Monthly Archives: October 2007

IFL Chief Larkin Promises Big Changes in 2008

Yesterday the IFL’s newest executive addition, former Showtime boxing producer Jay Larkin, held a media conference call to discuss the goings-on in the IFL. As most of the readers of this blog know, I am employed by the IFL. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent much of the past year getting frustrated with some of the wrong turns the organization has made. There have been unnecessary contract troubles, a horrible start for “IFL Battleground” (the “stretcher episode”, as it has come to be known), and other minor miscues that are fairly typical of a new organization feeling its way.

But I’ve been encouraged by the talk I’m hearing from IFL executives about how they plan to change the league in 2008, and yesterday Larkin told members of the media to expect a different look and structure when the new season begins.

A lot of people are turned off by the team format. I think it’s a good idea that can work, if only it isn’t adhered to in such a rigid manner. The IFL is realizing that right now. They saw that because of the set schedule they often had mismatches come up while they missed the opportunity to make some exciting rematches happen (Rothwell-Nelson, for example). What they need is more fluidity within the structure that would allow for better matchmaking instead of simply lining up whoever Pat Miletich has at one weight class with whoever Ken Shamrock has at that weight class.

They also realize that the pay structure is off. Some guys are getting too much, others aren’t getting enough. When Chris Wilson left the league after the 2006 season he told me it was because he realized in order for him to make more money one of his teammates would have to make less. Understandably, he didn’t want to do that. Now that Rothwell has voiced concerns with his pay as well, the IFL sees it will become a recurring problem if they don’t fix it. They simply can’t pay everyone the same when some fighters clearly have more value than others.

Larkin touched on these subjects with a very subtle brush, which seems to be his style. What he did for Showtime’s boxing programming cannot be underestimated, and he brings a professionalism to MMA that the sport needs. He also commented that while he couldn’t say which side balked on the UFC-HBO deal that never went through, whoever it was “did a disservice to the sport.”

I can’t say exactly how the IFL is going to change under his watch in the coming months, but the fact that the executives are trying to sort between what’s working and what isn’t is nothing but encouraging. Stay tuned, is all I can say.

In other IFL news, I’ll be blogging from the World Grand Prix in Chicago later this week. Those of you who enjoy reading detailed descriptions of hotel bars and the local chapter of Buffalo Wild Wings will surely enjoy that. The rest of you, probably not as much until the fights get started, although it’s always interesting what you can hear just hanging around the lobby a day or two before the fight.

And if you missed last night’s presentation of ESPN E:60, check out this great segment on Pat Miletich’s gym. Very well done.

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UFC, White to Hold Another Press Conference Today

The UFC has announced that they will hold yet another press conference at 4 pm EST today – this one to be streamed live on UFC.com – and Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta will join UFC president Dana White to address statements made by Randy Couture last week. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m already tired of this. The back and forth between the UFC and Couture is quickly becoming farcical.

If the UFC wanted the chance to respond to Couture’s comments, why did they schedule a conference call thirty minutes before his last week? Why didn’t they just wait until this week and hold one conference to respond and make their announcements? It’s starting to feel like overkill on this particular topic. I can’t imagine what they’re going to say in response to Couture, but at this point I kind of don’t care.

In other news, Gracie magazine is reporting that Gabriel Gonzaga will make his return to the Octagon with a fight against fellow BJJ practitioner Fabricio Werdum at UFC 80. The two fought once before with Werdum winning by TKO, but that was several years ago and it should tell us something about where each man stands in the UFC heavyweight division to see them go at it again.

If only the press conference were about something like this, or, you know, something to do with MMA.

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Pithy Thoughts For a Monday Morning

The new edition of my weekly column is live at Crave Online . It focuses, naturally, on the issue of the moment regarding Dana White and Randy Couture. While I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth between these two last week, I’m still baffled by some of White’s comments. Did he really say that Fedor sucks? Did he also really say that Fedor isn’t a top five heavyweight? Really?

Instead of arguing here that Fedor does not suck, which I take to be a given for any thinking MMA fan (at 26-1, if Fedor sucks, who’s good?), instead I’m going to argue that we should all extend some sympathy towards White. Obviously the man is hurting.

