UFC 119: Storylines

September 24, 2010

MMAPayout will be taking a look at the storylines heading into UFC 119: Mir vs. Cro Cop, which will be held at the Conseco Fieldhouse Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

Q&A with Dana White, the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship

UFC combines various fighting disciplines including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiujitsu and Muay Thai, and has grown dramatically in popularity since White persuaded Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to purchase the entity for $2 million in 2001. With offices in Las Vegas, Toronto, London and Beijing and shows televised in a half billion homes worldwide, White reports UFC is worth about $2.5 billion today. (IndyStar)

Hoosier state of mind for UFC

In Indiana, legislation passed quietly last year without much opposition. It took effect Jan. 1, paving the way for the UFC to make its first visit Saturday in Indianapolis…

“In the UFC’s case, their stance has always been that they run to regulation. So we felt, with Indianapolis being arguably one of the better sports cities in the nation, that it would be a matter of time before they visited our state for the first time once the Commission got up and running smoothly.

“On top of that, there is a huge MMA fan base here, and we’ve always heard that pay-per-view buys in Indiana are at or near the top of the list.” (NWITimes)

UFC 119: Rare non-sellout for the mixed martial arts juggernaut

The MMA fighting league, the most popular in the world, is struggling to sell out this weekend’s bout, which marks the first time the event is being staged in Indiana. In recent years, UFC has routinely sold out its monthly main events, and it has often made TicketNews’ exclusive industry rankings of the Top Events of a particular week.

A check on Ticketmaster.com today, September 22, revealed that tickets were still available to the event at most price points, from $40 face value to $300. Fees were not included in those prices, which ranged from an additional $12.20 to $26.60. The event will be held at the Conseco Fieldhouse, which seats close to 18,400.

Several factors appear to be contributing to event’s slow ticket sales, including the weak economy – Indiana’s unemployment rate is above the national average at 10.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – a lackluster main event, and the fact that UFC has never visited the Hoosier State before. (TicketNews)

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MMAPayout Note: As of earlier this week, UFC 119 had sold 11,500 tickets (1,500 still available) for a $1.5 million gate. The venue is assumed to only accommodate about 13,000 fans out of the possible 18,400 the Conseco Fieldhouse arena can host.

15 things you may not know about UFC

In simplest terms, Ultimate Fighting Championship is the world leader in mixed martial arts fighting.

Two men go at it in 30 feet of fighting space enclosed in a caged octagon. Fighting disciplines include karate, jiu-jitsu (submission grappling), boxing, kickboxing and wrestling.

The sport will be on display for the first time in Indiana with UFC 119 on Saturday night at Conseco Fieldhouse. The 11-fight card, expected to draw an 18,000-seat sellout, starts at 7 p.m, with preliminary fights airing live at 9 on Spike TV. Pay-per-view of the night’s five featured fights begins at 10. (IndyStar)

UFC 119: Lytle happy to be home

Chris Lytle was the ideal first choice to throw a few loud punches, then roll around on a mat in a brief but sweaty introduction of Ultimate Fighting Championship training Wednesday afternoon at the Omni Severin Hotel Downtown.

Who better to promote Saturday night’s UFC 119 at Conseco Fieldhouse than a local favorite? Four mixed martial arts fighters on the 11-bout card have Indiana ties, but Lytle is the best-known in UFC’s Hoosier state debut. (IndyStar)

MATT ERICKSON: Love it or hate it, MMA is ‘inevitable’

You probably don’t call it that — you probably call it “ultimate fighting” or “cage fighting” or “extreme fighting.” You might even call it what Sen. John McCain called it years ago — “human cockfighting.”
But whatever name you give it, you probably think it’s too bloody, glorifies violence and is akin to ancient gladiators forcing two men to fight till one of them became a farm purchaser.
But you’d be wrong. Most of the time, anyway. (NWITimes)

Hoosier state of mind for UFC

Fighting for Attention: GSP as face for the UFC

September 24, 2010

On Wednesday, The New York Times featured Georges St. Pierre in its Fashion and Style section as an “Up Close” feature. His appearance reflects the push by the UFC to create a face for its brand as it continues to move into the mainstream.

