MPO Year in Review: No. 2 Jon Jones returns to Octagon and is flagged by USADA (again)

December 31, 2017

In addition to the return of GSP, Jon Jones returned from suspension for his long-awaited grudge match with Daniel Cormier.  However, what we thought was a great redemption story turned into another setback for a fighter that could have been the best ever.

Notably, at the Summer Kickoff press conference in May, UFC fans had turned on Cormier, and in pro wrestling-fashion, Jon Jones became the bad-boy turned crowd favorite.

The promotion of the event was great and everyone was happy that the two made it to UFC 214 without injury or setback.  It was a good fight as Cormier looked much better than their first fight at UFC 182.  However, Jones was able to finish Cormier and gave one of the best post-fight Octagon interviews ever which seemed to tie a bow on the Jones redemption story.  A fight against Brock Lesnar in 2018 seemed like a blockbuster waiting to happen.

But then Jones was flagged by USADA a month later for an in-competition violation of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy.  Although his blood tests were negative, his urine tests post-weigh-ins were positive for a banned substance.  His “B” sample was positive for the anabolic steroid and banned substance Turinabol.

The event drew 850,000 PPV buys making it the second-most purchased fight of the year.  But, we learned that Jones had been flagged yet again by USADA for a failed drug test.  Once again, Jones proclaimed his innocence, but just coming off one suspension, Jones faces a stiffer (four-year suspension) one as he might be considered a repeat offender if he cannot clear his name from the failed drug test.

While we are letting the due process work itself out, the legacy of Jon Jones is tainted.  Through all of his legal problems, fans have given him chance after chance.  UFC 214 should have been his triumphant return from the brink.  Now, it appears that it will be a longshot that we will ever see Jon Jones in his prime in the UFC again.

MPO Year in Review: No. 3 GSP Returns

December 31, 2017

2017 saw the return of Georges St Pierre as he faced Michael Bisping at UFC 217 in New York this November.  GSP’s return came with much fanfare, but his future with the company remains uncertain.

The matchup with Bisping appeared handpicked by GSP for his return.  It was scheduled for July’s UFC International Fight Week event, but was postponed due to injuries to both fighters.  FS1 aired a 30-minute special documenting the return of the former welterweight champion.  The PPV had the best buy rate (estimated at 875,000 buys) in an otherwise down year for the company.

GSP looked rusty but had enough to stop Bisping to win the middleweight title.  However, it became clear that this was a “one off” for St Pierre because he relinquished the title shortly after winning it.  White.  GSP claimed ulcerative colitis was the reason for giving the title up as he was slated to unify the titles against Robert Whittaker.  White was upset with GSP but he came to terms with the fact it was expected that he did not want to go up against a very competitive (and younger) division.

Will we see GSP again in the UFC?  You have to think that once he gets healthy, he will fall back into the UFC’s good graces.  He is a proven PPV draw on a roster that has few.  The question will be whether he will be able to dictate another “one off” fight with the UFC and if the new owners would be willing to dole out the cash for it.  Something tells me that if they can have him return in July for International Fight Week, the UFC will do it.

MPO Year in Review: No. 4 Ali Act Expansion moving forward?

December 31, 2017

Push for the expansion of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to combat sports continued this year with another Congressional Subcommittee Hearing.  This time, the questions were pointed specifically about the impact the Ali Act might have on MMA.

In December, Randy Couture, Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor, Pennsylvania Athletic Director Greg Sirb and the UFC’s Marc Ratner testified at the hearing.  The most interesting exchange came from the bill’s sponsor Markwayne Mullin and Ratner.  Taking on the appearance of a contentious cross-examination, Ratner was grilled about the UFC and the rankings system.  He also questioned the matchups of certain events including why the UFC allowed Georges St Pierre to get a title shot against Michael Bisping despite coming back from a long absence.

In addition to the hearing, Bellator filed a Statement supporting the Ali Act.  Jon Fitch also filed a statement.  He also authored an op-ed in the Washington Examiner the same day as the hearing.  On the other end, Marc Ratner provided a statement opposing the Ali Act expansion.

Despite talk that Conor McGregor would be willing to testify before Congress, that rumor did not come to fruition.

We will see if there is enough congressional support for Mullin to bring it to a vote before the House or whether there will be a need for more education on the Act before it can move forward.  Thus far, there are 58 co-sponsors for the bill.

UFC 219 attendance, gate and bonuses

December 30, 2017

UFC 219 ended 2017 with a reported 13,561 attending for a gate of $1.76 million.  The main event also was deemed Fight of the Night with Cris “Cyborg” Justino pulling off the unanimous decision over Holly Holm.

The official gate per UFC officials (via MMA Junkie) was $1,760,628.74.  The event pales in comparison to last December’s UFC 207 which 18,533 for a live gate of $4.75 million.  Of course, that event featured the return of Ronda Rousey.

The bonuses of the night went to Cyborg-Holm for Fight of the Night.  Khabib Nurmogomedov and Tim Elliott drew the Performance Bonus.  Each earned $50,000.  The return of the “Eagle” was impressive as he buried Edson Barboza.

