16 for 16: No. 6 The year of Conor McGregor

December 27, 2016

Conor McGregor showed the world why he continues to dominate and elevate the sport of MMA.

McGregor lost in March at UFC 196, scoffed at having to do media for UFC 200 and retired, unretired and returned to avenge his loss at UFC 203 and then headline UFC 205 in New York.

At every stop, McGregor has set records and pulled huge buy rates.  He’s also elevated the career of Nate Diaz.  It was Diaz that upset McGregor at UFC 196.  Diaz’s victory meant at least a rematch with McGregor.  The two met again in a 5-round war in August at UFC 202.  McGregor pulled out the victory in the rematch.  Most believe there will be a trilogy at some point.

In the meantime, McGregor headlined UFC 205 as the company debuted in New York.  McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the UFC lightweight title.  He became the first fighter to hold two titles at the same time.  He would later agree to relinquish the featherweight title.

McGregor’s star appeal was apparent this year as he pulled out huge numbers for each of his PPV fights.

PPV Buys

UFC 196 – 1.3 million PPV buys

UFC 202 – 1.65 million PPV buys

UFC 205 – ~1.3 million PPV buys

Attendance and Gate

In addition, UFC had the third-highest-ever gate in Nevada for UFC 196.  It drew 13,412 for a gate of $8,197,628.00 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.  Their rematch in August at UFC 202 drew the fourth-highest-ever gate with 12,657 for a gate of $7,700,810.60.  Notably, Conor stars in 4 out of the 5 top gates in Nevada.

UFC 205 set a gate and attendance record with $17.7 million before a crowd of 20,427.  It was the largest gate since the stadium show at UFC 129.

McGregor has been a crossover success.  Notwithstanding the constant rumors about a mythical fight with Floyd Mayweather, he is on the mind of the mainstream.  He was regularly featured on ESPN, lampooned on Saturday Night Live and a Chris Jones Esquire feature on him made 2016’s Best American Sports Writing.

While not everything worked out for McGregor this year, including his loss to Diaz in March, a fine assessed by the NAC (which he is appealing) and a power play which failed and cost him UFC 200, he has had a remarkable 2016.  McGregor was the first UFC fighter to have made a reported $3 million for his August fight with Diaz.

With McGregor likely taking some time off, his return should only mean bigger numbers for 2017.

16 for 16: No. 8 UFC pulls credentials for Helwani after breaking news

December 25, 2016

While it may not be a pure business or legal story, the UFC expelling Ariel Helwani and two others at UFC 199 is a reflection of the unique business of the company under Dana White and the Fertittas.

This past June, Helwani was escorted out of UFC 199 prior to the end of the event along with Esther Lin and Casey Leydon.  He was given a lifetime ban by the UFC as they revoked the credentials of the individuals representing MMA Fighting and SB Nation.  The web site and its parent company supported the three after the incident.

The reason for the revocation was due to Helwani’s discovery that Brock Lesnar was going to return to the Octagon at July’s UFC 200.  The UFC had planned to unveil this news on its own but Helwani received the confirmation.  Notably, the information was confirmed from someone with the knowledge of Lesnar’s return so the question becomes why the UFC was angered with Helwani’s report and not the fact that someone had leaked this information.

Ironically, people with knowledge of the Saturday night incident did not reveal the details or break this news until Helwani could give his first-hand account on The MMA Hour on Monday.  Thus, while media supported Helwani for getting the scoop on the Lesnar news, they were reluctant to break what they knew of the Helwani story because it was Helwani’s story.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the UFC reinstated Helwani, Lin and Leydon.