The article follows St. Pierre as he uncomfortably navigates New York Fashion Week. St. Pierre is portrayed as a humble man that is a master at fighting. The article is GSP’s introduction to the mainstream media. Note, the article placement is not in the Sports section but Fashion and Style. Although a quick reference is made about fashion, the rest of the article concerns St. Pierre as he moves from function to function even though he admits hating the process.

In the article, The New York Times depicts MMA fans as people that would not venture past a sports page, if they read:

Mr. St-Pierre has a rabid following among testosterone-fueled, under-35 head-banger types who, in another era, rallied around Hulk Hogan.

Does this depiction help or hurt St. Pierre’s personal brand? Here, we have a good-looking, soft-spoken killer in a nice suit.  Do mainstream readers marvel at how he does it? Or, do they consider St. Pierre an anomaly in a barbaric sport.

Does the article help the UFC brand? It stereotypes the UFC fan, but is the article a positive step in the direction of changing the perception of the UFC and MMA?

Bloody Elbow opines:

If the sport is going to truly break into the mainstream consciousness it will require one or two athletes to become major stars. GSP is making his bid now. Backed by aggressive Hollywood manager Shari Spencer and sponsors like Gatorade and Under Armour, GSP has the pieces in place.

 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Payout Perspective:

If Chuck Liddell was the initial face of the UFC, the UFC is making a push for St. Pierre to push its brand in the coming years (Jon Jones, you are on deck). St. Pierre has the rugged good looks and is on top of the UFC landscape as he owns his division. He is the perfect spokesperson to lead the UFC into mainstream consciousness. Even if the Hulk Hogan analogy is perceived as a negative, the fact remains that Hogan brought the WWF (now WWE) into the mainstream. Can St. Pierre do the same for the UFC?

St. Pierre is a likeable figure as evidenced by his mainstream sponsors and his appearances in articles like this and other opportunities to spread his name. If he is able to loosen up and become more personable during his appearances, he could become more marketable than he is today.

TUF 12 & UFC 119 Countdown Ratings

September 23, 2010

MMA Payout has learned that the second episode of TUF 12 drew a 1.2 HH rating with a rating of 1.7 million viewers. The broadcast also drew well in the M18-34 and M35-49 demographics with a 1.7 and 1.84, respectively.

Quarter hours/HH ratings were as follows: 1.12, 1.22, 1.20, 1.39

UFC Countdown 119: Mir v. Cro Cop scored a .77 among M18-34 and .86 in the M35-49 demographic with 862,000 viewers.

Payout Perspective:

The numbers for TUF show an increase from the season premiere which averaged 1.6 million viewers. Initial breakout star of the show: Bruce LeRoy?  Will he become the next Roy Nelson…or Junie Browning?

UFC Countdown ratings are good compared to recent Countdown shows. It was interesting that Matt Serra was not featured in the second half hour. Regardless of what you think of Serra, he is charismatic. Sean Sherk versus Evan Dunham will be an interesting fight but only for hardcore MMA fans. Dunham’s backstory is interesting and he seems like a nice guy. But, I wonder if Spike had a chance to re-edit the show, would it have left out the fact that Chael Sonnen gave Dunham a break into MMA.

Bellator Investor Subject of FBI Investigation

September 22, 2010

According to a report published by Fortune Magazine, Plainfield Asset Management (PAM) is the subject of a FBI investigation concerning allegations of fraud:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing whether Plainfield Asset Management, a hedge fund that once had $5 billion in assets under management, committed fraud by overstating the value of some of its investments and charging management fees based on those inflated assets.

The firm was profiled by the magazine in January in a piece entitled: “The Fall of a Hedge-Fund Wunderkind

Payout Perspective:

MMAPayout.com has confirmed PAM’s status as Bellator’s majority shareholder. According to an SEC filing on February 26, 2010, Plainfield Direct, an investment fund managed by PAM, holds a 51.6% majority stake in Bellator Sports Worldwide LLC. The common stock position represents an investment of roughly $2.25M. As of the date of the filing, Plainfield also held nearly $2.92M in senior debt.

In 2009 Bellator CEO and Founder Bjorn Rebney told MMAPayout.com that Bellator had met all of its capital requirements with the backing of “hedge funds,” but declined to provide any specifics.

