Click Debate: Has MMA really changed in the WME era?

By Marc Raimondi

“This just wouldn’t be sports, it would be spectacle.”

That quote above is not from the mouth of WME-IMG co-CEO Ari Emanuel. Or UFC president Dana White or one of the promotion’s current matchmakers. It was taken directly from the book “Is This Legal?” written by UFC co-creator Art Davie (and co-authored by Sean Wheelock) about his vision for the UFC.

If we’re going to have a discussion about where the UFC — and the sport that would later be dubbed mixed martial arts — is right now and whether it is different, it’s worth noting its history. The UFC was never created to become the next NBA or MLB. Its goal from the beginning, and to a great extent now, was entertainment.

Obviously, plenty has changed since 1993. MMA is now considered a combat sport, regulated and sanctioned by state governments. Many rules and weight classes have been added. It certainly looks more like a sport at times. The Reebok deal has added a new layer to that. But we still don’t call the UFC a league. It’s a promotion, more like boxing and pro wrestling than the NFL.

The UFC’s purpose and dynamic is a constant, fluid topic. And its one that has come up quite a bit recently with two controversial fights, one on the horizon, the other in the planning stages. One take has been that WME-IMG, the Hollywood talent agency and the UFC’s new owners following a $4 billion purchase last year, are making decisions that the previous regime, under Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, would not.

Conor McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, is in serious talks about competing against undefeated, legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing match. The UFC will more than likely be in on the promotion and certainly the copious amounts of revenue generated from the unorthodox and historic bout, since McGregor remains under the UFC’s rigid contract.

Georges St-Pierre, the former UFC welterweight champion, is returning after nearly four years away from the Octagon to an immediate title shot against middleweight champion Michael Bisping. GSP has never competed in the UFC’s middleweight division before, yet he is hurdling far more deserving contenders for a title shot.

Why these things are happening is pretty obvious: money. MMA is capitalism in a cage.

McGregor vs. Mayweather, if it happens, will probably sell more than 3 million pay per views and generate somewhere in the range of a half a billion dollars. St-Pierre is one of the UFC’s most consistent pay-per-view draws historically and Bisping is an excellent, trash-talking foil.

Now, there are opponents for GSP that would probably draw more — Nick Diaz and Anderson Silva come to mind — but this is obviously the first stage in a bigger plan for St-Pierre’s comeback. His coach Freddie Roach said as much in an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour recently. That’s a conversation for a different day.

While it’s true that WME-IMG needs to hit earnings goals at certain deadlines in order to get relief on the hefty loans it took out to buy the UFC, is the new ownership really making decisions that the Fertittas obviously would not? That is very much up for debate.

Let’s not forget that the first fight between St-Pierre and Diaz, a welterweight title defense for GSP in 2013, came about with Diaz coming off a loss to Carlos Condit. Chael Sonnen went from losing to Anderson Silva for a second time in a UFC middleweight title fight in 2012 to fighting Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title nine months later.

Those didn’t happen because Diaz and Sonnen were the No. 1 contenders; they happened because both men can draw money. Guess what? It was effective. GSP-Diaz at UFC 158 might have been St-Pierre’s best-drawing event. Jones-Sonnen at UFC 159 was Jones’ second-best event from a revenue perspective at the time with his grudge match against Rashad Evans first.

You can make an argument that St-Pierre has a far better résumé in his career, albeit not in the division in question, to constitute a title shot than Diaz or Sonnen did. St-Pierre is still on a 12-fight winning streak.

I’m not even saying I love the fight. Yoel Romero is the rightful top contender and should be fighting Bisping, with St-Pierre fighting Silva or Diaz in his first fight back. But let’s not pretend WME-IMG is doing something that the Fertittas would not. Just look at the history.

And would the Fertittas really have passed on the kind of money that Mayweather vs. McGregor would generate? They threw former boxing champion James Toney into the Octagon against Randy Couture in 2010 and that was a fight that wouldn’t even draw much coin.

Nothing quite like Mayweather vs. McGregor came up during the Fertitta Era. It’s very much a unicorn, and a risky one at that, as MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer wrote in an excellent piece last week.

You can certainly make the argument that WME-IMG is interested in that short-term payoff because of the revenue goals it must meet, but that doesn’t mean the Fertittas would not have rolled that same dice years ago when the long-term future of the UFC was uncertain if this kind of opportunity presented itself.