Why else would he lash out like this only after his repeated attempts to sign Fedor to a UFC contract? It’s like a boy in junior high who gets rejected by a girl he likes. The first thing he does is go tell everyone he knows that she’s ugly or stupid or a slut. Even other junior high boys know he’s just saying things that he doesn’t believe in order to make himself feel better. The appropriate response there isn’t indignation; it’s pity.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing a future match for the now-vacant UFC heavyweight title to determine who doesn’t suck. My guess is one of the participants will be Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who Fedor beat twice, and my other guess is that he’ll probably win if he’s going up against Tim Sylvia, which seems likely at this point.

That’s going to be a tough moment. I mean, the only thing worse than having a heavyweight champion who sucks is having one who was beaten twice by someone who sucks.  That would really, for lack of a better word, suck.

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Filed under Dana White, Fedor Emelianenko, MMA, Randy Couture, Sports, UFC

Dueling Press Conferences: Dana White vs. Randy Couture

When Dana White announced that he would hold a press conference on the same day as the one already announced by departed UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, it wasn’t hard to see what he had in mind. When he scheduled his media conference call to begin just thirty minutes before Couture’s Las Vegas media reception, it was obvious. White wanted to take some attention off Couture and his complaints about the UFC, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

After a reporter pressed the UFC president on the issue of whether he intentionally held his press conference to coincide with Couture’s, White responded:

“We’ve got a lot of s— going on and we’re here to talk about it. Is it a coincidence I signed Brock Lesnar, made Chuck Liddell-Wanderlei Silva, and signed a new Spike deal in the same week? …Am I doing a press conference to f-ck Randy Couture? No. I’m here to announce things.”

As for those things he was there to announce, most of them had already been made public. The signing of Brock Lesnar was announced at UFC 77, where Rogan did an interview with the former WWE star. The Liddell-Silva match had been advertised on the DirectTV website for days before its official announcement at the Spike TV Scream Awards on Tuesday night. And the new Spike TV deal is essentially an extension of the current Spike TV deal.

This was the big news that simply could not be announced on any other day or any other time? I don’t think so.

Obviously, the point was to pull media attention from Couture, whose press conference was streamed live on ProElite.com. That White used this tactic and then played innocent about it seems petty, but it’s not hard to understand why he felt it was necessary.

To hear Couture tell it, the UFC hadn’t been giving him the respect (read: money) that he deserved. He directly addressed a Yahoo! Sports article claiming he was in the middle of a four-fight contract that would pay him $3.25-3.75 million per fight, by showing his unsigned bout agreements that had him making around $750,000 per fight after pay-per-view bonuses were factored in.

Some people will point out that this contract doesn’t include the bonus money that the UFC hands out after their fights, which even Couture said is sometimes more than the athlete earns from the contract itself. But even if Couture was receiving a $1 million dollar bonus for each fight, he would still make only about half what the Yahoo! report claimed. Not to mention, the bonuses are not guaranteed in his contract, so it can hardly be said that he was in the middle of a contract that was due to pay him anywhere in the neighborhood of $3 million per fight (unless the pay-per-view buys eclipsed every known record several times over).

This bonus system, it seems, has played no small part in the dispute between Couture in the UFC.

Couture said that the rift with the UFC grew after they failed to give him a bonus for his win over Gabriel Gonzaga in August. White, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t dispute this. Couture said he received large bonuses for his fight with Chuck Liddell (which he lost) and his comeback fight against Tim Sylvia (which he won via decision after five rounds).

So the question here is, why wasn’t his performance against Gonzaga worthy of a bonus?

Anyone who saw that fight knows it was a gritty, dominating performance by Couture. He stopped Gonzaga early in the third round after having his arm broken by a kick earlier in the bout. This wasn’t worth a bonus, but getting knocked out by Liddell was?

Of course, you could make the argument that since it’s a bonus, he has no right to expect it. Couture painted a picture of the UFC bonus system that seem arbitrary and capricious, saying the checks were handed out in the locker room after the fights and were “at the discretion of the UFC.”

But if the bonuses regularly match or eclipse the contract money, and if he had received one for two previous fights of varying levels of success, it’s understandable that Couture would be confused at not receiving one here. From his perspective, it’s as if his pay had been cut in half even after he performed as well as anyone could have hoped.

Couture said he tendered his resignation two and a half weeks after a meeting in which he asked White and the UFC management why he hadn’t received a bonus. They gave him no answer, he said. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to do.