 

Cyborg and Holm top UFC 219 salaries

December 30, 2017

ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reports some of the purses for Saturday night’s UFC 219. Cristiane Justino will earn $500,000 while Holly Holm will make $300,000.

Both main event fighters will not receive a win bonus if they prevail. Although, the hefty show purses should compensate for the lack of a win bonus. Khabib Nurmogomedov will draw $80,000 and another $80,000 to win. Edson Barboza will earn $75,000 and $75,000 for a win.

Carlos Condit’s return will draw him $115,000 and $115,000 and his opponent Neil Magny will earn $70,000 and $70,000.

Cynthia Calvillo will earn $41,000/$41,000 and Carla Esparza will earn $36,000/$36,000.

Payout Perspective:

Cyborg’s last fight at UFC 214 drew $200,000 (no win bonus) against Tonya Evinger. Holm’s last reported fight purse was in March 2016 when she made $500,000 in a win against Miesha Tate. Since then, Holm has had 3 more fights and one might infer that she has not made as much since defending the title although I would surmise she’s made 6 figures in each of the last 3 fights. It’s likely that we’ll get the rest of the payouts after the event from the Nevada Athletic Commission.

MPO Year in Review: No. 5 Mark Hunt sues the UFC, Dana White and Brock Lesnar

December 29, 2017

In January, Mark Hunt filed a lawsuit against Zuffa, Dana White and Brock Lesnar from his loss at UFC 200 to the returning WWE star and subsequent revelation that Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance on the UFC anti-doping policy.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nevada, was unique as it included allegations of civil violations of the RICO Act as well as a claim for negligence and breach of contract.  In most instances, a plaintiff cannot claim both tort damages and from those arising for a contract.  Here, Hunt was claiming because the UFC allowed Lesnar to fight with the knowledge that he may have been taking steroids, any injury arising from the fight should be treated as a personal injury.

Serving Lesnar the lawsuit, a requisite in civil litigation, was a difficult task and he was not served until March.  Howard Jacobs represents Lesnar in this lawsuit.

In May, the Court heard the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.  We took a deep dive into the hearing as the transcript was made available to the public.  The Court allowed the lawsuit to stand but left it open for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint as it highlighted at the hearing, that certain claims such as the RICO claims were speculative.

Yet, in Hunt’s First Amended Complaint, he included the RICO cause of action.  As with the first Complaint, The Defendant’s filed another Motion to Dismiss, this time, to dismiss the First Amended Complaint.

The Defendants had hoped that they could stay discovery pending the result from the Court of the Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint.  However, the Court has ordered that discovery may commence related to all of Hunt’s claims except his RICO allegations.

The plot to this lawsuit continued as Hunt fought for the company he was suing in March of this year.  He lost via KO at UFC 209 to Alistair Overeem.  This past fall, he made more news when he wrote an article for a web site where he admitted memory loss and slurring his words.  The UFC took Hunt off the UFC Fight Night 121 card in November when it learned of the article.  This incensed Hunt but White stood his ground in citing that he needed to be checked out to be cleared to fight.

Hunt recently requested that he supplement his First Amended Complaint to include facts about how he believes he was unjustly taken off of UFC Fight Night 121 in Australia.  Likely, the UFC will deny allegations of wrongdoing and will cite taking him off the card as a precautionary measure and they were willing to have him checked out to ensure he was healthy enough to fight.

This is a unique lawsuit that has not trial date and thus the ending is open.  The curious thing is that Hunt remains a fighter for the company and one of the highest paid non-champions on the roster.  It will be interesting to see what information might be pulled from discovery that would put the UFC in a false light but I am sure that what items might be pulled will yield to a settlement between the parties.  If not, we could be heading toward a very contentious court battle.

MPO Year in Review: No. 6 Down year for UFC PPVs

December 29, 2017

It was a disappointing year for UFC PPVs as 4 UFC PPVs did not surpass 200,000 PPV buys.  The absence of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and lack of another UFC star to appeal to the mainstream hurt this year’s events.

UFC 208:  200,000

UFC 209:  300,000

UFC 210:  300,000

UFC 211:  300,000

UFC 212:  167,000

UFC 213:  150,000

UFC 214:  850,000

UFC 215:  100,000

UFC 216: 120,000

UFC 217:  875,000

UFC 218: ~230,000

The estimated buy rates would mean the UFC averaged 326,000 buys per event.  Only UFC 214 with Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier II and the promotion’s return to MSG (along with the octagon return of GSP) drew over 800,000 buys.  Perhaps the concerning factor this year was that there were no PPVs which averaged between 300,000-500,000 buys.  There were 3 events that estimated 300,000 PPV buys and 6 events that drew 200,000 PPV buys or less.

The buy rates reflect the fact that the casual MMA fan is not tuning in unless it’s a big event.  In fact, they are skipping events due to the lack of interest.

There are many reasons for this decrease in the buy rate.  First, Conor McGregor focused on boxing this year.  In 2016, McGregor’s 3 appearances drew over 1 million PPV buys.  UFC 200 featured the return of Brock Lesnar and drew another 1 million buys. December 2016’s return of Ronda Rousey also drew 1 million buys.  Notably, UFC 203, which featured the debut of C.M. Punk produced a strong 450,000 buys.

