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October 15, 2007

UFC endures tough week

While UFC remains the No. 1 domestic MMA brand in the U.S., last week's announcement by Randy Couture that he is resigning from the promotion wasn't the only bad news for Dana White.  A couple of other domestic and foreign competitors made moves that only compounded the shock of Couture's departure.

EliteXC signs Diaz and Slice

Last week, EliteXC -- a promotion I consider the No. 2 domestic MMA league in this country -- made two significant signings.  The league re-signed Nick Diaz to a long-term contract, and it also signed Internet phenomenon and former street fighter Kimbo Slice to a deal.  These signings are significant because former UFC bad boy Diaz is a very familiar fighter to MMA fans.  Slice, on the other hand, is new to MMA (with only one MMA fight -- a victory over Ray Mercer back in June -- under his belt) but has legions of fans who have watched his numerous streetfights on YouTube.

M-1 signs Fedor and Arona

Fedor Emelianenko is widely regarded as the top heavyweight in the world.  While he is an unfamiliar commodity to the casual MMA fan in America, he is very well-known elsewhere, especially in his home country of Russia and to the worldwide fans of PRIDE.  After an attempt by Dana White to sign Emelianenko to UFC failed, the Russian chose to sign with M-1, a previously Russian-owned promotion that is now reportedly backed by an American investor with global MMA aspirations. 

M-1 followed that signing up with another signing of PRIDE star Ricardo Arona, as reported over the weekend by "Vale Tudo News" and translated by mma-europe.net. 

While neither fighter is a big name in the U.S., if MMA is viewed as a global sport, the signings are certainly big ones for M-1. 

IFL to hold first-ever live MMA event on network TV

As if the rival signings mentioned above weren't enough to worry about for UFC, the only major domestic team league, IFL, will be holding the first-ever live MMA event on network TV.  On November 3, MyNetworkTV will be televising one hour of IFL's first-ever individual World Grand Prix semifinals.

So, what does all this mean?

A commonly-held belief is that MMA is in its infancy as a sport.  Think of it much like football before the AFL-NFL merger.  While UFC is clearly the dominant brand right now, there is no reason to think this has to be the case in 10 years.  Just as easily as PRIDE has become a memory, the same could happen to UFC.  All it takes is a series of unfortunate events to trigger a downward spiral.  Of course, let's also be real.  The sky is certainly not falling any time soon.

However, here are some questions to consider as the sport continues to grow leaps and bounds and attracts new fans who don't associate MMA with UFC as strongly as older fans.  What if the numerous fans who followed Slice's exploits on the Internet follow him to EliteXC and make that promotion their MMA destination?  What if EliteXC continues to aggressively pursue co-promotions and figures out a way to co-promote a Fedor fight and thus brings international MMA fans under its cooperative tent?  What if a casual fan sits down to a night of TV-surfing on November 3 and lands on MyNetworkTV and falls in love with IFL's product?

Some of the answers to these questions won't bode well for UFC.  So, while the promotion has enjoyed unrivaled success in the last couple of years, there are still reasons for White to be on guard.  Couture's decision to leave at the height of his popularity shows just how fragile things can be, even for the sport's top dog.  But, if you were paying attention last week, you realize that this wasn't White's only reason for concern.

Posted by at 3:43 PM | | Comments (10)
        