White seems to like to blame Couture’s “Hollywood agent” for the way this situation has unfolded, but he’d do better to look within his own house. A secretive and whimsical bonus system that isn’t based on any predetermined criteria and which can make a drastic difference in the money an athlete takes home is a recipe for discontent.

Certainly, Couture’s complaint is as much about money as it is about respect. But in the world of professional sports, the two are often synonymous. White should know that. And if he really wanted to get Couture back in the UFC, he’d swallow his pride and make amends. Maybe he will. Maybe we will see Couture back in the Octagon someday, maybe even against Fedor Emelianenko (who White says “sucks”). But don’t bet on it.

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TUF Boosted By Best Fight of the Season

This week’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter was undoubtedly the best so far of season six, primarily because for the first time it spent a significant portion of the show on the actual fight.  Team Serra’s Ben Saunders and Team Hughes’ Dan Barrera put on quite a show, even if the ending was a tad unsatisfying.  Still, there are lessons to be learned from this episode about how to cast the show in the future, and I really hope the good people at the UFC and Spike TV realize that having good fighters means they will be forced to come up with less time-wasting, drama-hyping crap to get through an episode.

The UFC I have hope for.  But Spike TV — the home of Manswers and Blade: The Series — I have my doubts about.

The episode got off to a quick start with the fight announcement, which followed an odd Vegas construction work montage to begin the show.  Both teams seemed happy with the match-up, and it gives one hope that the ranks have now been thinned out enough to see some worthwhile fights.  If nothing else, we could see right away that the competitors at least had interesting personalities.

Barrera seems to have a number of quirks, each more confusing and hilarious than the last.  For starters, he wakes up every morning at 4:15 without really meaning to.  He attributes this, as he does most things, to God.  He makes good use of this time by going running, shadowboxing dumpsters, and swimming in a pair of Speedos.  Apparently it’s all part of his energetic personality.  As Barrera points out, “These guys will have to stab me in my sleep or throw me in front of a train wreck to keep me from getting up.”

(Note to Barrera: being thrown in front of a train wreck probably wouldn’t be that bad, because trains usually stop moving after a wreck.  For the future you could just say they’d have to throw you in front of a moving train, and we’d all get the point just fine.)

Barrera is also known to his teammates for his full-bore mentality in practice.  He seems to be the type who can’t go half-speed at anything, and understandably it grates on the nerves of every member of Team Hughes.  They’re also perplexed at his frequent trips to the bathroom during practice.  Is he anorexic?  Is he shooting up?  Does he have some kind of prostate trouble?

Turns out — thanks to the creepy Spike TV bathroom cam — we learn that he just likes to shadowbox and flex his muscles in the mirror, sometimes with his pants down.  No big deal there.  I mean, we all do that several times a day, right?  Right?

His opponent, Ben Saunders, is a little bit goofy, but likable.  He describes his fighting style as Jeet Kune Do, the martial art created by Bruce Lee.  I can’t tell if he’s joking or if it’s a thing he tells himself for inspiration, but he seems to be another guy who learned King Fu as a kid and has since become a mixed martial artist with good stand-up.  He’s much taller and lankier than Barrera, which he plans to use to his advantage in the stand-up game.

But before we can get to the fight, Barrera becomes the newest member of the “tragic news from home” club.  His wife, who he was showing pictures of earlier in the episode, is having some sort of “medical problem”.  We’ve already learned that Barrera married his wife, who was eighteen at the time, after knowing each other for a very short time.  They’re both fervent Christians, from the sound of things, which is why when she calls up to describe to him what sounds like a panic attack, she attributes it to “the devil” and says she’s been praying her last prayers.

And we thought Barrera seemed a little crazy.

After talking to her for a few minutes, it sounds like his wife is having some mental problems and not physical ones.  Barrera keeps describing it as a seizure, which is generous, but really she’s just freaking out and blaming it on the devil.  For some reason, I think if the Prince of Darkness really wanted to mess with you he’d probably do more than just make you worried about stuff.  But that’s just a guess based on what I’ve learned from horror movies and heavy metal music.

When the fight rolls around it’s clear we’re going to see a good one.  Saunders is very good at using his kicks to keep Barrera at a distance, and he throws them often enough that Barrera has to stay on the defensive for a good portion of the early going.  When Barrera does get inside he lands a nice right hand that drops Saunders, only instead of following him to the mat or forcing him to get up while he’s still shaken, Barrera stands over Saunders doing nothing and allowing him to get his bearings.

