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June 27, 2008

Behind the scenes with an MMA author

Kelly Crigger is the author of the new MMA book, Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts. He’s doing the first guest post for this blog and has a great “behind the scenes story” from the writing of his book. Crigger is a freelance writer for several MMA magazines, including Real Fighter. Crigger is an officer in the U.S. Army and was deployed in Afghanistan with the 3rd Special Forces out of Fort Bragg. He has orchestrated seminars for the troops with some of the top mixed martial arts fighters.

It’s a great story for your weekend so enjoy and get ready for an extremely hectic July in the MMA world.

The Petition
By Kelly Crigger

I needed insurance. I needed a way to get an interview with a man known to shun the media. After all [UFC president] Dana White is a pretty popular guy, so for an unknown writer to get a couple hours of his time was a long shot at best. My solution -- start a petition. There’s nothing like the voice of the people to institute change, unless you’re nineteenth century France and then it just leads to technological advances in human execution, a la the guillotine.

It was January 2007 and I was about to embark on a journey through the world of MMA, armed only with a sketchy vision of what I wanted to accomplish. I knew I wanted to find out the true reason that men fought for sport and to explore the relationship between the fighter, the fan, and the media, but that was about it at the time. I knew the adventure would end at UFC 79 in Las Vegas in December and by that time I would have spent months in MMA training camps living with fighters. It seemed only fair to balance that knowledge with an introspective from the uppermost level of MMA. I put “Dana-Please give Kelly and interview” across a piece of paper in big letters and hoped I could get a bunch of his fighters and trainers to sign it. At least then I’d have a chance, although it was as likely as Brittany Spears landing on the cover of “Responsible Parenting” magazine.

Ivan Salaverry was the first to sign. I spent an afternoon with him in his Seattle gym discussing unions and whether or not one was feasible in MMA. The chasm between the money made by promoters versus the amount they paid their fighters was at its widest point, prompting frustration in one of the classiest guys in the sport. “They’re not the ones getting punched and kicked,” he said. “If you get this interview take it to him. Don’t let him off the hook, bro.”

Matt Lindland was second. I hung out at Team Quest for ten days in February listening to Chris Wilson and Matt Horwich justify how they balanced MMA and religion, hearing Chris Leben complain about everything, watching Ed Herman be Ed Herman, discussing the medical burdens Josh Haynes gladly bore for his son, and watching the funniest moments in MMA -- fighters filming a commercial. Matt gladly signed the petition, but added a warning. “I’m not sure if it will do you any good to have my name on there. Dana doesn’t like me much.” Noted.

I couldn’t get anyone at Cesar Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu in California to sign it because I could never catch up with them. Nick and Nate Diaz drove hundreds of miles a day to train in between three cities. They boxed in Sacramento, grappled in Concord, and lived in Stockton. They even drove to San Francisco one night for a viewing party when Nathan was on The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 while I waited patiently for them back in Concord. It was a frustrating ballet of miscommunication and highway convenience stores.

Greg Jackson’s guys were more than willing to hook a brother up, though Keith Jardine was wary. “Is this going to get me in trouble?” he asked before he put pen to paper. During the week I grappled with Nate Marquardt, lounged in the inner sanctum with Rashad Evans, had snot blown onto my leg by Diego Sanchez, shared Army stories with Mike Van Arsdale, and ran the dunes with Damacio Page, Leonard Garcia, and Julie Kedzie. Jackson’s crew was tight, even if their gym was located on the seedy side of Albuquerque where car theft was an accepted risk to train MMA. I left New Mexico with some UFC name recognition on my petition and a little hope that it might just accomplish what I wanted it to.

They called their instructor “Kru Mark” and wai’d to each other in the gym. Sityodtong was a small slice of Thailand in so many ways. If I hadn’t emerged from the basement it called home to Cutter Street every day, I would have gotten lost in Thai culture down there. DellaGrotte didn’t hesitate to sign the petition, as did Kenny Florian. The page was starting to fill up and I formulated a multitude of questions that I wanted to ask the most powerful man in MMA. I could see the interview now ... ”Answer me dammit!” I would yell like a courtroom barrister at the man many felt was the Great Satan of MMA. I left Boston with one name on the petition that no one would recognize -- Johnny McDonough. Big Johnny was an instructor at Sityodtong and he signed it as a joke to see if Dana would ask, “Who the [expletive deleted] is that?” I laughed when he did it, but days later I was sick to my stomach at the notion that it might not be found funny by the Patron Saint of Public Relations.

English was a second language at American Top Team. Brazilians dominated the gym because they all followed the head instructor, Ricardo Liborio when he left Brazilian Top Team to be like Eddie Murphy and “Come to America.” Thiago Alves, Marcus Aurelio, and Liborio all signed the ragged document that was looking a little fuller. They probably felt guilty after a week of handing my own ass to me on their grappling mats. I left South Florida hating gi-style grappling, awestruck by their incredibly huge gym, reverent at their devotion to each other, and thankful I never had to endure the torture of cutting weight.

I had all the signatures I could get. There were other fighters I’d spent time with, like Jake Shields, Bart Palaszewski, and Tim Kennedy, but since they weren’t UFC fighters I thought their signatures probably wouldn’t help. After all why would the president of the UFC respond to a petition filled with names from his competitors? I had sat ringside at Sportfight, the IFL Finals, and the All-Army Combatives Tournament to learn more about what the athletes went through on fight day and now it was time to head to the mecca of MMA, Las Vegas and UFC 79. Did I have enough signatures? Would the petition be looked upon favorably by the almighty UFC?

