Bellator MMA sued for wrongful termination

May 25, 2016

Zachery Light has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Bellator MMA and Viacom citing wrongful termination based on public policy.  Light, a former MMA fighter and employee of Bellator, claims various wrongdoings while working under Scott Coker.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Light’s attorney, William Crosby.

Light, a former amateur wrestler and MMA fighter, was hired by Bellator and worked under Bjorn Rebney.  He became Bellator’s Talent Development Manager.  The lawsuit states he was soon promoted to Talent Development Director.  He was praised for his work and “received the highest ranking on his annual reviews.”

The Complaint notes a shift of business culture when Viacom acquired Bellator and Scott Coker took over.

Light alleges that in September 2015, he became aware of a number of instances in which Bellator “failed to observe and knowingly disobeyed laws enacted to protect the health and safety” of MMA fighters.  Notably, the California law requiring a medical clearance examination by a licensed physician for participants in a MMA fight.  Light claimed that “a reliable source” at Bellator 126 noted that Ryan Martinez’ blood and eye medicals that were submitted to the state of Arizona “were admittedly forged.”  Martinez lost his fight to Nick Rossborough.

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At Bellator 131 in San Diego, Light learned from “reliable sources” that “a number of fighters on the card had submitted California state-required medicals” by Adam Rendon.  Rendon, the lawsuit claims, was not a licensed physician and this was in violation of California law.  Bellator 131 was the first “tentpole” event of the Coker-era which featured Stephan Bonnar fighting Tito Ortiz.

The lawsuit claims that Light talked to Rich Chou, Bellator’s Vice President of Talent, prior to Bellator 126.  Chou indicated to Light that he would follow up but when he did not here from Chou he approached Scott Coker.  According to the Complaint, “Coker told plaintiff (Light) “to do what Chou told you to do,” without addressing these issues.”  Light went back to Chou who, according to the lawsuit, stated he would be terminated if he (Light) “kept pushing the issue.”

Light went back to Coker to question about Rendon.  According to the Complaint, Coker told plaintiff, “a lot of people at Bellator are going to lose their jobs next week.  Do you want to keep yours?”

In addition, the Complaint claims that Coker pressured Light into promoting collusive fights in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  The lawsuit alleges that Coker disliked manager Anthony McGann.  Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo were managed by McGann at the time and the Complaint claims that Light was instructed to “convince Kongo to fire McGann as his manager.”  Light was influenced by Coker to have Kongo fire McGann and have him sign a new promotion agreement or he (Light) would be fired.

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Light was instructed to arrange fights for McGann-managed fighters under contract in Bellator with opponents “who would convincingly defeat them.”  This would apparently allow Coker the pretext to cut ties with McGann and his fighters.  The lawsuit makes a point of indicating that “[s]uch collusive matches were tantamount to fight fixing…”

Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower provisions, employees in privately held subsidiaries of publicly traded companies who assist in an investigation into an employer’s violation are protected from employer retaliation.  Under the California Business and Professions Code, there is a similar provision claimed by Light.

Light also indicates that in “late 2014 and early 2015,” Mike Kogan was hired by Bellator in an executive capacity.  Kogan, who Light alleges is a “close friend” of Coker claims that Kogan was “paid management commissions for fighters he represented in bouts that occurred with defendant Bellator.”  This would be a “serious conflict of interest” and violation of California law.

The lawsuit states that due to stress-related to Coker and Chou refusing to follow laws and regulations and “requiring plaintiff to engage in illegal practices as a condition of keeping his job,” Light suffered an anxiety attack.  The health scare occurred on April 10, 2015 after Bellator 136 on the campus of UC Irvine.  He was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.  Light had to take an extended medical leave.  He was cleared to return to work without restrictions on March 10, 2016 but was terminated on March 17, 2017 via a letter.  He was advised that “his job was no longer available.”

