UFC 118: Payout Perspective

August 30, 2010

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective! This week we’ll be taking a look at UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn II, which was held at the TD BankNorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday, August 28th, 2010.

Edgar Stymies Penn, Maynard Awaits

Frankie Edgar proved that UFC 112 was not a fluke with his dominating performance over BJ Penn on Saturday. Edgar’s quickness and striking precision proved to be too much for the slower Penn – once considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and virtually invincible at lightweight.

Many are wondering what this fight will do to Penn’s legacy, but I also wonder where he goes from here. In a way, Penn’s situation resembles that of Rich Franklin at middlweight; Penn is good enough to be top three in the division and defeat most contenders, but has now lost twice to the champion. However, unlike Franklin, Penn really does not realistically have the ability to jump up a weight class.

Penn’s value as a draw cannot be understated. He also has some intriguing fights left at 155lbs – Gomi and Florian among them. Thus, I suspect he’ll remain at 155lbs for now.

Call me crazy, but I almost wonder if he couldn’t drop to 145 lbs and compete in the WEC. His value as a draw to that organization (combined with the potential size advantage at 145) is very appealing. Imagine: Aldo vs. Penn. The WEC would have to pay him well more than they compensate any other fighter, but it might be a worthwhile investment for Zuffa if he can bring some more viewers to the promotion.

Gray Maynard now awaits Edgar, and barring any injuries it’s probably a fight that happens in late December or January. Edgar isn’t the star PPV attraction that BJ is, but BJ wasn’t exactly a huge attraction until recently, either. Penn had generated just 225,000 buys at UFC 80 and 475,000 buys at UFC 84 before finally breaking through as a draw alongside St-Pierre at UFC 94.

Edgar must be marketed to the MMA fan in a different manner than most other titleholders: he isn’t the trash talking type, nor is he going to sell fights based on being known as an exciting finisher or dynamic fighter. Edgar is a blue collar worker that’s known for his great boxing and exceptional bicycle. Traditionally, that type of guy hasn’t been that well-received until a few defenses into his title tenure.

Edgar is a great fighter with ample character and has a great story to tell. The UFC’s biggest challenge in the coming months will be finding a way to tell that story to the fans in a compelling manner. Perhaps a Primetime expose is in order for both Edgar and Maynard – two of the lightweight divisions most talented, yet under-appreciated fighters.

Couture Embarrasses Toney, Ends Debate

Toney did a good job to promote the fight and insert a sliver of doubt in the minds of MMA fans everywhere, but Randy’s low single exposed Toney as an MMA fraud and signaled to the world that the fight was going to be far less competitive than most could have even imagined.

I believe this fight has settled the MMA vs. boxing debate, but probably not in the way most think. This fight did not prove that MMA is superior to boxing. How could anyone possibly claim such a subjective statement as fact? It’s ludicrous. Instead, what I think this fight did is help both communities reach the consensus that these are two very different – albeit closely related – sports.

Most within the MMA community would be the first to admit that a top-notch MMA fighter stepping into the boxing ring would not fair well. UFC 118 will probably go a long way towards persuading unconvinced boxing fans of the similar fate their best and brightest would experience stepping into the cage.

Did Couture vs. Toney win over any new fans? I have my doubts. Most boxing fans that dislike MMA saw this bout for the freak show it was, and they chose to pursue other entertainment alternatives for their Saturday evening. If this event turns out to have performed better than average on PPV  – which I believe is likely to be the case – it will have been due to the fact that the MMA community rallied to see the spectacle; one man representing the sport of MMA and millions of its fans.

UFC’s Debut in Boston a Success

UFC 118’s live gate of $3 million might be somewhat average for the organization’s debut in a major American market, but the event as a whole should be viewed as a resounding success. The UFC drew 15,575 to the TD BankNorth Garden for the event and another 30,000 on both days of the UFC Expo. The event itself may have been a little papered, but that matters little in the long run so long as fans are getting a live experience that is going to endear them to the sport for a lifetime.