Chris Carey of ShareSleuth.com contributed to this report.

How appealing: Sonnen to appeal CSAC drug test, will appear on ESPN Thursday

September 21, 2010

Chael Sonnen will appeal the California State Athletic Commission drug test which revealed that he tested positive for a banned substance prior to his fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 117. He is scheduled to appear on ESPN’s MMA Live on Thursday to presumably speak about the failed drug test.

According to a report from MMA Fighting, Sonnen’s UFC 117 drug test revealed “abnormally high” levels of testosterone. In a unique twist, Sonnen admitted to CSAC Executive Officer George Dodd that he had used an illegal performance enhancer prior to the UFC 117 main event with Anderson Silva. Thus, Sonnen and the CSAC knew Sonnen tested positive for PEDs going into the fight with Silva.

According to Dodd from MMA Fighting:

“He [Sonnen] told me that he was taking something and I informed my inspector to get with him and make sure we mark it down on our sheet that we use for drug testing, and then we moved forward with the drug testing,” Dodd said. “I don’t recall if he actually informed me what he was taking. …I don’t recall if he did or didn’t. He might’ve, but we were doing a lot of drug testing that night. He may have.”

Regardless, Dodd said that under the California regulations he could not have stopped Sonnen from fighting even after hearing beforehand that the fighter may be using a performance-enhancing substance.
While allowing a fighter to compete with a performance-enhancing substance in his system does seem to pose a risk to his opponent, Dodd acknowledged, there’s no rule that allows for pre-emptive action without a positive drug test.

Sonnen’s manager, Mike Roberts, provided a statementon behalf of Sonnen on Tuesday:

Sonnen will appeal the California State Athletic Commission’s claim that he tested positive for “abnormally high” levels of testosterone and that Sonnen will break his silence on the matter in the coming days.

The “coming days” will be this week.  According to Jon Anik’s twitter (h/t Bloody Elbow), Sonnen will appear on ESPN’s MMA Live. An appearance that will definitely be must see television for anyone interested in this issue.

Payout Perspective:

Unlike Shane Carwin’s silence and a rather innocuous statement made by Dana White about Carwin’s situation, it appears that Sonnen will address the drug test head on. It may be unfair to compare the two situations since Sonnen’s situation seems much more urgent as the failed drug results came out recently whereas Carwin’s link to steroids happened several years ago.

Just like a politician, Sonnen will take to the television to speak with his constituents (i.e., MMA fans). Sonnen will rely on his personality to articulate and persuade viewers as to why he failed his drug test. Certainly, the news he admitted to the CSAC that he would fail the drug test shows that he is not hiding anything. Sonnen will use this piece of information in bolstering his credibility.

Will his statement on ESPN rival that of A-Rod’s interview with Peter Gammons? For as much smart and outspoken Sonnen is, it would be difficult for fans to believe he didn’t know what he was doing.

Sonnen’s crisis PR strategy is playing out before us. It will be interesting to see whether Sonnen will admit fault, claim innocence or deny wrongdoing. As Sonnen’s Jim Rome Show appearance showed, he is willing to deny, deny and deny.

M-1 Global Negotiating With Showtime For TV Deal, Fedor Strikeforce Extension

September 21, 2010

MMAPayout has learned through sources close to the negotiations that M-1 Global is currently angling for a US TV deal with Showtime, in hopes for next years M-1 Challenge (independent of Strikeforce), to go along with a 5 fight extension (not including the 1 fight still remaining) for Fedor Emelienenko with Strikeforce.

Along with the announcement, M-1 Global Director of Operations Evgeni Kogan went on Eddie Goldman’s No Holds Barred Show and proclaimed that the June 26th co-promoted event between M-1 and Strikeforce was a successful show for M-1 and for the co-branding with Strikeforce and Showtime, despite Fedor’s loss to Fabricio Werdum. Kogan will spend the next few weeks working to finalize the deal with Showtime, which he states is going “well”, and hopes to have an announcement within the next month, which will hopefully consist of the TV deal and Fedor’s next fight and opponent in Strikeforce. If negotiations go well, M1 would like to see Fedor take on Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem in 2011. Fedor is in talks to fight on the rumored Strikeforce December 4th event, with Antonio “Big Foot” Silva  mentioned as a possible opponent to satisfy his last contracted fight with Strikeforce.

