News & Notes
In the same month UFC President Dana White invoked the benchmark UFC 100 event in describing UFC 148, he found himself invoking one of the most disastrous shows in company history.
A frustrated White decried officiating and sluggish in-case performances following the promotion’s debut in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for UFC 149 on July 21. The live crowd, which gobbled up tickets the week they were put on sale, booed the top fights vociferously, even chanting “refund” at one point.
White compared the atmosphere to UFC 33 in 2001, a show infamous for uneventful fights. Despite the outcome and several star fighters falling off the card due to injuries, the UFC’s Calgary debut was a financial success. The show did a $4 million U.S. gate at the Scotiabank Saddledome, one of the biggest of the year. Calgary is one of the best per-capita markets for UFC pay-per-view buys. White promised Calgary more action next time; the promotion is likely to return to the city every 12 to 15 months.
The company is working on getting Canadian law changed so that each province can sanction MMA as states do in America. In Calgary and Vancouver, British Columbia, the UFC had to work with individual city commissions. UFC Canadian director Tom Wright told USA Today a recent poll by the firm CROP showed the UFC was the fourth most popular sports league in Canada behind the NHL, NFL and CFL.
Other items of interest:
• There was a seeming breakthrough this month in the wall that separates UFC and Strikeforce fighters. Strikeforce announced that Daniel Cormier will fight UFC-contracted star Frank Mir in October. Per contract, Strikeforce fighters cannot move to the UFC without Showtime’s approval, even after their Strikeforce deals expire. Showtime Sports head Stephen Espinoza has expressed an openness to talent-sharing, though he said in an interview with the Sherdog Radio Network “Rewind” program that the UFC’s television partner, Fox, is not keen on having fighters built on their networks boost ratings on Showtime, a division of CBS. The Wrestling Observer reported that the Strikeforce-Showtime contract runs out in late 2013, with options to extend for two years. Showtime has agreed to let Cormier move to the UFC after one more fight, at which point Strikeforce’s heavyweight division will be dissolved;
• The Ultimate Fighting Championship announced its debut event in China, with UFC on Fuel TV 6 on Nov. 10 at the CotaiArena in Macau, a special region of China with its own laws and regulations. The venue is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., the same company that owns The Venetian in Las Vegas. No main event has been announced, though White has said he wants Vietnam-born Cung Le to fight on the card. The UFC signed Kyung Ho Kang, the bantamweight champion of Korean promotion Road Fighting Championship, to fight at the event. The UFC claims its television programming reaches 450 million people in China and 500 million through popular Internet television portals like Sohu.com;
• Coming off the lowest-rated season in the seven-year history of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC announced heavyweights Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin as coaches for Season 16, which premieres Sept. 7 on FX. The UFC promoted the fighters as Twitter rivals; Carwin and Nelson went at it on the social networking platform soon afterward but ended up deleting digital digs about steroids and other accusations;
• The premiere season of an Australian version of “The Ultimate Fighter” began filming this month. The U.K. vs. Australia season, dubbed “The Smashes” as a reference to a cricket rivalry between the two countries, is coached by lightweights Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos. Concurrently, the UFC announced television deals in Australia and the U.K. A two-year deal with Foxtel, the Australian arm of Fox, will see all UFC events airing on the Australian Fuel TV, with “The Ultimate Fighter” airing on the Australian FX. Also, the UFC extended its contract with ESPN U.K. through August 2013;
• Shortly after the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts promotion announced a television deal with one of the U.K.’s five terrestrial television networks, the UFC signed its two biggest names for its debut in Nottingham, England, on Sept. 29. Jimi Manuwa, BAMMA’s light heavyweight champion, was signed to fight Kyle Kingsbury. Manuwa once turned down a UFC contract to get more seasoning under the BAMMA banner. Tom Watson, BAMMA’s top star and middleweight champion, will face Brad Tavares;
• A report by the Sports Business Journal showed the UFC has the second most social media followers of any sports league -- behind only the NBA -- and that MMA fans use social media as their primary source of information more than any other sport. The report also said 80 percent of MMA fans own a smartphone, compared to an average of 68 percent for other sports, and that 90 percent of MMA fans use Twitter or Facebook while watching fights.
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