Payout Perspective:

This will be an interesting case as it goes forward.  Since it was filed just yesterday, there’s still a lot to digest about the claims.  As with many wrongful termination lawsuits, the allegations are salacious and may or may not be true.  One would expect Bellator to deny the claims and file a motion to dismiss – none of which is earth-shattering.  Obviously, the claims present a public relations issue as the company in support of amending the Ali Act to include MMA fighters are accused of doing things that oppose the protections claimed in the Ali Act.  Also, the conflict between promoter and manager rears its head in another MMA promotion.  We shall see about the veracity of the claims and how will Bellator address them.

MMA Payout will continue to follow.

Penn claims ignorance in violating anti-doping policy

May 24, 2016

BJ Penn claims that he did not know about the ban on IV usage and that is the reason why he violated the UFC anti-doping policy per a statement issued on his web site.

“I voluntarily disclosed to USADA that during a non-fight period that I had an IV administered under the care of a doctor.

“The rule for IV usage had changed since my last fight in the UFC and was unaware of the change and voluntarily disclosed the information to USADA. I had no idea that IV use was banned 365 days a year.

“At no time in my career in martial arts have I ever doped and anticipate all test results from USADA will come back clean and will be working with the UFC to get the matter cleared up and return to fight as soon as possible.

As we know, Penn’s last fight in the UFC predated the anti-doping policy which went into effect on July 1, 2015.  Penn’s last fight in the UFC was against Frankie Edgar and occurred in July 2014.  He was slated to fight next week at UFC 199.

Payout Perspective:

I don’t believe plausible deniability will be a viable defense for Penn.  One would surmise that Penn had to sign a contract with the UFC which included abiding by the anti-doping policy enforced by USADA.  This defense is not unique and it may not be very successful if Penn decides to go through an appeal process.  Perhaps he will be able to broker a deal that would mitigate a penalty.

USADA violation scraps Penn from 199

May 23, 2016

B.J. Penn has been taken off of UFC 199 next week as a result of a violation of the UFC anti-doping policy.

The UFC has issued a statement found on its web site.  A portion reads:

“The UFC organization was notified today that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) informed BJ Penn of a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation. Penn disclosed the usage of a prohibited method – the use of an IV in excess of 50 ML in a six-hour period – during a March 25, 2016, out-of-competition sample collection. In accordance with the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, Penn has received a provisional suspension, and has been removed from his scheduled bout against Cole Miller on June 4 in Los Angeles.

Payout Perspective:

The good news is that the MMA community does not have to fake like Penn’s return to the Octagon was a good thing.  In fact, it was quite sad.  If you watched his fight against Rory MacDonald in 2012 and then his return against Frankie Edgar in July 2014, you knew that the old BJ was no more and that he was done as an elite MMA fighter.  His last fight against Edgar did not show any sign that he was competitive.  In fact, he has not won a UFC fight since November 2010.

Unfortunately, Penn’s career and possibly his personal life is in turmoil.  Penn was involved in a fight with a friend which resulted in an arrest.  You might recall that his return to fighting was delayed due to sexual assault allegations.  Earlier this year, the story took a weird turn as a former writer for his web site accused Penn of the assault on his girlfriend.  With the possibility of a suspension due to his violation of the anti-doping policy, the future is murky for the former prodigy.

UFC contacts legislator seeking to amend Ali Act

May 22, 2016

Last week, ESPN ran an article on the proposed amendment to the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act which would cover mixed martial artists.  Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin has indicated that he would spearhead the effort to amend the law to extend to all combat sports including MMA.

While Bellator has indicated it would support such an amendment, the UFC is not in favor of one (although no specifics have yet to be discussed).  The ESPN story reports that the UFC has met with Congressman Mullin on at least on two occasions.  One would surmise the meetings would be to lobby the congressman not to amend the current Ali Act.  It should be noted that the UFC has not seen the proposal that the congressman seeks to amend.

