Zuffa sends letter confirming sale to fighters

July 11, 2016

MMA Junkie reports that UFC contracted fighters have received a letter about the sale of the company.

The letter addressed to “Athletes” from “The Zuffa executive team” states that “the athletes, have always been the central focus of the promotion.  That will not change.”

The letter goes on to say that the new owners, WME | IMG would focus “on the continued global expansion of mixed martial arts and committed to further promoting you [the athlete] on the global stage.”

Payout Perspective:

The letter comes just a couple weeks after Zuffa sent an internal memo to its employees that the UFC had not been sold.  As we know, it was just semantics as Zuffa did not finalize the sale until this past weekend.  The likely plan was to make the announcement after Saturday’s UFC 200.  The letter is assurance that the new owners will take care of them in the future.  Of course, Zuffa does not know if that will be the case.

Cerrone apologizes for homophobic slur at UFC Fan Expo Q&A

July 10, 2016

Maybe International Fight Week should have ended yesterday for Donald Cerrone.  Instead, Cerrone apologized for a homophobic slur made during a Q&A at the UFC Fan Expo in Las Vegas.

Cerrone criticized Daniel Cormier’s fighting style last night against Anderson Silva.

“How you gonna give up weight and then fight like a f*g, man?”

Cerrone took to Instagram and Twitter to issue his apology.  In it he is wearing the “We Are All Fighters” t-shirt.  Notably, the t-shirts were introduced this week by the UFC to support the LGBTQ Community.

It’s not clear if Cerrone’s comments will trigger a UFC Code of Conduct violation.

Payout Perspective:

A day after the UFC crowns its first openly gay champion in Amanda Nunes, Donald Cerrone makes this comment.  The problem may not be Cerrone being homophobic (that’s not the issue) but the society and culture most of us have grown up in that has allowed these types of slights to be acceptable and common.  Some of you may know the pickup game for football players where you give the guy a ball and everyone tackles him.  If you don’t pay attention to the meaning and intent of the words, you never understand the gravity of what the words actually mean.  The good news, is that Cerrone’s apology seems genuine.

But, Cerrone’s comments remind us that the UFC needs to continue the education of its contracted fighters.  It was just a couple years ago that Matt Mitrione made comments about Fallon Fox and Michael Bisping just made a similar comment at the UFC 199 post-fight press conference.

Ariel Helwani given lifetime ban by UFC

June 5, 2016

MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani was escorted out of UFC 199 prior to its conclusion according to multiple reports including the host of the MMA Hour.  In addition, Esther Lin and Casey Leydon of MMA Fighting were required to leave the event.

MMA Fighting has issued a statement:

MMA Fighting and SB Nation fully support Ariel, Casey, Esther and the entire MMA Fighting staff. And we appreciate the support we have received from the MMA Fighting audience and community.

The UFC has not been in contact with us since revoking the credentials of Ariel, Esther and Casey. But we will keep you, our audience, informed of the situation.

Ariel will address what occurred at UFC 199 on tomorrow’s MMA Hour. The show begins at 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT

Essentially the statement amounts to an advertisement for the MMA Hour.

Helwani indicated that he was told that he was banned for life from the UFC.

Payout Perspective:

The move by the UFC amounts to a PR issue with dealing with the media.  Helwani has scooped the UFC of its breaking news of fight announcements on its FS1 show, UFC Tonight, since leaving the show.  The reason for his dismissal on Saturday night was the reporting of Brock Lesnar’s return prior to the UFC’s announcement.  Jumping on the news appeared to be the last straw for the UFC.

But the question is why Helwani was the scapegoat for the news leak.  Shouldn’t the UFC be irate over the sources that fed Helwani the news?  Likely, Helwani was the easiest target.  Moreover, he has become a popular media figure in MMA.  Perhaps a little too big.  Helwani still has the contacts within the industry to obtain stories and unless the UFC can control his contacts, then he will still be a major MMA media figure.

Frankly, whether you notice it or not, the control of the news by an organization is not uncommon.  The tenuous relationship between public relations and journalism was exemplified by this episode.  While we may believe the UFC doesn’t need the media, it actually does.  If you watched the PPV on Saturday, the UFC 200 promo for Jones-Cormier included interviews with 3 reporters (Kevin Iole, Case Keefer and John Morgan).  The inclusion reflects the fact the UFC needs the media to legitimize fights.