This is a mistake, as Matt Hughes and the rest of the team seem to realize.  They shout repeatedly for Barrera to let him up, but he only does so when Herb Dean steps in.  He would later repeat this mistake in the same round.

The second round is all Saunders.  He opened a cut on Barrera’s forehead near the end of the first and it only gets worse as Saunders pummels Barrera with kicks and knees in close, and even the occasional straight left.  Barrera starts to show signs of wear, jogging listlessly around the cage to avoid Saunders’ attack at times.  At the bell it looks like the two rounds are evenly split, and both fighters prepare for a third and final frame.

But, unfortunately for Barrera, two of the three judges gave the first round to Saunders and he takes the split decision victory.  Barrera is upset and tells Saunders that the first round was a 10-8.  Not only is this clearly not true, it’s not the kind of thing you should say to your opponent, because he’s obviously not going to agree with you.  While Barrera probably did deserve the first round (10-9), he left it too much in doubt by wasting time standing over Saunders and refusing to let him up or follow him to the mat.  Bad call by the judges?  Definitely.  But who should Dan Barrera really be upset with?  Dan Barrera.

Matt Hughes is upset with both Barrera and the judges, and decides to sarcastically question the representative from the Nevada Athletic Commission, who tries to nervously laugh it off.  Hughes isn’t laughing.  Hughes is pissed, again, and scenes from next week show him threatening to leave the show altogether if his team doesn’t listen to him.  I can’t wait.

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It’s Official: Liddell-Silva at UFC 79

The long-awaited match between former UFC champion Chuck Liddell and former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva will finally take place in December, UFC president Dana White announced at last night’s Spike TV Scream 2007 award show.

One can only assume that pressure from Spike, which is the UFC’s cable TV home, led to the announcement (deemed a “HUGE Announcement” in the UFC’s email newsletter) at this particular venue.  If the anticipation of this announcement led one single person to watch the show without having a relative involved in it somehow, I suppose the tactic was a success.  The rest of us were probably busy not caring about contrived genre award shows, so we had to settle for reading it on the internet.

It’s not exactly a surprise announcement since the Direct TV website has been displaying ads for this fight at UFC 79 for the past few days, but it’s exciting nonetheless.  Hardcore fans have been waiting for this match for years.  While some of the luster is gone after a recent string of defeats for both Liddell and Silva, their styles alone should make a for a great match even if it doesn’t have the title ramifications it once did.

When I was writing for Ninjastar.tv a couple of years back, Brad Monahan did an interview with Liddell where he discussed a potential fight with Silva.  His prediction for the fight then — “It’s not that hard, we’ll just hit each other until one of us falls down” — still seems applicable now.

Silva’s ultra-aggressive striking style and Liddell’s powerful counter-striking style seem like a recipe for a great match whether there are belts at stake or not.  In fact, it’s almost better that they’re both coming off losses.  Instead of billing the match as a ‘Champion vs. Champion’ affair, now it becomes a bout to see who still has a future in the sport and who should think a little harder about retirement.

Add this match to the only other officially announced bout — Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes for the welterweight title — and you have a hell of a fight card.

There’s no official word yet on whether the IFL Grand Prix finals will be a free lead-in on MyNetworkTV before the UFC event gets underway, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it works out that way.

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Filed under Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, MMA, Sports, UFC, Wanderlei Silva

In A Posh Manhattan Loft, Fedor Meets the U.S. Media

A strange thing happened last night. Through some twist of fate, I found myself sitting in fashion designer Marc Ecko’s posh 23rd Street loft, surrounded by other members of the MMA media, sitting just a few feet from Fedor Emelianenko.

Now that I think about it, strange doesn’t quite explain the situation. Bizarre is a little better, or even surreal. Look to your right and there’s Jerry Millen with Frank Trigg. On the left, there’s Elite XC’s Gary Shaw and the IFL’s Gareb Shamus. And right in front, of course, Fedor sits smiling in his stylish suit and blue tie, calmly enjoying a warm reception from the adoring media.

I wasn’t expecting to end my Monday evening this way. But that morning I’d heard about a press conference to announce Fedor’s future with the M-1 Global organization, and I quickly scrambled to secure myself an invite.

