The UFC’s Respectable Idiot

Respected journalist Josh Gross recently dropped a bombshell piece over on Deadspin, detailing how the UFC inadvertently distributed a pre-fight drug test of Vitor Belfort before his fight with Jon Jones. The drug tests results indicated that Belfort’s testosterone levels when tested were beyond the acceptable range.  Reading the piece brought to mind many things, some evident,  others not so much.  Digesting the article served to add another brick in the wall to a thought I’ve been having for quite a while now.

 
Reading the Gross piece, the thing that stuck out in my mind was how the piece put a stake through the heart of Marc Ranter’s last remaining shreds of respectability and credibility.  Ratner was brought into the UFC after a long and storied tenure as Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  With us all being younger and much more foolish then, we were naive enough to think coming into the UFC with NSAC bona fides brought with it an air of competence and credibility, a thought that would be laughed at on its’ face these days. With the handling of the Nick Diaz Affair being only the most recent of NSAC goofs, according such reverence to an NSAC luminary would be unheard of these days.

 

Nonetheless, Ratner was brought into the UFC  as VP of Government and Regulatory affairs, which mainly consisted of aiding in the process of legalizing MMA in various and sundry states and countries. As legalization became less of a concern, Ratner was also named  to oversee the process of drug testing in areas where there were no commissions, and the UFC itself acted as the regulator.  While self-regulation by the UFC was always viewed askance from media onlookers, Ratner’s reputation served as a facade of respectability for a fairly opaque process. The UFC’s self regulation was always marked by a lack of transparency, but with Ratner at the helm with his track record of honesty and integrity, the UFC seemed to get the benefit of the doubt.

 

And it seems we couldn’t have been more wrong.  As the UFC took a larger and larger role in drug testing over and above in situations where they were regulator , they only served to make bigger mistakes. Calling them mistakes would be generous, or, if we are being less generous, wantonly ignoring over the limit tests like those of Belfort  and counting bogus tests like those against Cung Le as positive.  Ratner, in his role as drug chief, proved to be woefully not up to the expected prudence, proficiency and good faith needed from such a position.

 

In the case of Belfort, we see a man whose testosterone levels were clearly suspect, but nothing was done.  In the role of NSAC head, Ratner would have no choice but to act on this information.  With the Belfort v Jones bout going on without a hitch, he seems to have shrank from the task.  This doesn’t even speak to  Ratner’s blind eye to the era of TRT hall passes that saw UFC doctors referring fighters like Rampage Jackson for testosterone replacement therapy.

 

In the Cung Le case, the UFC made beginner level errors in testing Le, yet exonerating Le was a prolonged process. Ratner, exhibiting an even baseline of drug testing competence, would have actually used the proper test for HGH, or in the absence of that, seen the testing results as useless and  moved to throw out the suspension post haste. But that isn’t what happened. The UFC tried to get Cung to agree to confess if he was given a lesser sentence.  In trying to railroad an innocent man, maybe Mr Old School NSAC had more in common with The New School NSAC than we ever knew.

 

The scary thought in all of this is that the Le and Belfort cases are only the ones we know about.  What other skeletons are in the closet of the UFC drug testing policies, under a regime that has been shown to be incompetent.

 

As the testing snafus have piled up, Ratner’s reputation of credibility has been revealed to be much like the Emporer’s new clothes, a product of group think, that in the end was never really there.  Ratner was the one man in the UFC who had prior experience in the testing process, but that served of little use as the UFC made wrong move after wrong move. The picture we get of Ratner is of one who is either ignorant to the poor testing protocols of the UFC or one who is well aware and content to fiddle while Rome burns.  Neither paints a very good picture of Ratner. As USADA overtakes the role of drug testing and punishment coordinator for the UFC, it seems Ratner has outlived his role as the respectable idiot for the UFC. A ride off into the Vegas sunset in the form of retirement may be just what is called for to wash our hands of this sad end to a multitude of sorry episodes.
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Kajan Johnson lashes out at Prime Minister Harper’s treatment of Aboriginals

Nice to see a fighter speaking out politically….

kajan leaf

“Ragin” Kajan Johnson is hopping mad, but his anger isn’t directed towards his UFC opponents. Johnson is unhappy with Canada’s federal government.

Johnson, who steps into the octagon May16 against Zhang Lipeng in the UFC’s Manila debut, is particularly perturbed about the Harper government’s treatment of Aboriginal Canadians.

