Royce Gracie signed by Bellator as Promotional Brand Ambassador

October 8, 2014

Bellator MMA announced on Wednesday that UFC Hall of Famer has become a Promotional Brand Ambassador for the company via press release.

Via Bellator Press Release:

Known simply as the pioneer of mixed martial arts, Royce Gracie is widely considered the most influential and important figure the sport has seen. Engaging in some of the most memorable fights in MMA history during his time with the UFC and PRIDE Fighting Championships, Gracie has now joined Bellator as an official brand ambassador for the Viacom-owned promotion.

“I have known Scott [Coker] for a long time and have always respected him as not only a promoter but as a martial artist who has always treated fighters with respect and truly understands their value,” Gracie said. “Bellator and Viacom want to give fans exciting fights and enable fighters to continue to grow and most importantly provide for their family, and it’s something I want to be a part of. UFC has done a great job over the past twenty years in building this sport and taking it globally and I’m glad to have been part of that, but Bellator is a growing organization I am honored to be a part of, and with the dedicated and talented people already associated with the company, we can further the growth of mixed marital arts as a sport worldwide.”

Gracie will immediately be involved with Bellator including promotion for Bellator 131, which is headlined by a light heavyweight showdown between Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar, along with a Lightweight Title fight between Michael Chandler and Will Brooks on November 15. Moving forward Gracie will host seminars, be involved in autograph and promotional appearances, as well as aiding in the International expansion of Bellator around the world. Bellator and Gracie will also be involved in a co-branded merchandise line that will debut in 2015.

Gracie named as brand ambassador

Payout Perspective:

It does not sound like there will be ill will between Gracie and the UFC as there was with Randy Couture’s departure.  Of course, we have not heard from Dana White.  Still, Gracie was not an active part of the UFC promotional machine.  The addition of Gracie means more for Bellator than it does for the UFC to lose him as a potential ambassador. The deal for Gracie sounds promising assuming his compensation is tied to his appearances as well as receiving a portion of the merchandise sales from co-branded merchandise.

Le attempts damage control in wake of suspension

October 3, 2014

Cung Le responded to the initial reports of testing positive for elevated levels of HGH.  Le denies taking performance enhancing drugs in a Facebook post.

“I was completed (sic) surprised at the results of my recent drug test.  I was informed by the UFC that I passed my pre- and post-fight drug test, as well as the majority of the blood tests with the only abnormality being an elevated level of hGH being determined to be present. “

Le goes on to question the testing that took place.

“I have been informed that there are many possible reasons for a level of hGH  to exceed what is allowed unknowingly and my doctors are researching those possibilities, which may include a much more serious health concern.  I have also been informed about the unreliability of the current hGH testing that exists and it’s (sic) high rate of inaccuracy.”

“We were informed that the laboratory was advised to use the WADA approved rules and procedures when conducting the testing that they administer, yet the lab in Hong Kong contracted to do the testing was not WADA approved, which was surprising since there was a WADA approved lab available in Beijing China.”

The lengthy explanation goes on to bring into doubt the testing facility and its procedures for collection.  Still, the public perception was that Le used PEDs to gain an advantage.  The UFC has not responded to Le’s statement.  It has suspended Le for a year which essentially may end his career with the company.

Payout Perspective:

The press release does some damage control for Le as well as brings into doubt the testing procedures.  The release does a good job of attempting to educate those not familiar with the testing procedures that there could have been an issue with it as well as bring to light the fact that the UFC acts as its own regulatory body for these shows.  The conclusion it hopes readers (i.e., Le supporters) come to is that the process of using a non-WADA approved lab could produce an incorrect result.

Le tests positive for HGH

October 1, 2014

Cung Le has tested positive for HGH following his UFC Fight Night 48 fight with Michael Bisping in Macau.  As a result, he has been banned nine months by the UFC and will need to take a drug test before competing in the UFC.

The UFC issued the following statement:

UFC middleweight Cung Le tested positive for an excess level of Human Growth Hormone in his system following his fight at UFC Fight Night in Macao, China on August 23. Due to his positive test result, Le was suspended by the UFC and notified that he violated the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy and Promotional Agreement with Zuffa, LLC. The UFC has a strict, consistent policy against the use of any illegal and/or performance-enhancing drugs, stimulants or masking agents by our athletes. Le will serve a nine-month suspension and, at its conclusion, will need to pass a drug test before competing in the UFC again.