Will the UFC suffer for what it has done? Of course not.  If you look at bigger leagues and companies, the muting of news occurs all of the time.  Helwani was not the chosen person to break the Lesnar story and the UFC decided to make an example out of him.  It does appear that more bigger name, mainstream journalists are picking up on this issue.  Will the UFC do anything to address the matter or will they just let it air out?  The Stitch Duran situation was prickly but the UFC got through it fine. We shall see.

Jon Jones arrested for violating probation

March 29, 2016

TMZ Sports reports that Jon Jones was taken into custody by police in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a violation of his probation.  Jones was cited for drag racing last week and a judge had issued a warrant for his arrest as a result.

TMZ reports that Jones turned himself in to the Abuquerque police department on Tuesday morning.  The terms of Jones’ probation last month required

EAG Sports, the management company representing Jones issued a statement per TMZ:

“Jon and his team are taking this very seriously and we will let the legal process play out.”

“We are confident he will be released once he has an opportunity to explain to the judge the facts in this case.”

Payout Perspective:

There are reasons why professional teams, and even in college, there is a “security detail” for some players.  It’s the ability to protect your investment and ensure that the player does not get into trouble.  Perhaps the UFC attempted to help Jones and he denied their request.  But, it’s clear that Jones was out late and got into trouble.  Whether or not it was his fault, whether or not he will be vindicated in court does not matter.  The legal ramifications might impact next month’s showdown with Daniel Cormier.  Then again, it may not (see Adrien Broner, although his case has a different set of circumstances).  What it does do is bring into question Jones’ decision making and those that help him and manage his career.  With Jones on probation and an imminent return to the UFC, there needed to be someone to ensure that Jones did not run afoul of the law.  Not only is Jones’ career in question, but a big business PPV next month.  We will see how this plays out.

Jon Jones stopped for alleged drag racing

March 28, 2016

TMZ first reported that Jon Jones was cited for drag racing and 4 other moving violations on March 24th according to Albuquerque police.  TMZ obtained the video of Jones being stopped by the police.  It was quite clear from the video that Jones was agitated by the police questioning.

Jones appeared on The MMA Hour to give his side of the story.  He became mad with the traffic stop after he learned he was being cited for drag racing.  Jones adamantly denied the accusation.  In the video, he called the police officer a “pig.”

This is just the latest in a series of moving violations involving Jones.

Payout Perspective:

One has to wonder why the UFC has not paid (or maybe they did) for a car service up until Jones’ fight.  As the facts come out, perhaps we may discover that the police officer was overzealous in stopping Jones.  Or, it could be Jones making another poor decision.  Whatever it may be, it’s another PR issue that the Jones team and the UFC must address.  The traffic stop and subsequent violations do not appear to be nothing more than that but I would assume that the UFC is keeping an eye on Jones until April 23rd.

Conor McGregor is a “Clueless Gamer”

March 12, 2016

Conor McGregor appeared on Conan to promote the upcoming release of EA UFC 2 in the semi-regular segment of the show, “Clueless Gamer.”

McGregor and Conan Obrien talked and gave a little preview of the video game playing each other as each other (EA created a version of Conan for the game).

For those not familiar with the “Clueless Gamer” segment I refer you back to last year with the best example of how the show promotes a video game with the latest version of Street Fighter was Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski.

Payout Perspective:

Despite the loss, it’s clear that McGregor is a great asset for the company as he is comfortable in front of the camera.  His segment with Conan was a good way to promote the game.  Late night shows attempt to be savvier when they are helping to promote an upcoming product launch.  The “Clueless Gamer” segments are always entertaining and get you to see a glimpse of the upcoming game.

UFC conducted investigation on newcomer East’s criminal history

February 27, 2016

UFC newcomer Cody East was investigated extensively regarding his criminal history.  East, a 12-1 fighter from New Mexico, was charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual behavior in September 2005 when he was a 17-year-old in high school.   This was only one of several crimes involving the heavyweight prospect.

East was charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor, four counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and one count of false imprisonment.  East pleaded innocent to the charges.

In 2007, East was charged with four counts of first-degree rape among other criminal charges.  The sordid details are here.  Although he was acquitted of the rape charge, East found himself in more trouble in July 2007 when he allegedly assaulted several young girls.

There is more to his criminal history here in this extensive post on Bloody Elbow.

East’s manager indicated that the company conducted an “extensive background check” before offering him a UFC contract.

In addition, BE has obtained a statement from the UFC which details their background check including interviewing East’s former probation officer.  The probation officer stated that East would be “a good candidate” for the UFC which we assume meant that East had gone through rehabilitation and counseling successfully and would not be a detriment to the company.