The man who now calls Montreal’s Tristar Gym home is a proud Aboriginal Canadian who identifies as part Blackfoot and grew up on a reservation in Burns Lake, British Columbia. Fans of “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs Australia” will remember the fox skin headdress that he brought to his fight’s weigh-in as well as his pre-fight “smudging” ritual, which is an Aboriginal purification ritual using smoke from burned herbs. He has also used traditional pow-wow music for his fight entrances and implored his fans to “bring their hand drums” for his last UFC fight in Vancouver. He is a politically aware…

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Danny Castillo Expresses Concern Over Reebok Deal

With the advent of the recently announced sponsorship deal between the UFC and athletic apparel brand Reebok, it has become a time of financial uncertainty for many fighters.   Danny Castillo recently sat down for an interview on Frank Trigg’s video podcast  and expressed some of his concerns when it comes to the impending changing sponsorship structure in the UFC:
Trigg: Of course the Reebok deal has come in…. .It’s gonna start acting some time next year..I’m not sure about the exact date….but now you have one sponsor, Reebok, as opposed to a multitude of sponsors…what do you think it is gonna do for you, money-wise…is it gonna increase it? decrease? is it gonna stay the same?

 

Castillo: It’s tough to say….I don’t really know the fine points and the details of it but i know that it’s on a ranking system…and unfortunately I feel like  I’m gonna get screwed out of it..only because I’ve been in the sport for a long time…I’ve been grinding my ass off & training hard.. this is gonna be my 20th fight with zuffa, but I’m not in the top 15 , I’m not in the top 10.. so where does that put me? Does that put me in the same position where I’ll make the same money as the newcomer, because unfortunately that’s pretty much what it looks like..that’s not gonna be good for me….to get paid the same as some kid who’s making his debut….

While Trigg subsequently does some walk-back on the impact, Castillo’s response crystallizes a very real fear for the veteran Zuffa fighter as this new sponsorship scheme is implemented. Any sponsorship structure that ends up paying a veteran like Castillo the same sponsor money as Johnny Newcomer on the Fight Pass pre-lims would be a fundamental failure on the UFC’s part.  If the UFC has some plan to remedy a seemingly inequitable distribution of the Reebok deal proceeds, then they’ve done a poor job of communicating that to the fighters.  Castillo, and the fighters as a whole, are still totally in the dark as to how they are going to be financially impacted by the Reebok deal.  Even worse, there seems to be little means for them to provide feedback to Zuffa as to some of their possible concerns. High end fighters can bend the ear of Dana & Lorenzo to plead their case, but the concerns of the lunchpail vets like Castillo don’t have the same purchase and their interests fall on deaf ears. As is the case with much of Zuffa’s inner dealings, from their fighter conduct policy to their HGH testing policy, their actions and intentions, motivations and machinations are shrouded in secrecy…with little input from the fighters that are being impacted by those edicts. What you are left with are policies that are woefully inadequate.

 

The implementation of a veteran mandatory minimum sponsor fee would seem to be the ideal solution to this problem.  Establish some threshold number of fights, say six to ten, after which the mandatory minimum would kick in and ensure  that veterans like Castillo aren’t being lumped in sponsor pay-wise, with the recently signed debutantes.  Setting up that bar at even six fights would be significant enough as  your average fighter with Zuffa would rarely qualify.  With the veteran mandatory minimum in place, tenured fighters that are the backbone of the UFC would be more adequately compensated and rewarded for time served with the company.

 

 
Castillo is a veteran and that isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to being in Zuffa. If past statements by Zuffa brass are any judge, Castillo is probably closer to being the WSOF’s next hot new signing than he is of receiving fairer treatment within the UFC for his veteran status. Tenure with Zuffa is sometimes more of a career impediment than a career achievement. Oh you’ve got twenty fights with Zuffa? In Dana White’s book most likely “He’s super fucking expensive,” which in the case of Jon Fitch will get you cut. Twenty fights into your Zuffa career and not Top 10-15? Dana will say “He’s on the downswing, and he’s never going to be the guy…..Right now, at this point, he’s just another guy,” which is what he said about Jake Shields upon cutting him. The sponsorship structure that Zuffa institute with the Reebok deal may not adequately take care of veteran fighters and that may not be a coincidence. The UFC machine is going to roll on, and the efforts of those coming in the door may outweigh the concerns of those within the organization who are closer to heading out the door.

Marine Corp$: Inside the UFC’s Marines Sponsorship Deal

The revenue streams for the UFC are often a murky thing, with little in the way to shed light on the subject. One of the areas that gets a scant amount of specifics is the area of corporate sponsorship.  Most contracts between the UFC and its’ sponsors are entered into with  non-disclosure agreements, so that no hard numbers really ever come to the surface.  There is one particular sponsor, though,  that we are able to peek behind the curtain at the sponsorship structure, the United States Marines Corps.  Any contracts entered into by the USMC  are publicly available and can be obtained through a FOIA request.  Pursuant to such a request, we were able to get our hands on the most recent USMC marketing budget, and able to pull some hard numbers on the value of the UFC-Marines deal, and what various items are included under the deal:

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Partnership Original TO 0019 Budget Revision 01 Increase New TO 0019 Budget
Ultimate Fighting Championship $1,016,713 $1,090,055 $2,106,768

The UFC is a professional mixed martial arts league that features some of the most skilled and famous MMA fighters around the world. The Marine Corps will partner with the UFC to integrate Marine Corps messaging in its pay-per-view events.

