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I hate it when bloggers and columnists compare mixed martial arts to pro wrestling. It’s a symptom of the fact that many of the oldest web writers are from the pro wrestling scene originally, so that’s what they know. People naturally draw parallels to what they know. I come from the club promotion scene so I’m always doing the same thing … however I recognize that my perspective is skewed and try to see things objectively.

For the past years I’ve been hearing non-stop that the UFC is copying the WWE and that Dana White is just like Vince MacMahon. Bullshit, I say. If there’s a sport that the UFC is emulating, it comes much closer to boxing than pro wrestling. And while Dana White might have an ego, love the camera, and use Machiavellian tactics to crush his enemies, I don’t see it on par with Vince MacMahon, who’s hubris seems to blind him to the damage he does to his own company.

Until now that is.

Last week marked the premiere (and hopefully last) airing of ‘Bad Blood : Ortiz vs White’. For full disclosure, I am going to say this now : I did not watch this show so I am not going to comment on the specific content of the show, just the fallout. Tito Ortiz has started a little media tour, putting out a press release and making statements to the MMA community. It’s obvious that he’s pretty pissed about the situation, and he should be.

Removing all the tough guy rhetoric and machismo, the truth of the matter is that Tito Ortiz is one of the UFC’s most bankable assets. You can make an argument to say that many fighters are more popular, but I still believe Tito Ortiz is the best known. For five years he was the marketing jewel of an ailing UFC, the only star that average people knew or cared about.

2006 was a phenomenal year for both parties, as Tito Ortiz’s feud with Ken Shamrock generated the highest ratings and pay per view buyrates in the history of the company. This was followed up by Tito’s rematch with Chuck Liddell which destroyed the previous record PPV buyrates. There’s no denying that Ortiz was the single largest money maker for the UFC in 2006, no small feat considering the exposure generated by him was pushing the UFC further into the mainstream.

Both parties made a lot of money, but one has to ask why the UFC would repay Tito for all the good business they did by producing a 90 minute special taking him down a notch? From a business perspective, the Bad Blood show did nothing but damage Tito Ortiz’s reputation, which damages one of the most valuable assets the UFC has.

Not only that, but they have angered one of the only fighters that could really cause waves by leaving. While many have pointed out that Ortiz is chained to the UFC by his need for celebrity, I’m not so sure. I’ll bet that Ortiz (with only one fight left on his contract after Rashad Evans) will be paying very close attention to the K1/Pro Elite event in July. While there is no doubt that money and fame mean a lot to Ortiz, his wallet is full and he’s a regular feature on the Hollywood gossip pages already. If Tito Ortiz is feeling disrespected by the UFC, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump ship.

So now back to the original point. Up until this point I didn’t feel like you could compare Dana White to Vince MacMahon. But this time I will concede. Dana White has taken a valuable commodity and tarnished it to stroke his own ego. From a business perspective, the Bad Blood special made no sense. Abusing a famously hot-headed and not always rational fighter like Tito Ortiz could create long lasting issues for the company and possibly result in Ortiz leaving the UFC when his contract is up. This in turn could help a competing organization like K1 or Bodog get the foothold they need to become a legitimate competitor to the UFC.
And for what? To make Dana White look good? To put Tito Ortiz ‘in his place’? Perhaps Dana White feels like he has Ortiz in his pocket. Perhaps this is a manifestation of how Dana feels he can treat all his fighters. If this is the case, it’s a very dangerous assumption. In the 90’s, Vince MacMahon’s “Only Show in Town” attitude gave Ted Turner’s WCW show the leverage to steal away top talent. With several well-funded companies on the peripheral watching from the sidelines, the same potential exists now in MMA.

Dana White has often said he doesn’t want to be remembered as “a scumbag promoter who screws people over”. Well, he might want to reconsider what he’s doing in this case. While he may have came out looking like a tougher guy following last week’s special, history will treat him harshly if this ends up being the prelude to Tito Ortiz leaving the UFC.

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s blogs and forum posts regarding GSP and why they think he shouldn’t get a title shot any time soon, that he should ‘go to the back of the line’ now. Well, that’s not really the way the title ladder in the UFC works, and I’ll explain it here:

GSP spent the past year and a half on a divisional tear, climbing the ladder and convincingly beating all of his opponents. The list of fighters he defeated is a who’s who of the welterweight division, and through his rise he has set back the title ambitions of all these guys. Jason Mayhem Miller still hasn’t returned to the octagon. GSP was also Frank Trigg’s last UFC fight. Sean Sherk dropped to lightweight after getting pummelled by GSP. And BJ Penn only got his shot against Hughes because Georges was injured. That injury was a blessing for the UFC, who got a Penn-Hughes fight that everyone wanted to see but the company couldn’t justify until GSP had to pull out.