Kogan also mentions that there have been no talks between M-1 and the UFC, says they are happy with their partners Showtime and Strikeforce.  MMAPayout will keep you updated as we learn more details regarding the negotiations.

Adequate Drug Testing in MMA

September 20, 2010

The news of Chael Sonnen’s positive drug test at UFC 117 has once again put the issue of performance enhancing drug use in MMA at the forefront of the industry’s issues list. While MMA is such a new sport – and there are so many issues that need attention – I’m not sure how much longer things can persist without governing bodies or fight leagues taking some sort of action.

The problem with PED use in MMA is allegedly wide spread: anywhere from 30%-70% of MMA fighters are using (depending on whom you ask). However, it should be noted that no reliable numbers or information exist to qualify those claims. We have only anecdotal evidence from the likes of Ken Shamrock or other unnamed insiders from which to base our assessments.

I’m not sure I put much stock in whatever the percentage may be. What does it matter anyway? The real point is that the current system provides too many loopholes and gaps to strongly deter the use of PEDs, which is a knock on the sport for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately, the issue of drug testing usually comes down to money. It’s expensive to create a program which serves as an effective deterrent; a ballpark barometer might be 25%-50% of USADA’s 2009 budget of $13.3 million. It’s unrealistic for a single athletic commission or most fight promotions to fund such an endeavor. The UFC is perhaps the only organization capable of setting up a solid drug testing program.

What would such a program entail? The UFC would need to hire a team of experienced people to manage and enforce the program, but also establish a relationship with a third party testing lab, — or even a group like WADA or USADA — to ensure the testing was carried out properly. Then the UFC would need to get its fighters on-board, and this is perhaps the biggest obstacle aside from funding.

In order for the program to be effective, the UFC must know where all of its contracted fighters are at all times. Thus, the fighters would essentially have to agree to notify the UFC of their whereabouts every 24 hours and give advance notice of movements out of state or country. If that isn’t seen as enough of an invasion of privacy, the fighters would also need to consent to random urine and blood testing at any given time.

That’s a lot to ask — from the UFC and its fighters — but the benefits of an effective drug testing system are potentially substantial:

1. It would help level the playing field for all fighters.

2. It would lesson the chance that fans are cheated or robbed of special moments like UFC 117.

3. If managed properly, it would generate tremendous publicity. The UFC could use its hard line approach on PEDs to gain favorable press from the mainstream media, boost its public image, and one-up the big four sports leagues that only implemented serious drug testing after being called in front of Congress.

4. It would also provide an additional selling point on the regulatory side; yet another discussion the UFC can have with New York about just how much it is doing to ensure the safety and well-being of its athletes.

My own thoughts on this subject have changed over the last few months. Initially, I thought a comprehensive drug testing plan would be absolutely infeasible – even for the UFC – but after further investigation and many conversations with sports industry folk from a wide array of different properties (ATP, MLB, NFL, etc.), I can’t help feel as though it is possible.

An effective drug testing program cannot be established over night, nor will such a program come easily. However, now is the time to do it: the UFC faces no opposition from a player’s union of any sort (the big four do not have this luxury); the benefits outweigh the costs in the medium to long term; and it eliminates some of the UFC’s operating risk.

Drug test reveals Sonnen positive for banned substance at UFC 117

September 19, 2010

MMA Junkie reports that UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test at UFC 117.

This news could derail Sonnen’s momentum and popularity after nearly defeating Anderson Silva in August and possibly jeopardizes his chances at a rematch in the near future.

The California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer George Dodd confirmed that Sonnen failed the test due to a banned performance-enhancer.

Via MMA Junkie:

According to the report, Dodd did not state which banned substance was detected in the failed screen. An official announcement is likely to come in the next few days.

Sonnen is likely to face a long layoff either in the form of a suspension or if he plans to appeal the findings.

On the heels of an epic trash-talking campaign that generated significant interest in their Aug. 7 bout at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., Sonnen dominated Silva for more than four rounds in the UFC 117 pay-per-view headliner. However, with fewer this two minutes remaining in the fight, a grounded Silva secured a triangle choke and forced a tap-out for the shocking come-from-behind victory.