East is scheduled to debut at UFC 197.

Payout Perspective:

The UFC instituted a policy in 2014 which requests background checks for fighters.  Notably, the Will Chope incident comes to mind.  Domestic violence is a sensitive subject and you might understand why the UFC conducted an independent investigation which might have been above and beyond the standard background check.  One would hope that the investigation concluded that East has reformed his life since his criminal activity.  Combat sports as well as other sports such as the NFL have athletes involved in domestic violence and it’s up to the leagues to determine whether it is worth its time and reputation to associate them with its brand.

Pacquiao dropped by Nike

February 17, 2016

Nike has severed ties with Manny Pacquiao after the Filipino fighter made derogatory remarks about same sex relationships.  Despite an apology from Pacquiao, it was too little too late.

Pacquiao had been a Nike-sponsored fighter for over 8 years.  He had a clothing line specifically for the fighter including a logo made by the apparel company.

Notably, Pacquiao’s opponent for his last fight on April 9th, Timothy Bradley, is sponsored by Nike.

In a statement issued by the company obtained by Darren Rovell, Nike stated, “We find Manny Pacquiao’s comments abhorrent.  Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the right of the LGBT community.  We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao.”

As stated by Rovell, Nike has nixed the contracts of sponsored athletes that have been in the storm of controversy for their actions including Lance Armstrong, Ray Rice, Oscar Pistorius and Adrian Peterson.  It was initially thought that Jon Jones lost his Nike sponsorship due to a media day brawl with Daniel Cormier in 2014.  However, he later clarified the issue about Nike.

Payout Perspective:

It should be no surprise that Nike dropped Pacquiao for his comments.   It was swift and decisive as it had to protect its own brand.  While the Pacquiao Nike brand had not done much in terms of retail sales over the past couple years, he was still a big-name for the company.  It will be interesting to see if Pacquiao’s other sponsors will feel the pressure to sever ties with him.  In his last fight with Floyd Mayweather, it was reported that Paquiao would make $2.25 million off of sponsors on his trunks alone.  The Bradley fight would not have commanded this much, but the backlash for his comments may mean less in sponsor pay for Pacquiao.

UFC 193: Payout Perspective

November 16, 2015

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective.  In this edition, we take a look at the happenings taken place down under in Melbourne, Australia as Holly Holm upset Ronda Rousey to win the women’s bantamweight title.

Holm, game plan takes out Rousey

No one would have thought this would have been the ending.  But, a headkick knocked out Ronda Rousey and the aura of invincibility was over.  Holly Holm, who hovered around an 8-1 to 12-1 underdog depending on where you looked, outclassed Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.  Holm’s game plan trumped Rousey’s athletic ability.  Moreover, Rousey’s boxing was exposed and it was clear that she was exhausted at the end of Round 1.

For Holm, it was the culmination of a long-term plan that had her and her trainers preparing for Rousey even before she was in the UFC.  Her management fought tooth and nail with UFC management in negotiating her signing with the company.  Turns out it was worth it.

As for Rousey, her loss seemed to satiate the thirst of every Rousey hater.  Everyone was quick to tweet with glee her loss and KO.  As is with most MMA fighters that gain more popularity than the others, MMA “fans” began to despise Rousey.  The good news for them is that she lost and MMA fans will turn their attention to Conor McGregor in December silently hoping for him to lose as many have those tweets ready for their timeline.

UFC Melbourne

Joanna Champion still Champ

It was not a dominant performance, but Joanna Jedrzejcyzk retained her 115 pound title with a unanimous decision over Valerie Letourneau.  Letourneau came down 20 pounds to fight at 115 pounds and you have to think that it might have played a factor.  Overall, it was an entertaining fight with Joanna retaining her title.

Attendance and Gate

It was a record setting night for the UFC as the announced attendance was 56,214 with a gate of $6.8 million (U.S.).  It did better than UFC 129 which drew 55,724 in Toronto.  However, the gate did not exceed the 55,724.

As Darren Rovell tweeted, there were many comps for the event although the UFC no longer reports on the number.


This was a little curious as Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey and Kyle Noke earned the $50,000 bonuses.  Holm won for both Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night. Noke earned a Performance of the Night Bonus. Rousey drew a Fight of the Night bonus although you might argue that she didn’t deserve it for her part in the fight.  Certainly, there were other fighters (e.g., Ben Nguyen) that could have received a Performance of the Night Bonus instead of Rousey receiving one for FOTN.