Just like the Dana White-Tito Ortiz boxing match that fizzled out, it didn’t matter. After several politely worded and professional emails, I got the interview I wanted without having to resort to the document. Before heading to Sin City I had approached Victory Belt Publishing to back the book. They agreed and with them in my corner, along with a decent resume of MMA writing from Real Fighter magazine, I was in. Those credentials and some nice words got me two hours of shadowing Dana White on fight day, followed by forty-five minutes of one-on-one time in locker room No. 5 just an hour before the preliminary fights. I’d spent almost a year observing MMA from the bottom and middle of the pecking order and finally got my view from the top.

He wasn’t at all what I’d expected. I was sure I’d see him bark at his subordinates, disrespect underlings, and offend peons while a bald mini-me scurried about kicking people in the shins. At 3 p.m. on fight day, I hovered just over his shoulder while he watched and approved every video and highlight reel that was about to be broadcast, both inside the arena and on pay-per-view. I saw him schmooze with Mandy Moore and Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, next to an empty Octagon. He even grabbed my camera and took my picture with her. I watched him eat a lunch his wife had made and then get a “good luck” pat on the back from his dad. He walked among the fans, avoiding none of them, and confided in me a story from his childhood about being blown off by a local celebrity in Vegas. More than anything I was convinced of how completely dedicated he was to the UFC. It was clearly his passion and the only thing he cared about outside his wife and kids. If he was anything like the bastard I’d heard, there would have been at least a momentary crack in his demeanor during our time together, but there wasn’t.

When a security guard accidentally barged into the locker room he took a few moments to shake his hand and compliment him on his attire. When the public relations director said I only had five minutes left, Dana shook her off like a pitcher getting a bad sign. “No. We’re cool,” he said. “I got time.” Maybe I was asking the right questions because he seemed eager to keep the conversation going. Maybe he just didn’t have anywhere else to be. Maybe he wasn’t the big jerk everyone makes him out to be. Either way he was more than accommodating and I was glad I didn’t have to pull out the petition to goad him into giving me time. He was as sincere as his dislike for Tito Ortiz, which I can assure you is no rumor.

Disagree with Dana White’s business decisions all you want and call me a reed bending in the wind, but none of the terrible things I’d heard about him proved to be true during the nearly three hours I spent with him. I asked him point blank questions about fighter salaries, the death of boxing, the ramifications of his decisions on people’s lives, the disappointment of Pride fighters, the future of the UFC, and the importance of the fans to the sport. Some of his answers I didn’t agree with, but at least I saw the logic of why he does what he does.

I still have the petition. I plan to auction it and give the money to the Ryan Bennet Memorial Fund. The Bennet’s still have massive medical bills to pay.

Read Mark Chalifoux's recent Q&A with Dana White.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
        

News and notes for Friday

We will have our first guest post this weekend from an MMA author but for now, here's a few things for your Friday.

EliteXC has finalized the date (July 26) and the fights for their next CBS show. We will get a rematch of Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith, which should be entertaining. We will also have heavyweight Antonio Silva in action along with middleweight Jake Shields. It is actually shaping up to be an entertaining card. I’d be surprised if the ratings were half what they were for the first show since there will be no Kimbo Slice this time around but I think this will be a better event.

Let’s just hope EliteXC has learned from the last show and they keep things moving. We don’t need 27 minutes of nothing leading into a three-minute fight and we don’t need an event that runs 45 minutes over its allotted time.

More news and notes:

Matt Hughes has a torn MCL and ACL. Hopefully that won’t keep him out too long or affect his future fight with Matt Serra.

Evan Tanner considers retirement ... probably a good idea.

Here's a nice SI.com piece on UFC 86 main event ...  and everything you need to know about the UFC video game. Business Week also weighs in on the UFC video game.  

Fightline.com is reporting that, according to EliteXC vice president Jared Shaw, Slice will fight Brett Rogers in a heavyweight bout in October ...*yawn*. Clearly, all you need to do in order to get a match is to whine during a post-fight presser.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
        

June 26, 2008

Randy Couture is overrated and fights I want to see

A quick news item earlier this week talked about the future possibility of Affliction putting together a Randy Couture-Fedor Emelianenko fight, claiming it’s the biggest fight in the sport right now and that it’s the one everyone wants to see. I will agree to the latter part but that’s simply because neither one has done anything overly impressive in quite some time. In fact, Randy Couture might be one of the most overrated fighters in the sport right now.

I know there are a lot of Couture supporters who will bash me for saying this but I’m not buying into all of his hype.  I don’t want to take anything away from his comeback and his tremendous upset win over Tim Sylvia to regain the title but does that really make him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world?

It was a great upset because Couture is a Hall of Famer, people hate Sylvia and Couture is also pretty old at 45 (in terms of his fighting prime). It’s not like Sylvia is one of the top fighters in the game. He’s fairly straightforward as a fighter and Couture matched up well with him. That single win is what threw Couture back into the limelight and has spurred the Fedor-Couture talk for more than a year now.

At least most of the intelligent rankings out there have dropped Couture from the top 10 but many fans still consider him among the top 5-7 pound-for-pound fighters in the world. The Fedor-Couture fight would’ve been big when the hype was at its peak but I don’t think it would’ve been much of a fight, and it can’t be the fight most people want to see right now.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a half-dozen fights that would be more interesting to see. I’d like to see Anderson Silva vs. Georges St. Pierre (maybe at a catch weight or 185), St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn, Anderson Silva vs. Chuck Liddell (a fight I think will happen by the end of 2009), Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Fedor vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, and the Wanderlei Silva v. Liddell rematch.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 1:02 PM | | Comments (28)
        

June 23, 2008

The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale, Anderson Silva and video games

Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter Season 7 finale ranked as a solid “meh” in my book. A slightly surprising win by Amir Sadollah over C.B. Dalloway. A more surprising uninspired tank-job by Evan Tanner. And, the only great fight at the event didn’t even make it on TV. Good thing it’s online for free.