The UFC was acting as its own commission for this event as Macau does not have a regulatory body overseeing MMA. Thus, it tested Le and made the finding.

*UPDATE:  The UFC has extended Le’s suspension to 12 months.

Payout Perspective:

Le’s “renewed” 42 year old physique made everyone wonder about whether he was taking something more for his fight with Bisping.  Most people were not surprised with the results of the drug test. This is a disappointment for the UFC since it had hoped Le would be an ambassador to help the UFC’s efforts to make inroads into Asia.  Le had even donated money and supplies to an orphanage in Vietnam prior to his fight.  It looks like that good will has gone by the side.

UFC suspends Johnson, cuts Silva again

September 19, 2014

The UFC announced the indefinite suspension of Anthony Johnson and the release of Thiago Silva on Friday.  Johnson’s suspension comes on a new report regarding allegations of past domestic abuse and for Silva videos were released by his wife which is purported evidence of his drug and domestic abuse issues.

Silva was re-signed by the UFC a day after charges against him related to domestic abuse were dropped after his wife was reticent to aid authorities and abruptly moved out of the country.  Silva was released Friday prior to any fight assignment after re-signing with the UFC.  The reason for the sudden release is due to two videos.  One video shows Silva carrying a gun and one in which his wife claims he was on drugs.  His wife provided the reasons for releasing the video via Bloody Elbow.

The UFC issued a brief statement on Thiago Silva:

Thiago Silva was released from his UFC contract on Feb. 7 due to his arrest by police in South Florida. The charges against Silva were dropped by the Broward County District Attorney’s office and Silva was re-signed to the UFC earlier this month. Based on new information received today in the form of video and audio evidence, Silva has been terminated from his UFC contract.

Johnson’s situation appears a little more complicated.  Blood Elbow reports that the mother of Johnson’s two children has filed a police report stemming from alleged threats and a report of domestic abuse from back in 2012.  Johnson had another domestic violence incident with another woman in 2009.

The UFC issued a brief statement on Anthony Johnson.

We are aware of the situation involving Anthony Johnson. As a result, we are suspending him indefinitely. We are using a third-party law firm to conduct a formal investigation and once we have more information, we’ll determine whether further course of action is necessary.

Payout Perspective:

The UFC’s actions on Friday can be seen as a direct reaction to what has gone on with the NFL. For Silva, it was similar to the Ray Rice incident, a video is what caused the league to take action.  Here, the Silva video caused the UFC to rethink its decision of taking him back and make the awkward decision to release him after just re-signing him.  In my opinion, the UFC should not have re-signed Silva so quickly.

As for Johnson, the news comes at a time when he had a career revival in his return to the UFC.  Even though the domestic abuse allegations occurred in 2012, the NFL’s issues have made the UFC much more aware of these problems.  In the case of Johnson, the indefinite suspension will probably last as long as the law firm investigates the situation.  If there is nothing found, I’d expect he would be back with the UFC.  If there is evidence of further abuse or a pattern of abuse, I’d expect the UFC to release Johnson again.

From a PR perspective, the UFC must be sensitive to these issues of alleged domestic violence especially with its past problems and the current issues going on with the NFL.  We could see the UFC being much stricter with its code of conduct and dismissing and/or disciplining fighters more than before.

Was Silva re-signing bad timing or just bad?

September 11, 2014

Recently the UFC re-signed Thiago Silva after charges against him for domestic violence were dropped.  The NFL fumbled the handling of Ray Rice and its subsequent fallout reveals that the UFC is not the only sports organization that has a problem with domestic violence and the subsequent handling of the issue.

Rice has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL and essentially banished from football including the Canadian Football league which indicated it will uphold the NFL’s suspension and will not sign Rice.  Rice has lost sponsors and has even been eliminated from the annual EA Madden video game.

When questioned on Fox Sports Live on Wednesday about the Rice issue in comparison to Silva, Dana White indicated that Silva had been cleared of the domestic violence issue.  This was due to Silva’s wife moving back to Brazil and her unwillingness to assist in the investigation.  The memo obtained by MMA Junkie reveals the horrid details and although there was no videotape like in the Rice case, it is just (if not more) disgusting.  The memo states he had put a gun in his wife’s mouth and threatened to kill her and later on threatened to kill people within the BJJ gym where she trained.

