- BENNETT BREAKDOWN: MMA PROMOTION ROUND-UP

May 17, 2006
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by Ryan Bennett – MMAWeekly.com
(Each week, MMAWeekly’s very own Ryan Bennett breaks down the MMA world by answering your e-mails about the state of the MMA game. For those who are new to the sport, Bennett is the founder of MMAWeekly.com. He also hosts the only daily MMA radio show in the world with pro fighter Frank Trigg at mmaweeklyradio.com, and is the lead broadcaster nationally for The Fight Network, which is the first 24-hour television station devoted to the fight game (MMA, boxing, and kickboxing). Bennett also does play-by-play for some of the top MMA organizations in the world. As one MMA promoter put it, Bennett is “the most influential person in the MMA industry.” Here is this week’s edition of the Bennett Breakdown.)

“Ryan, what is the latest news regarding Rich Franklin and when he will fight?” Sam Fahrmar – Los Angeles, CA

I talked to Rich yesterday for a few minutes, and he said that his injuries are healing well. Franklin believes that the torn ligaments in his ankle were actually a pre-existing injury from the Evan Tanner fight, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. That means he fought David Loiseau on an ankle that had torn ligaments in it for five rounds. His hand is starting to look “normal,” as he is back to lifting weights. He still can’t hit anybody or spar, but he believes that he could fight again in October. You can catch the latest with the UFC Middleweight Champ when he joins us live on Monday’s radio show at MMAWeeklyRadio.com

“What are the chances of Tim Sylvia fighting Jerome LeBanner?” Chris Stoddard – Long Beach, CA

I actually talked with Jerome at the K-1 show in Amsterdam last weekend and I asked him straight-up about this. LeBanner told me that he thought it would be a great fight and he would love to do it, but he is under contract with K-1, and he felt that K-1 would only let him fight one time in the UFC, not three. As long as it’s just a one-fight deal, the UFC couldn’t do a Sylvia vs. LeBanner fight because Sylvia is the UFC Heavyweight Champion, and if LeBanner won the title he would simply go back to K-1 without defending it. Anytime that a fighter competes for a UFC championship, an automatic three-fight deal is added to their contract, and LeBanner probably couldn’t do three fights in the UFC because I don’t believe K-1 would allow him to do it. Translation: It ain’t happening as long as Tim is the UFC champ.

“Ryan, can you break down which promotion you think can contend with the UFC? Is it the WFA or IFL or somebody else?” – Sam Martinez – Santa Fe, New Mexico

This is the most common question that I have received this week, so let me simply break down the pros and cons of the UFC compared to the newer MMA promotions.

UFC Pros

-The UFC brand has over 12 years behind it and is the most recognizable name in North American MMA, bar none. Many casual fans simply think of “UFC” and “MMA” as being the same thing. That brand name alone is huge for Zuffa.

-They are on weekly national TV and continue to make their brand name bigger and stronger with each passing week of The Ultimate Fighter. Just having those PPV commercials on TUF is a huge promotional value to the company, not to mention the sales of DVDs and merchandise.

-Their pay-per-views are starting to rival or surpass boxing’s numbers. Couture vs. Liddell drew over 400,000 buys earlier this year. While De la Hoya vs. Mayorga drew about 870,000 buys, the vast majority of boxing PPVs that aren’t heavyweights or De La Hoya do not draw 400,000 buys.

-Dana White. Love him or hate him, this guy works harder than anyone, period. He flies daily to different cities to promote the UFC with newspapers, television outlets, and radio stations. He is getting the brand name out there, and no one can question how hard this guy works. Does he drive the MMA media crazy? Sure, but he is simply outworking the competition, and for all those who criticize his business practices with some fighters, he works his rear-end off and that’s why the company is succeeding and it’s about time people acknowledge Dana’s hard work.

UFC Cons

-Paying fighters. While the top fighters are making better money, I still believe that if the UFC wanted the top heavyweights in the world, they could get them. I don’t know if they will ever pay top dollar to get the fighters like Fedor, Cro Cop, or Nogueira.