Dustin Hazelett is an underrated fighter and this fight won the $20,000 Fight of the Night bonus. Hazelett also picked up the Submission of the Night bonus with his armbar of Josh Burkman.  Definitely worth a look. On a scale from 1 to awesome, this fight is pretty close to awesome and well above 1.

The Ultimate Fighter 7 season finale couldn’t have ended without some controversy. Dalloway is whining that he didn’t tap. Well, he did tap, but only once. He didn’t mean it. Really.

“With the tap, I didn’t fully commit to the tap, but I did hit him once. I guess they ruled that a tap. I thought you had to go on and start tapping out. I did hit him once. Right as I did that, I felt my arm get into a position where I could get out. At that point Herb (Dean) ruled it as a tap out.”

He ruled it tap because ... get ready for it ... YOU TAPPED! Controversy over.

SI.com has an interview with Dana White. Not as good as mine, but then again, my massive ego wouldn’t allow me to admit it even if it was. Still an interesting read. Would’ve liked to see more follow-ups but definitely covers some different ground.  Among the more interesting points is White claiming John McCain started the UFC. Someone should tell him you can’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia.

I’m starting to think you can judge a White interview by the amount of [expletive deleted]s in it. I know some people have a problem with his cursing but those complaints fall squarely in the “making mountains out of molehills” category. Love him or hate him, he’s the most important man in MMA. He’s also one entertaining [expletive deleted].

Another WWE superstar turns to MMA ...

UFC 89 will be in England…

Josh Gross with a good read on Anderson Silva’s move up to 205
. His fight against Irvin (Silva's, not Gross') is the first of a two-year, six fight deal. 

The UFC video game certainly has potential to be sweet ...

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:12 PM | | Comments (1)
        

June 19, 2008

White delivers with announcement

Dana White made his huge announcement yesterday and it was naming UFC part-owner Lorenzo Fertitta as the CEO of the UFC. This isn’t a TV deal or anything like that but make no mistake, this is a huge deal. Fertitta resigned his role as president of Station Casinos a year after raking in $113.8 million as the second-highest paid casino official in Las Vegas. Yahoo has the story.

Sam Caplan has an interesting opinion piece on this development

I know a lot of people were disappointed by this announcement and assumed White would let fans down, but this shouldn’t leave you in a state of despair. First, I don’t think this is because the Fertittas were unhappy with what White was doing, I think this is more to supplement White. I’ve always wondered how he could handle everything that was on his plate as he has a lot of nonsense to deal with in addition to the work that it takes to grow the sport.

For instance, look at MMA regulation in New York. He’s been working on that while and it’s been pushed back again. That has to be frustrating, yet how much time can he really devote to that? He’s got to deal with day-to-day issues, contracts, overseas development, TV development, advertisers, media and more. There are not enough hours in the day and as the sport grows more, the need for someone like Fertitta is evident.

Dana White has done a lot for the sport and will continue to be a trailblazer for MMA. Now, think of it like there’s another Dana White in the fold, only a more refined, less bombastic version.
That’s not a knock on White, I think the two will complement each other really well. White’s attitude and style work in a lot of areas, but when it comes to dealing with the big hitters and massaging egos of potential advertisers and TV partners, etc., Fertitta will shine. He is what the UFC needs to truly take things to the next level but he still can't get there without White.

The two of them working together is intriguing, to say the least. I imagine it is going to help the entire sport and while I don’t agree with White that fighting will be bigger than the World Cup in five years, I do agree that it will be bigger globally than any other sport.

Thoughts on the announcement?

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
        

June 18, 2008

IFL CEO Jay Larkin is a clown

International Fight League CEO Jay Larkin is an idiot. That’s the only way I can describe his comments in a recent Portfolio.com article on MMA.

"This isn't my idea of fighting," he says of the world's fastest-growing spectator sport. "To me, two guys rolling around on the floor is tedious, like watching gay foreplay."

There’s two reasons he said this. He either doesn’t understand what gay foreplay is, or he simply doesn’t understand the sport. I’m going with the latter, which is why the IFL is failing miserably. Going for a homophobic gay joke is probably the easiest joke to make about MMA in the world. I wonder if Larkin followed that comment with this…

“Ha, ha. They are rolling around on the ground…get it! That’s what gay people do while fornicating! I’m so clever!”

Yep, that’s the genius the IFL brought in to get it over the hump. Great business move. The IFL stock has fallen to the point where you can just about buy the entire company with your economic stimulus check. He wasn’t done with his brilliant remarks, however.

“Our so-called friends in the M.M.A. [mixed martial arts] world are telling people that the I.F.L. is going out of business," says Larkin. "I like to tell people you can't spell [expletive deleted] without U.F.C."

If you’re keeping score at home, here’s how it should look. Jay Larkin at managing an MMA organization= -1 gabillion. Jay Larkin when it comes to profanity spelling contests= +1. I think the most surprising thing about his comments is that he actually says that to people. I’d love to be there for that conversation.

Random man: Hey Jay, how’s life treating you these days? Ghastly weather we’re having today, eh?

Jay Larkin: Hey… *giggles*…did you know you can’t spell [expletive deleted] without UFC? *snickers* It’s true, look it up!

Random man: Uh, that’s great Jay. Hey, listen, we’re all real proud of you. Don’t listen to what anyone else says ...


And why does he feel the need to tell people what letters are required to spell [expletive deleted]? Is it his understanding that when people put pen to paper they can only come up with the letter K before getting stumped?