Comments

The rumors of the demise of the UFC . . . well, as you said, the sky isn't falling anytime soon. The one aspect that would allow UFC to marginalize the other MMA org's. is to continue to market to the demographic that took the biggest hit with the departure of Couture. The reality is that when I watch EliteXC, I feel I'm a small step away from a guy in a trenchcoat asking me if I want to step into an empty warehouse to watch a fight while accompanied by some strippers.
I understand the 'loyalty' that MMA orgs feel to dance with the ones who 'brung' them, but that extreme, edgy aspect of MMA is going to need to be rinsed down quite a bit before a middle America appeal is found.
Therefore, the departure of Diaz - to go form his own reggae band or join EliteXC is no big deal. Slice appeals more to the sideshow extremism that MMA really needs to avoid to make the next step into NFL level popular appeal.
As to Fedor, his signature with M1 is a theoretical boom to the rest of the "B League" MMA orgs. His accomplishment in signing with M1 is a step backward for him in the immediate. But perhaps he'd rather be known for being a legendary "maybe" than another fighter with Couture's footprint on his chest. I hope that everyone who covers MMA will always raise this question mark over Fedor. How would he have fared against Couture?
The fight game has always wondered how contemporaries would have fared against legends, and Fedor forfeited his opportunity to be matched with a legend.
Show me all the stats you want on Fedor, plus all his future victories, and II'll simply say "Did he ever fight and win with a broken arm?"

Rob,
Well said.

I especially agree with you about Fedor. I've said before that he hasn't really fought anyone in his division outside Mark Hunt in the last two years, so I agree with your assessment about him.

Pramit

I'm very much new to the MMA entertainment world having only been really into it for a little over 7 months but I watch as much of it as I can now. It has become my second favorite sport behind only NFL football. I think your comment about the AFL-NFL merger is very interesting because I think some of these organizations should really think about a merger. The are so many good fighters spread across multiple organizations. I think the only way to really make this sport huge is to bring some of these promotions together. As a newer fan I don't associate MMA with UFC although I recognize UFC as the #1 promotion. I would love to see the best fighters fight each other regularly and the only way for this to happen is either through a merger or co-promotions. I think either one of these options would be great for the sport and bring in more fans.

Don't under estimate Fedor. I watched him get slammed on his neck by that beast of a man Randleman and get rocked by Mark Hunt only to regain his composure in the midst of the round and reign down punishment that very few others in ANY weight class can do. The man is a brilliant grappler, excellent jiu-jitsu practioner, and his hands... well, who can out strike him? Don't get me wrong, I literally had a standing $50 bet with a friend, on speculation that Fedor was coming to the UFC, that Randy Couture would win against Fedor in his debut fight to the UFC, but I wouldn't have been too suprised if Fedor pulled out a win. In the very least, Fedor would have given Couture all that he wanted. He is easily the number two fighter in the world, and possibly the number one fighter. But since we'll never see this now, I guess that "?" will always linger over his head, at least for several years until Randy Couture is totally consumed in the world of acting and forgotten as a fighter.

It is my opinion that the Randy Couture of today, is not the Randy Couture of a year ago. He's improved in EVERY aspect of his game, including cardio--which is exceptionally suprising considering he's 44 years old. He's just so damn smart. Easily, the most methodical mma practitioner of his time.

And Dana White just needs to shut his mouth. I like him, but at the same time he says some of the most ignorant things. He's done a lot for this sport, but only as a bi-product as what he has done for himself. Him and the two brothers need to come out of pocket and pay the fighters if they want to keep them. $500,000 is a lot of money to us common folk, but to athletes in a main event??? Not so much. Didn't Jeff "Snowman" Monson make like $50,000 in his title shot against Tim Silvia? What is that!? Come on Dana, wise up. A little less for you and the two brothers you are partnered up with and more money for the sport will make for a better draw of fighters and will better the sport which long term, will mean more money for you.

danwhiteisacapitalistpig.com. and i hope his greed comes back to bite him in his ass

Actually, Fedor did fight with a broken arm when he battled Cro Cop. Worse yet it was his hand!

Fedor is completely overrated. Andi your statement about a broken hand does not prove anything. A broken arm is a thousand times worse than a broken hand. A broken hand generally means that the fighter was not punching correctly. Boxer's break their hands in fights all the time. More recently Rich Franklin broke his hand and won against David Loiseau at UFC 68 and another fighter from EliteXC broke their hand and won at the Playboy Mansion fight. Also Tom your comments about Fedor getting slammed on his head by Randleman is not a good point either. The fact that Randleman was able to slam Fedor is proof of Fedor being overrated. I remember Chuck Liddel knocking out Randleman in the first round without being touched. In my opinion Fedor is avoiding the best of the best. Just take a look at all of his recent opponents. He hasn't fought a top notch fighter since 2005 (and I wouldn't really consider Cro Crop top quality after his recent outings). Fedor is trying to be the Heavyweight with the best record not the best Heavyweight!