Perhaps just as important as the live experience, the UFC also received a host of favorable press coverage in Boston from various media outlets, including the Herald and Globe. If casual fans weren’t interested in (or couldn’t afford to) attend the live events, they may have at the very least been persuaded to buy the PPV by the local media coverage.

Sponsorship Watch

Sinister made a splash at UFC 118 with the sponsorship of several fighters on the card, including James Toney. It wasn’t just that Sinister sponsored “The Dark Emperor,” but the fact that it used the sponsorship opportunity as an avenue to advertise its exclusive retail relationship with K-Mart. In addition to fighter sponsorships, Sinister also purchased presenting sponsorship status for the PPV broadcast.

I think a lot of people scoffed when they saw James Toney walking toward the ring with a large K-Mart logo on his chest, but I liked the strategy by Sinister. If you’re Sinister – if you’re any MMA apparel brand – you’ve got to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. One way to do that is through distribution. Sinister doesn’t have the clout or the cash to gain access to Wal-Mart, but K-Mart is a willing partner looking to rejuvenate it’s own brand. The sponsorship strategy made a lot of sense for both parties.

The only critique I’ll make regarding the Sinister/K-Mart strategy was that the “only at” above the K-Mart logo was not as clear as it could have been, which might have led some people to believe that Toney was simply being sponsored by K-Mart (not that Sinister clothing was available only at K-Mart). Not a huge issue.

21 Responses to “UFC 118: Payout Perspective”

  1. jason on August 30th, 2010 9:08 AM

    I have a hard time digesting your comments about Penn.

    He was the 170 pound Champion and beat one the best Welterweights of all time (Matt Hughes) and had one competitive fight against GSP (the other one was a GSP beatdown).

    If he were able to use his strength and conditioning coach to add weight correctly and maintain stamina (this has always been his achilles heel) he would be competitive at Welterweight. There is no way BJ could make 145, he has a hard time making 155. I will call you crazy!

    Also why would Penn Florian be interesting to you? BJ Penn destroyed Florian, it wasn’t even close! I agree that Gomi Penn is intriguing.

    Thanks for writing, I appreciate anyone who writes on MMA

  2. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 10:02 AM

    Interesting take on BJ Penn’s postition in the lightweight division. The 2010 iteration of Edgar (let’s face it, Edgar knew he had to change himself in order to beat Penn, and the “new” Frankie Edgar is just that, a new and improved version, unlike fighters who just SAY that you’ll see a better version each time) is a terrible stylistic and physical match-up for Penn: he just has no answer for the constant movement, but more importantly the SPEED. The movement could be countered by better gameplanning, but there’s nothing he can do about the fact that Edgar is much faster than him.

  3. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 10:12 AM

    Based on this dynamic, I have to vehemently disagree that a drop to 145 lbs. would be the answer. Since Penn already hates cutting to lightweight, he would want to kill himself trying to make 145 lbs. If the speed of Edgar was too much for him, the 145 pounders are just as fast (Frankie Edgar IS a natural featherweight after all, hell I believe he could even make bantamweight if he felt so inclined), and it would be the same scenario, albeit against a more lethargic, drained Penn. If a weight change is in the cards, it would be to welterweight. Yes, I watched UFC 94, but that isn’t a great indicator of how Penn would fair there. If he actually tried to BECOME a welterweight, he might be very dangerous and successful. I’m talking about BJ taking some time off, adding a fair amount of LEAN, FUNCTIONAL MUSCLE to his frame and taking it seriously. That last part, him taking it seriously, is very important, but also the most doubtful given his track record. However, 145 is not the answer, and you are very right to draw parallels between him and Rich Franklin post UFC 77, so I think it is his only real option if he wants one last run at greatness, 2 losses to St. Pierre be damned. Remember, it was really the size and power advantage of GSP that told the tale at UFC 94.