Maybe MMA was never his true calling. Maybe his ultimate goal in life was to act like profanity’s version of Johnny Appleseed, running around spreading f-bombs (and correctly spelled f-bombs, mind you) wherever he goes.

Either way, it’s clear his talents aren’t being fully utilized. If he can reduce the IFL’s stock to the point where it’s affordable for anyone with an allowance, think of what he could do if he was running Big Oil? If that was the case, I could probably fill up my tank for less than $10.

Hardcore MMA fans love to hate on Dana White, but has he ever said anything in the same universe of ignorance as this?  
Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:12 PM | | Comments (2)
        

June 17, 2008

Anderson Silva, the UFC’s Affliction counter-programming, another EliteXC show and more

July is going to be a very busy month, so let’s get right into another edition of the ramblings. First, the major news is that the UFC is going to shrewdly counter-program the card of the summer with a free card on Spike on July 19.

That’s a smart play by UFC president Dana White and company by itself. The kicker is the rumor that headliner and middleweight champion Anderson Silva will be making his debut at light heavyweight, possibly against James Irvin.

This is huge. That means the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter (Silva) will be fighting the same night as the former pound-for-pound top fighter (Fedor), but on different cards for different promotions. The Affliction show is still packed with big fights and big names, but hasn’t been gaining much publicity. The UFC will be taking away a lot of potential buyers from the Affliction card if this Silva fight comes to fruition. It's big enough to have the world's top fighter headlining, but to have him move up a weight class would be terrific.

I would love to see Silva fighting at 205 but he’s always seemed to balk at the suggestion. I’ve covered his last two fights and at the news conference afterward he’s always asked about moving up to 205 and always is quick to shake his head, especially when a match with Rampage Jackson is mentioned. There’s nothing left for him at the middleweight level (spare me the Yushin Okami talk -- you’re fooling only yourself if you actually believe it) except for more rematches with Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson. I like the possibility of Anderson Silva fighting welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, even if it was at a catchweight, but there are more great fights for Silva at 205. Rumor has it he will go back to middleweight to defend his title in the near future, but he wouldn’t move up to 205 just for a match against Irvin. There has to be more (Chuck Liddell?) in store for him at 205.

What does this mean for Affliction? Nothing good. They should still draw well because people will tune in to see what Fedor still has and to see what Affliction is all about. It remains the more interesting card, but we’ll see if the UFC has anything else in store for the hastily-put-together event.

Other possible matches on the UFC card ...

More details on the July 26 EliteXC event from SI.com’s Josh Gross ... a Scott Smith-Robbie Lawler rematch is nice, but will it draw without Kimbo Slice? Nope.

The UFC officially announces the main event for UFC 88 in Atlanta in September. Liddell vs. Rashad Evans ... Not bad, but not great. I’m not the biggest Evans fan.

MMAPayout.com may have uncovered Dana White’s major announcement planned for Wednesday (yes, it was moved back again). That certainly would qualify.

The Ultimate Fighter 8 assistant coaches have been revealed ...

I’ll have more on Wednesday once official word (finally) breaks about the UFC’s announcement. Also, at some point Wednesday, I'll take IFL CEO Jay Larkin to task for his overwhelming ignorance.

But, if you can only watch one event July 19 and without seeing other matches on the UFC card (Brandon Vera may still be involved)...would you rather watch Silva debut at 205 for free or shell out the cash for the Affliction card?

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 8:55 PM | | Comments (6)
        

June 14, 2008

Q&A with Dana White

Here's the full version of my recent interview with UFC president Dana White.

MMA Stomping Grounds: I didn’t hear anything about the big announcement on Thursday. When is that going down?

Dana White: I’m doing it Tuesday. Let me tell you how out of [expletive deleted] control that thing is. I was talking to ESPN and [the reporter] was talking about competition and I said, 'Let me tell you what. People have been trying to compete with the UFC for years, even before we bought it. The last big one everyone thought was a big threat ... was the IFL. They went public, raised 800-[expletive deleted] million dollars, then they were talking about doing fighter benefits and stuff. They got the first network deal, those other guys weren’t the first on. They got time on 60 Minutes with us when 60 Minutes did their piece on us, and now the IFL is gone. They are [expletive deleted] down, their stock is worth half a cent (Editor's note: IFLI closed at $0.02 Friday).

That’s what we were talking about that day [with ESPN] and I said I’m going to make an announcement to my employees that shows everyone exactly where this business is going in the next couple years. I said I wanted to make the announcement to my employees, so it’s not even like I was making a big announcement to the media. If I was doing that I would’ve had a big press conference and then gone off to London. I wanted to wait until I was back to do it.

It’s a big [expletive deleted] announcement, it’s a big [expletive deleted] deal, but I got a lot of other stuff we’re working on right now. It was never anything I said I was going to announce to the media.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you going to announce it to the media after you tell your employees?

White: Yeah, I guess I have to now.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why did the day change?

White: I wanted to do it after I got back from England and I got back late Wednesday. Also, all of our people are going to be in town next week for The Ultimate Fighter finale. All of our production guys, Joe Rogan, I mean everyone who works for the UFC is coming to it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: As someone who essentially built the sport of mixed martial arts to the popularity level it’s at today, how tough was it to see another promotion get the first big event on network TV?

White: See it’s not about the publicity they got. The problem is that it wasn’t the best foot forward for the sport. That fight turned a lot of networks off, turned off a lot of sponsors. You had a guy headlining on CBS who used to fight in [expletive deleted] backyards. It was disgusting.