This is all very troubling to me as a UFC fan whose been there since its crappy beginnings. But one thing that gets overlooked a lot is how much new talent the UFC is bringing in now. The show TUF, is brilliant for this and IMHO works very well. Even though some of the old guard is retiring/leaving, there is probably 5 times more new fighters coming in.
I remember thinking that when Royce and Dan Severn etc.. were not going to be competing anymore that the UFC was just going to be boring now. That all these new fighters were just random guys and that I wouldn't ever be interested in them. But those "random guys" turned out to be names like Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Rich Franklin...you get the picture. What I'm trying to say is new heroes are born and that will keep the UFC alive.

p.s. and yes, I agree that they should all be paid more AND comparatively to their status (not just their name). If Dana doesn't learn from Randy then there are going to be even more angry, dangerous men around him.

Pretty typical argument out there. UFC fans vs MMA fans. Anyone that says Fedor is overrated is a UFC fan.

I'm just pissed Fedor isn't coming over to show UFC fans who's for real and who isn't.

As far as Cro Cop goes, I think you guys should come back and comment on him after his next two fights. He didn't train for the octagon and got punished for it in his first fight. Then he busts his ribs in the second. He has needed surgery on his nose since entering the UFC, he now has it. Maybe retarded UFC fans will see the real Cro Cop afterall.

Shogun is yet another disappointment. The guy either had a massive case of octagon shock or his cardio was shot. He too will prepare for his next fight and be a force to be reckoned with.

Pride fighters already own two of your UFC belts. Give it another year, they'll be dominating even more. Randy is amazing, I'll give you that, and he'd have a chance against Fedor. But I'll tell you UFC fans right now, 7 times out of 10, Fedor walks away the winner.

As per Couture leaving, I think it was a smart move. I hate to see him go cause he's one of my favorite all time fighters. And it really pains me to say it, but I'd like to see more tallent follow suit. It's the only way Dana is going to learn. Seriously, Jardine was going to get paid like 4,000 for his fight against Lidell, but because he won he got about 10,000 more. What a joke. The UFC should be ashamed of how it treats its tallent. I'd like to see a mass of fighters leave for the same reasons till the UFC has to give in and pay their fighters more realistically. Dana, get your shit together. Randy has a right to be pissed over his pay, and their are fighters that have a lot more reason to be upset than Couture.

Typical if Fedor is not overrated then why would he sign a contract with M-1 (Which few people have even heard of). It is like claiming to be the best the "Quarterback" and then signing a contract with the Arena Football League. Fedor knows how to pick fights to make himself look good and thats it. He comes off of a win against Cro Cop and then fights 4 guys that I think I could win against. Please name one quality opponent that he has faced in 4 years! Also why are you making excuses for pride fighters? A cage, a ring, a wrestling mat... it doesn't matter. An MMA fighter should be able to compete in all of them. It is stange that you make excuses for Pride fighters that do bad but you bring up Rampage and Silva (who has more fights in UFC than in Pride so I don't really consider him a Pirde fighter). I think some "Pride" fighters are better than UFC guys and vice versa. It is impossible to say which organization was better. I do agree that the fighters should make WAY more! Look at how much boxers make.

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About the blogger
Kevin Richardson has been a fan of mixed martial arts competition ever since UFC 3, when 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough was beaten by Keith Hackney. Kevin will cover the world of MMA — in Baltimore, nationally and internationally. He plans to take readers into the locker rooms and MMA schools, where they'll hear from local fighters and trainers. If you have a news tip or suggestions for the blog, please e-mail him.

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