And there’s the crux of the situation. If the UFC listened to these forum posters and bloggers and put GSP to the back of the line, there’s no doubt that he’d tear his way back up again, defeating a number of rising stars and sending the title ladder back into disarray. The UFC wants to create big money title shots. They want their top contenders fighting eachother only when the belt is on the line. While a fight between Diego Sanchez and Georges St Pierre for #1 contender is something every fight fan would love to see, on the business end it only leaves one of the two in a position for a title shot.

I often call Joe Silva a crackhead for his retarded booking decisions, but the title ladder is a tricky thing to book around. It’s easy to book for the lower levels of each division, matching fighters up against eachother in a sort of crucible to weed out the weak. Winning fighters get put up against their stylistic opposites to further narrow the pool to well rounded contenders. Some succeed (Evans vs Salmon was a test to see how Evans would fare against a better wrestler than him), others falter (Kongo vs Marerro pointed out that Kongo didn’t have the ground skills).

Once a fighter has shown his promise, the UFC starts to position them in the title ladder. Diego Sanchez is a perfect example … while his list of wins in the UFC is definately impressive, you’ll note that he was put up against fighters who were stalled or slipping down the ladder – Nick Diaz, Karo Parysian, and Joe Riggs. And that’s how the title ladder works : you’re building a fighter up as a commodity while not destroying the value of other commodities on the upswing. That’s why Matt Hughes was put up against Chris Lytle and not a more competitive opponent. That way Hughes can be positioned by the company into a title shot without risking a loss or destroying the respective title rise of a Diego Sanchez or a Karo Parysian.

So many of the bookings in the UFC revolve around the title ladder. Every time you see a match that makes you scratch your head, try to put it into the context I’ve laid out and I’m sure you’ll see it makes more sense. Obviously, this formula doesn’t always apply and there are often factors behind the scene that change how things get booked. But my title ladder hypothesis is based around the idea that title fights make the most money, and the more compelling title matches you have, the more money you’ll make. While the uFC doesn’t exactly protect it’s fighters, it does book based on an upswing/downswing approach to hedge it’s bets and keep a healthy flow of contenders moving through the divisions.

Okay, well the last DSE show has come and gone. I thought it might be fun to look at a list of things that may or may not change

The Unified Rules
Yep, this is the one thing that has been constant … Unified rules are in, so that means elbows in, stomps out, kicks on the ground out, knees to the head on the ground are out. Most people generally agree that if knees were allowed back in they’d be okay with the Unified Rules. Even UFC brass has said this. Realistically I see knees on the ground back in the sport by 2009, but for now we’ll have to suffer for the sake of proving to people we’re not bloodthirsty barbarians. watching Pride34 though, you had to shed a tear for soccer kicks and stomps. You could sense that fighters were using them at every opportunity because they knew this was their last chance to do so, and it was really enjoyable. There’s no denying that these tools allow a fighter to definitively finish off an opponent, and danger wise I don’t see them as too bad so long as you have competent referees ready to step in. Will we ever see these bad boys back? I doubt it. Sayonara, you crazy kicks and stomps. You’ll be missed. See you soon though, knees to the head on the ground.

To me, the biggest casualty of the unified rules is the loss of the yellow cards. Nothing like hitting a fighter where it hurts … the wallet. I’ve always wondered why the UFC hasn’t adopted the yellow card rule … it seems like a perfect fit for an ADD league that stood Okami/Swick up 3 times in one round. I have to wonder if there’s some kind of sanctioning rule against docking a fighter pay for something that isn’t clearcut. Perhaps the CSAC wants to be the only one that arbitrarily fines fighters for whatever reason. This is something I’d like to know more on … you’d figure if promotions in North America were allowed to fine for lack of action at lease some would be all over that shit like a fat kid on a butterfinger.

Weight Classes
Here’s another change that has been talked about but isn’t quite as simple as flipping a switch. I’ve always found it funny that Japan’s lightweight division is actually heavier than the UFC’s. Now that’s gonna change, with LW going down to 155 and the introduction of a Welterweight division in Pride. So many questions come out of this … who will stay at LW, who will move to WW? Will Gomi move to welterweight with his belt, meaning a vacant Lightweight title? Is the lightweigth tournament going to be lightweight or welterweight? There’s 1001 conflicting messages right now … PRIDE released a flyer for the Lightweight Tourney that showed several UFC welterweight fighters. Past the fact that I don’t think they’ll actually be included (see my post below on why), it does raise the question of which weight the tourney will be held at … 155 or 170.

Another big question: Is this the end of the new Super Heavyweight division? Technically I don’t even know if the Unified Rules have a division above 265 pounds. I can only hope that PRIDE keeps it’s freakshow division intact as a speciality, just like WEC has it’s featherweight and bantamweight division. I loves me a good fatty fight.