That’s the problem and we’ve never, even when we were in the hole, we’ve never gone the freakshow angle. We could’ve done it and made some money, but we won’t do it. All you’ve ever seen in the UFC was the greatest athletes in the world. Never, ever did we do a freakshow and we won’t.

Kimbo Slice couldn’t win The Ultimate Fighter. He wouldn’t [expletive deleted] win the show and he’s headlining on CBS.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What did you think of the stoppage in that fight?

White: I didn’t see it. I heard it was a bad stoppage. I heard it shouldn’t have been stopped and that if it went to the judges that the other kid was going to win.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If the EliteXC/CBS show is turning off some potential fans and potential sponsors, how important is it for the UFC to get a network TV deal to show the fans more talented fighters?

White: No, it’s actually not a big priority. It’s going to take time and now it’s going to take more time because of the ProElite thing. Now, all these people come out and try to jump into the game and guess who has to clean up the [expletive deleted] mess. Me, I have to clean up the mess and I’m not knocking any doors down to get a network deal. When we get the right network deal we’ll be on. ProElite doesn’t have the right deal. They are going to [expletive deleted] lose money. Their show already sucks and now they are going to lose money on top of it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: How much longer do you think they can stick around?

White: Not long. I think people tuned in to see what it was all about. After what I’m hearing from everyone, I don’t think too many people will tune in for next one. They lost a lot of money and if people don’t tune in, all of that equals [expletive deleted] disaster and [the circuit not lasting] too much longer. You’re going to find, believe me, we make this [expletive deleted] look easy, but it’s a rough business.

MMA Stomping Grounds: The news reports indicate that New York is close to regulating MMA. How important is that to you?

White: It’s a big deal. Who do you think has been trying to work on New York, and all those other states? Think Mark Cuban and CBS have helped us try to get these states opened up? No, they don’t give a [expletive deleted]. They don’t care about MMA and building the sport. They know we’ll do it and they will just come hang out.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What was the deal with the original vote on MMA in New York on Thursday and the revote next week?

White: I don’t want to talk about it. I’m very confident New York will be done by the end of this year.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Will other states fall in line after that or do you have to work on those others as well?

White: That’s it. We get New York and that’s it. We’re there. This year we had Tennessee and Massachusetts and New York left. Tennessee is done and Massachusetts is close and New York is almost done. Once we get those done we’re moving into Canada. Montreal and one other place are the only spots you can have fights and we’re opening those provinces up.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Once New York is done, how soon will you move to have a fight there?

White: Soon. We’ll be there, at Madison Square Garden.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With the recent sponsorship deals and the Jakks action figure deal, what do you think has been the biggest thing to happen to the UFC in the past year?

White: All sorts of stuff. The sponsorship deals with Bud Light and Harley Davidson, two blue-chip, mainstream sponsors. Some of the ratings we pulled, the Jakks action figure deal and the success we’ve had internationally this year, with the fights in London. We just did a big TV deal in the Philippines. My announcement on Tuesday is a big deal. [Expletive deleted] like that. And I’ve got more coming.

Listen, the media, you guys love to play the whole [expletive deleted] angle with ProElite, CBS, M1, the IFL, every guy that comes out. Donald Trump now, Mark Cuban, [expletive deleted], I can’t even remember everyone. You love to talk about who is going to take the big dog down. No one is [expletive deleted] taking us down. No one is [expletive deleted] in our league. People like to make comparisons about the [Triple-]AAA and [Double-]AA in baseball, but in AAA and AA those guys can play the game. This is completely [expletive deleted] different. These guys aren’t in our league. We’re driving the bus and we have the road map and we are the ones that are forging the way in this industry. These other guys are just throwing [expletive deleted] at the wall to see if it sticks.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of your job is the most difficult?

White: Always, at the end of the day, we're in the contract business. Contracts are up every year or two years and that’s always a [expletive deleted] and never fun to deal with.

MMA Stomping Grounds: With other organizations trying to pry fighters, does it hurt morale among UFC fighters when other fights leave for a big payday?

White: The way I look at this thing right now, it’s like war and unfortunately in every war there are  casualties, and some of these guys that leave and go to other organizations ... it’s unfortunate.

MMA Stomping Grounds: If a fighter leaves for another organization, does that hurt his chances of coming back to the UFC down the road if that organization folds?

White: Unfortunately, some of these guys don’t look long term. Life goes on in the UFC. Guys will keep moving forward and things will keep moving. Maybe there will be some opportunity to come back someday or you get left in the dust.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

White: I love this sport. I love the fights and I love most of the guys in it. I love to win.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What fight are you most excited about?

White: Oh, [expletive deleted]. There are so many fights we have coming this year. I’m excited for a lot. I wanna see [Jon] Fitch-[Georges] St. Pierre, [Roger] Huerta-[Kenny] Florian, Forrest [Griffin] and [Quinton Jackson]. That’s the great thing about this thing. You realize we put on all the best fights people want to see and I want to [expletive deleted] see. People ask me what’s my dream fight. Are you [expletive deleted] kidding me? We make dream fights all the time.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What do you think is the biggest misconception the casual sports fan has about MMA?

White: I don’t know. I don’t think there are that many misconceptions. Maybe some people who watched the CBS show left with some misconceptions. I think we’re pretty much over that stigma. Unless we get the CBS thing [expletive deleted] this thing up, we don’t really battle that much anymore. Forbes magazine just came out with a list of like the hundred most dangerous sports and we’re not even on it.

MMA Stomping Grounds: You said earlier that getting a network TV deal wasn’t a huge priority. If that’s not a big priority, what is the biggest priority for the UFC?