This partnership will include on-site media, digital, and media during the pay-per-view telecast. The original TO 0019 budget ($1,016,713) will fund ten pay-per-view events over the course of ten months, from February 2011 – November 2011. The additional funding ($1,090,055) will fund the continuation of the partnership through March 2012.

The partnership will include the following elements:

Ten Marines “Keys to Victory” – Segment presented by the Marines which will feature stats on the fighters and what they need to do in order to win that night’s fight

Eleven animation features – Short format element that will blend the connection of the Marines to the UFC and will drive viewers back to UFC.com/marines to see more of the highlights from, the training segments with the MCMAP instructors and the UFC fighter/s. Leverage the online features with on-air benefits and generate exposure for each through this integrated presence.  Short format feature to include :05-:10 graphic or animation on screen (UFC Fighter and or Marines instructor).

Three long-form integrated spots during UFC pay-per-view event (event date TBD).  Key goals are for long-format (:45-:60) video feature with integration of both brand’s ambassadors/key personalities

The USMC deal gives a window into what kind of value we can place on the high-end corporate sponsorship deals that the UFC enter into.  The Marines deal is an impressive figure at just over $2 million, but falls below the 3-year $10 million deal that it was reported supplement maker BSN signed with the UFC  back in 2008-2009. Current official supplement sponsor MusclePharm has since replaced BSN and would likely be paying in the same ballpark, if not more.   Blue chip sponsors like  Bud Light and Harley Davidson are similar high end deals that would seem to at least enter the picture north of the BSN figures.

That roughly $2.1 million is spread out over a 14- month period.   Of that over $2 million, approximately a quarter is funneled into the UFC’s website. Of that $2 million parntership number, $433, 328 is for UFC.com ad space and ad impressions. It is interesting to compare the bang for the buck the Marines get with the UFC versus a comparable organization they also partner with, the NBA. For the $433, 328 figure they pay the UFC, the Marines hope to generate 60 million ad impressions for am effective CPM of $7.22.  With the NBA, the Marines generate 98 million impressions for a effective CPM of $4.85.  While the UFC is an excellent means of reaching the Marines target audience, the partnership with the NBA provides a slightly more cost effective, higher “bang for you buck” when you compare the two.

Nate Quarry Comments on Sponsor Bans

With the recent news of yet another sponsor ban by the UFC, Nate Quarry took to the UG to speak on the importance of sponsors in putting food on the table, so to speak:

I find it interesting that the comparison is always made between basketball players and football players saying that they aren’t allowed to pepper their jerseys with logos.
A pro football player plays where? The NFL.
A pro basketball player in the USA plays where? The NBA.
Where do pro fighters fight at? Any league that will have them as they strive to make it to the big show. Many pros fight for $500. Even once in one of the big shows, the money earned is not a living wage. Many have to work weekends bouncing and bartending.
Now what is the minimum wage for an NBA or NFL player?
The rookie minimum wage in the NBA last season was over $473,000.
Do they need the Gun Store logo on their shorts. Probably not. And let’s look at their expenses. They have an agent. To my knowledge, that’s about it unless they choose to have other trainers at their own cost.
An MMA fighter has an agent that he pays, a team he fights for that he trains at, that he pays, if he’s good and has the money he has a muay thai coach, a Jits coach, a strength and conditioning coach, a diet coach and someone to help him cut weight.
And if he just made it to the big shows he MAY make 30k for the year. Minus 20% for management and training at least then a third for taxes and you’re sitting at about 16k to live on for the entire year.
Sponsors have always been a huge source of income for fighters. I can’t tell you how many times a sponsor showed up at just the right time and gave me food money. Literally.
When I fought Pete Sell the second time I was sponsored by Toyo tires. For two fights I had their logo on my shorts. For what? A set of tires. That would be about $800. $400 for two fights on primetime that have been shown over and over. Why did I do it? Because I was driving around on my spare and one other tire was filled with fix a flat. The belts were showing on the other tires.
You want to see the best a fighter can be? Buy his gear. Support the brands that sponsor him and send the companies emails letting them know you’re buying their protein because they’re sponsoring someone.
What’s that you say? If you don’t like it then quit? I do like it. In fact, I love it. That’s why I lived in my buddies basement 2 nights a week to save on gas money. And I rode with other friends to practice to save on gas money. And I packed a lunch to practice. And I only wore clothes sponsors and other more successful fighters would give me. And I’d do it all over again.
If you got into fighting to be rich, you chose the wrong sport. Do it for the love and if you get rich that’s a nice bonus.
But having those sponsors can sure make the ride easier.
My two cents.

