Thursday, 28 May 2009
No holds barred. No gloves or guards. No weight classes. No time limits. Two men enter, one man leaves. Banned in many states across America. Joe Son getting repeatedly punched in the plums. These are some of the enduring concepts and images of the early-days UFC. The owners promoted the idea of a dangerous and barely legal sport, and it won them many curious fans in the beginning. They traded on an exaggerated perception of brutality. It was brutal then, and some maintain it still is now. Sadly, in the eyes of some law makers, 1994 was not so long ago. People with legislative influence who were shocked by the blood-thirsty posturing of the early UFC advertising, may be difficult to persuade now. The people who found UFC 1 barbaric, have not been buying the Pay Per Views since, and have not watched the sport grow and change over the years. Zuffa and MMA are now facing some of these same people, trying to explain to them how the sport is both skilled and safe. Now the tables have turned, the shock and awe style promotion that suited the pre-Zuffa era is counter productive and in order to market the UFC in its modern form, the “Just Bleed” man is out of favour. MMA is now marketed as evolved combat between “complete” fighters, with late stoppages howled at by fans and Dana White alike, and drug cheats receiving bans. The battle for New York MMA legislation is seen as the other sign that MMA in general and the UFC in particular are moving up in the market. Is this in itself an achievement of “the next level?” It certainly would be a great achievement for all of New York’s MMA practitioners and fans. The UFC would have a great trophy venue in Madison Square Garden, which will no doubt provoke some pointless animosity from a few members of the boxing community. The UFC will provide event revenue figures, as well as estimates of the impact a travelling UFC audience has on local economy and tourism. The safety record and details of rules and precautions will back up the more contextual comparisons with other so-called “dangerous” sports. Whilst New York would be a legal coup, make no mistake that the UFC will be immediately hot on the heels of the next state with legislation issues, or even whole countries such as France. Last time I was on holiday in New York there was an enormous advertising board in Time Square, proudly promoting the next UFC show. I wasn’t aware at the time that MMA competition was illegal. When I visited Renzo Gracie’s gym to buy a T-shirt, it was packed with BJJ students preparing for a weigh-in. There are people training and preparing, having to leave a city they love to participate in a sport they love. It is not the goal to have the entire world fighting, more that the entire world is allowed to fight, should it choose to. NEXT: UFC BRANDED PRODUCTS
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
What is “the next level” for the UFC? Recently the ESPN sports network broadcast a special televised witch hunt featuring Dana White, in which he was chastised for swearing and not acting the part of a distant corporate sports owner. During this programme the interviewers pondered whether Dana was the right man to take the UFC publicly forward to the “next level.” How do we know when this “next level” is achieved? How can it even be defined? I do not agree that one single event constitutes an achievement of “next level” status. There is no black and white, win or lose. The grey area of continuous UFC expansion rests on a number of factors including: The Maintenance of current event standards. Television network and Pay Per View deals. Wider MMA legislation. Event frequency. UFC branded products. MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world but is still comparatively young when compared to the sports it now seeks to eclipse. The goals and obstacles it faces are still at a basic survival level. Apart from the UFC, most other promotions main concern is staying afloat. They have enough problems either filling seats in the current economy or finding a business model that will allow both profit and growth. The influx of new fighters to the UFC is greater than the amount of event places available. The UFC is on a constant hunt for unknown talent, out of contract stars, and camera savvy TUF contestants. Aside from certain legendary fighters, the UFC is quick to cut the contracts of fighters who fail to entertain or perform, but just being a UFC veteran can help a fighter gain places in other organisations. With their constant rotation and roster culling, the UFC does all it can to ensure that the best fighters stay within the organisation. Sometimes a young fighter may lose form and have his contract cut, before proving himself with a smaller promotion and returning to “The Big Show.” Great fights can never be absolutely guaranteed, but by keeping the cream fresh, the UFC tries to stack the odds in the fan’s favour. The UFC is in such a unique position of rapid expansion that media