  4. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 10:18 AM

    That won’t change, but he can certainly take steps to close the gap. NO ONE at welterweight will present the ridiculous speed problem that is Frankie Edgar. Honestly, I think Edgar’s small size is an advantage with his new fighting style. His two victories over Penn are really special (as well as Nate Diaz’s new welterweight run), since they show evolution in a sport that was starting to demand large amounts of weight cutting. The smaller man can still win like the old days of the UFC, but it takes more than technique, it takes incredible speed, athleticism, and mental toughness/fearlessness. The thing that impressed me most about Edgar was his absolute lack of fear towards Penn, something I suspect confused and unsettled the former champ.

  5. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 10:31 AM

    The Couture/Toney fight really didn’t answer ANYTHING about boxing vs MMA in my opinion. James Toney is old, was ridiculously out of shape (I believe that Couture refused to shake his hand at the weigh-ins because he was so disgusted by the shape Toney showed up in, and felt he disrespected himself and the sport of MMA). I mean, Toney just has no real DYNAMIC athleticism left. A boxer in their prime in good shape with a ton of athleticism could probably get much more out of a training camp than Toney, and could be successful in the Octagon, but it would be due to learning enough MMA skills to avoid the takedown. I guess I’m just trying to say a prime boxer stepping in and losing would PROVE a boxer can’t walk into MMA and be successful, Toney just proved a fat, old boxer with no dynamic athleticism left can’t do well. They should’ve forced him to cut to 205 or taken the offer off the table. Just a real embarrassment to even have Toney in the Octagon in the state he was in. Makes me think it was just a publicity/financial stunt on his part.

  6. Jose Mendoza on August 30th, 2010 12:08 PM

    Machiel Van:

    A I know a ton of fans who hated the Toney vs Couture fight (thought it was a complete joke and it ended up looking bad on the UFC for hosting it). Like you said, it didn’t answer anything but I am not sure why anyone would have thought otherwise. The fight went exactly as I thought it would.

    Also, Toney signed a NON_EXCLUSIVE contract with the UFC, so other than making a reported 700K – 1 million dollars, he used his UFC debut to get bigger fights in boxing, though losing the way he did probably hurt his name even more. I mean, Gary Shaw is trying to setup Kimbo vs Roy Jones Jr, so it’s not like James Toney cant take on the winner.

  7. Kelsey Philpott on August 30th, 2010 1:50 PM

    Jason & MV,

    BJ was the 170lbs champion in 2004. He’s since been back at that weight class and tried to put on weight with a conditioning coach, but was still dominated by bigger and stronger competition. BJ would fare no better against the likes of Fitch, Alves, and Shields than he did against St-Pierre.

    Then you look at BJ at 155. He’ll basically become a contender eliminator; beating up on guys that might have a shot to develop as a contender and give the champion a fresh look. Gomi is one match-up. Florian is interesting to me, because prior to the Maynard fight he looked a lot better than the last time he fought BJ. Now that the pressure is off, it could be fun.

    If there’s no place for his drawing power or talent at the ultra-competitive 170 and few interesting fights for him at 155, why not consider 145? I can’t speculate on whether he could make the weight, but I can say without a doubt that there are a host of business benefits to having BJ drop down at some point. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea…however impossible you think it might be.

    MV,

    There was probably a financial component to Toney’s decision, but I also think he was compelled by certain amount of arrogance. He thought he could march into the cage and roll right over Couture. No boxer will ever make that mistake again.

    How is sending that message an embarrassment for the UFC or the sport?

    I fully agree that things might be different if/when a talented boxer that’s in his prime steps into the cage, but you can be guaranteed that whoever does make the jump will be far better prepared than Toney was. That’s all MMA wanted.

    JM,

    I’d be interested to see you qualify that statement. What does that even mean and can you guarantee that it’s any sort of representation of the larger MMA fan base? I happen to know a ton of fans that were happier than a pig in shit when Couture choked out Toney…

    You can’t please everyone.

    Yes, Couture vs. Toney was a bit of a freakshow, but it’s not even close to some of the other crap we’ve had to put up with in the past or been threatened with in the future (e.g., Sylvia vs. Pudz or Lashley vs. Batista).