There is a case that can be made that the UFC has sustained itself over the years because the Fertittas and White made decisions that would pay dividends in the future and didn’t take as many short-term risks. But you also cannot say that their matchmaking was strictly based on merit and WME-IMG is now going full WWE. That just wouldn’t be the case.

The truth is, we just don’t know enough about WME-IMG and its plans — present and future — for the UFC. Emanuel and fellow co-CEO Patrick Whitesell have said very little publicly about any vision. Some things, like the layoff of dozens of employees and willingness to let talented, young fighters leave, have been concerning. If WME-IMG is playing the long game and has a deeper vision, it certainly has not been made apparent to us yet.

Fans have a right to be antsy and skeptical, of course. MMA followers invest a lot in the sport. They shell out money to watch live and for pay per views, UFC Fight Pass and cable packages that have FS1 and FS2. It’s not cheap to be an MMA fan. Not by a long shot. And it’s a major time investment.

But we also cannot ignore that mixed martial arts (or NHB, as it was known back then) was built on and made for spectacle. Mirko Cro Cop knocked out a masked luchador and Fedor Emelianenko fought a 400-pound vale tudo fighter in Pride. Herschel Walker, nearly 50 years old at the time, fought for Strikeforce. CM Punk was signed by the UFC during the Fertitta era. The list goes on and on.

If the UFC’s hardcore fans, the ones that watch every FS1 show and buy even the leanest pay-per-views, are not happy with the way things are being run now, they have some power. They can refuse to buy GSP vs. Bisping. They can ignore Mayweather vs. McGregor. They can show the new powers that be that they want a merit-based, more sporting system.

That probably won’t happen, though. It’s hard to keep those voracious fans away and the UFC knows it, which is why a major portion of its business strategy is to cater to the casual fans, to grow the potential consumers for its product, thereby making more money.

Because there is a reason why the UFC, from Davie to Fertitta to Emanuel, have all at times chosen spectacle over sport.

It works.

Source:: MMA Fighting

Is Bellator’s second PPV good weird fun, or a kind of weird normal with a price tag? (The answer: Yes)

By Chuck Mindenhall

When Bellator first tried a pay-per-view event, back at Bellator 120 while still under the steely frills-free eye of Bjorn Rebney, there was a healthy amount of harrumphing to be heard if one only cared to listen. Muhammad Lawal and Quinton Jackson, the headliners for that show, had a beef that went back to van ride they took together in 2009. You might remember the other passenger, poor Bobby Lashley, left grinning in between.

The fight took place in Jackson’s native city of Memphis. Or rather, across the river from Memphis in Southaven, Miss., which isn’t exactly the fight capital of the world.

Did any of it feel arbitrary? Oh yes. Arbitrary as hell.

For a product that people had long been used to getting for free (and even then, at times reluctantly), it was a hard sell to the public. Jackson and Lawal was an old grudge in want of resolution, but not necessarily in need of our disposable income. The hook for Bellator 120 was really the lightweight title bout between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez, who were trilogizing an epic series that was MMA’s version of Gatti-Ward. The bang-for-the-buck element fell to Tito Ortiz, a behemoth brand name welcoming the 185-pound champion, Alexander Shlemenko, to his density field. The bonus appearance was Michael Page, the balloon man in the wind tunnel, who fought Ricky Rainey.

It didn’t help matters that Alvarez fell out and was replaced by Will Brooks, but that show did somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 buys. That low number might have signaled an end of pay-per-view delusions for some brands, but not Bellator.

Three years later the promotion will attempt its second PPV, and this time there are a few key differences. Instead of the Landers Center in the crooked letter state, it will be held on June 24, at none other than historic Madison Square Garden — the fight world Mecca. And instead of Rebney getting called a “d*ck rider” by Lawal on the way out, it’ll be Scott Coker and his merry band of relics on the way in.

If there’s one familiar special guest in this second PPV it’s this: The Old Grudge.

Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, who brawled visibly (though technically off-the-record) during a taping of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3, are going to finally meet. For patient people who’ve been dying to know how this all plays out, come June there will be resolution. This has been a fight well over three years in the making. It feels much longer.

The UFC tried to make that match at UFC 173, then the TUF Brazil 3 Finale, then again at UFC 175, but…I mean, how else to say it? UFC 175 in retrospect played out like a drug sting. Wanderlei ran from sample collectors beforehand, was plucked from the card and replaced by Vitor Belfort, and was then subjected to Sonnen’s mockery. Then Sonnen popped for a scroll of illegal substances, was plucked from the card, and made the mockery of the sport itself. The fact that Belfort — who was embroiled in the great TRT/TUE ethical quandary of that year — carried the least red tape into the situation tells you all you need to know about Wandy-Sonnen.