For his part, the congressman has been vague with what he would do to the Ali Act aside from making it applicable to combat sports.  He’s stated that promoter disclosure of revenues to fighters would be one of the reasons why the bill should be amended.  Of course, the Ali Act, as it stands, has posed its own problems with this disclosure as the current law is not specific as to when the promoter must disclose financial information which makes it difficult for a fighter to negotiate.  A recent example of this problem is boxer Chris Algieri.

One of the concerns from the UFC is the rankings component of the Ali Act which would assess ranking fighters.  Section 11 of the Ali Act gives the Association of Boxing Commissions the right to develop guidelines for rating pro boxers.  Of course, the UFC has its own rankings.  It is not clear on how, or what governing body would have the right to develop guidelines for mixed martial arts. This part of the law would take control from the UFC.

Payout Perspective:

If you wondered how fighters have fared when suing under the Ali Act, you can check this out.  For the UFC, amending the Ali Act would mean having to abide by outside regulators and subject them to the possibility of litigation under the Act.  But, as we’ve seen, litigating under the Ali Act is not as easy as it might seem.  Mullin has yet to reveal his proposed amendments to the Ali Act.  This is likely done on purpose so as not to tip off opposition.  One would hope the amendments would be advantageous to fighters so that if they are an aggrieved party, they can seek assistance under the law.

McGregor in midst of $100M deal with UFC?

May 22, 2016

Conor McGregor told ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, in the network’s trademark “Sunday Conversation” that he is in the midst of a $100 million deal with the UFC.  In the interview, he opened up about the “retirement” tweet, the UFC and Floyd Mayweather.

Whether or not you believe this to be true, the deal is likely the biggest fight contract for a UFC fighter in the company’s history.

Assuming what McGregor is saying is true, the deal is likely for 8 fights which would amount to approximately $12.5 million per fight not including any PPV upside or other performance-type bonuses.

The interview includes talking about the “proposed” fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the Irish MMA fighter.  The latest in that saga is Mayweather offering $50M to McGregor.  In his ESPN interview, McGregor proclaimed that Mayweather needs him, not the other way around.

Payout Perspective:

I would suppose that McGregor and the UFC would be working on a new contract (or revising the old one) which would mean more fights and more money.  I also think that the contract would be much more in-depth and detailed than your standard boilerplate contract with the UFC.  Namely, it would detail the terms of his promotional schedule.

The subtle thing here is that McGregor is giving ESPN’s Kenny Mayne this exclusive interview and not Fox or FS1 doing this.  Obviously, it would be more advantageous for ratings if FS1 were to do this interview rather than ESPN.  But, as we’ve seen, when big news occurs for the UFC, ESPN is the first to report.

Diego Brandao suspended 9 months by USADA

May 20, 2016

USADA announced on Thursday that former UFC featherweight Diego Brandao has accepted a nine-month suspension for a positive test for marijuana metabolites.  The positive test occurred in an in-competition test at UFC 195.

The suspension will date back to January 2, 2016, but he could mitigate his 9-month suspension by one month if he completes an anti-doping educational program.  Thus, with completing the program he’d be back by September.

Of course, Brandao may face additional punishment from the Nevada State Athletic Commission since the positive drug test occurred in the state.

Payout Perspective:

Bad times for Brandao, as he was released by the UFC after an incident in which he allegedly assaulted workers and pulled a gun in a strip club in New Mexico.  If there is any good news, it’s that the usual suspension for marijuana is one year.  Brandao only will receive 8 if he completes the educational program.  Of course, he will have to face the NAC and could possibly be fined/suspended by the commission as well.  Thus, it presents a sort of “double jeopardy” for Brandao as not only is he being punished by USADA, he’s going to face punishment from the commission.

TUF 23 Episode 5: 361,000 viewers

May 19, 2016

The 5th episode of TUF 23 Wednesday night drew 361,000 viewers per Sports TV Ratings.  It’s a modest increase from last Wednesday.

