MMA Paper Trail: Ratings Game

News & Notes

By Jack Encarnacao Sep 4, 2012

News & Notes

It was the best of months and worst of months for Jon Jones.

In the same 30-day span in which the UFC light heavyweight champion garnered headlines for being the first mixed martial artist to sign a worldwide sponsorship deal with Nike, he was inundated with scorn for his decision to decline a replacement opponent at UFC 151. The decision prompted the UFC to cancel the pay-per-view event, something the company has never done after putting tickets on sale and announcing a main event.

“It’s major, major deal,” UFC President Dana White said during a media call. “We lose a lot of money, money that’s already been spent. Many people, from fans to PPV distributors, TV networks, sponsors and, more importantly, fighters who are working hard to support their families and build their careers are hurt badly by this selfish decision.”

It remains unclear what the entire financial hit was to the UFC; The Wrestling Observer reported $1.1 million worth of tickets had been sold about three weeks out. The UFC tried to replace Jones’ scheduled opponent, Dan Henderson, with Chael Sonnen eight days out after “Hendo” suffered a knee injury. Jones turned down the replacement bout but agreed to fight at UFC 152 on Sept. 22. Lyoto Machida was offered the fight but declined it. Instead, Vitor Belfort, who called UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to offer his services, got the shot.

Fighters on the UFC 151 undercard, some of whom were counting on a Sept. 1 payday to cover basic expenses, had their fights moved out anywhere from weeks to months. Many had to eat cancellation fees for airfare.

Just two weeks prior to the cancellation, Jones’ management announced a global distribution deal with Nike, which will produce signature “Bones Knows” T-shirts and feature him in commercials. Complete terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Nike appeared to make no formal announcement. The first meeting between Jones and Nike was set up by Ari Emanuel, the high-powered talent agent who pushed the UFC to Fox executives for years prior to their landmark television deal.

The UFC 151 cancellation came a week after Jones’ press agent, John Fuller, announced he was no longer working with the champion, who was already coming off negative press for a DUI arrest.

Other items of interest:

• A new player in the mixed martial arts scene is looking to promote in Nevada and will be helmed by one of the sport’s most influential agents. Resurrection Fighting Alliance, which has signed a slew of hot prospects and recent UFC castoffs, announced Ed Soares as its president this month. Soares manages an array of top-shelf Brazilian fighters under the Black House banner, including Anderson Silva, Machida and the Nogueira Brothers. The Nebraska-based RFA, which has held three events, was founded in 2011 by a group that included Wayne Harriman, who was one of the founders of the World Fighting Alliance, a promotion sold to UFC parent company Zuffa in 2006;

• Fans got a peak of the roughly-sketched-out framework of the UFC’s strategy for international expansion when the head of the company’s Asia division discussed plans for a Japan-specific circuit with a Japanese news outlet. Mark Fisher told Nikkan Sports a “Japan Series” would launch next spring and include four events in smaller arenas scaled for 5,000 people. The events would not be numbered UFC cards and would feature local talent. The idea, Fisher said, is to develop Japanese talent for the UFC and foster awareness of the promotion. In an interview with, Fisher tempered the reported plans as simply points of discussion. It appears the idea for Japan that Fisher spoke of would be part of a broader initiative across Asia and include China, where Fisher is based. The UFC has explored setting up regional circuits in different parts of the world after establishing a television foothold in the markets. White said a key reason the company plans to add a 115-pound weight class is to allow it to bring smaller fighters in Asian countries into the fold;

• August saw a number of significant moves in the television landscape. Spike TV announced that in addition to bringing Bellator Fighting Championships to its airwaves in January it will also be adding venerable kickboxing brand K-1 to its lineup. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney announced that a company reality show that Spike will produce with the co-creator of “Amazing Race” will feature first-run fights and not simply be a documentary series. Bellator also announced television clearance in Russia on “Russia 2,” a channel that reaches 83 million people and broadcasted the Olympics in the country. Bellator has recently acquired several highly touted Russian prospects. Also this month, Canada-based Score Fighting Series announced it has signed a deal to broadcast its events in the United States on AXS TV, formerly HDNet. The promotion is funded by Canadian sports channel The Score, which will be purchased by fellow Candian sports network Rogers Communications. The UFC airs in Canada on Rogers Sportsnet. The Score broadcasts Bellator. In addition, a new promotion called World Series of Fighting applied for a license to promote its first event at Planet Hollywood in the UFC’s Las Vegas backyard. The promoter is kickboxing mainstay Ray Sefo. In its application for a promoter’s license, the league mentioned it will broadcast its Nov. 3 event on the NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus;

