Avoiding Conflict

By Jake Rossen Aug 25, 2008
KJ Noons (Pictures) may not be a coward, but he’s doing an awfully good impression of one.

The latest temper tantrum -- a pastime nearly as popular as the sport itself -- to hit media sites has been between Noons’ employer, EliteXC parent company ProElite, and Noons’ manager, Mark Dion, who insists proposed opponent Nick Diaz (Pictures) isn’t a credible contender for an Oct. 4 defense of Noons’ EliteXC lightweight title on CBS.

(The very same title he won against Diaz, a fact that incites a paradox of Dion’s claim: If Diaz isn’t a worthy opponent, what worth does Noons’ belt possess? Doc Brown warned us about this kind of thing.)

This stalemate was preceded earlier by Noons’ apathetic response to pestering about his seemingly inevitable rematch with Diaz. To paraphrase: I’ve beaten him once, so why do it again? I’m in no rush.

But you should be, Mr. Noons. You should be.

If there’s one thing MMA can finally offer after 15 years of its stubborn existence, it’s hindsight: If you don’t do the money match now, it’s going to slip right through your Ouano-laced fingers.

Back in 2003, the UFC thought it could “build” to a marquee match between Ken Shamrock (Pictures) and David "Tank" Abbott (Pictures). Unfortunately, both went virtually winless in the Octagon, and the polished veneer of that fight chipped off like paint with no primer.

But it’s more than just the loss of a potentially incendiary fight. Barely in diapers in his MMA career, Noons was being offered the Holy Grail of anyone coveting mass exposure: a slot on primetime network television. A fight on CBS, regardless of the result, would give Noons an instant level of recognition that could be parlayed into any number of opportunities: endorsements, sponsorships, acting, seminars, etc.

Put another way, product advertisers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars securing pithy ad time on networks in an effort to marinate viewer brains in their product. Dion’s product is Noons, and instead of paying out the nose for the exposure, ProElite would be paying him -- and so would sponsors eager to get their logos captured by CBS’ high-definition cameras.

I’m not a business major, but that doesn’t sound too bad.

In a bit of morbidity ProElite isn’t likely to share, Dion should also be mindful that this is the third of CBS’ four contracted fights with the company. If ratings don’t rebound from their last outing, their future on network television is in doubt. Dion is playing Russian Roulette with the odds. Television is relentlessly cruel to anything that underperforms.

“Take the money and run” is a mercenary’s philosophy, but hardly a dumb one.

There’s also the issue of reciprocal behavior. Noons was knocked senseless by Charles Bennett (Pictures) in his first ProElite outing. Perhaps owing to a flimsy roster, they retained his services and allowed him to eventually vie for a title. Petitioning him to defend said title on free television isn’t exactly cruel and unusual punishment. While Noons doesn’t “owe” ProElite anything beyond owning up to a contracted title defense, I’d imagine their earlier generosity would and should have some influence on his plans.

Does playing fiscal and managerial hardball help careers? It depends. Tito Ortiz (Pictures) shunned Chuck Liddell (Pictures) until it absolutely couldn’t be avoided -- when they finally fought, Ortiz had been defeated by Randy Couture (Pictures) and the fight, while still anticipated, wasn’t quite the battle of immovable objects it would’ve been just a year prior.

More recently, Dion client Brandon Vera (Pictures) was advised to play the freelance market. He wound up sitting out the better part of a year and then dragging in ring rust to drop two losses in a row, along with one underwhelming decision victory.

I’m no particular fan of promoters. Their risk is financial, not physical, and bank account wounds heal better than tissue trauma. But in being evasive with ProElite, Noons and Dion run the risk of damaging a company that’s only trying to establish its brand -- a brand that can, in turn, help Noons establish his.

For comments, e-mail jrossen@sherdog.com
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