    The UFC-Toney experiment is over. I’m glad – we all are – but it certainly wasn’t an abomination. Couture proved a point. The bout also united the MMA community. Now we can all get back to the regular programming. 🙂

  8. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 2:27 PM

    “You can’t please everyone.” So true Kelsey. Let me clarify: the embarrassment was not the matchup, it was the shape Toney was in. The fight was intriguing, but to me and all those I talked to it became a joke the moment Toney stepped on the scales. That is why I suggested that the UFC should’ve forced Toney to fight at LHW or walk away. A much more in shape James Toney is more of a threat than in an MMA contest than the one we saw Saturday night. Seeing him in there in the shape he was in really screamed freak show. I think if the UFC is going to allow these kinds of fights, they need to at least make sure the participants will get into proper shape. You can argue that the shape Toney was in was entirely out of the UFC’s control, but I would counter that argument with what I said above: they should’ve forced him to fight at 205. It makes sense: Toney weighed in at 217 lbs. for his previous boxing match, so he could’ve made the weight, and Couture’s last few fights have been at 205 lbs. Probably wouldn’t of mattered in terms of the outcome, but geez… would’ve have at least appeared respectable.

  9. Jose Mendoza on August 30th, 2010 2:27 PM

    Kelsey:

    There was a room full of MMA fans watching the fights and they wanted to see Couture punish the guy or choke him out until he was passed out. These guys wanted to see Toney punished for all his remarks so they weren’t too happy when Couture subbed him within a few mins of the round. These guys wanted to see Toney suffer, so they were disappointed.

    They were also pissed at BJ Penn’s performance and the way he lost. Lol, it was a tough night for those guys watching the fights.

    In my experience, fan groups and their likes/dislikes change greatly based on many variables. I was in Las Vegas watching the fights so I can only comment on that. Talking to people there and from comments I received from friends and fans, seems like they were down on the card. Diaz vs Davis was the one fight everyone mentions as being good, but several people have referred to Nate Diaz as Nick Diaz, haha.

  10. Machiel Van on August 30th, 2010 2:33 PM

    It’s also embarrassing because Dana White told the fans numerous times leading up to the bout that Toney had gotten into good shape and took the bout seriously. He wasn’t and he didn’t. Zuffa even photo shopped the promotional posters… it was just sad. I don’t want to see any more crossover athletes allowed in the UFC unless they are intent on winning and actually do what it takes to properly prepare. Otherwise it’s just disrespectful to the reputation of the brand. This brings my mind back to the whole TUF 11/UFC 115 issue where Dana lied to the fans. He just shouldn’t have said anything. Like that incident, this was not a huge deal but all these little instances will eventually add up. I don’t want to feel like I can no longer believe anything that comes out of DW’s mouth, like SO MANY other combat sports promoters. I believed him when he said that, and I feel a little burned. Not a good way for a hardcore fan to be feeling. Just saying…

  11. Will on August 30th, 2010 3:42 PM

    BJ’s done for the year. Go back and eat some kahlua pork. Think about it and see what 2011 has in store for you. As for Maynard v. Edgar, it’s going to be a match of two very similar styles for two close training partners. Edgar = faster, but Maynard = stronger/bully. Nate Diaz is kicking some bootie out there… Mr. White, match Diaz up w/ Joe Lauzon or something.
    Mr.Toney, you’ve got some guts to throw down in the octagon. Much respect for you. We’ll probably see Toney in the octagon a few more times. My hunch is, Dana White will throw some out of shape heaveyweight that likes to stand up(i.e Kimbo, Struve, Duffee) with Toney. Toney, no doubt, will get a victory. Plus, he’s still very marketable.

  12. Kelsey Philpott on August 30th, 2010 8:20 PM

    JM:

    There was some moaning and groaning over Penn’s performance at our viewing party as well. However, most were happy with the Couture fight even despite expressing some regret for having believed that Toney even had a shot.

