a single, impotent main event, which is an absolute indictment of their bad business practices – it was ultimately a sign of things to come, with or without Fedor vs. Randy.

Affliction Killed Affliction

To claim that Randy Couture killed Affliction is to divert attention from the other significant factors that contributed to the demise of the promotion.

The following reasons for Affliction’s demise are issues that the MMA community – and prospective promoters in particular – need to be mindful of in the future:

1. Affliction had no apparent business strategy. The organization was content to focus on one event at a time, without any forward thinking as to what might lie ahead and how they might try to bring everything together in a cohesive, progressive manner.

2. Affliction used a flawed and inappropriate business model. In the organization’s quest to compete with the UFC, they chose to follow the PPV business model without the prerequisite fan following to ensure sufficient cash flow generation. Additionally, they paid out some of the most handsome fighter salaries in the history of the sport, while also forking out huge money to produce each show. They had Ozzy scheduled to play at intermission for goodness sake.

3. Affliction tried to build their organization around one fighter. It’s hard enough to build a card around one fighter, let alone an entire organization; and, whether it ended up being Randy or Fedor, the organization’s appeal was destined to be quite shallow. This, of course, omits the fact that Fedor, who became Affliction’s prime ticket, was a virtual unknown in the United States. It never added up.

Other Contributing Factors

4. The presence of the UFC. The sport’s most popular fighting organization drew the ire of many hardcore fans for its hard-line stance and opposition to Affliction. By refusing to co-promote, refusing to acknowledge the existence of Affliction, and waging competitive broadcasts during Affliction events, the UFC helped to cut off the casual MMA fan from knowing about, hearing about, or watching Affliction events.

5. The state of the sport itself. MMA simply isn’t yet popular enough to sustain a full-on competitor to the UFC. There isn’t enough disposable cash in the current economy, there aren’t enough marketable entities outside of the UFC’s control to make it happen, and, dare I say, there just isn’t enough interest in the sport as of right now.

Counterpoint Conclusion

Randy may have contributed to the beginning of the end for Affliction, but it was a combination of the organization’s strategy, business model, and singular attraction that led to the organization’s demise.

Check back tomorrow for a look at what Affliction Entertainment should have been.

Legislators Moving En Masse for MMA in Mass.

July 27, 2009

While the Big Apple is the one that got away this year, plans for legalizing MMA in the state of Massachusetts seem to be moving along at a medium pace, with passage of an MMA law being on track. The vast majority of state senators recently voted to move the bill along through the Senate, clearing a hurdle as the bill moves toward enactment:

The state Senate is considering a bill that would regulate kickboxing, wrestling, karate, jiu-jitsu and other mixed martial arts competition in Massachusetts. The bill would replace the current State Boxing Commission with the new and expanded State Athletic Commission, which already regulates promoters, fighters, referees and doctors for boxing, and would then do so for mixed martial arts. Mixed martial arts are currently not regulated by the state.

State Sen. Marian Walsh was the lone Senate member who cast a vote against the bill last week. The new commission would be made up of five individuals, and that drew Walsh’s attention. Walsh said the bill does not specify the backgrounds of the five people.

The article does discuss in depth the possible issues with the composition of the new commission. Language to assure proper vetting of possible commission members was absent and was an issue of concern for one senator. Better enumeration of the requirements for membership on the commission would go far to assuage such fears and provide a better framework for the nomination process.

The article gives a good picture of the finances and economic impact that legalization would bring to Massachusetts. Also of note are the provisions to set aside a percent to supplement the medical care or expenses of the fighters, something I haven’t seen a lot of in all the MMA legislative readings I have perused:

Proponents of the bill believe the sport could bring in $12 million in annual tourism, and said that fights would always have a doctor and ambulance present.