-UFC business. If you get pissed off at somebody, you can’t black-list them forever. We should have seen Jens Pulver, Murilo Bustamante, Matt Lindland, Josh Barnett, for a time BJ Penn, and many other fighters back in the UFC because they are still some of the better fighters in their respective weight classes. Instead, the UFC was pissed at what they did and instead of making a point, they black-listed these fighters and we haven’t seen them back with the exception of Penn. (Matt Lindland was supposedly offered a shot at TUF 4, but being the #2 guy in the world, why does he have to go through other guys to get a shot at Rich Franklin when Lindland has already proven he should have that title shot?) You can’t mix personal stuff with business, and that’s something that Dana White I think would tell you he needs to work on.

All in all, everyone can complain and bitch and moan about the UFC all they want. The bottom line is, they will be around tomorrow and for a long time. Zuffa lost millions of dollars the first five years, but they have seen a boom financially in the past year-and-a-half and are cashing in financially. Many new organizations will pop up, but the UFC is here to stay, as they are entrenched in cable television, pay-per-view, and soon HBO as well.

IFL Pros

-The IFL is doing a pretty smart thing right now. They aren’t over-spending, and they are going to stay the course with their product. The “impulse” business sense would have been to overpay for glamorous free agents, but instead they are trying to build with good young fighters like Rory Markham, Mike Pyle, Urijah Faber, and others. It seems like they are going to cater to arenas that hold 3,000 to 5,000 fans, and let the television side of things tell their stories to build fighters.

-Television. Being on Fox Sports Network is going to be huge in the long run. They may have to pay a chunk of money to do it at first, but if you want to build a new fan base, then the fan base has to be able to learn who these fighters are. While I’m not big on the team concept yet, at least they will be able to tell a story of who these guys are, and then later we may have a greater interest in who the individual people are, much like what TUF 1 did a great job of doing.

-The Coaches. The IFL got the best in the business. Pat Miletich, Maurice Smith, Bas Rutten, and Renzo Gracie are all great. I hear that Team Canada is coming with Carlos Newton, and I also hear that they may be putting a Japanese team together, which could be very cool. The Hall of Fame-level coaches bring instant credibility to the organization.

IFL Cons

-Team Concept. I know, I know. You’ve heard me talk about this on MMAWeekly Radio. Right now, I’m not rushing out to spend 25 bucks on a Tiger Sharks or Anacondas jersey. I’m sure there are a few available. Fighting is a single, mano-e-mano sport. I’ve heard the comparisons to college/amateur wrestling, which is an individual sport with teams, but here’s the difference. Amateur wrestling has been around for as long as boxing. Boxing is over 100 years old. Mixed Martial Arts is now 12 years old in the United States. The sport of MMA is great because it is everything that boxing isn’t. We all consider MMA the greatest hand-to-hand combat sport in the world. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team,'” and as far as MMA goes, there haven’t been any teams in a single-fighter sport. Maybe I will change my mind once the show airs on Sunday, but for now I think that a team concept sounds corny, and hopefully I’m completely wrong. The IFL is banking on it.

-Does a League work in MMA? We are about to find out. Now that the IFL has gone public, I believe you can buy stock into the company on the stock market. If you are a fan and you’ve literally wanted to buy into MMA, then here is your chance. An interesting thought. The IFL has positioned itself as being an MMA league, not an MMA promotion. With the team concept, even though I’m not big on it, the concept of a Japanese team versus a Canadian team does interest me somewhat. With the league format, I think it’s way too early to see if having an entire league will work in MMA. I give the IFL a ton of credit for being innovative and trying new things. I just think it’s going to be tough a road ahead, and I wish they would have started as a promotion first and then ventured into positioning themselves as an MMA league once they became successful. I guess we will find out pretty soon if they knew what they were talking about.

WFA Pros

-Holy cow, this is a great first card. They landed Quinton Jackson as a free agent, and they took Matt Lindland away from the UFC’s plans for TUF 4. Then there’s Lyoto Machida, the man who KO’d Rich Franklin, and also beat Stephan Bonnar and BJ Penn. Machida might be a bigger free agent signing than even Rampage when all is said and done. The WFA guys definitely opened their pocket-book, and everyone has a right to be excited about the first show or (re-launch, technically) of the WFA in Los Angeles on July 22nd.

-Aggressive style. This can be a good and bad thing at the same time. These guys aren’t shy about signing the best in the business. Zuffa had this mindset when they first started at UFC 33, as they tried to bring in the best in the business to fight one another. Nowadays, the UFC is running so many shows that we do see a more watered-down version of the product. There are too many Kevin Jordans or Gabriel Gonzagas out there fighting in the UFC (nothing against Jordan or Gonzaga personally), but then again that kind of thing is unavoidable if the UFC is going to run 18 shows per year. The WFA now can run five or six shows per year and make every event a super-card. They can also pay a select group of fighters a lot of money and showcase them as the WFA’s premiere fighters. They have time to really build 20 great fighters, instead of the 75 or so fighters that the UFC currently has because of how many shows they’re crank out.