Promotion of the Fight

Ronda Rousey went on Good Morning America in late August to announce her fight with Holly Holm.  Originally scheduled for January 2nd, the event was moved up in part to replace the main event of UFC 193 as well as attempt to set a new UFC attendance (and gate) record at Ethiad Stadium.

Perhaps the best video promotion for a UFC event was produced for UFC 193.  It debuted on Ellen’s web site which featured a younger Ronda Rousey learning martial arts with the underlying message that women could do anything.

A lengthier feature was shown after the UFC 193 PPV.

You might recall Dana White announced in a phone interview Rousey-Holm was moved from January 2nd to November 14th on a Friday night on ESPN. The date was moved up due to the usual injury issues.

The event was a reward for the province as a law which prohibited cagefighting was lifted.  With opposition still abound in the area, the attendance at the event (albeit with some comped seats) was still strong. USA Today reported on the “stir” in Australia with opposition to the sport of MMA.  Rousey spoke with local media about the controversy.

UFC Embedded, the video series, aired on Fox the Saturday before the fight.  Usually, it’s online but with a Rousey fight, it seemed to demand more visibility.  Also, Ruby Rose was the narrator for the series.

Rousey was also on the front page of the NY Times Sunday Styles Section in October.  This was one of several media obligations which catered to women.  It will be interesting to see if Holly Holm can continue this trend and appeal.


In the octagon, we had a couple international UFC sponsors as well as the usual mainstays.  Unibet, Xbox’s Tomb Raider, DraftKings, Wargaming.net, Bud Light, the upcoming film, “Creed,” Bud Light, Reebok and Monster Energy Drink had the center. Unibet had the fighter prep point.   Holly Holm was sponsored by Unibet and announced a new deal with GRRRL Clothing.

Odds and Ends

Since it always comes back to gambling.  The betting line on Holm in Vegas and the aftermath:


Donald Trump weighed in on Ronda Rousey tweeting that he was glad that she lost because she is not a nice person.  I didn’t know they knew each other. 

EA Sports announced that Rousey would be on the cover of its latest UFC game coming out this spring.  Was it a video game cover curse?

Should we read into the fact that Ronda’s mother was not at the fight a sign of discontent with her?  It is a long plane ride to Australia for sure, but her mother has already been there for her fights.

Rousey’s hang up during a UFC 193 Conference Call was an act of unprofessionalism despite the question asking about Travis Browne.  Even worse, the excuse that her “phone died” just insults everyone’s intelligence.  You mean, the UFC and/or Rousey’s management could not have given her a phone to finish the call?

At the end of Episode 3 of the Embedded series, Rousey uses an analogy about being bankrupt.  All the while, it shows her hitting mitts with Edmund.  His bankruptcy filing occurred this summer and comes to a head this month.  This issue had not been a problem in the past, but with the news surfacing now, it all makes it more of a deal. 

Letourneau was informed by USADA that Hector Lombard could not corner her for her fight as Lombard’s participation would have violated the new anti-doping policy.  Lombard, who admitted to using PEDs earlier this year would fall under the “prohibited association” rule of the UFC anti-doping policy. 

Lenny Fresquez, the agent/manager for Holly Holm, won six figures betting on her client.  There’s something that seems unsettling with a manager that is already making off of her client for representation to bet money on her client.  Sure, it’s legal and acceptable, but is there a conflict of interest?  

Notably, Fresquez said that Holm has 2 more fights under her existing contract.

FS1 could not carry the post-fight show until late due to the Pac-12 game between Utah and Arizona going to double OT.  Most of the post-fight was on FS2.

The PPV went over the 3 hour mark which is a rarity.

It was interesting that not much was made of the fact that one of the biggest cards in UFC history and it was headline by two women’s title fights.

In anticipation of a Rousey “vine” like finish, the UFC sent out a reminder to media outlets that you would be in violation of Zuffa’s copyright of the PPV.  It appeared as though the Huffington Post Sports twitter feed was allowed to post the finish (as it did).  Still, others posted the finish online.  In protection of its copyright (and in order for people to buy the PPV), the UFC wanted to deter people from posting their videos.   

Certainly a Rousey-Holm rematch seems ripe for July’s UFC 200.


It was interesting that despite Ronda Rousey google searches hitting 500,000 on Friday, there was a slight downturn (note: in the link the google trends embedded link is constantly changing over time which I think is pretty cool) in searches right around the time after the weigh-ins.  But, the searches jumped back up on Saturday afternoon.  What does this mean about PPV buys?  Who really knows?  But, if we are to look into the past history of Rousey fights, one might think this still does well.  I would predict 750,000 PPV buys. 