Payout Perspective:

Unlike Shane Carwin, it is hard to fathom Sonnen not addressing the failed drug test. Sonnen could deny wrongdoing as he did when he claimed Lance Armstrong gave himself cancer because he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Sonnen then said he never made those comments on the Jim Rome Show even after Rome replayed the audio. It is ironic that Sonnen faces his own questions about PEDs.

The UFC has a problem on its hands as two of its main event fighters from its July and August PPVs have been linked to steroids. Granted, Carwin’s situation occurred before his days in the UFC, but it still raises issues of credibility. Sonnen’s outspoken opinion and the ability to articulate points intelligently was an asset to hyping his fight with Silva. He could have been a future asset in representing and promoting the UFC in general.

Sonnen’s career blossomed as he drew great interest for his brash, trash-talking leading up to his fight with Anderson Silva. A rematch was thought to be on the horizon for early 2011. Even when not competing, Sonnen was an attraction for UFC fans. At this past UFC Fight Night, Sonnen held court at a UFC Q&A (via Bloody Elbow).

It will be interesting to see what type of PR strategy the UFC and Sonnen use in addressing this issue.

Strikeforce signing week includes Semtex

September 18, 2010

 Strikeforce ended a week of adding new talent to its roster by signing Paul “Semtex” Dailey to a mult-fight deal.

Dailey, the Brit exiled from the UFC after a cheap shot on Josh Koscheck at UFC 113 recently fought at the Shark Fights PPV on September 11th.

From MMA Fighting:

…Daley hopes to take a bit of time off before making his promotional debut, though he says he “definitely” wants to fight before the year is out.

As for his plans in the division, which is currently ruled by champion Nick Diaz, Team Daley says they will follow the vision of Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker and the company matchmaker, though his manager Wad Alameddine notes that Daley usually tends to make strong first impressions.

Payout Perspective:

This week has been a move by Strikeforce to position itself for strong fight cards at the end of this year and a jump start to 2011. The acquisition of Dailey and Josh Barnett are risks for different reasons. But, Dailey is an up and coming fighter with explosive (hence “Semtex”) punching power that would draw fans. Matchups against Nick Diaz, Mayhem Miller, KJ Noons and Dan Henderson would be intriguing.

In hindsight, Dailey’s abrupt departure from the UFC may not hurt his career at all. If Dailey can behave, and learn takedown defense, he can be a major player in the Strikeforce mix in the coming years.

UFN 22 & TUF 12 Ratings

September 17, 2010

MMAPayout.com has learned that UFN 22 earned a .9 HH rating on the strength of 1.2 million average viewers and a peak of 1.6 million. The broadcast also garnered a 1.1 in the M18-34 demographic and a 1.2 in the M18-49 demographic.

The debut episode of Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter drew a 1.3 HH rating based upon an average audience of 1.6 million viewers. It earned a 2.0 in the M18-34 and 1.8 in the M18-49, respectively.

Payout Perspective:

I don’t have the quarterly ratings from Spike, but looking at the numbers above it would appear as though the viewership for UFN 22 increased substantially from start to finish – peaking at 1.6 million. TUF 12 was then able to hold onto all of those viewers over the next hour.

Neither show was tremendously well-rated relative to previous broadcasts in the series: UFN has averaged a 1.6 HH; and while the lifetime average for TUF is a 1.3 HH, the average for debut episode is a 1.4.

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The UFC and Spike have been experimenting with the marketing for TUF over the last few weeks: using TUF Countdown, inflammatory coach comments, and fighter one-on-ones more than ever before. It’ll be interesting to see how that reflects in the ratings for the season, which appear to be heading back toward the pre-TUF 10 levels of somewhere around the ~1.1 level.

While I see Josh Koscheck’s ability to play a credible villain as one of the main keys to success for TUF 12, I also think the ratings will depend on Spike getting back to telling better stories. The last few seasons have seen a welcomed reduction in the amount of sophomoric pranks and house feuding, but in doing so Spike also passed on the opportunity to shed light on each of the fighters. Court McGee is the best, and perhaps only, case study from last season as to how Spike should work to tell a fighter’s story.

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