When I first started writing this column for BudoVideos.com in 2005 I covered predominantly pay per view events: the UFC®, “the company formerly known as Pride” and a few others (K-1, WFA, etc.). But in recent years most other brands have fallen away from the PPV arena. So since mid 2007 it’s been all about the UFC®...until now.
Affliction is entering into the MMA marketplace in a bold way. BOOM! FEDOR EMELIANENKO VERSUS TIM SYLVIA! (Internet chatrooms start your engines). Hardcore fans around the nation are nodding in approval. “Yes, these guys are cool” surely must be the ‘forum’ battle cry (along with “War Affliction”, etc.).
But...so far I have not seen any 30-60 minute public service announcements on premium cable sports outlets promoting “Banned”, no “reality” TV show(s) or segments, and no countdown/preview programming - just the jump straight to pay per view. History shows this to be a BIG risk. If anyone indeed wants to challenge the UFC head on they have to be girded for a battle of financial attrition. But more importantly, they also should have a clever gameplan. Zuffa lost somewhere near 44 million over four years before the product struck gold with The Ultimate Fighter TV series in 2005. And a carefully forgotten fact by many newcomers is that the UFC® brand had been in existence since 1993. These are not endorsements - they are facts. Such longevity gives added stability, even in trying times. Affliction successfully manufactures and sells t-shirts and was once in the good graces of the UFC®...until they wanted to jump into the game, as promoters. Let the press conferencing begin...
There’s an old joke that the publisher of an original and enduring newspaper/magazine once told me that goes something like this:
Question: How do you make a small fortune in MMA?
Answer: Start with a large fortune.
We know that Donald Trump has now (jumped in) entered the game and is backing the Affliction MMA effort. But what does that mean? Celebrity fight promoters?
Phone rings...(Director calls “Action”, cameras roll...)
Dana: “F**k, f**k, f**k, f**k ...” (Clears voice, picks up phone, now speaking into it with his ‘nice guy’, on-camera persona) “Hello...”
Donald: “Dana...you’re fired.”
Dana: “Nice try, f**khead. YOU’RE FIRED!”
Donald: “Let’s talk.”
Dana: CLICK! (Dial tone...)
Donald: Sets phone down, looks off into the distance as we dissolve to...
Donald Trump’s stepping into the mixed martial arts fray will have some positives, commercially speaking. John Q Public who doesn’t know an armbar from a salad bar will say “Golllly, there’s Donald Trump, let’s watch this.” He is more famous than any figure currently in the sport, except for maybe (ahem)...Dana White. But unlike White, Trump has no experience in the terrain in which he is now deployed. And as we have seen when countless companies have “tried” to move into MMA in the (recent) past (INSERT ALPHABET SOUP MMA NAMES HERE), they have perplexed many by following the same mistakes, rather than the successes, of sound and prolific businesses before them, and not surprisingly failed.
Some people say that having a winning brand is all about ample venture capital/capital investment (a.k.a. stacks of cash), but history has shown us different (INSERT RECENT EXAMPLES OF MILLIONAIRE AND BILLIONAIRE MMA FAILURES HERE). It’s like saying sex is the only thing that matters in a lasting marriage (INSERT DIVORCE STATISTICS HERE).
In my opinion, if you take as a given that a fight company is seriously banked up enough to move forward, there are three areas that define success or failure before the promotion even hits the airwaves: 1) the SKILL of choosing your advisors (deciding who to listen to and who NOT to), 2) having the money people (at least publicly) NOT meddle with the vision of your operations management/president and 3) keeping your upper circle small (and impenetrable by outside opportunists with the invariable agenda).
The UFC has all these bases covered handily: 1) There may not be a better advisor in the game, myself excluded, than UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. Trust me, Joe knows... 2) the financial backers of the UFC, the Fertitta brothers Frank and Lorenzo NEVER chasten UFC president Dana White, even in the harshest of times. It’s the “ultimate” (thank you, hold your applause) good cop/bad cop positioning and 3) the UFC has the backs of their small circle of upper level key people: White, Silva, their broadcast team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, and their most recent crown jewel acquisition, the honorable Marc Ratner. When you are as solidly entrenched the way Zuffa is personnel wise, it’s going to take a really, really, really, REALLY sharp company, with an even sharper, albeit SMALL staff, to challenge it. Does Affliction/Trump have that? We’re going to find out real quick...
There are some pluses and minuses with Affliction's first show. Sure they are taking up the fight to please hardcore internet "fans", which in this case almost looks like a super-sized WFA (World Fighting Alliance) card. But the price tag on these types of shows will lead to disappointments if their initial effort doesn’t sell well and then their future cards as a result aren't as stellar, but the fighters still want to get paid big bucks.
I do hope that Affliction succeeds though. The UFC however does not share this view. They want Affliction, or seemingly any other MMA fight company that is aiming at TV or pay per view for that matter, to fail, period. To the UFC it’s a black and white (pun not intended) situation. And in the case of helping the new company stumble and hopefully fall, the UFC has quickly booked a show on THE SAME DAY as the Affliction event. On July 19, 2008 the UFC will have a FREE show on Spike TV that features middleweight champion, and one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the game, Anderson Silva stepping up for the first time to light-heavyweight to meet dangerous striker James Irvin. The undercard is pretty solid too, including Brandon Vera, Hermes Franca vs. Frankie Edgar, the debut of three former IFL fighters, etc. Putting this card up against Affliction “Banned” is a blatant attempt to derail it, but I can’t say it’s a bad business practice for Zuffa. Ruthless? No question. Effective? Maybe... One thing is for sure, Zuffa felt strongly enough (threatened?) about Affliction that they directly waged war on it. But at the end of the day (in some people’s minds), I guess it’s all about business. So the UFC can’t really complain if a strong competitor tries a similar move against them in the future...(Vince McMahon reportedly already did).