Anyway, the grudge.

The thing is Sonnen and Silva don’t like each other, and that’s your premise for Bellator 180. General dislike. Never mind that Sonnen only returned from the two-year suspension (refashioned his “retirement” through that stretch) with a thud against Tito Ortiz in January, or that Silva last fought a month before Conor McGregor‘s UFC debut — the grudge has no shelf life. Pending the New York commission throwing cold water on things, Sonnen and Silva will finally get to the bottom of this feud that has suffered so many detours along the way, gone through so much regulatory intervention, been so largely forgotten by the passage of time that it feels new again. This here is a faculty fight for the satisfaction of seeing one or the other get their ass handed to them. Those right there are the extent of the stakes. Belfort’s vision of a “legend’s division” is already alive and well in Bellator.

The addition of Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione in the co-main is fine, but a little odd given that we already had our minds around it in a different way. The fight was going to be broadcast on Spike TV in February, but was cancelled at the eleventh hour when Mitrione was forced out due to kidney stones. So what does it say that a fight that was destined for free television shows up again behind a pay wall? That the bluest balls you never asked for can turn back to normal for a tidy sum.

Good thing for Douglas Lima vs. Lorenz Larkin. The UFC was foolish to let the 30-year old Larkin walk, given that he just completely annihilated Neil Magny, scored a win over Jorge Masvidal, and once upon a time took out Robbie Lawler. His only loss in his last five fights was a split decision against Albert Tumenov. Larkin is at the top of his career, facing the 170-pound titleholder Lima, who has compiled a highlight reel of KOs (Koreshkov, Hawn, Saunders, Baker, et al). That’s a damn fine fight.

And the great thing is that Bellator’s 170-pound division is full of spry, momentous match-ups beyond Lima and Larkin, especially with Paul Daley or Rory MacDonald happening in May. In the traditional sense of fights within divisions being towards something, Lima-Larkin is towards something beyond just a title. So is Michael Chandler’s title defense against Brent Primus. The sidelines are active for that bout, as evidenced by Patricky Pitbull’s fleeting sanity. Sometimes it’s not just the fight that’s are fun, but the erupting volcanoes around it.

Still, Chandler fights are can’t miss.

If Coker and Co. are able to score a devil’s lure of a fifth bout — a Gina Carano would certainly be nice, but perhaps a Tito versus Ryan Bader (there, I said it), or Michael McDonald against Joe Warren, or even if Aaron Pico is bumped to the main card — Bellator’s second PPV has a chance to achieve one of Coker’s favorite words.

Fun.

Bellator 180, with its oddities and old grudges, its future-rich stirrings and pyrotechnics is shaping up to be a fun card. It’s a hell of a lot more substantive on whole than UFC 208, and more ridiculous fun than UFC 210. Think the main players are washed up? The night after, on June 25, the UFC will run a fight night from Oklahoma City featuring B.J. Penn. Heading into that, it’ll be like MMA just left Mardi Gras.

It remains to be seen if people are willing to buy into Bellator’s idea of fun, though, if for no other reason than they’re the ones selling it.

Source:: MMA Fighting

Joe Lauzon Believes Watching Film on Stevie Ray Will be ‘Monotonous’

By Fernando Quiles Jr. Joe Lauzon’s next few trips to the film room may not exactly be enthralling. Lauzon is set to battle Stevie Ray inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The bout will be held on April 22 and is going to be part of the UFC Fight Night 108 card. “J-Lau” took a split decision victory […]

Source:: MMA News

Gunnar Nelson on Potential Bout With Stephen Thompson: ‘It’s an Exciting Fight’

By Fernando Quiles Jr. Gunnar Nelson is open to sharing the Octagon with Stephen Thompson. “Wonderboy” failed to capture the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight title in two fights against Tyron Woodley despite coming close. Their first encounter back in Nov. 2016 ended in a majority draw. Their second scrap earlier this month resulted in a majority decision in […]

Source:: MMA News

Al Iaquinta: ‘You Can’t Get Suckered Into That Diego Sanchez Wild Nonsense Fight’

By Fernando Quiles Jr. If you’re expecting Al Iaquinta to brawl with Diego Sanchez, you may be disappointed. Iaquinta is set to compete in a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) bout for the first time since April 2015. He’ll meet Diego Sanchez inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on April 22. “Raging” will get a chance to extend […]

Source:: MMA News

Invicta FC 22 Results: Tonya Evinger Chokes Yana Kunitskaya in Title Rematch

By Fernando Quiles Jr. Tonya Evinger left no doubt in her rematch with Yana Kunitskaya. Invicta FC 22 took place on Saturday night (March 25) inside the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri. Evinger took on Kunitskaya in the main event. While their first encounter ended in controversy and the fight result was eventually ruled a no contest, […]

Source:: MMA News

Invicta FC 22 results: Tonya Evinger gets revenge, submitting Yana Kunitskaya to retain title

By Marc Raimondi

History almost repeated itself.