The incident highlights the current state of the media and the stories they cover.  Jeremy Botter and Darren Rovell were threatened by the UFC (Botter with a letter from the company’s attorney) when they reported news of a UFC sale in June.  While the UFC denied these allegations, we all know now that the sale was true.  Currently, the news that Ronda Rousey will not be obligated to speak to the media during fight week has infuriated many.  She has only given limited access to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and appeared on The Ellen Show to appease her women demo.  We now have The Player’s Tribune so that athletes can convey their side of the story without a media filter.  But the push-pull of media and its subjects and control of a story were highlighted with Helwani doing what journalists do and the UFC being angered that it could not control the story.  These things happen in non-sports as well as we know.  With the new UFC owners, we shall see how much access it will grant MMA media as opposed to its control of information and releasing it to certain outlets.

16 for 16: No. 9 Legal troubles for Jon Jones continues

December 24, 2016

It was a big year for Jon Jones. But it could have been worse.

Just weeks prior to his return to the Octagon at UFC 197, Jones was arrested for violating his probation (you may recall he accepted a plea deal for his part in a car accident with a pregnant woman).  In March, he was stopped by Albuquerque Police for allegedly drag racing.  The traffic stop was caught on camera.  He turned himself in for the violation. Fortunately, for Jones, only modifications were made to his probation and he did not have to serve any jail time.  Also, he was able to continue to train for UFC 197.

Jones returned to the Octagon in April at UFC 197 to face Ovince St. Preux after his rematch with Daniel Cormier was postponed due to a Cormier injury.

Jones and Cormier were rescheduled for UFC 200 in July as the main event.  Bur, Jones was taken off the card days before the event as an out of competition drug test was flagged.  As we now know, the banned substance he took was a bootleg sexual enhancement pill he received from a training partner.  Jones became the first UFC athlete to take USADA to arbitration related to a flagged drug test.  However, he lost at arbitration with the opinion stating that despite the fact that he may not have knowingly attempted to take a PED, he did show disregard for ingesting something for which he did not know the contents.  As a result, he was given a one year ban retroactive to July 2016.  Jones had hoped that he would be in the Octagon much sooner.

Jones settled the drug test infraction with the Nevada Athletic Commission by agreeing to a one year suspension as well which allows him to be on track to be back in the Octagon in July 2017.

This year’s legal issues lost him a lot of trust from the UFC.  He has been given chance time and again with him saying all the right things after the problems have ended, but he always finds himself in another problem.  The UFC was likely angered by having to rearrange marketing and finding a replacement so near UFC 200.  Still, he is probably one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world and the organization will welcome him back this July.

Cyborg out of competition test flagged by USADA, she responds

December 22, 2016

USADA has formally notified the UFC and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino of a potential Anti-Doping violation stemming from a December 5, 2016 sample collection.

The UFC has provided its standard statement with regard to flagged tests.  A portion reads:

USADA, the independent administrator of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, will handle the results management and appropriate adjudication of this case. It is important to note that, under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, there is a full fair legal review process that is afforded to all athletes before any sanctions are imposed.

Consistent with all previous potential anti-doping violations, additional information or UFC statements will be provided at the appropriate time as the process moves forward.

Cyborg indicated that she’s on medical treatment.  “Everybody knows I’m sick, that I’m recovering from the weight cut I had to do for the fight. What is happening is post-weight cut. Everybody knows I’m sick. They are talking to my doctor to solve this the best way.” (via MMA Fighting)  On behalf of Cyborg, Ray Elbe posted on The Underground that she has not tested positive for a steroid.  Based on the post, it appears she is working with USADA in turning over all the necessary information from her doctor.

Cyborg has now posted a statement on her web site stating that the banned substance known as “Spironolactone.”  It is a potassium-sparing diuretic that prevents the body from absorbing too much salt and keeps potassium levels from getting too low.

Payout Perspective:

Whatever the outcome for Cyborg, this is bad public relations for the fighter and the UFC.  For Cyborg, she had been on the positive of the media as she was just made a U.S. citizen and ESPN covered her battle with weight cutting.  Yet, this news brings up all of the bad rumors of Cyborg in the past.  While many felt that she was bypassed for the inaugural women’s featherweight division in the UFC, it’s clear there was reason which she explains in her web site post.  If Cyborg does receive a retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption for the prohibited substance, there will be criticism for this as well.  If Cyborg does not receive a TUE, it’s likely she will have a suspension coming.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

UFC on Fox 22 peaks at 4.8M viewers

December 20, 2016

UFC on Fox 22 peaked with 4.8 million viewers for the main event between Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson.  The live + SD ratings for Saturday’s event on Fox drew 3,178,000 overall.