commentators seem to be concerned that the UFC is not ready for mainstream television. Or perhaps as Dana affirmed, mainstream TV may not be ready for the UFC. As long as the PPV numbers are big enough and often enough, why would the UFC even care? The UFC has a great additional revenue source from its DVDs, which also include the back catalogue of pre Zuffa shows, and of course the fabulous PRIDE FC shows obtained during the promotion buy-out. There will always be opponents to combat sports, be it boxing, martial arts, or MMA. There will always be people who just don’t like it, as many others do not like football or darts. The UFC cannot aim to convert the entire world into either practicing fighters or avid viewers, but it is doing a great job of expanding its horizons in a fast but seemingly controlled manner. (NEXT: MMA LEGISLATION)
Friday, 22 May 2009
I love the concept of the UFC Hall Of Fame. It is great to see the forefathers and builders of the sport we love properly recognized. Because the sport is so young, many early watchers of UFC can say they have been fans since day one, something more difficult for a football fan whose team began in 1892! We are now approaching our official second generation of UFC veterans. Randy was the first of these inducted and is sure to be followed by Mr Hughes and Mr Liddell. Rumour has it that two people are to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at UFC 100. Mr Ortiz arguably deserves a shot (see earlier submission) though he may forced to wait a little longer for recognition, perhaps until the temperature of hell drops to minus figures. Others mentioned have been posthumous honours for Helio Gracie, Evan Tanner and Charles “Mask” Lewis. I think there is a great value in honouring all of these great contributors to UFC history, it should not just be about the number of titles won and defended. And it would not devalue the honour and respect of a posthumous award simply because a few will happen at once, on the occasion of such a landmark show. If we can have a nice ceremony for the Hall Of Fame presentations, several well constructed video highlight reels, and some exciting announcements, I think it will be a very fast paced and entertaining nine hour show. Of course all the sensible awards and announcements may pale into insignificance if the man Bruce Buffer does “The 360.” He has been dared by Joe Rogan, who said he would personally “Shit his pants” if Bruce does “The 360” before the main event at UFC 100. If you are not familiar with the potential joy that would be unleashed world-wide by the power of “The 360,” then allow me to enlighten you. When introducing the fighters for the main event of a UFC show a few years ago, Bruce discovered that he was facing and pointing toward the champion as he was starting to introduce the challenger. With a deft 180 degree spin on his stylish heels, he whipped around to face the correct fighter, still maintaining his pointing pose. And he looked damn cool doing it. So cool in fact, that he started doing a “180” regularly, but only before the main event introduction. Mr Buffer has stated that “The 360” starts and ends with the challenger, turning a full circle in between. It is an audacious concept, with great risk and reward. A sharp suited, spinning master of ceremonies with fantastic hair would be the creamy topping on a fabulous UFC centenary cake. But what if he slips on some Vaseline carelessly discarded by a clumsy corner-man? (Example chosen purely at random.) It could be tragic. I think I speak for everyone when I say that it would be a sad day for MMA when Bruce Buffer’s perfection is even slightly ruffled. Will he dare to attempt “The 360” at UFC 100? I hope he does. I will shit my wife’s pants. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N0GAN0_I7c
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Love him, hate him or just “lol” at his increasingly exaggerated self image, Tito Ortiz has done a lot for MMA, and particularly for the UFC. It is easy to get bogged down in the long war of insults between him and Dana, but Tito has always maintained he has no problem with the UFC generally and the Fertitas specifically. Now that the time approaches for Chuck to receive his large octagonal piece of honorary glassware, with Matt Hughes no doubt to follow, I wonder whether Tito will ever get the nod? Hall of fame winners are not just about number of victories. They embody the rise of the UFC and stretches of time when they dominated the hearts of fans and ratings. It is easy when thinking of Tito to immediately think of him losing to Randy or Chuck. That period in the history of UFC was a great one. Aside from the emergence of TUF Tv show, fights were held that began to recapture the PPV audience. The fight triangle between Randy/Chuck, Randy/Tito, Chuck/Tito, Chuck/Randy, Randy/Chuck, Chuck/Tito (if I got that right) thrilled us for a few years straight, and put Chuck and Randy into the status they enjoy today. Up