Recent issues dealing with media problematic with UFC stars

November 7, 2015

As many MMA fans watched Vitor Belfort battle Dan Henderson once again Saturday night, his dealings with the press leading up to UFC Fight Night 77 have been interesting to say the least.  Belfort’s attempt to manage the media is just one of three interesting shots at controlling media perceptions.

Deadspin and Bloody Elbow released reports on Belfort that reflect abnormally high levels of testosterone in his system leading up to his title shot against Jon Jones in September 2013.  Essentially, one might conclude from the articles that the UFC knew that Belfort was on TRT, yet it was not reported.  Moreover, Jones was fighting a challenger that was on TRT although no one let the champion know.

Belfort was scheduled to do PR for his fight on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani last week but that interview was nixed due to the fact that Helwani wanted to ask about the reports.

Since The MMA Hour incident, Belfort has given interviews with the press but skirted the questions related to his TRT usage and the write-ups about it leading up to UFC 152.

Notably, Belfort has submitted to USADA testing twice under the new UFC-USADA drug protocol.

Still, Belfort’s legacy is likely tainted with his prior PED use and the Deadspin/BE revelations which implicate him as using TRT.  Notwithstanding these issues, which may be out of his hands, Belfort’s PR efforts leading up to this fight reflect poor media relations.

Helwani was right to cancel the interview or willing to have the interview cancelled if he was not able to talk about the recent newsworthy items. It’s not the job of Helwani to amend his questioning here, but for Belfort’s media team to ready itself for the questions. Certainly, avoiding the interview altogether was an option, but promoting the fight (a part of his job as a contracted fighter for the UFC) was the impetus for the appearance.

Speaking of PR issues, Ronda Rousey hung up on a UFC media call when a question was posed about her relationship with Travis Browne. The controversial UFC heavyweight announced that he was with Rousey in an interview. Browne is being accused of his estranged wife of domestic violence. The accusation caused Browne to be suspended by the UFC but after an investigation into the matter, Browne was reinstated.

When asked about the relationship, Rousey hung up the line in the first several minutes of the conference call. She never returned to the call. It was clear the question, was unacceptable to her. But was it an unacceptable question? There has been no news as to the reasons for her dropping the line and not fulfilling her obligation to the UFC and the media.

The question, while being somewhat off topic from UFC 193, the event that was the primary reason for the conference call was within the realm of possibility. Admittedly, it did seem like a “gotcha” moment but it was a newsworthy question to bring up. Browne answered the question in a prior interview. Certainly, he could have deferred the question citing his personal life but decided to respond.

For Rousey, it’s clear that she was caught off-guard. Moreover, it seems like her team needs to come up with a strategy to decide on how to address the matter. Rousey and Browne are UFC fighters and are in the public eye. At some point, if their relationship continues, mainstream outlets (i.e., TMZ) will hone in on the relationship.

Rousey is the biggest draw in the UFC. Her brand is ascending. With appearances on Good Morning America and Ellen, she is becoming more visible and a role model to young women. Would her brand suffer if the public knew who she was dating?

Then, there’s the issue of Conor McGregor. The Irish fighter had to respond to critics after he was spotted wearing a poppy. A fan blasted the UFC interim featherweight champion for wearing the symbol of remembrance of British soldiers of World War I. The “poppy” is controversial in Northern Ireland and many Irish refuse to wear one due to the conflicts between the countries. McGregor maintained wearing the poppy was done in remembrance of all soldiers but was still criticized for perceived insensitivities.

He wrote in a Facebook post:

I know where my allegiance lies and what I do for my country. I don’t need a stupid little flower with a 100 different meanings to tell me if I do or do not represent my country.
Check the facts of its original meaning. ALL soldiers. ALL wars.I have the blood of many nations on my gloves. Fought and beat on the world stage. You have a pint in your hand and a Celtic jersey on in your local. F*** you and the Queen.

Payout Perspective:

These three recent episodes reflect a need for UFC contracted fighters to become more media aware. In the case of Belfort and Rousey, it’s a matter of preparing a strategy to responding to tough questions. In the matter of McGregor, it’s a matter of realizing the sensitivities of your audience. The most important thing in all of these media-related matters is execution.  In all three, the execution was poor and it appears that each did not have a media strategy, or had a poor one in the case of Belfort.  UFC Fighters are not the only sports figures dealing with media mishaps.  But if the UFC wants to change perceptions and garner more fans, it needs to work with the media and become more media savvy.

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