The ratings are an increase from the fast overnights which were 2.69M viewers.  The Live + SD ratings are a 14% increase from last December’s 2.781M viewers.  UFC on Fox 22 was the most-watched UFC event since April 2013 when it drew 3,742,000.

UFC on Fox Ratings
Overnights Live + SD
UFC on Fox 1 5,700,000
UFC on Fox 2 4,570,000
UFC on Fox 3 2,250,000 2,400,000
UFC on Fox 4 2,360,000 2,400,000
UFC on Fox 5 3,410,000 4,400,000
UFC on Fox 6 3,770,000 4,220,000
UFC on Fox 7 3,300,000 3,742,000
UFC on Fox 8 2,040,000 2,380,000
UFC on Fox 9 2,410,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 10 2,550,000 3,220,000
UFC on Fox 11 1,990,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 12 2,020,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 13 2,270,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 14 2,820,000 3,049,000
UFC on Fox 15 2,430,000 2,745,000
UFC on Fox 16 2,290,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 17 2,280,000 2,781,000
UFC on Fox 18 2,430,000 2,685,000
UFC on Fox 19 2,130,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 20 2,440,000 2,975,000
UFC on Fox 21 2,200,000 1,983,000
UFC on Fox 22 2,690,000 3,178,000

Payout Perspective:

The ratings reflect the appeal of Paige VanZant as a ratings needle mover.  With her upset in the main event, Michelle Waterson can claim this as well.  Despite the belief that neither fighter had the skill to be in the main event, it’s clear that based on the viewership, people wanted to see them fight.  A couple years ago, you would not think that a women’s fight on network tv could draw 4.8 million viewers.  It’s a clear sign that times have changed. 

UFC on Fox 22 draws 2.69M viewers

December 18, 2016

UFC on Fox 22 drew 2.69 million viewers on Fox Saturday night per TV By Numbers.  It improves upon last December’s UFC on Fox event.

In the main event, Paige VanZant faced Michelle Waterson.  “The Karate Hottie” upset PVZ via rear naked choke.  In the co-main event Mickey Gall defeated Sage Northcutt.

Last December’s UFC on Fox event featured a world title defense by then lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos against Donald Cerrone.  RDA stopped Cerrone.  Also, Alistair Overeem upset Junior dos Anjos in the co-main event.

The event Saturday night drew a 0.9 rating and a 4 share in the adult 18-49 demo.  It won its timeslot in that demo.  Overall, a two Holiday specials on NBC won the overall ratings during that time slots.

UFC on Fox Ratings
Overnights Live + SD
UFC on Fox 1 5,700,000
UFC on Fox 2 4,570,000
UFC on Fox 3 2,250,000 2,400,000
UFC on Fox 4 2,360,000 2,400,000
UFC on Fox 5 3,410,000 4,400,000
UFC on Fox 6 3,770,000 4,220,000
UFC on Fox 7 3,300,000 3,700,000
UFC on Fox 8 2,040,000 2,380,000
UFC on Fox 9 2,410,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 10 2,550,000 3,220,000
UFC on Fox 11 1,990,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 12 2,020,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 13 2,270,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 14 2,820,000 3,049,000
UFC on Fox 15 2,430,000 2,745,000
UFC on Fox 16 2,290,000 2,800,000
UFC on Fox 17 2,280,000 2,781,000
UFC on Fox 18 2,430,000 2,685,000
UFC on Fox 19 2,130,000 2,500,000
UFC on Fox 20 2,440,000 2,975,000
UFC on Fox 21 2,200,000 1,983,000
UFC on Fox 22 2,690,000

You’ll notice that UFC on Fox 21 decreased from the overnight rating.  This was due to preemptions in certain markets due to NFL preseason football.  Once the ratings recalibrated for UFC, it saw a decrease.