In 2015, there were 2 PPVs over 1 million buys, McGregor (UFC 193) and Rousey (UFC 194) were in the main events, and 2 more over 800,000 buys (Jones-Cormier I at UFC 182 and McGregor-Mendes at UFC 189).

Second, the lack of cultivation of UFC stars reflects in the lack of PPV buys.  Perhaps most disappointing was the lack of drawing power for stars such as Stipe Miocic, Holly Holm, Tyron Woodley and Amanda Nunes.  In addition, the Diaz brothers sat out this year.  Even though they are not true contenders for a title, they are big draws.

Finally, the injury bug sprang up once again as Amanda Nunes was a late scratch for her main event at UFC 213. While it may not have impacted PPV buys, Demetrious Johnson’s fight against Ray Borg was scratched at UFC 215.  Ironically, Nunes stepped into the main event against Valentina Shevchenko.  Also, Khabib Nurmogomedov and Tony Ferguson’s fight never came to be due to Khabib’s weight cutting issues.

The good news is that Francis Ngannou is stepping up as a force in the Heavyweight division and his fight with Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 should draw some mainstream appeal.  Also, Dana White has indicated that Conor McGregor may be back in the summer of 2018 which means another big event that will likely headline International Fight Week.

UFC promoting Netflix blockbuster film, Bright

December 28, 2017

The UFC is collaborating with Netflix to promote Will Smith’s original movie on the streaming service, Bright.

The company is using its social media account to promote the film featuring the former Fresh Prince in a sci-fi movie about a Los Angeles cop partnering with an Orc, a mystical creature that lives alongside humans and elves.

The buzz for the movie has reached 11 million viewers that have watched the film in just 3 days on the service.  But,  the reviews have been terrible.  Netflix spent $90 million on the project and despite the poor reviews, the viewers have watched.

It’s the first big budget film by Netflix and it enlisted the UFC to recruit its young demo to watch.

There appears to be some sort of promo in which one of the film’s main character is squaring off with Travis Browne.  The character, Max Carlyle, has his own twitter handle.

Payout Perspective:

Look for “Bright” to be a part of the sponsor list this Saturday.  With Endeavor’s contacts in the entertainment business, we could see more of this integration of the UFC brand with companies.  In the video above, Matt Serra and Dana White make cameos.  Notably, the UFC Instagram post, states that it was paid by Netflix.  This brings up a question as to whether the streaming service could be a media partner when the company’s rights deal is up.

MPO Year in Review: No. 7 UFC secures new sponsors

December 28, 2017

The UFC brought in new sponsors for the company in 2017.  The sponsors reflect a new era brought in by WME-IMG.

One of the most notable departures from the sponsor list is Bud Light leaving the Octagon as the UFC forged a deal with multi-million dollar deal with Modelo Especial starting in 2018.

In addition, the UFC recruited Air Asia, Body Armor, TriFecta Nutrition, 7-Eleven, the Hospital for Special Surgery and Performance Inspired.  With the broad reach of WME-IMG, look for the UFC to announce new partners in 2018.  It appears that the UFC would like to work more with sponsors in integrating the UFC brand with sponsors.  For instance, UFC fighters are featured on Big Gulp cups at 7-11 and Cody Garbrandt did a spot for TriFecta Nutrition in leading up to his fight with T.J. Dillashaw this past November.

Look for the UFC to fill more sponsor spots.  Notably, Air Asia is the “Official Airline” of the UFC but the deal is limited to Asia and Australia.  We may see one for North America and Europe soon.  Also of note, you would think that will all of the Embedded filming at hotels, we do not see an “Official Hotel” of the UFC upcoming.  Based on its TUF appearances, we could see Geico serving as an “Official Insurance” company of the UFC.

White claims to be meeting with Mayweather today

December 28, 2017

Dana White appeared on FS1’s “Undisputed” Thursday morning and revealed that he was meeting with Floyd Mayweather later in the day.  Although the retired boxer has claimed he is not fighting in the UFC, there could be another motive for the meeting.

While White is dangling the belief that Mayweather could fight in the octagon, don’t believe this to be true.  Mayweather’s legacy is important to him (especially his zero losses) and he wouldn’t fight in the octagon and made to look ridiculous.  What fans forget is that Mayweather is image-conscious when it comes to real fighting and he just would not do it.  But, he would go into business with White if he is serious about getting into boxing as White suggests in the video.

For those wondering, Zuffa filed for the trademark “Zuffa Boxing” in July of this year.  The USPTO examiner has requested it disclaim the word “boxing” in the mark in September 2017.  This is a formality with the trademark process.

Payout Perspective:

The meeting between Floyd Mayweather and Dana White is likely to discuss promoting.  Mayweather has a stable of fighters that train out of his gym and it would make sense that White would solicit Mayweather for boxers as well as promotional advice.  This would not come out with some sort of compensation of course.  We shall see what 2018 brings for Zuffa Boxing as its clear that the idea is becoming a reality.

 

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