Sane rankings and bookings
Here’s something people are taking for granted. Everyone I’ve talked to has assumed that with Zuffa in control, it’s the end of retarded matchups and non-title fights. While I’m sure the title shot picture might become a bit cleaner, I have my doubts that the way PRIDE books will change significantly. The questions are thus: Will Pride actually sort out it’s lineup more than two weeks before an event? A month before the event? Will it be like the UFC and have at least the top end of the card organized a few months in advance? While I’m sure fighters will be excited about this, will this help or hurt fan interest now that we aren’t being wowed by retarded last second additions and changes to the lineup? My favorite fights of the night from Pride34 were Brian Lo-Na-Joe vs Shinya Aoki and Don Frye vs James Thompson. These are prime examples of fights that would never happen if Zuffa cleans up the PRIDE booking style.

Cross-Promotion Fights
Ah, people love to dream. Everyone is all in a buzz about UFC fighters being included in the lightweight tournament. Personally, I doubt it. For all the excitement going on right now, I don’t think you’re going to be seeing a lot of cross-promotional work being done for the next 6 months. While a few fighters might be moved back and forth between the organizations like Joe Riggs was with the WEC, that’ll most likely be the extent of things until the dust settles and Zuffa can assess the situation on the ground in Japan. Mostly you’ll see guys who haven’t really managed to fit in with their respective companies trade organizations. But a full blown ‘invasion’ and regular usage of eachothers fighters? You’ve been watching too much pro wrestling, brother.

Pride losing fighters
Word on the internet is that PRIDE’s contracts were all written in crayon on a Boston Pizza napkin. I have my doubts about that, but there’s no questioning that PRIDE’s paperwork is somewhat sketchy and several of their top fighters have enough wiggle room in their contract to demand a lot more money before bowing to their new masters. Cheif amongst these in my mind are the Emeilienenko brothers, Josh Barnett, and Wanderlei Silva. We’ll have to sit back and see what happens, but I can only hope that they end up somewhere where i can actually enjoy them fight.

Conclusion
Talking to most hardcore Pride fans, you get the feeling they think the ring and the screechy bitch are the only two things which survive the transfer to Zuffa. Past that it’ll just be a shell. Personally looking over this list, I think too much emphasis is being put on the rules change and not enough on the change in booking strategy that may or may not happen. In the end, PRIDE as a company has started out ‘new’ with all the same people on board as before, minus Sakakibara. I’d say that should be a pretty heartening fact. Now we just have to wait to see who replaces him, which will really determine if Zuffa is serious about letting Pride stay Pride.

There seems to be a whole lot of controversy over nothing regarding Fedor’s contract situation. Dana White and Zuffa say that Fedor is signed to Pride. Fedor is saying that they have a contractual agreement to fight for Pride, but that nothing is confirmed. What the hell does that mean? Is Fedor going to fight for Bodog forever? Yeah, not likely. Ask yourself this question : isn’t it more likely that Fedor is going to fight for whoever is going to make him richer?

Make no mistake about it, while Fedor most definately has nationalistic tendancies that mean a lot to him, his love of the mother country doesn’t render him dumb to the reality of the situation. Bodog might be a good venue to satisfy his urge to fight in his homeland and a nice place to perch during contract negotiations, but as it stands right now Bodog is not a viable long term home for the #1 heavyweight. The only decent fight they’ve managed to scrape together for him is against middleweight Matt Lindland. While Bodog has the capacity during the Pride purchasing confustion to snap up one or two other fighters, in the end their longterm roster is threadbare and they have no distinguishable business plan past marketing for Bodog’s other products. Fedor is essentially helping Bodog become bigger, not the other way around.

The main issue of staying outside the big leagues is that so long as Mirko is number 2, a loss for Fedor doesn’t just drop him out of the #1 slot, but it’s more likely to drop him to 4th, under Mirko and whoever manages to beat him. The tiny edge that Fedor holds over Mirko to claim #1 has only held up to this point because Mirko has had to start from scratch in the UFC. A win against Lindland would keep the two top names stationary for now, but in the next months Mirko will be facing the top names in a revitalized UFC heavyweight division. Unless Bodog manages to grab someone like Josh Barnett, I can’t see Fedor staying in the top 4 unless he returns to Pride.

You may be thinking I’m putting too much emphasis on the #1 spot. Sure, Fedor is a great aquisition regardless of his ranking. But the leverage that being number 1 gives cannot be emphasized enough. If Fedor wants to cash in and create a solid legacy, now is the time that he needs to move. He has the spot. He has a perfect nemesis in Mirko Crocop. All signs point to Fedor-CroCop 2 as being the quintessential Superbowl matchup Zuffa keeps talking about. The payday, and the fame that comes with being part of the biggest match if MMA history, would be amazing.

So tell me again why people think Fedor is going to stay with Bodog?

Yeah, it’s an inflammatory title, but I stick by it. I knew Swick was done as soon as they showed him talking to his corner at the end of round 1. Which is too bad because he had the tools and the ability to take that fight easily. But Okami got in his head and took the win. If you watch the fight again, you’ll see Swick’s spirit break midway through the first when Okami uses brute force to lift and knock/drop Swick from the clinch. There were a few times where he let his hands fly and he almost took the fight back, but in the end he was done after that first round.

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