    I do clearly recall a collective sigh as Randy shot for the low single and toppled Toney with such ease. Someone then said, “it’s over that quick, eh…” 🙂

    MV:

    I hear you on Toney’s embarrassment. It’s a shame, but I doubt he cares.

    The UFC probably wasn’t overly pleased by his appearance, but I think this event will have helped to galvanize the MMA fan base a little. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed the UFC to experiment and learn from the entire process.

    If Toney came to the UFC for money, it stands to reason that other boxers might end up doing the same. Ironic, isn’t it? The UFC will need to be prepared.

    The thing that puts a wrench into any sort of development plan or system is that several rival organizations are out there looking to strike it big with a “super fight” or “freak show” of their own. If a big name boxer comes over to MMA, does the UFC snap him up knowing that if it doesn’t another organization surely will? Then it’s stuck with having to pay the guy big money regardless of whom he fights, and a decision as to whether to groom him slowly (i.e., Jon Jones) or feed him to the wolves for a short-term pay day (and ruin his long-term potential).

    This late at night, it hurts my brain to think of all the strategic moves and counter-moves in this big game of chess. Interesting discussion, though.

    KP

  13. Jason Cruz on August 30th, 2010 9:42 PM

    Best Branding: Frankie Edgar’s “Fe” logo. I’m glad they explained during the broadcast that the Fe stood for Iron otherwise only a few folks would know about the periodic table.

    Worst Branding: Tom Brady. Nothing against him, but the black letters on black hat TB logo looked horrible. Its amazing to think that he used to play Big 10 Football. 🙂

  14. BrainSmasher on August 30th, 2010 11:01 PM

    I went to the event. It was a rough 14 hour drive but worth it. One comment i want to make is i think Stubhub is really screwing fans. First of all i paid $275 for a $180 ticket times 4. Only to get to the suite and see most suites and sections of the arena some what empty. I know the UFC dont care because Ticket master/stubhub buys their tickets. But in the end few are sold and the ones that are sold are marked up so much they cover the ones thats are not. Up until the main card there was huge sections of seats empty. Sections of people dont all decide to arrive at the event at the same time. It seems the UFC was trying to fill the seats. I feel this really throws off any numbers we hear as gate and sales because there is no way to know.

    I also want to comment on Penn. I have always said he has a very small work load and the way to beat a guy like who seems to be good at everything is drag him into later rounds and force him to work. This has always been when Penn faded. Also for the most flexible guy in MMA Penn does nothing from the bottom. When was the last time he pivoted on his back for an armbar? Made a decent attempt at a triangle? The only thing he does and this goes back many fights is throw his legs up for a high guard to control but really does nothing. I dont know if he is just that lazy or uncreative that he just grapples like a robot. He has the perfect tools for a bottom guy but he for what ever reason doesn’t use it properly.

  15. ldr on August 31st, 2010 4:08 AM

    Everybody just has to come up with an excuse for BJ, now that he has been beaten once, blamed it on everything but himself, talked a whole lot of smack about the rematch, and gets his LAZY ass handed to him again.
    BJ is a big mouth bitch, who has gotten by exclusively on natural talent (which actually seems to be nothing more than uncanny balance, and “the best boxing in MMA”). It doesn’t matter how much work he says he puts in, it doesn’t matter what crazy coaches he brings in, he wouldn’t know what a real, hard camp is like because he has never done one BUT TRUELY BELIEVES HE HAS.
    It’s the same in every fight he’s lost. You can see he has no heart, one hard round and his chest contains nothing but a shrivelled black pea. He had quit, against Edgar, at the end of the first round.
    It’s the same hollywood show Anderson Silva puts on. Do some crazy, quick jumping around, wild kicks and punches and watch you opponent get clipped by accident. Sonnen and Edgar served up the same meal to those buffoons, and dominated them…unfortunately for Chael Sonnen, Anderson Silva can do something of his back. Unlike BJ who can’t respond at all, once he starts getting smacked in the face and, again, how can such a legendary practioner of BJJ be so utterly useless off his back? He’s a self promotion machine, backed up with some natural talent. I guess the I-wanna-cry look he had, talking to Joe Rogan, indicates he knows the dream is over.