But speaking of ‘fights’...
Simply put, the on-paper fight card for Affliction Banned is phenomenal.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Tim Sylvia
“The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko is the greatest fighter I have seen so far in the sport. He ruled ‘the organization formerly known as Pride’ with absolute dominance. Recent criticism has pointed to a lack of top-ten caliber opposition. But I feel his last opponent, 7 foot 2 inch, 350 pound+ Hong Man Choi, could defeat several fighters in that same aforementioned top ten. Choi comes from a wrestling background and defeated 3-time K-1 grand prix champion Semmy Schilt in kickboxing. Yet Emelianenko submitted him within two minutes.
At 6’ 8” Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia isn’t quite seven feet tall (Fedor is a mere 6 foot even). But he is a former 2-time UFC champion. And because he has such a long reach and so many KOs on his record, we know he will want (NEED) to keep this fight standing. If it goes to the floor and stays there, Sylvia will be submitted, most likely by the Russian’s bread and butter move, the armbar.
Ben Rothwell vs. Andre Arlovski
Arlovski is a former UFC heavyweight champion and one of the quickest and most athletic big guys in the game. But in facing former IFL heavyweight champ Ben Rothwell the Belarusian will be tested. Rothwell’s power will neutralize the speed Arlovski brings. This is a tough match to call because both will have respect for the finishing power of the other. It may even be a boring match played out as an extended staredown extending to the final bell (watch Andre’s last fight with Sylvia and Rothwell’s with Ricco Rodriguez for reference). I hope not, for my sake as well as theirs. But if Ben has the cardio and pushes the action, he should be able to take this and force ranking systems to stop ignoring him.
On a side note, I’d like to see Roy Nelson in the heavyweight mix at Affliction. He’d fit right in (Nelson gave Rothwell his toughest fight in the IFL and lost a close if not controversial decision).
Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo
Barnett was all over Rizzo in their first fight (UFC 30) until he got caught (Rizzo won by knockout near the end of round 2). Since then Josh has had 19 fights and only lost four: 3 to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (2 decisions, 1 TKO) and a very close decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Barnett beat Nogueira by decision the first time they fought). But its his wins since the first fight with Pedro Rizzo that have been most impressive: he submitted Semmy Schilt (twice), Mark Hunt, Aleksander Emelianenko and TKO’d Randy Couture in less than two rounds.
Pedro Rizzo has endured a rockier path than Barnett in the time since the two first met 7 years ago. It’s true that “The Rock” (Rizzo, not the pro-wrestler) has KO’d Arlovski, decisioned Ricco Rodriguez in the UFC and stopped Jeff Monson in his last fight (The Art of War). But he’s also been beaten twice by Randy Couture (a questionable decision and then by technical knockout), and TKO’d by Gan McGee, Roman Zentsov and Sergei Kharitonov (he lost a decision to Vladimir Matyushenko too).
This will be as much a ‘war’ as Barnett wants it to be. If he stands with the Brazilian it’s even money. If he takes Rizzo down, and that’s no easy feat, Josh will have a very real chance to submit him.
Matt Lindland vs. Fabio Negao
To me, Matt “The Law” Lindland is one of the greatest middleweights in all of MMA.
With the exception of the great Murilo Bustamante (and David Terrell), Lindland has made a career of beating the you-know-what out of Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists. Travis Lutter, Joe Doerksen, Carlos Newton, Jeremy Horn, Antonio Schembri and Fabio Leopoldo have all fallen victim to his highway collision, blunt force methods. Fabio Negao hasn’t really beaten anyone of note and is coming off a submission loss. The odds are definitely stacked against him here.
Lindland has been flirting with the idea of running for office in his home state of Oregon. Will that be enough of a time consuming distraction to create a scenario where Negao can win? Doubtful.
Mike Whitehead vs. Renato Sobral
This will not be an easy fight either way. Sobral goes by the nickname “Babalu” (which has some connection to a song by former “I Love Lucy” star Desi Arnez), but he could easily be called ‘outlaw’ of ‘rebel’ because of his recent in-cage antics: at UFC 74, after some apparent pre-fight smack talk at the weigh-in got under his skin, Sobral beat David Heath to a bloody pulp (in the cage) and then wouldn’t let go of a choke after his opponent went unconscious. His penance? Babalu was released from his UFC contract and $25,000 of his salary was withheld. Ouch.
Stephen Quadros, "The Fight Professor", has worked as a host and play-by-play commentator for some of the world's greatest fight organizations including: PRIDE, K-1 and Inoki Bom Ba Ye. He currently balances his activities between acting, working as a analyst/color commentator for Showtime (EliteXC, ShoXC), choreographing fight scenes for feature films and playing drums for the bands Snow and Whipped Cream. Visit Mr. Quadros on the worldwide web at: www.StephenQuadros.com or MySpace.com/StephenQuadros.