to the point of losing his light heavyweight title, Tito had enjoyed a three year winning streak, with five title defences. He was also chosen as coach of season three of TUF. He was a firm fan favourite and worked the limelight, taunting opponents with his mouth and T-shirt slogans, and making sure he spent time meeting and greeting the audience at shows. Tito is by no means finished now, simply awaiting his UFC no-fight contract stipulation to end, whilst seeking a (hopefully) realistic contract with another promotion. He still has an army of fans waiting for him to return to greatness. It could however, be argued that he has already peaked, and that brings me back to wondering if (bad blood aside) the big show itself will properly remember Tito Ortiz after he has gone.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
There is one piece of footage I think the UFC should release to the PPV viewing public for UFC 100, and that is the “Baba O’Reilly” highlight montage. Not familiar with it? Perhaps you haven’t been to a live UFC show yet? The “Baba” video is shown to the audience on the giant screens in the time gap between the undercard and the live main card. It is a fantastic highlight reel of the biggest names in the UFC, timed to perfection with the WHO song. The speeding up ending of the song covers the legendary TUF 1 final fight between Griffin and Bonner. To my knowledge the footage never been available other than at the live shows. Many people try to film it on cameras, but the results are usually of poor quality or actually removed from the internet by the UFC. So this video has been exclusive for quite a while. I think the time has come to give everyone a taste, and UFC100 is the perfect place for everyone to see it. Boot it up immediately after the “ZUFFA” logo comes on the screen, everyone at home will go mental, and my carpet will be covered in beer. While we are talking about highlight videos, how about a suggestion for the skilled individual who edited the “Baba” reel? Lets have Queen’s “We are the champions,” with montage footage of all the champions winning their belts from UFC 1-100. There are some major heart lifting and heart wrenching moments in amongst the title fights. From Randy’s “Not bad for an old man,” Chuck’s wide armed primal shouting, all the way back to Royce wanting to go to Disneyland. Fights finishing, hands being raised and belts won. It will be great I tell you, and I will accept creative royalties in the form of Leffe beer vouchers.
Monday, 18 May 2009
Andrei Arlovski is an ex UFC heavyweight champion. He has not actually been UFC heavyweight champion since April 15th, 2006. There have been three since then, and two interim belt holders. When his contract ended with the UFC, he remained out of contract, checking his options for a while before deciding to look to Affliction. From the moment the contact was signed, Andrei became an Affliction fighter. He wore the T-shirts and made the media appearances. He was given the chance to fight fedor for the Wamma belt, and that’s where the perspective changed. The Affliction owners started hyping up the match as Fedor vs another UFC champion. Tom’s video blog showed him texting Dana and inviting him along to see “your boy get destroyed.” After Fedor won the fight, the Affliction owners could be seen dancing around the ring, hugging eachother with joy at the knockout. Absolutely no class. This was not a cross promotion fight with the UFC, this was between two Affliction fighters, and both should have been supported with neutrality by their management. Whether Affliction like it or not, in that particular scenario only Dana White can negatively comment on his ex fighter, because he is not promoting him anymore. This is something he decided not to do on this occasion, but was happy to when Fedor beat Tim Sylvia. If Affliction look deep enough, they may find that a lot of their fighters have been UFC champions or contenders at one time or another. Do they still regard Vitor or Josh as UFC fighters? Who do Tom & Co see as the genuine Affliction fighters? What other fights might they take sides with? We all know that this only applies to whoever fights Fedor, their golden ticket. Its all just transparent buffing of the shiny Wamma belt, which is meaningless to all other promotions. The belt is meant to discredit the authenticity of other promotions champions, specifically the UFC heavyweight belt. A shiny hook that the Fertitas have no need to bite. Affliction would love the pay per view money and the instant revenue that being part of a UFC promotion promises. The UFC have no need or reason to co-promote with Affliction. Sure, everyone would love to see Fedor fight current UFC fighters, but its never going to happen that way. Be happy with your signed fighters Affliction, treat them with respect and promote them without favouritism. That is how you will build an exciting and loyal roster, not by treating them as outsiders to feed to your champion.