White: To say it’s not a huge priority, I’m talking to different networks every day. We’re working on getting [MMA sanctioning in] states done. I’m working on getting stuff done in Canada, working down in Mexico, working on stuff in the UK, Germany, Australia, Brazil, the Philippines, Dubai.

MMA Stomping Grounds: What has to happen for you to sit back and say the UFC is mainstream?

White: When this thing is a worldwide sport that everyone is playing by the same rules all over the world.

I don’t know ... I don’t know. I have so many plans for this thing, even building it here in the US. We haven’t even scratched the surface here in the US. We’re so far from mainstream. Mainstream to me is walking down the street and asking about American Idol and everyone knows that. No one would know what the [expletive deleted] MMA is.

***

Other Q&As: CBS announcer Gus Johnson, Archived Q&As 

View photos: UFC 85 fighters, Kimbo Slice, Archived MMA photos

Photo courtesy of Zuffa, LLC.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Q&As
        

June 13, 2008

Dana White on Tuesday's 'announcement'

I just got off the phone with UFC president Dana White. Got some clarification on the “announcement” and a host of other things. That guy must never rest. I’ll have the full Q&A up this weekend but here’s what he said about the announcement.

Dana White: I’m doing it Tuesday. Let me tell you how out of [expletive deleted] control that thing is. I was talking to ESPN and [the reporter] was talking about competition and I said, ‘Let me tell you what. People have been trying to compete with the UFC for years, even before we bought it. The last big one everyone thought was a big threat ... was the IFL. They went public, raised 800-[expletive deleted] million dollars, then they were talking about doing fighter benefits and stuff. They got the first network deal and those other guys weren’t the first on. They got time on 60 Minutes with us when 60 Minutes did their piece on us, and now the IFL is gone. They are [expletive deleted] down, their stock is worth half a cent (Editor's note: IFLI closed today at $0.02). That’s what we were talking about that day and I said I’m going to make an announcement to my employees that shows everyone exactly where this business is going in the next couple years.

I said I wanted to make the announcement to my employees, so it’s not even like I was making a big announcement to the media. If I was doing that I would’ve had a big news conference and then gone off to London. I wanted to wait until I was back to do it.

It’s a big [expletive deleted] announcement, it’s a big [expletive deleted] deal but I got a lot of other stuff we’re working on right now. It was never anything I said I was going to announce to the media.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Are you going to announce it to the media after you tell your employees?

White: Yeah, I guess I have to now.

MMA Stomping Grounds: Why did the day change?

White: I wanted to do it after I got back from England and I got back late Wednesday. Also, all of our people are going to be in town next week for The Ultimate Fighter finale. All of our production guys, Joe Rogan, I mean everyone who works for the UFC is coming to it.

***

Stay tuned for the full Q&A. There's some interesting stuff from White on network TV deals (not a big priority for them right now), CBS and EliteXC, fighters who leave the UFC for other organizations and then try to come back, MMA regulation in New York, the future of the UFC and more.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 5:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Q&As
        

June 10, 2008

The guessing game: Dana White's "HUGE" announcement

We are a little more than a day away from Dana’s announcement that will blow the collective mind of the Mixed Martial Arts world. This thing is taking on a life of its own and that’s exactly what Dana wanted with a proclamation like that. Of course, for a guy who doesn’t deliver on a lot of his promises, this is one instance he can’t wiggle out of with something lame like “we have a new advertiser!” or “Chuck Liddell will fight Anderson Silva!” We need something groundbreaking. It has to be huge or he wouldn’t have rented out a place to take his employees to reveal the big news like he claims.

Naturally, rumors have been flying furiously. First, it was that the UFC was signing Floyd Mayweather after his abrupt retirement. Then it was that Dana White and a group of investors, led by Vince McMahon, was going to buy the UFC from Zuffa. Then the logical assumptions were made that it would be a network TV deal. More rumors spread that the UFC might be sold to FOX. Another popular rumor was that the UFC was going public. Dana White has denied all of these rumors.

In my mind, that essentially guarantees that it’s something listed above. That’s not fun though, so let’s indulge Dana and welcome all conjecture into this discussion. Because he claims it’s something out of left field, I think it’s time we put on our creative hats and really try to discover what this announcement could be. If we work together, surely we can guess the details of Thursday’s announcement that will change the MMA landscape. Let’s get ridiculous.

What are your ideas? Here are a few of mine.

UFC fighters will be allowed to choose a weapon before entering the Octagon: Few things could change mixed martial arts like the addition of weapons. Fighters would have to take years of training and throw them out the window. Practicing a triangle choke means little when the man chasing you around the Octagon is wielding a chainsaw.

The UFC will have a PPV on the Moon: The UFC has already spread overseas so the only logical expansion area is now outer space. This could revolutionize life as we know it because if Dana White can put on the first athletic competition on the moon, it could pave the way for people to actually live there. This definitely fits the “out of left field” aspect of the announcement and would really change the MMA landscape as Moon-fighting would force fighters to alter their training methods.

Dana White will open a new species class for chimps
: New weight classes aren’t worth renting out another facility, but a new species class absolutely is. FOX had great success with the Man vs. Beast shows and Animal Planet has turned into a mint based on all the great animal fighting footage they show, so it would make sense for White to follow. Inter-weight matches can be big draws, but imagine inter-species matches. Chuck Liddell vs. Anderson Silva would be interesting, but more interesting than Chuck Liddell vs. “Bozo the chain-smoking chimp”? I think not.