The bill would provide 4 percent of the revenue from ticket sales, and imposes a 2 percent tax, up to $75,000, on revenues from televised events. Walsh said that she and other legislators fought for one percent of the revenue to care for the participants’ funeral expenses (as some competitors have died from competition) or medical expenses. Walsh said this measure was adapted to the bill. “I recognize the revenues and the chance to grow money. This has a cost to it, taking care of people who have major injuries,” said Walsh.

“Mixed martial arts is quite a creative way [of calling the sport] — ultimate fighting is more accurate,” she said.

White Promising Big Things For Friday Presser

July 27, 2009

In speaking on ESPN Radio Friday Night, UFC President Dana White indicated that he had business trips ahead for this week, but a presser planned for this Friday would yield a plethora of big announcements. While such grand pronouncements have yielded mediocre results in the past, let us take a look at some of the possible outcomes that will be revealed on Friday.

One possible announcement that isn’t too far beyond the realm of possibility is the introduction of a new weight class. The UFC and Joe Rogan specifically were talking up the prospect of the UFC having a 195 division around the time of the Wandy vs Ace Franklin match-up. The timing for an announcement in this regard would be ideal. The Association of Boxing Commissions is holding their annual conference this coming week in New Orleans and tweaking the process during the week could yield an announcement on Friday. The ABC introduced multiple additional weight classes last year but received a could shoulder to their proposals. The big three commissions (California, Nevada, New Jersey) that carry a lot of the weight didn’t seem very receptive, the sport’s biggest promoter (the UFC) was not giving it a second thought at the time, and they got a generally chilly reception from fans. A year in time has made the addition of a 195 class more attractive to the UFC. With a good number of fighters (like Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, possibly a newly signed Vitor Belfort) still having name value at the PPV window but lesser chances at UFC gold at 185 and 205, the institution of a 195 weight class would give the UFC another belt to push and these fighters anther shot at competitive relevance. Where the UFC goes on the 195 topic, the big three commissions will follow, and the ABC along with them… this merely being a case of follow the money.

Another possible consequence of the presser will be the announcement of new signings to the UFC. President Dana White has recently made public his smoothed over relations with former nemesis Tito Ortiz. Vitor Belfort and Fedor Emilianenko are also targets that could be possibly be announced as signings, though the FEdor one my be a longer term negotiation. The level of animus to this point between M-1 and the UFC make me think that the chances of a resolution in a little over a week aren’t good. A more protracted negotiation, however, may yield a better chance of seeing the Russian star being able to come to terms. The Vitor Belfort Signing is much more likely. White commented very publicly on his intentions towards Belfort, even before he was contractually free from Affliction. Belfort, for his part, has stated in the past he would like to eventually make an Octagon return. With two parties intent on a deal, the Belfort deal is highly probable and a match up for the Dallas card could be in the offing.

Almost assured will be a strange bedfellows introduction and elaboration on the UFC deal with Affliction. The public face of Affliction, Tom Atencio, is a safe bet to make an appearance but for the sake of entertainment I’m hoping for a Dana White, Todd Beard moment on the dais. The rumors we are hearing indicate Affliction giving up a good chunk of the back end to re-enter the Octagon, similar in concept to the UFC deals with CageFighter and Tapout.

Chatter on a possible TV deal has also arisen lately but these deals always have to be handicapped as a bit of a long shot. A meeting of mutual interest between the UFC and their myriad of romanced TV partners has always remained elusive. Issues of control, ownership, and personalities have derailed possible deals that have been have linked the UFC to HBO, Fox, NBC, and CBS. ABC has been the latest to enter the UFC network carousel and maybe their ride will have a happier ending but such an announcement on Friday would mark the biggest surprise out of all the options mentioned above.

RENATO "BABALU" SOBRAL VS GEGARD MOUSASI ON AUGUST 15 STRIKEFORCE

July 27, 2009

NEW YORK (July 27, 2009)–The highly-anticipated showdown between Renato “Babalu” Sobral (35-8) and Gegard Mousasi (25-2-1), which was suddenly cancelled by its original promoter last week, has been revitalized and will be contested with Sobral’s STRIKEFORCE World Light Heavyweight (205 pounds) Championship on the line at San Jose, California’s HP Pavilion on Saturday, August 15.