The ratings reflect a modest increase from last week (336,000).  It also is a little higher than last spring’s TUF 21 (340,000).

Per Sports TV Ratings, it drew 200,000 viewers in the adult 18-49 demo.

In the fight of the night, Lanchana Green defeated Helen Harper by unanimous decision.

Episode 5

Payout Perspective:

This is another case of waiting for the DVR numbers to see how many people actually tuned in.  The Oklahoma City-Golden State NBA Playoff game (9-11:30pm ET) on TNT aired at the same time as TUF and drew 7.5 million viewers.  Also, the NHL Playoffs featuring Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay on NBC Sports Network drew 1.75 million viewers from 8-11pm ET.

UFC 197 PPV buy estimated between 375K-450K

May 19, 2016

MMA Fighting reports that uFC 197 drew between 375,000 to 450,000 PPV buys.  The event featured Jon Jones taking on Ovince Saint Preux.

The PPV buy rate estimates are very good but reveals what we know about Jon Jones.  While he may be the best pound for pound fighter in the UFC, he is not a top draw.  Clearly, you can say the same about Demetrious Johnson who was also on the card.

UFC PPVs for 2016

UFC 195: 1.032 million

UFC 196: 1.5 million

UFC 197: 375,000 to 450,000

Notwithstanding his showdown with Cormier last January, Jones has put up marginal PPV buys.  UFC 172 against Glover Teixeira drew 350K PPV buys and his UFC 165 against Alexander Gustafsson drew 310K.

Payout Perspective:

It’s a respectable number considering that there were only 50,000 google searches for UFC 197 after the weigh-ins.  Recall that this event was to be Jones-Cormier.  But, with Cormier needing to pull out, the top of the card took an extreme hit.  With Johnson not being a draw, Jones stayed on the card and OSP was the fighter the UFC picked to face him.  Jones has not had a huge PPV buy rate since 182 when he faced Cormier.

Bisping replaces Weidman at UFC 199

May 18, 2016

Michael Bisping steps in for injured Chris Weidman and faces Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title at UFC 199.  The announcement was made on Wednesday by Dana White on ESPN.

Coming off a career-altering win against Anderson Silva earlier this year, Bisping gets a rematch against Rockhold.  The champ submitted Bisping at UFC Fight Night in Sydney, Australia in November 2014.

Weidman had to pull out of his rematch with Rockhold due to a neck injury.

Payout Perspective:

One would have to feel good for Bisping as he finally gets a shot at his long elusive chance to be middleweight champion.  But I’m not quite sure that this will do much with respect to moving the needle with PPV buys.  I do think Bisping is a good talker and will do his best to promote this fight.  As for the announcement, we see once again that the UFC values the broader appeal and audience of ESPN than it does its broadcast partner of FS1.

UFC Prelims on FS1 draws 768,000

May 17, 2016

UFC 198 Prelims on FS1 drew an average viewership of 768,000 per Nielsen.  It was the highest rated sports program on cable TV on Saturday.

The Prelims featured Matt Brown taking on Demian Maia.  Viewership for the fight was at its peak as it drew 985,000 viewers in the last quarter hour of the 2-hour show.  According to Sports TV Ratings, it drew 399,000 viewers in the adult 18-49 demo making it the highest-rated show in that demo for Saturday.

Below is a graph of this year’s PPV Prelims on FS1.

ufc ppv prelims through 198

In addition, the FS1 UFC Fight Night pre-show drew 253,000 viewers and the post-fight show on FS1 drew 117,000.

Payout Perspective:

Despite doing less than the other PPV shows this year, the UFC 198 Prelims on FS1 did very well.  Per Sports TV Ratings, only ESPN’s “30 for 30” Believeland drew higher ratings on Saturday in the category of “sports cable.”  The lower ratings may reflect what to expect for the PPV buys but the event did do well considering it was not a U.S. card.

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