Future fights won’t be confined to the Octagon: This could potentially devastate TV ratings, but from now on all fights can happen anywhere at any time during the day of a PPV event. If Chuck Liddell was to take on Wanderlei Silva, then as soon as the two ran into each other on fight day, even if it’s in a McDonald’s parking lot, the fight would be legit. It would combine two of life’s greatest contests. Fighting and hide-and-go-seek.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 10:50 PM | | Comments (13)
        

June 9, 2008

UFC 85, Dana White's announcement, Slice vs. Tyson speculation and more

Despite suffering a tough finger injury over the weekend -- this is only a problem because my assistant is off this weekend and couldn't take dictation -- I'm back with a few interesting things I believe you should be made aware of.

The first of which is this -- I am extremely intelligent. I gave my prediction on the UFC 85 main event to the All-Star panel assembled at FightTicker and I correctly predicted Thiago Alves with a second-round TKO. This means I’m a genius who cannot be questioned at any juncture in life.

Now I’ve injured my index finger further from the vigorous back patting. Pramit Mohapatra, the mastermind behind FightTicker, has an interesting article on the unpredictability of the UFC after UFC 85 this weekend.

There are a few questions coming out of UFC 85.

The biggest one though, has to be: Is it time for Matt Hughes to retire? Yahoo says yes ... I say no. Hughes needs to fight Matt Serra. That’s the fight he really cared about, not this one. That fight was set up before this one and if Hughes loses again, then he is done. I don’t think he will lose that fight, though.

UFC president Dana White’s “big announcement” is on the horizon and I’m hearing a variety of different possibilities on the context of that announcement. I hear TV deal (with ESPN), network deal, video game announcement, and announcing a Chuck Liddell-Anderson Silva fight in Atlanta at UFC 88. Really, it has to be a TV deal or this announcement would not be so “mind-blowing.” Liddell-Silva could be interesting, but bigger fights have been made with far less fanfare. Any other thoughts on the nature of Thursday’s announcement?

Also, there are rumors that UFC is signing Floyd Mayweather. As interesting as that could be, I really hope it’s not.

Sure, I get ridiculed for suggesting a Mike Tyson-Kimbo Slice fight could actually happen, but what about when Newsday suggests it?

Here is an interesting Q&A with Jon Fitch.

And, Yahoo releases a new top 10 rankings.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:23 PM | | Comments (15)
        

June 6, 2008

A few notes heading into UFC 85

A handful of links and predictions heading into the weekend. UFC 85 is on the horizon and the main event is a welterweight showdown between legend Matt Hughes and Thiago Alves. Has anyone been called a legend in their prime? Of course not, and that stays true here. Hughes' best days are behind him. For more on the main event, check out the guest panel from FightTicker.com.

The members of the panel are Larry Vollmer of The Journal News, Tom Kim of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jared Barnes of the Houston Chronicle, Mark Chalifoux of baltimoresun.com (hey, that’s me!), and Carlos Arias of the OC Register. FightTicker.com is the site of this blog's former author, Pramit Mohapatra.

The UFC has issued a cease-and-desist notice to Tito Ortiz about the cover of his book, which has him with the UFC Light Heavyweight belt on the cover. Seems a little harsh, no?

Andrei Arlovski signs with Affliction. Their card is shaping up to be pretty impressive.

James Thompson feels his fight with Kimbo Slice was unfairly stopped, what a shocker. An interesting Q&A with someone who has zero chance of returning to the pinnacle he was placed on last weekend.

An interesting Q&A with Dana White in ESPN The Magazine. A lot of the same stuff from before and he hints at an announcement that will rock the MMA world. He sure enjoys making definitive statements. I'm still waiting for him to deliver on his "We will get Fedor" promise that he made in the UFC 68 press conference (just one of the places he made the claim). Hey, maybe it will be Fedor. I have to think it's the UFC getting a network TV deal, right?

Back with more on Saturday, and I'll be lurking throughout the comments section until then. 

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:22 AM | | Comments (1)
        

June 3, 2008

A plan for EliteXC to get out of the MMA game

I have a plan. A plan that will let Gary Shaw escape from the sport of Mixed Martial Arts with his box of money, a plan that will let Kimbo Slice fade into obscurity with his smaller box of money, and a plan that will bring the new MMA fans to the real fighters and real promotions. If someone can do me a favor and just forward this blog entry to Gary Shaw, we’ll be set. Thanks.

We wouldn’t need a plan if we didn’t have a problem. The problem is the holes in the myth that is Kimbo Slice are starting to grow. At one point, he was more myth than man. He’s since been exposed as human, which means the clock is ticking on EliteXC’s time in the limelight. It’s not long before EliteXC turns back into a pumpkin (a bankrupt pumpkin at that) and Kimbo Slice turns back into an internet phenomenon (his place alongside Lonelygirl15, OK GO! and videos of Will Ferrell yelling at someone’s daughter is secure).

This is what MMA fans were worried about. They worried that the Saturday Night Fights would force the sport to take a major step backward. The ratings were respectable, encouraging even (only a matter of time before NBC or Fox makes a play for the UFC) but the EliteXC is a one-trick pony. They can’t keep up the momentum.

I had to think EliteXC head Gary Shaw knew there was no future in the organization or he wouldn’t have made the desperation play to fabricate a heavyweight “icon.” It’s smoke and mirrors, a quick cash grab by an opportunistic gasbag. But there’s a way we can all win here. Kimbo, Gary Shaw, and MMA fans everywhere can come out on top in this whole situation.

CBS has three more of these shows to put on. There’s only so many fighters that can be plucked from backyards and as soon as Slice loses, the gig is up. So, the endgame that makes sense here is to have Slice headline the last three events before the organization folds.

His first fight would be a rematch with the only person to defeat him, Sean Gannon. This fight would be an easy sell and an easy win for Slice. He may have lost the first one, but after training with Bas Rutten and taking this whole fighting thing seriously, it should be a comfortable win. That fight sells itself. So does the next one.