Payout Perspective:

Saturday night’s ratings should increase as the PVZ-MW fight did not start until after 7pm (PT) which is not factored into the overnights at this point.  It did appear that the broadcast intended for the overrun as there was a lot of filler during the 5-7pm (PT) broadcast window.  UFC on Fox 22 went up against an special Saturday night NFL game.

UFC 206: Payout Perspective

December 13, 2016

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective.  This time we take a look at UFC 206 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada.

Holloway stops Showtime for Interim Featherweight title

With Anthony Pettis missing weight, Max Holloway was the only fighter that could have won the interim title.  Pettis claimed to have broken his hand on the first punch of the fight.  It appeared that may have been the case as Holloway seemed to control the fight.  He eventually made Pettis quit in the third round.

Holloway gets a chance to unify the interim title with a fight against Jose Aldo.  However, it would be nice to see a rematch against Conor McGregor.  It does not seem that that fight will not happen.  Yet, the Aldo match should be real good and we can have an actual champion at 145.

As for Pettis, he has lost 4 out of his last 5 and will move back up to lightweight.  Pettis is in a fight slump and needs to get back on the winning track.  It will be hard going back to lightweight.

Cerrone stops Brown with kick

It was the second-best fight of the night as Donald Cerrone and Matt Brown did not disappoint with their matchup on Saturday night.  Cerrone was able to get in head-kicks on Brown but Brown battle back and stung Cowboy with a couple shots.  However, in the third round, Cerrone got in another well-placed head-kick to Brown which knocked him out.

Cerrone should move up the ladder in the welterweight division while Brown’s showing should still keep him a main card fighter.

Attendance and gate

Despite losing a light heavyweight title fight, the fans in Toronto came to watch the fights.  It was another sellout at Air Canada Centre with 18,057 In attendance.  The gate drew $1,843,101 US dollars.  It was the fourth sellout for a UFC PPV in Toronto.

Bonuses

The bonuses went to Max Holloway, Lando Vannata, Cub Swanson and Doo Ho Choi.  Holloway and Vannata earned performance bonuses for their stoppages while Swanson and Choi put on the Fight of the Night.

Cerrone could have earned a $50,000 for his head kick finish as well.  Interesting that he did not receive one and just a week prior he appeared with the MMAAA.

Sponsorships

The most notable sponsor of the night was the Government of Ontario which had a spot during the “Tale of the Tape” on the PPV.  According to a Bloody Elbow report, Ontario paid $150,000 for sponsoring the event.  The question of a conflict arose as to how the government could sponsor the event while its Office of the Athletics Commissioner regulated the event.   It would seem not to be a direct conflict since it would be two different departments within the government.  Ontario, as a sponsor, likely saw this as tourism exposure which could help the local industry.  Ontario, as a regulating body, would ensure the integrity of the sport and safety of the fighters.  There would not seem to be any conflict between the two.

The sponsors in the Octagon included Bud Light, Toyo Tires, Reebok, Monster Energy, 7-11, Harley Davidson, UFC Fight Pass and Monster Energy had the center.

Bud Light Living sponsored the Embedded Episodes.

Monster logos were on the shorts of both Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis.  Cerrone held the Monster can for the camera when his hand was raised in victory.

Odds and ends

Cub Swanson-Doo Ho Choi put on one of the best fights of the year.  Cerrone-Brown followed the fight and was almost as good.

The Ronda Rousey promo for UFC 207 was aired throughout the PPV.

The Embedded episodes did a good job of getting Max Holloway over as a major fighter. He seemed to become more comfortable in front of the camera and played to the Toronto crowd.

The Ontario Athletic Commission forced Emil Meek to cut his beard per commission rules.