WFA Cons

-TV or PPV deals. It’s really early on for this promotion, but the one thing that the WFA really needs is a television deal. The WFA ran three shows a few years ago, so they do have some history dating back to 2002, but if they want to compete and go head-to-head with the UFC (which they do based on the talk), then they will have to do several things. They will have to solidify a great PPV deal, which means getting their events on live PPV or on a delay of only 24 to 48 hours instead of six weeks, and they will also need to secure a television deal to show some of their fights at least once per month, if not weekly. Other MMA promotions can compare themselves to the UFC all they want, but the UFC does have weekly TV programming, and nobody else does.

-Money. I have no idea how much money this first card is costing them, but it has to be insane. I know Quinton Jackson cost a ton of money. What I’m hearing about Bas Rutten, if the rumors are true, is that this guy could potentially get a couple hundred grand if he decides to come back and fight. If history tells us anything about the previous incarnation of the WFA, it’s the fact that the promoters always put on great shows that cost them a ton of money. It’s hard to recoup that money unless you get great advertisers and a solid level of pay-per-view buys. We know that advertisers won’t jump on right away until they see your product. If you’re throwing over a half million in salaries on one show, and that doesn’t even include the money that you spend advertising your event, then you can just imagine how costly this thing is going to be. As MMA fans, I think we are all pulling for the WFA to succeed for the sake of competition, but they also better have deep pockets in order to put on the quality shows that we’ve come to expect.

Strike Force Pros

-I don’t care if you’re the UFC, Pride, or any of the big boys that been in the MMA game for a while. If you draw over 18,000 fans to your first show and set the all-time North American attendance record for your FIRST SHOW, you are in good shape. Having a main event of Alistair Overeem vs. Vitor Belfort on the second show is a damn good main event, and the undercard will also be very, very good. Give Scott Coker big-time props, as he has the Northern California market figured out, and we’ll find out just how much he has it figured out when we see what kind of numbers come in for the second show. Cung Le is being brought along very slowly, which is smart, and I’m hearing that Frank Shamrock will be back to fight in the organization again soon (he is currently recovering from a broken hand). This promotion is off to an amazing start.

-Great Negotiating. I don’t know many people are dialed into the matchmaking side of things, but this is what I do know. It is pretty amzing for this promotion to have gone from a main event of Vitor Belfort vs. Kevin Randleman, to the new main event of Vitor Belfort vs. Alistair Overeem. I know how tough the paper trail is when an MMA promotion tries to bring a guy in from another country, and that’s exactly what Strike Force did when Randleman pulled out of the fight and they replaced him with Overeem. The fact that Strike Force was able to go from Randleman to Overeem in just about 48 hours is flat-out amazing. When you add to all of this the solid names on the undercard, it’s clear that Strike Force has been able to negotiate deals better, and in a shorter time period, than the bigger MMA organizations have. Think about this for a moment. They could go from having a Shamrock vs. Gracie main event for their first show, to having a Belfort vs. Overeem main event for their second show, to possibly having a (Frank) Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni main event for their third show (which would be pretty insane if they can sign it). These guys are able to negotiate with the best in the business from Pride, the UFC, or K-1, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Strike Force Cons

-They weren’t able to get the Shamrock vs. Gracie show on television or pay-per-view, other than the Internet PPV download. Hey, I love the Internet as much as anyone, but it’s not a good thing for the vast majority of people to not be able to watch Shamrock vs. Gracie (or even know that it’s available as a PPV Internet download) after the promoters paid very good money to make the match happen. Ultimately, pay-per-view and television deals have to get done for this promotion to be successful on the national level.

-Let’s also wait and see how this second show draws. Drawing 18,000 fans for the first show was insane, and anything over 10,000 paid for the second show has to be considered a success. But what is the long-term strategy for this promotion? To be big in Northern California, or to battle the UFC for superiority on a scale outside of Northern California? We will have to wait and see, but the success or failure of the second show should give us a pretty good idea of where Strike Force stands in the landscape of MMA.

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