• While cold water was thrown on the idea that Frank Mir fighting Daniel Cormier signified a new openness to UFC and Strikeforce sharing fighters, it became clear Strikeforce is very much in talent-sharing mode with surging all-female promotion Invicta Fighting Championships. Fresh off her high-profile bout with Ronda Rousey and still under contact to Strikeforce, Sarah Kaufman will jump into the Invicta cage to face Kaitlin Young on Oct. 6. Invicta has used other Strikeforce female fighters in the past, including Liz Carmouche, Amanda Nunes and Alexis Davis. Rumors have swirled about an Invicta television deal; Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza told the Sherdog Radio Network “Rewind” earlier this year that Showtime is interested in adding a second MMA league next year. As for Cormier-Mir, Fertitta said the talent exchange is a one-time arrangement. Espinoza said there is resistance from the UFC’s network partner, Fox, to having UFC fighters used to build fighters contracted exclusively to Viacom-owned Showtime. An agreement has been reached that Cormier will come to the UFC after fighting Mir in the Strikeforce cage;

• The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer published his semi-annual list of the most-searched-for fighters on Google in the United States in the first six months of 2012. The top active MMA fighter was Silva, followed by Jones, Sonnen, Georges St. Pierre, Rousey and Rashad Evans. Brock Lesnar and Gina Carano both ranked higher than Silva. Google search trends are thought to be one of the best indicators of a fighter’s box office and pay-per-view appeal;

• A host of MMA fighters ran into trouble with the law in August. UFC featherweight Chad Mendes was charged with misdemeanor battery in a California bar fight; recent UFC fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller was arrested for burglary and sent for evaluation after allegedly breaking into a California church; UFC flyweight Ian McCall served 17 days in jail on a probation violation; and UFC veteran Frank Trigg was arrested in Las Vegas on a domestic violence charge;

• The UFC’s political battle with a Las Vegas gaming industry union expanded to a new front. The veterans committee of the Unite Here group penned a letter to leadership of the U.S. Marines to ask that the military branch pull advertising from UFC events due to past controversial statements and slurs from fighters and White. A Marines spokeswoman told the military publication Stars and Stripes that the Marines Corps has “expressed its concern to the UFC” about issues raised in the Unite Here petition and that UFC officials “have proactive measures in place to deal with these isolated transgressions.” Many of the remarks Unite Here cites were made on social media, a platform the UFC is bullish about having its fighters utilize. In a recent Internet chat, White said that with all the fighters who have been tweeting the promotion has had “three incidents that were stupid, really stupid, but explainable. What starts to happen on Twitter is guys try to be a comedian. You’re not funny, and what you think is funny other people don’t think is funny; keep your stuff to you and your little clique at home.” White also said the UFC set up a digital “war room” backstage at UFC 148 to monitor where in the world people were talking about the event on social media and to point people at ways they could view the event in their neck of the woods;

• A report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune shed light on the tactics used by the UFC and its pay-per-view distributor to detect unauthorized screenings of its events at bars and restaurants. Three dozen lawsuits have been filed in the state against the establishments, and violations are caught by “an army of private investigators and freelance ‘auditors’ armed with smartphones and camcorders who are paid a bounty for finding establishments that show the event without paying the commercial licensing fees,” the report said;

• In a significant coup for the UFC’s profile in Brazil, heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos announced on his Twitter that he will serve as ambassador of the city of Salvador, Bahia, at soccer’s World Cup in 2014. Dos Santos has long called Salvador home;

• Two U.S. combat sport Olympians now have representation by MMA managers. MMA Weekly reported that Kayla Harrison, who won the gold medal in Judo in London, has been signed by Dominance MMA, the firm that represents Frankie Edgar and is helmed by Olympic judoka Ali Abdel-Aziz. Abdel-Aziz said Harrison is targeting competing for gold again in the 2016 games but has also begun jiu-jitsu training at Renzo Gracie’s academy. Harrison’s teammate, Marti Malloy, who won bronze in London, has signed with the same firm that represents Shane Carwin and Chris Camozzi;

• Pro Elite, the publicly traded former parent company of the defunct EliteXC promotion, had its registration revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Aug. 28 -- a final nail in the organization’s coffin. After the collapse of EliteXC in 2008 and subsequent auction of its Showtime-CBS television contract, Pro Elite resurfaced as a so-named MMA brand and aired two events on HDNet, most recently in January in Hawaii;

• The Wrestling Observer reported that UFC 147 on June 23 in Brazil is estimated at doing 140,000 buys, the lowest buy total for a UFC pay-per-view since 2005, and that UFC 148 on July 7 is doing slightly less than one million buys but north of 900,000.

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