Why was Donald Cerrone preparing for the fight in Cabo San Lucas with Joe Schilling?  Interesting that the “BMF” tattoo on his neck was fake but the black eye was real.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson was hanging out with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson at the fights.

Conclusion

While this was a very good main card, it’s unlikely that it did well with PPV buys.  There were only 200,000 google searches for “UFC 206” on Friday which likely means a low buy rate. The cancellation of the light heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson took a lot out of the steam for promotion.  Pettis missing weight probably did little to add more damage to the PPV buy rate but it likely didn’t help.  Despite a strong attendance, the PPV buy rate for this event will be between 250,000 to 275,000 buys.

Darrell Ewalt, AXS TV’s Vice President/Executive Producer of Event Programming and Production, passes away at age 58

December 9, 2016

Darrell Ewalt, Vice President and Executive Producer of Event Programming and Production at AXS TV, passed away Sunday, December 4 at the age of 58.

The 15-year-veteran of the company was responsible for overseeing all of AXS TV’s sports and live event programming production, and served as executive producer of AXS TV FIGHTS, NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING, and the former weekly live mixed marital arts program INSIDE MMA, which aired for 10 seasons.

Armed with a vast knowledge of production and engineering/technology, the award-winning Ewalt was a true standout in the industry. His ability to blend the experiences he acquired in both realms not only made him a superb creative producer with a rolodex full of contacts, but also gave him state-of-the-art skills in engineering and broadcasting technology. His most recent project was spearheading the design and engineering for the network’s new live broadcast production truck. It was, however, his easy smile and penchant for having a story for every situation that endeared him to all who met and worked with him.

“AXS TV is forever indebted to Darrell’s tireless service,” said Mark Cuban, CEO of AXS TV. “He left his imprint on every aspect of this company, both as a producer, engineer and as a person. We send his family our sincerest condolences during this difficult time.”

In over 35 years of producing and directing, Ewalt worked on over 50 different sports, fueled by a tremendous passion for live televised sporting events and an impressive knowledge of a wide variety of sports, in general. He brought this same knowledge and passion to HDNet (former name of AXS TV), where he was one of the original hires when the network began 15 years ago. With HD technology still in its rudimentary stages in 2001, collaboration and compromise between engineers and producers was key to creating quality productions. Ewalt thrived on this challenge, producing the first HD broadcasts of countless sports ranging from MLB and NHL, to MLS, MMA, and the Olympics—crafting programs that were not just historic firsts, but truly compelling television experiences.

Ewalt played an integral role in HDNet’s success as the first HD network in the world to cover television broadcasts in HD. As a result of his great efforts, in 2002, during his tenure with HDNet, Ewalt won an Emmy® award for the production of the first-ever high definition Olympics broadcast at the Salt Lake Winter Games.

A resident of Denver, Ewalt is survived by his wife, Vicky; sons, Kyle and Blair; brother, Steve; and parents, Merritt and Mareda of Storm Lake, Iowa.

The family has designated Craig Hospital Foundation and Freedom Service Dogs of America as memorial contributions in the name of Darrell Ewalt.

MMA Payout Exclusive: Interview with Burt Watson

December 9, 2016

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with former UFC event coordinator and current Alliance MMA Director of Fighter Relations Burt Watson.  We talked about what he did after leaving the UFC, his new job and what he thinks about the UFC sale.

MPO:  What have you been doing since you left the UFC?

Watson:  When I left the UFC, I was home for 35-40 days.  It’s the longest I’ve been home in 10 years.  I was due some down time, private time and family time.  So, when I left [the UFC], I kinda just shut down and regrouped a little bit until the smoked cleared.

Watson said that he received an email from Rob Haydak when he was operating Cage Fury Fighting Championships [CFFC].  He met Haydak a couple weeks later.  Although Watson received a couple inquiries from other organizations, he decided to work with Haydak since it was close to home.   He came on as Fighter Relations for CFFC.

Watson noted that he wanted to slow down a bit after working with the UFC.  “Last year with the UFC, I did a total of 40 shows.  That’s a ton, baby.”