The title bout will be featured during the SHOWTIME televised portion of the STRIKEFORCE: “Carano vs. Cyborg” mixed martial arts (MMA) mega-card.

“I am very happy that STRIKEFORCE has resurrected this fight and that I will have the opportunity to become STRIKEFORCE world champion,” said Mousasi, who is in the midst of a monstrous, 12 fight win streak. The 23-year-old was crowned the first Dream Middleweight Champion and Middleweight Grand Prix Tournament Champion last year in Japan.

“STRIKEFORCE is one of the world’s top promotions and I am proud to be a part of their roster of world-class fighters,” he said.

His wins over Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, and Ronaldo Souza last year cemented Mousasi’s place as one of the world’s top three middleweights.

Mousasi’s last victory, a first round (1:20) submission of former K-1 heavyweight champion Mark Hunt in Yokohama, Japan on May 26th of this year confirmed his desire and ability to conquer opponents in a heavier weight class as did his first round (2:32) KO of Japanese heavyweight champion Musashi in a K-1 kickboxing rules bout in Saitama, Japan on December 31, 2008.

The 33-year-old Sobral, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and former national wrestling champion for Brazil, will defend his STRIKEFORCE championship for the first time since he seized the title from Bobby Southworth at HP Pavilion on November 21, 2008.

Sobral, a former UFC championship challenger, is riding a five fight win streak that began with his second round (3:30) submission of David Heath at UFC 74 on August 25, 2007. In his last start, he submitted Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou with a brabo choke in the second round (2:36) of their meeting at Affliction: “Day of Reckoning” at Honda Center in Anaheim, California on January 24 of this year.

A year and a half ago, Sobral relocated from his homeland to Orange County, California where

he has since taken on former world championship boxing contender Justin Fortune as a trainer in order to bring his striking skills up to par with his expertise in submissions.

Over the course of 43 career starts, Sobral has faced and defeated some of the sport’s best competitors including legendary K-1 and UFC champion Maurice Smith. On Sept. 6, 2003, Sobral knocked off three top-tier rivals-Jeremy Horn, Mauricio “Ninja” Rua, and Trevor Prangley-during a single-elimination tournament.

In the main event on August 15, mixed martial arts’ (MMA) leading lady, the undefeated and extremely popular Gina “Conviction” Carano (7-0), will square off with rival powerhouse Cris “Cyborg” (7-1) in what is one of the most eagerly anticipated battles of all time.

Carano and Cyborg, the consensus two best female fighters in the world, will be the first women in MMA history to headline a major MMA fight card. In addition, they will fight for the first STRIKEFORCE 145-pound Female Championship.

STRIKEFORCE World Lightweight (155 pounds) Champion Josh “The Punk” Thomson (16-2) will set out to defend his crown against Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (15-2), the man whom Thomson dethroned by way of unanimous decision at HP Pavilion on June 27, 2008.

Robinson: Fedor in the UFC Soon?

July 27, 2009

by Zac Robinson of SportsbythenumbersMMA.com for MMA Payout

One of the most intriguing questions to come from Affliction’s closing as an MMA promoter is Fedor Emelianenko’s future. Many speculate that he will eventually make his way to the UFC Octagon. His management however is sticking to its guns, Fedor will only fight for the UFC if it co-promotes with M-1 Global as manager Vadim Finkelchtein recently said, “…We want to talk to the UFC about having Fedor compete against some of their fighters, but only within the framework of co-promotional efforts with M-1 Global.”

It seems this demand has been at least one of the more difficult points in past negotiations as the UFC recognizes that co-promotion does not benefit them in any way (other than getting Fedor into the Octagon). And it makes sense that Finkelchtein would insist upon it. Emelianenko is basically M-1’s only commodity. Without him it is but a blip on the MMA radar screen, so it has to use him however it can to further its cause.