Yet, the day after charges were dropped, the UFC re-signed Silva.  Just as swiftly as the UFC fired Silva for his arrest after the standoff with Florida police stemming from the domestic abuse accusations, he was scooped up by the organization once the charges were dropped.

Silva denies wrongdoing for the domestic assault which he claims never happened in an interview on The MMA Hour.  This is no revelation that he would deny the charges.  It may be surprising that Silva was willing to conduct an interview to attempt to clear his name.

Despite White’s defense of his recall of Silva, it looks like a terrible move in light of the ongoing Rice scrutiny.  The latest videotape and discovery that the NFL may have had the information before levying a penalty to Rice will come under critical media and internal investigation in the weeks to come.  This NFL scandal should be something that the UFC should take note and prepare itself in the future.

Payout Perspective:

This is the fight game and there are many unfortunate instances of domestic violence issues occurring from MMA fighters (e.g., War Machine and Josh Grispi come to mind) and boxers.  One need only look at Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s past to know that despite domestic issues, fighters go on with their careers.  But does that mean it’s correct?  Of course not, but it happens.

A recent SI article concludes that the Silva signing is bad business for the UFC. He’s not a main event fighter like a Mayweather, who will once again garner a hefty pay day partly off of $75 PPV buys.  In fact, Silva’s presence in the Octagon will only have people recall his past transgressions.  Then again, will people have a selective memory about Silva after a couple fights?  Anyone recall ex-NFL player’s Warren Moon’s domestic issues?

So, why was the UFC willing to take a chance on Silva so soon after the charges were dropped.  Was Bellator or WSOF chomping at the bit to sign him?  Silva was an interesting fighter with a distinct look and fight style that may have had a following of fans.  But if you are a sponsor, would you want Silva to sport your logo on his trunks or on his fight banner?  What kind of following will he have now? Would you want to put Silva on a Fox show?

White said the right things in response to questions about the Rice video on Fox Sports Live.  That was easy.  What will be hard is addressing the domestic violence issues for the UFC going forward.  While it’s understandable to assess each case separately, there must be a bright line rule when it comes to a sensitive issue as men hitting women.

Ortiz-Bonnar promo launches fight announcement

September 7, 2014

Bellator MMA announced its first big event under the Scott Coker regime with Tito Ortiz facing Stephan Bonnar on Saturday, November 15th.  The event was promoted on Friday’s Bellator 123 telecast with an in ring promo that was reminiscent of pro wrestling.

The Bonnar-Ortiz segment can be seen here. It features a man in a mask and the requisite fighter pull apart.  It was part pro wrestling, part early days of UFC when Ortiz and Chuck Liddell/Ken Shamrock feuded.

Tito-BonnarIn addition, the promotion will hold the rematch of May’s PPV fight between Michael Chandler and Will Brooks.

The event will go up against UFC 180 which will feature Cain Velsquez defending his Heavyweight title against Fabricio Werdum on PPV.

Payout Perspective:

What do we think about the promo for the fight?  Is it too scripted for MMA?  My only critique is that they should have had security pull the fighters apart and not Coker, et al.  That would have made the scene a little more authentic.  Certainly, something like this is done to drum up buzz for this fight.  For the MMA fan, the allure of the November 15th fight is Chandler-Brooks but the shoulder programming and subsequent promotion for this event will be Bonnar-Ortiz.

UFC apologizes for judge removal

August 26, 2014

MMA Junkie reports that the UFC has issued an apology for the removal of a judge at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 48 in Macau.  The statement apologized to judge Howard Hughes “for calling his professional judgment into question.”

White removed Hughes after the first two fights on Saturday’s card after he believed that Hughes was a factor in the decisions for which White did not agree.  The UFC has now issued a “mea culpa” by stating it should not have done it.

Via MMA Junkie:

After an internal review, the UFC organization announced today that a breach of its independent regulatory protocol occurred on Saturday night during UFC FIGHT NIGHT MACAO.

After the second fight of the night, UFC President Dana White requested that Howard Hughes, one of the event’s five assigned judges, be removed from working any further bouts. Pursuant to UFC’s protocol, neither White nor any other UFC executive possesses such authority. Nevertheless, protocol was breached and Hughes did not work further bouts on Saturday night.