Tonya Evinger was in deep trouble against Yana Kunitskaya in the first round Saturday night at Invicta FC 22 in Kansas City. Kunitskaya had a guillotine choke, then a heel hook, then a kneebar. The Russian fighter almost got Evinger to tap for a second straight time.

But Evinger, the Invicta women’s bantamweight champion, persevered.

She began to land big ground and pound late in the first round and controlled the second round on the ground. It all culminated in a rear-naked choke submission victory at 4:32 of the second after a dramatic, thrill-a-minute affair.

In November, Kunitskaya got Evinger in an armbar and Evinger tapped out. For two weeks, Kunitskaya was considered the Invicta champ. But the finish was controversial and the Missouri Office of Athletics overturned it in December because referee Mike England incorrectly told Evinger to move from a legal position, which allowed Kunitskaya to get the armbar in deeper.

The bout was ruled a no contest and Evinger, 35, got to keep the title she has held for nearly two years. Invicta booked the rematch to get closure for both women — Kunitskaya to prove she was the rightful champ and Evinger to show she only got submitted due to a referee error.

Perhaps there will be a third fight sometime in the future, but for now Evinger has her redemption with a finish of Kunitskaya. Even though she said she didn’t feel well throughout the fight.

“I just wish I’d done it earlier and in more devastating fashion,” Evinger said.

Evinger (19-5, 1 NC) has not lost an official fight since 2011, a span of 11 straight bouts. The Houston construction worker is one of the best female fighters in the world not in the UFC.

Kunitskaya (9-3, 1 NC), who spent this training camp at the vaunted JacksonWink MMA, lost very little in defeat. If anything, this whole saga with Evinger has put her on the radar in the United States. At only 27 years old, her future should be very interesting.

Livia Renata Souza looked like a different fighter coming into the cage Saturday and the result was far different from her last fight as well.

After dropping the Invicta women’s strawweight title last year against Angela Hill, Souza seemed fitter going into her co-main event against current Invicta atomweight champion Ayaka Hamasaki. And obviously she’s been working on her striking, too.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist ripped a right hand that dropped Hamasaki in the first round and then quickly finished on the ground with strikes. The stoppage by referee England came somewhat late, at 1:41 of the first round. Souza had won by TKO.

“The world is too big,” Souza said afterward. “But today, it’s all mine.”

Souza (10-1) probably earned herself a shot at her old belt, especially since Hill is now back in the UFC. Souza, 26, also could be signed by the UFC, which she asked for before losing the title last year.

Hamasaki (14-2) was moving up to catch the UFC’s eye, since the promotion does not have her usual atomweight division. Before Saturday, the 34-year-old Japanese fighter had only one loss in her career, against UFC top strawweight Claudia Gadelha.

After a tough 2016, Jodie Esquibel is back on the right track. She took home a split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) win over the always tough DeAnna Bennett in a pivotal strawweight bout.

Esquibel (5-2) fell to Alexa Grasso in her last fight back in July and also was eliminated early on The Ultimate Fighter 23 in a controversial decision against Ashley Yoder. Bennett (8-3), who missed weight, has now lost three straight.

Ashley Cummins made a big statement in her return to Invicta. The St. Louis-area police officer put forth perhaps her best career performance in a unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) over former top atomweight contender Amber Brown. Cummins’ ground game and top pressure was oppressive in the second and third rounds. The 29-year-old Ultimate Fighter 23 alum called for a title shot after the victory.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” said Cummins, who moved to 5-3. “I’m coming for that belt.”

Miranda Maverick has two pro fights and now two submission wins. The Missouri native finished Kal Holliday via submission at 3:01 of the first round. She was coming off a first-round submission in November. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old prospect has also missed weight in both bouts, coming in 4.5 pounds overweight Friday.

Also on the card, Sunna Davidsdottir beat Mallory Martin by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) and Felicia Spencer defeated the debuting Madison McElhaney by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).

Source:: MMA Fighting