The problem for M-1 lies in the fact that its number one commodity is not precious enough to make the UFC cave. Sure Fedor is the greatest fighter in the world and millions of fans want to see him in the Octagon, but he isn’t enough to justify co-promotion.

It comes down to leverage, and the UFC has much more of it than Fedor and Finkelchtein. It has the fighters, the fan fare, the media coverage, the brand… in essence, it is MMA. There just aren’t enough intriguing fights for the world’s greatest fighter outside of the Octagon. With a 30-1 record and at 32 years old, Emelianenko should look to bust into the U.S. MMA market sooner rather than later. His management surely understands this and it could be that it is using the co-promotion demand as something of a bargaining chip. It may be something that it is willing to concede in order to get concessions from the UFC so Fedor will not be locked into such a controlling contract.

Hopefully this is the case and soon we will see Fedor Emelianenko face Brock Lesnar in the UFC. At worst Fedor loses a fight or two, but his mainstream popularity will have sky rocketed. At best (at least for Finkelchtein and assuming it was somehow worked into his UFC contract) he wins a few fights over the likes of Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, or Randy Couture, and then leaves as the greatest fighter in the world and a mainstream megastar. He would then be such a commodity that he could actually carry M-1 Global on his back and build the promotion. Of course maybe with all the money and notoriety from a few wins in the UFC, Finkelchtein, Fedor, and the rest of his management wouldn’t care so much about M-1 Global because they’d be top dogs in the biggest promotion in the world.

Zac Robinson is author of the upcoming MMA IQ Trivia book, Sports By The Numbers MMA book and blog, as well as the author of the upcoming book on cutman Stitch Duran. He can be reached at zacrr6@yahoo.com

Snowden: Who Really Killed Affliction?

July 26, 2009

by Jonathan Snowden

As the smoke cleared from Affliction Entertainment’s implosion, the media vultures were quick to assign blame for the promotion’s demise. Some pointed a finger at Tom Atencio, the organization’s front man and the architect of fight cards filled with untenable contracts, cards too good and too expensive for an upstart promotion. Others blamed Josh Barnett, the self destructive enigma who once again allegedly resorted to using illegal performance enhancers to prepare for the biggest fight of his career. But the real culprit is a true American hero, or a titular one at least. Yes, Randy Couture killed Affliction and he did it all the way back in September 2008.

When Couture retired from the UFC in 2007 while still under contract, it was for two reasons: money and a chance to fight the undisputed world heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. Affliction risked everything on the Couture-Emelianenko fight, throwing their business relationship with the UFC out the window for the chance to promote what many thought was the biggest heavyweight fight in the world. Couture was all in, or so they thought. The two stood face to face for an Affliction photo shoot to start getting fans excited about the fight, and Couture made an appearance at Affliction’s first PPV show July 19, 2008. It was all in an effort to get people talking about the next show, headlined in theory by the dream fight between the PRIDE and UFC champions. And then Couture stuck the knife in the back.

In retrospect, Affliction shouldn’t have been shocked by Couture’s decision. It was part of a pattern of behavior, one that had characterized his entire MMA career. Couture had left the UFC twice and walked out on Team Quest as well. His decision not to risk his career on Affliction shouldn’t have been a big surprise to them, but it was. The clothing brand was already in for several million dollars, running a cost prohibitive show in an effort to get Fedor ready for what would be a huge media blitz leading up to his fight with Couture. But the pressure was getting to Couture.

Already a millionaire several times over, Couture was in the perfect position to test Zuffa’s seemingly indefensible employment contracts. If anyone could wait them out, it was Couture, a fighter with money in the bank and several ancillary sources of income. But Couture was a 45-year-old man and could hear the clock ticking on his career. In the end, he did what was best for Randy Couture, returning to the UFC for a mega-fight with Brock Lesnar. And make no mistake: bad decisions by Atencio and Barnett put Affliction at risk. But, Couture killed the company.