The theme of the press conference, it turned out, was that M-1 would be an “open company” that would allow Fedor to fight champions from other organizations, and make it profitable for those champions to fight Fedor, whether it happened in M-1 or not. In case anyone missed this, M-1 executives rephrased and repeated it several times.

M-1, which has had a storm of rumors surrounding its recent purchase, turns out now to be owned by entertainment group Sibling Sports, LLC. If you’ve never heard of Sibling Sports, you aren’t alone. They’re a newly formed subsidiary of Sibling Entertainment, a company that produces Broadway shows. So why were we having this press conference in Marc Ecko’s office?

“He’s a friend,” said Sibling president and CEO Mitchell Maxwell.

Maxwell is something of an entertainment mogul, one of the guys who seems like he was born in a Brooks Brothers suit and who off-handedly mentions meetings he had in Sardinia, where he and someone else agreed to meet later in Amsterdam to talk further. He also admits to knowing next to nothing about MMA except that his company has signed the best fighter in the world, and he only knows that because enough people have told him.

One of those people is Monte Cox, the well-known agent to MMA stars like Tim Sylvia and Sean Sherk and Ben Rothwell and dozens of others, particularly those from the Miletich camp. Cox is now the CEO of M-1 Global, which was previously owned and operated by Fedor’s manager Vadim Finkelchtein (who was also present at the event).

Cox has put, by his own estimation, sixty or more fighters in the UFC as an agent. But now that he’s the head of a competing organization, he’ll naturally step down as a fighter representative, right? Wrong. If his fighters are dealing with M-1, Cox said, he’d step aside. But he plans to continue to represent fighters in other organizations.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” he said, when asked if this was a conflict of interest. “I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

Because I like to assume the best about people, I interpreted this as a deft dodge by Cox. He couldn’t possibly expect me to believe he hadn’t thought about the potential conflict his new position would create. It’s practically a text book definition of the term “conflict of interest”.

The star of this show was obviously Fedor, who spoke sparingly through an interpreter. He spoke of his respect for Randy Couture, as a person and a fighter, and said what an honor it would be to fight him. When asked about accusations that he had dodged a fight with then-UFC champion Tim Sylvia back when Pride and the UFC were trying to work out fighter exchanges, Fedor smiled and said simply, “I have never avoided any fighter.”

I was surprised how charismatic Fedor was while saying so little. He often deferred to his manager or gave very simple, short answers. When asked why he didn’t sign with the UFC he initially avoided a direct answer before finally saying, “I think the contract wasn’t that great, to tell you softly.”

Despite the repeated references to him as the “number one fighter in the world” by Cox and Maxwell, Emelianenko commented near the end of the press conference that he didn’t consider himself number one because he hadn’t faced enough competition.

M-1’s hook, aside from having Fedor, seems to be their pledge to be open and “global”. When asked if there were any restrictions in Fedor’s contract about where he could fight and under what circumstances, Maxwell said, “No. That’s the short answer.”

Matt Kaplan from Five Ounces of Pain, who was sitting next to me, whispered in my ear, “Yeah, but what’s the long answer?”

That’s what I’m wondering. M-1 seems to have a lot of great ideas about how the MMA world should work, but I have to question how they’ll be implemented. Do they really expect the UFC to share their open attitude? When I asked both Cox and Maxwell about this, as well as about where they were licensed to hold events, who else might fight in them, and how MMA fans would be able to watch them, they claimed they didn’t know yet because their company was still so new.

And yet, they said several times that they expected to have Fedor fight in February. That’s going to require some quick moving on their part to get everything in place. Maxwell said he wasn’t worried, because although he’d only seen his first MMA match on DVD about ten weeks earlier, he knew that everybody wanted to be alligned with the best, and that’s Fedor.

I politely pointed out that in fighting, having the best only means something if you have a credible opponent for him to face. Here Maxwell floated some names that he said “have been tossed around” as potential opponents for Fedor, including Josh Barnett and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.

“We’re not going to have him fight tomato cans,” Maxwell added.

That’s reassuring. But plenty of companies begin with big announcements and swanky media receptions only to have the open bar dry up a few months down the road. I’ll be anxious to see what M-1 does to make MMA more of an open and global venture. Their first acquisition is a good one, but one man won’t make an organization. Even if it’s Fedor.

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Filed under Fedor Emelianenko, M-1, MMA, Sports, UFC