  16. Brain Smasher on August 31st, 2010 7:53 AM

    Penn isnt done yet. Just because he lost twice to Edgar dont mean he is out of the title picture. He cant really fight Edgar again but Frankie has already lost to Gray and may do so again. If that happens then Penn is back in business. He matches up much better with Gray. I knew Penn would lose to Edgar because Edgar isnt really a 155 guy. He is small and very quick and hard to hit for slower guys. Outside of a few jabs Penn wouldnt going to land anything big and it was going to turn into an endurance race. Gray isnt as fast and Penns boxing will play a bigger role. Penn isnt in the same situation as Franklin because Edgar isn’t invincible by any means like that of Silva at the time.

  17. Jose Mendoza on August 31st, 2010 9:32 AM

    Brain Smasher:

    The attendance #’s for UFC events (and most sporting events in general) have ALWAYS been misleading. A sellout is not really a sellout, selling a bunch of tickets to casinos, stubhub, ticket master, etc.

    At the end of the day, the news going into the event was that the ticket sales were not as has hoped and I am sure they papered the #’s to try and fill the arena. This is the norm though, and not out of the ordinary. I would never buy tickets at above face value from places like StubHub. Typically, there are always tickets available without having to pay 2 to 3 times the face value.

  18. Diego on August 31st, 2010 11:47 AM

    Idr,

    I agree with what you’re saying about BJ, but not with the way you’re saying it. It’s true that BJ has no heart, I can’t think of a fight where he lost a round and came back to win. All of his wins came in fights he was winning all the way through. He’s not able to adjust during a fight, and I think part of the reason is his corner. They are absolutely useless. I could have given BJ better advice than, “C’mon, let’s do something.” Of course, that’s also BJ’s fault. He’s the one who puts his corner together and my guess is that he’s the boss on his team and makes all the decisions. Not a good idea and it shows when he runs into trouble in a fight. He has no plan B.

    I don’t believe Anderson Silva is a buffoon. When he acts a fool it’s because he’s unbelievably bored. I don’t agree with the behavior, but it’s not foolish. It’s often an attempt to lure the other fighter into the kind of fight Anderson wants. And unlike BJ, Silva has lost rounds here and there (Lutter, Henderson and of course Sonnen) and still come back to win. That guy is always dangerous.

  19. Diego on August 31st, 2010 11:52 AM

    Toney looked to me like an aging fighter looking for a paycheck. He didn’t train for the fight – he showed up fat and worked mostly on his boxing – and only hyped it by running his mouth. His horrific performance should alleviate us from the need to see him again.

    I have nothing against boxers in MMA, any more than I have against wrestlers or jiu jitsu-ers in MMA. They just need to be brought along properly.

    I do however have something against an irrelevant boxer whose best moments are more than 10 years and 30 lbs behind him and is trying to create hype out of nothingness in order to get some retirement money because he’s squandered all of his earnings. I will be disappointed if Toney makes his way onto another main card.

  20. Nathan on September 13th, 2010 1:09 AM

    PENN v SOTIROPOULOS would be an interesting fight.

    This wouldn’t be a wrestling match.

    Fans would get exciting stand up and BJJ.

    Ok I am an Aussie and biased towards Sots but he has 6 wins in a row (in UFC)… looking at a 7th against Joe Louzon.

    He is definitely an up and coming title contender and if he does hit 7 in a row he would have to get a top contender fight. Or the UFC aren’t paying him enough respect.

    In respect to BJ and WEC… I think they would have to pay him more than what he would make in the UFC.

  21. MMA Craig on September 22nd, 2010 1:06 PM

    You say mma fighters wouldn’t fair too good in a boxing ring, but overall, MMA fighters would do 100% better in a boxing ring than boxers would do in a MMA ring.

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