Jonathan Snowden is the author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, as well as a contributor to Fiveouncesofpain.com and the Fight Network blog among other MMA websites. Snowden is a former lawyer, has worked for the U.S. Army and the White House Communications Agency, and currently works for the Department of Defense.

TapouT Licenses Name for Fitness Equipment

July 25, 2009

Oklahoma City, OK July 25, 2009 — Century Martial Arts, the world’s largest supplier of martial art and fitness equipment, announced today that they signed a licensing agreement with TapouT, the premier mixed martial arts apparel, gear and lifestyle brand, to expand their current offering of mixed martial arts (MMA) equipment worldwide.

Under this new partnership, Century Martial Arts will design, manufacture, market and distribute the TapouT brand of MMA fighting and training gear to sporting goods retail stores, department stores, sports specialty stores, fitness centers, gyms, Martial Arts Schools, MMA schools and internet sales.

“As the leading MMA lifestyle and apparel brand, TapouT is excited to team up with Century, who has developed a strong presence in this market,” said Marc Kreiner, TapouT President.

TapouT CEO, Dan “Punkass” Caldwell also commented, “This is a great opportunity to expand our product line and further spread the attitude, strength and passion that fans of TapouT depend on.”

“TapouT is a dominant name in MMA and Century is thrilled to have this opportunity to work on this new product line,” said Dan Bower, Century President. “We look forward to working in conjunction with the TapouT team to bring this new line of training gear to the Mixed Martial Arts community.”

Official Release on UFC & Affliction Collaboration

July 25, 2009

SEAL BEACH, Calif., July 24, 2009 —-Zuffa, LLC, owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship “UFC” organization and Affliction Holdings, LLC announced today they have agreed to a collaboration that will benefit the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and ultimately the sport’s growing fan base.

The collaboration ensures commitments by UFC and Affliction for Mixed Martial Arts to continue to be recognized as a mainstream sport.

“We are excited about the return of Affliction to the UFC and look forward to seeing our fighters once again walk into the Octagon wearing the Affliction brands. Affliction is an innovator of mixing fashion with this sport and we are looking forward to working together to promote the sport.” Dana White, President of UFC.

“Our brand is synonymous with the ‘Live Fast’ approach to life and UFC is the perfect venue for us to market our brand. We have come to an agreement with the UFC which we feel will be the best for the sport and will help the UFC continue delivering the highest caliber of fights.” Eric Foss, Co-Founder of Affliction.

Update: Affliction Back with UFC

July 24, 2009

According to Kevin Iole at Yahoo! Sports, Affliction has decided to throw in the promotional towel in return for a sponsorship placement with the UFC.

In addition, there’s talk of a major UFC announcement tonight on ESPN radio.

Payout Opinion:

It’s certainly a shocking turn of events – especially considering that Iole had earlier reported the UFC as turning down Affliction just last week (and earlier this year, for that matter).

If Affliction is coming back on as a sponsor, it creates a distinct conflict of interest with the Tapout brand that is currently the UFC’s official clothing sponsor and long-time loyal business partner.

I suspect that if Affliction does get back into the UFC, Zuffa will retain some sort of ownership share in the company. A good amount of historical precedence with Zuffa exists to back this up (Tapout, Xyience, etc.).

And, really, what other reason might this deal be of any interest to the UFC?  The UFC doesn’t need Affliction’s sponsorship dollars, nor was it worried about the promotional competition that Affliction had presented (obviously, Affliction had done enough to sink its own ship).

More to come…things are happening quickly!

Affliction Trilogy Cancelled

July 24, 2009

SI’s Josh Gross is reporting that Affliction’s third event, Trilogy, has been cancelled from its August 1st date at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

The fate of the event has been in question since late Tuesday, when headliner Josh Barnett tested positive for an anabolic steroid and left Affliction’s prime ticket, Fedor Emelianenko, without an opponent.

Promoter, Tom Atencio, noted that the organization would not have been able to give the new main event the proper lead-up and marketing it deserved and therefore they chose to cancel.

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