The past month or so has been a busy time for Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC. They’ve made some great moves in this time, buying out the WFA, picking up Mirko Filipovic, and buying the WEC. But last week, when speculation came to an end with the announcement that HBO would air three UFC cards this year with an option to air three more, I had to scratch my head yet again.
If you’ve read my columns or live reports, you know I’ve been opposed to the HBO deal ever since I heard about it. At the risk of repeating myself too much, I just don’t see the benefit of making your product less available when it’s in its infant stages of popularity. And yes, MMA is still in the infant stages of its potential popularity. This is the stage when MMA in general (and the UFC in particular) is hot. There are a lot of new fans who want more, more, more. So we expand the number of events put on in a year. Fine. There’s probably a little something to be said about keeping the fans wanting more, but fine. With the continued acquisition of quality fighters, the UFC has the talent to be able to put on compelling matches on a consistent basis. So number of events is at least explainable. But then we get to the question of what people are willing to actually pay for.
I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I believe the plan is to have about 12-14 events on pay-per-view this year. At $40 per event ($50 if you want HD, and if you ask me, it’s outrageous to charge more for it), that puts your hardcore fan who buys every UFC pay-per-view out $480-$560 in a year for standard def, and a whopping $600-$700 for high def. And now you’re telling those people (if they don’t already have HBO) that in order to really see every UFC event, they’re going to have to spend another $12-$15 per month on a premium channel that they didn’t even want? How is this beneficial? And that’s not even the whole story. Everything I just mentioned (and I could go on, but I’ll spare you for now) is just from a logic standpoint of your average hardcore fan of MMA, and the UFC in particular. Let’s look at a couple of other tasty bits about this deal.
It’s no secret that HBO Sports has been all about boxing for as long as anyone can remember. Okay, for as long as I can remember. So now we hear from Thomas Hauser at secondsout.com that the head of HBO Sports didn’t even want to air the UFC telecasts (for the full article, follow the link.) If a network doesn’t want a piece of the fastest growing sport on the planet, and especially if it’s a network that doesn’t even benefit the sport in the long run, why push the deal? And that’s not even the best part. The dates of the HBO telecasts are yet to be determined, but the time of the events is known. They’ll air at midnight.
It’s difficult to express how this boggles my mind. You’ve got the biggest and most popular MMA promotion in America going to HBO and taking a deal to have their product on a network with less exposure than they already have, with the shows airing at a time when fewer people are watching. Again, how does this make sense?
Meanwhile, you’ve got startup promotion EliteXC, who scored a deal with Showtime. This is a different story, because EliteXC didn’t have any visibility to begin with. So a deal with a premium network does make sense for them. And what time does their event start? Ten o’clock on a Saturday night. If you’re keeping score, that’s the same time that UFC pay-per-views start. So a brand new company with no history gets this deal, while the most established MMA promotion in the world goes begging to HBO for a deal that essentially gets them absolutely no benefit. Color me befuddled.
I think this deal will end up being an embarrassment for Zuffa. In fact, in my opinion, it already is. But in the long run, it could be an embarrassment that costs them money and viewers. For a company that has made a lot of good decisions over the last couple of years, the UFC has really dropped the ball here. There is one company that’s doing the right things right now to become a force down the line, and that’s the IFL. I really believe that, but that’s a subject for another day. For now, I’m confused about more things.
Let’s talk about the slightly less confusing situation with the WEC. They’ve got a new look, new ownership with deep pockets, a new homebase, and a bunch of new fighters. They’ve got their first event scheduled for January 20 at the Hard Rock in Vegas. That’s all great for them.
Here’s my question: How can we watch this event? It won’t be on pay-per-view, and that’s a good decision, because people aren’t going to pay for a product they don’t know. (Too bad the WFA didn’t realize that.) I’ve heard that the WEC has a TV deal with the Versus network.
Great. Except I don’t see anything about it on the Versus website or the WEC website. If the deal is finalized (and by all indications, that is the case), why hasn’t either side announced anything with the first fight card so close?
It’s not like the card looks bad; in fact, it’s just the opposite. There are two title fights (one for the lightweight title and one for the featherweight title), and some more intriguing fights that I won’t go into detail about in this space, but it’s a solid card. So why is everyone so quiet about this? I’m not asking that the card be aired live, but could we at least hear something from someone?
Now back to the UFC. Except this time I want to talk about fighters in particular. If you’ve been on the Internet in the past week, you probably know that Randy Couture is coming out of retirement to fight Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 in Ohio (which, by the way, looks like it could be a great card). I guess I’m only partially confused on this one.
I understand that it’s hard for elite athletes to retire, and Randy Couture definitely fits that status. But to not only come out of retirement, but also face the heavyweight champion, who just happens to be thirteen years younger with a seven-inch height advantage? Wow. There’s no question that Couture has better skills than Sylvia, or at least he did, but how does he overcome the physical disparity between the two?
I’m not going to count out Randy Couture, because that would just be foolish. But taking on the champ is a tall order indeed. And here’s the kicker: Couture signed a four-fight deal. So let’s just say he does beat Sylvia. My instincts say that won’t happen, but let’s just say it does. In all likelihood, he would then fight Mirko Cro Cop and the lethal weapon that is the Croatian’s left leg. What happens then? But I digress. Couture’s decision doesn’t confuse me per se, but someone else’s decision does.
Brandon Vera was in line for a title shot against the big man, and he had one fight left on his contract. Of course, fighters with one fight left don’t get title shots, and with good reason. So negotiations began between the undefeated Vera and Zuffa. The report is that Vera wanted too much money up front, and so the negotiations have stalled.
Now, I understand that success can be fleeting in sports generally, and especially in combat sports. So looking to cash in when you can is understandable. But Vera has only had eight professional fights. He’s 4-0 in the UFC and had a huge opportunity to really make some money if he beat Sylvia. But he asked for too much, and his title shot has vanished.
He probably thought he could hold Zuffa up for more money because there was no other opponent that would draw against Big Tim like he could. Initially he may have been right, since the plan before Couture was to have Gabriel Gonzaga challenge for the title. That may happen down the line if the Brazilian continues to put in showings like his last few, but it wasn’t exactly compelling just yet. But now, Captain America is back. And if Vera thought he was the biggest possible draw, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS 10 YEARS AGO FLASHBACK: 10 YRS AGO – TOP TEN MATCHES OF 2016 & OTHER AWARDS: Griffin vs. Ortiz, Hughes vs. Penn, Sanchez vs. Parisyan, plus Cro Cop, Silva, GSP, women