At the time, Haydak was putting together the Alliance MMA deal.  Once the deal was put together, he became part of Alliance MMA.  In addition to the announcement that Watson would be a Director of Fighter Relations, he was appointed to the Board of Directors.

MPO: What will your new role be about?

Watson: Same capacity with CFFC now on a larger scale.  Working with regional promotions.  Alliance MMA has about 5-6 promotions.  My role is fighter relations which entails continuity and consistency across the board.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, just put some more air in it.  We’re going to see where we can share information and come up with a template with working consistently.

When I was in the UFC, I got the fighters at their highest level.  Common sense told me that there was a feeder system.  Now I get to see it.  I’m proud and excited about that and the good thing is that I’m still learning.

MPO:  What advice do you give young fighters?

Watson:  I start by giving my presence.  Some of them are aware of my past and past history.  Sometimes when the lights go on, there lights go out.  I try to prepare them and give them a feel for what its like and what they can expect in that you have to be ‘camera ready. ‘

I try to show them that they are not in the cage just to get their butt whooped.  The promoter cares that they are getting the right fights to move them along.

In addition, Watson will provide detailed prep procedures for Alliance MMA promotions.

Watson:  First thing I do is check their weight.  Making weight is part of your job.  Then, I’ll check their weight again.  Its part of the process, I make sure the official scale is available to get on [before official weigh-ins] to show ‘how much hustle they have.’

I do gloves.  I hand roll gloves.  I make sure that the fighters have a mouthpiece, cup and know who is wrapping hands and braiding hair.

Fighters are a strange breed.  You gotta understand them.  You gotta get to know that, or ask.

MPO: What is the state of MMA?  Do you see it expanding?

Watson:  When I initially started in MMA in 2001, I had no idea what MMA was.  I knew about karate, I knew about Bruce Lee and Bruce LeRoy…To see the sport go where it is now and to see the advancement of the technical skill background is great.

I come from a boxing background, through the sport of boxing, as a coordinator, I couldn’t get near a boxer of the caliber of a Mike Tyson or Oscar de la Hoya.  The sport of MMA is fan friendly. It did not pull the athlete, it made the athlete accessible to the fan.  When you have fan popularity, there’s room to grow, there’s a whole way of doing it.

The NFL has been around for over 50 years and it is still growing.  I think MMA has still got a way to grow.

MPO:  What are your thoughts on the UFC sale?

Watson: It’s a testament to the growth of the sport.  It’s pretty well documented.  I know where they were and how much red there was 5 years into it.  Not in my wildest dreams did I see $4.2 billion.

Jon Jones settles with NAC

December 8, 2016

MMA Fighting reports that Jon Jones has reached a settlement with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and will serve a one year suspension.  Jones will be able to return this summer to the UFC octagon.

Jones avoids a hearing before the NAC which could have added on to a USADA suspension handed down to him in October.  A three-person arbitration panel handed down a one year suspension for Jones as he was the first UFC fighter to take USADA to arbitration.  The panel determined that Jones acted recklessly when he took a Cialis-like sexual enhancement pill without knowledge of its contents.  Jones had hoped that the arbitration panel would have been more lenient in its sentencing as a one year suspension was the original requested penalty for Jones.

Jones was to have appeared before the NAC next week at the commission’s monthly hearing.  Jones or his representatives will be there, but to confirm the agreed upon settlement, rather than deal with a punishment.

The one year suspension appears to be retroactive to the date of the discovery of his USADA drug test results, July 6, 2016.

Payout Perspective:

The settlement ensures that Jones will have a possibility to return to the UFC at about the same time that the UFC will run its annual International Fight Week.  This should/could mean the long awaited fight between Jones-Cormier could occur then assuming Jones stays out of trouble and Cormier remains injury-free.  With today’s news, Jones avoids the possibility of an additional suspension and/or prolonged legal battle.

NAC Jon Jones Complaint by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

NAC Jon Jones Answer by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

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