The UFC organization has always been in support of government regulation and oversight. Additionally, the UFC has established a protocol when required to self-regulate events due to the lack of an official athletic commission, federation or other regulatory body. In those instances where UFC holds events in locations without a regulatory body, the UFC’s protocol dictates that the organization’s internal regulators will handle all commission functions independently and without interference by company executives or employees.

The UFC remains committed to maintaining the strictest regulatory environment for competition and vows that no similar breach of protocol will happen again.

Both White and the UFC apologize to Mr. Hughes for calling his professional judgment into question. Hughes has judged more than 25 UFC fight cards and the UFC looks forward to him working on its events again in the future.

Payout Perspective:

As we indicated, there could have been several interpretations of White’s actions.  While we may think it proactive, it also posed a problem with an appearance of impartiality and fairness.  In a sport where gambling is prevalent (one might argue encouraged), there needs to be an independent authority appointing judges, etc.  This is a problem with international shows that do not have commissions.

The statement also attempts to repair Hughes’ reputation as a judge.  While the guy may have had a bad night in judging, having him removed could destroy any future judging opportunities for Hughes.  It was a good move by the UFC to make this statement.

Le contributes sponsor money to orphanage

August 21, 2014

MMA Junkie reports that Cung Le will be donating a large part of his sponsorship money to a Vietnamese orphanage.  Le bought rice, toys, candy and gave money to an orphanage in his native Vietnam.

The 42 year old former Strikeforce champion faces Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 48 in Macau, China. Le put video/photos on his Instagram account commemorating his vist.

Payout Perspective:

The gesture by Le reflects the good that many UFC athletes do for charity and from a public relations perspective it’s good publicity leading to this Saturday’s event.  Although no monetary figure was reported and it’s not clear how much Le would have made from his sponsors, one would hope it would be a generous donation rather than a modest gift to get publicity.  One would think that if his sponsors knew ahead of time it would have matched and/or contributed to the donation by Le as a way to help out as well as piggy-back the press.

 

Payout Perspective:

The gesture by Le reflects the good that many UFC athletes do for charity and from a public relations perspective it’s good publicity leading to this Saturday’s event.  Although no monetary figure was reported and it’s not clear how much Le would have made from his sponsors, one would hope it would be a generous donation rather than a modest gift to get publicity.  One would think that if his sponsors knew ahead of time it would have matched and/or contributed to the donation by Le as a way to help out as well as piggy-back the press.

War Machine terminated by Bellator after incident

August 8, 2014

Bellator acted swiftly in terminating the contract of War Machine (FKA Jon Koppenhaver) after he is being identified as the prime suspect which found his girlfriend and another severely beaten.

Bellator President Scott Coker has issued a statement regarding Jon Koppenhaver, War Machine:

“We have a zero tolerance policy here at Bellator when it relates to any form of domestic violence, and after learning of this latest incident involving Jon Koppenhaver, War Machine, Bellator is releasing him from him promotional contract with the organization.”

Payout Perspective:

Although the organization could have waited until War Machine was found to obtain his side of the story, Bellator had enough information to render its decision.  War Machine has been in his share of legal troubles and the alleged assault on his girlfriend was the last straw not to mention domestic violence is something that can’t be tolerated.

Rousey wins ESPY for Best Female Athlete

July 16, 2014

MMA Fighting reports that Ronda Rousey was named the Best Female Athlete of 2014 at the annual ESPY Awards handed out by ESPN.

Rousey beat out the WNBA’s Maya Moore, Olympic gold medalist skier Mikaela Shiffrin and UConn’s Breanna Stewart.

UFC fighters Chris Weidman and Jon Jones were up for best fighter but lost out to Floyd Mayweather.  Weidman was also up for Upset of the Year but lost out to Mercer defeating Duke in the NCAA tournament. Mercer was a #15 seed while Duke was #2.

Payout Perspective:

I actually thought that the 19 year old Shiffrin would have won this award as she was a surprising winner of the gold medal in Sochi.  She was also the youngest to win the gold in the Olympic slalom event.  Regardless, it’s nice recognition for Rousey as the award may mean an ESPN spot or two.  Yes, this is ESPN self-aggrandizement as the underlying purpose of the ESPY awards is to draw attention to the network during a slow time for sports.

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