Lorenzo Fertitta mentions in his ESPN interview what a great platform the UFC provides for fighters in hopes of bringing in great sponsors, but muted are the various and sundry bans that the company has instituted, winnowing down the sponsor pool. Nothing was said, either, of the sponsorship taxes imposed on some brands to advertise on fighters in the Octagon. Both of these impediments only serve to make the recruitment of brands to sponsor fighters that much more difficult. While those on all sides of the fighter pay issue hail sponsorship as major factor in a fighter being able to make a living wage in the UFC, when bans such as these come down all too often they are seen as “cleaning up the sponsor riff raff.” Cleaning out such lower echelon sponsors is seen as some forerunner to those big brands that will beat a path to the fighter’s door, now that the Octagon has been unsullied. I don’t know about you, but me..I’m still waiting for these advertorial saviors to pop up.

Carlos Condit prepares for the Stun Gun

Fioravanti Won’t Be Russian Back

Luigi Fioravanti is getting ready for his June 10 showdown with Joe Doerkson on the Score Fighting Series card in Mississauga, Ontario, and judging from his comments to the press, he is happy to be back in North America and the stability that it’s athletic commissions provide. Fioravanti recently spoke with Canoe.ca and elaborated at length about his displeasure with his recent fighting experience on an M-1 card in St. Petersburg, Russia:

Fioravanti alleges the fight was marred by one-sided refereeing and that Semenov was sniffing an unidentified substance between rounds.

“I’d take the guy down and he was grabbing on the ropes and he was kneeing me in the (groin), poking me in the eyes and throwing elbows (to the head) when there are no elbows in M-1,” Fioravanti said. “If you watch the fight, every time he kneed me or something, I (said to the ref), ‘He’s kneeing me in the balls; he’s poking me in the eyes.’ I kept telling the referee and he thought I was just bull—–ing.”

“The thing is, there’s no (athletic) commission in Russia. So his coach was giving him something to smell. I don’t know if it was smelling salts to wake him up in between rounds or what. I was just kind of like, ‘What the hell? I don’t fight like this.’

“It was in a little vial or bottle or something, but what can I say? It’s not illegal over there.”

You can watch the fight online, but if Semenov was smelling a substance between rounds, it’s not visible on the tape.

Fioravanti said he likely won’t return to Russia any time soon and is thankful to be fighting under the watchful eye of the Ontario Athletic Commission against a respectful competitor like Doerksen

For those of you who wish to check out the fight in question, it has been provided below:

I have to give kudos to Luigi for framing his beef as more of an issue with the Russian commission or lack thereof rather than a problem with M-1, but the absence of the former kinda inexorably throws the onus of the problems on the latter. In situations like M-1, and United Gory for that matter, the promotions are made possible by the influence of a particular camp, fight team, or management group. In such a siutation it is not impossible to get a fair shake but by their very nature open up a can of worms as to conflicts of interest. The infrastructure for such cards can often veer towards sometimes murky relationships between those involved in the card and it’s combatants, the most recent being Rich Clementi’s fight in Sweden. This isn’t so much an indictment of M-1 as it is a commentary on the still formative stages that some foreign mma markets still find themselves in. The clear delineation between an oversight structure and the community it governs has been clearly established for the most part in the US market but is still lacking in some of the international markets. Will the problem be solved anytime soon?… maybe, maybe not. These area’s growth will reach a critical mass that will allow that leap, but it won’t be a uniform process.

Luigi’s experience seems like a bit of a stacked deck situation RE: the St Petersburg card, but I’m sure Luigi isn’t quite yet ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater as it pertains to his relationship with M-1. I think he could/would probably be more comfortable with another foray with M-1, if it were in a Stateside environment. M-1’s cards on Showtime as well as a number of their M-1 Challenge/Selection cards take place in North America, ensuring that the AC’s stateside keep the unseen thumb off the scales of justice. In the case of getting screwed on a US card, you can generally chalk it up to rank incompetence moreso than out and out corruption, not that it makes you feel any better at the end of the night. Luigi was careful in noting his displeasure with his Russian experience without alienating the M-1 folks and being slotted into some of those American shows still seems like a possibility. I think his deft handling/minced words speaks to how much of a political minefield you have to navigate in the sport, be it promotions large or small.