Kimbo Slice v. Mike Tyson is a fight Gary Shaw said he’d take without hesitation. And why not? The only goal Shaw appears to have is to grab as much cash as he can and this fight would sell. The ratings would be through the roof for this freak-show circus act. That’s not saying much because I also think the ratings would soar if Mike Tyson was fighting a bear or a classroom of third-graders. This would be another easy fight for Slice as Tyson currently weighs about 500 pounds and gets gassed eating a ham sandwich.

The last fight is the way out for Shaw. Dana White agrees, for the first time ever, to let one of his fighters fight on another promotion’s card as Kimbo Slice takes on Chuck Liddell. Liddell, while not the fighter he used to be by any means, has a lot of star power and is the most recognizable MMA superstar. On top of that, he already has some heat with Slice as Liddell isn’t shy with his opinions on the YouTube king.

This fight would end conclusively in the first round and would be a more lopsided victory than the infamous “Brick v. Window” fight in 2001. Slice would get destroyed. The legions of new "MMA" fans would see what real fighters are about and move over to the UFC and other promotions. Slice would fade into the obscurity reserved for someone trying to become a professional athlete in their mid-30s and Gary Shaw would be gone from the MMA scene forever (hopefully) after cashing in on his lottery ticket.

This way, Slice and Shaw get paid, have their fun, maybe bring in a few new viewers ... and then get the hell out.

Thoughts?

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 8:19 PM | | Comments (29)
        

June 2, 2008

Dan Wetzel on Jim Rome

Quick note. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports was on Jim Rome today talking about the CBS' debut EliteXC show and he summed it up beautifully.

"If you’re a fan of MMA, then what EliteXC trotted out as a main event was mostly an absurd exhibition. It’s like tuning in for the NBA Finals and finding the And 1 Mixtape Tour – only with announcers pretending Hot Sauce is a better player than Kobe Bryant."

Wetzel said the same thing most are saying, including myself. It was good to draw new people in because they will soon see how EliteXC is a freak show and that the real sport is much stronger. Check it out for yourself.

I totally agree on his argument that if a different promotion was on CBS, like the Affliction card in July or the WEC card from Sunday or any UFC show, the sport would BLOW UP and become huge. That's what is the most painful for MMA fans. This could've been so much better with a different promotion. Still not a total loss, but could've been much better.

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 12:35 PM | | Comments (10)
        

June 1, 2008

EliteXC's Saturday Night Fights: Pros and cons

So, what did you think of Saturday Night Fights on CBS? While it’s much more fun to deal with the ramifications from the event, a quick pros/cons list is in order. If you were a mixed martial arts first-timer, what did you think about the sport? Would you watch it again? What did you like/dislike?

To catch you up, Kimbo Slice won in a lame technical knockout in a fight that shouldn’t have been stopped. CBS announcer Gus Johnson used the word “horrible” about 36 times when talking about the decision to stop the fight afterward and he was right on. The curmudgeonly Kevin Iole from Yahoo Sports thinks the event made a mockery of MMA – and here are the post-fight notes from CBSSports.com.

PRO- Gus Johnson was awesome. I would love to see a real MMA organization on CBS with Johnson calling the action. A definite step up from other outlets. He was probably the highlight of the night for me.

CON- The length of the show. It ran 45 minutes late and that was with half of their fights being stopped before both fighters even entered the cage. Awful. That’s why the sports division of CBS should’ve put on the event and not the entertainment division. Sloppy.

CON- Kimbo/Thompson. I was at a wedding and caught the fights later but had about a dozen people call/text me after the Kimbo fight to fill me in on Slice’s big “TKO.” After talking with Gus Johnson last week and hearing him say he thought some viewers might think the fights were fake like wrestling, I groaned when I heard how Slice won. It might’ve been better for the sport overall just to have someone from Slice’s posse distract the ref while Kimbo hit Thompson over the head with a freaking folding chair. At least he would’ve earned a true knockout.

PRO- The Gina Carano-Kaitlin Young fight. What did you think? I’ve never been a big proponent of women’s MMA but if they can produce fights like that, maybe it could be moderately successful. Carano was impressive and it was definitely the fight of the night, given how Robbie Lawler-Scott Smith finished.

CON- The Ringmaster, Gary Shaw. The guy is a clown. Terrible for the sport. Coming up Wednesday I will devise the perfect exit strategy for Shaw, however, and how he can get out of all this mess without EliteXC going bankrupt and with everyone involved walking away a winner.

CON- Post-fight news conference. The near fight between the posses of Kimbo Slice and Brett Rogers was a joke (check out the CBS notes column above for more detail). This isn’t boxing, we don’t need fights and “staredowns” in the post-fight news conference. Simply awful. I thought the Tito Ortiz presser was over-the-top but this is about 100x worse than that.

PRO- Lawler and Smith put on a good show before the eye incident. What an unlucky way for that to end.

OVERALL- The hardcore MMA fans see it as a disastrous night but I don’t get the same feeling. A lot of things they had problems with the casual fan probably missed. It ran long and the last fight had a lame ending, but it could’ve been far, far worse if Thompson (who was clearly winning at the time) ended up with a win over Slice. I don’t think it helped nearly as much as it could’ve with decisive finishes in the last two bouts but it wasn’t a total loss.

The biggest thing I came away from this whole thing with was a greater appreciation for Gus Johnson and contempt for Gary Shaw. With a few more events, he could really do some damage to the sport (should he ignore the plan I map out for him Wednesday). Makes me appreciate the UFC’s Dana White much more.

What did you think?

Posted by Mark Chalifoux at 5:51 PM | | Comments (15)
        
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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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