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.

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.

Carlos Condit prepares for the Stun Gun

Images From UFC 121

RJJ’s Square Ring, Inc Sues Zuffa, Roy Nelson

Roy Nelson enters the cage later this week in what could possibly be a career changing match-up with heavy hitter Junior Dos Santos, but his showdown with the Brazilian striker is not the only opponent he is staring down these days. Nelson, as well his overseers at Zuffa, are facing off in court with another combat sport participant that goes by Junior – Roy Jones Jr, that is. RJJ and his Square Ring, Inc. (SRI) filed suit in late Spring in Nevada court against both Nelson and Zuffa …….

Check out the full story over on my blog on the MMAFA website.

To Catch A PED-ator….(you have to test them)

If you want a clean sport, free from PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs), then you are going to need a stringent regimen of out of competition testing in order to keep folks honest. Recent reports show that our good friends over at the Nevada State Athletic Commission lack the courage of their convictions when it comes to the matter. Former writer with MMAWeekly Ivan Trembow reports on the lack of out of competition testing for UFC 116 and the TUF Finale, despite there being several fighters on those cards that should raise red flags:

one of the fighters who competed on the two recent UFC events in the state of Nevada were asked to take out-of-competition drug tests prior to the events, according to Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer.

A total of 20 fighters competed on the UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale” in Las Vegas on June 19, including one fighter who has previously tested positive for anabolic steroids (Chris Leben), but none of these 20 fighters had to take an out-of-competition drug test.

A total of 22 fighters competed at UFC 116 in Las Vegas on July 3, including two fighters who have previously tested positive for anabolic steroids (Chris Leben and Stephan Bonnar), but none of these 22 fighters had to take an out-of-competition drug test.

The question of whether any out-of-competition drug testing had been administered to any of the fighters on the UFC 116 card was first posed to Keith Kizer on Tuesday, June 29, but the question was not answered until Sunday, July 4, after the completion of the UFC 116 event.

Less than one month ago, there was a public meeting about the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s drug testing program on June 9. At one point during the meeting, NSAC Commissioner and Chairwoman Pat Lundvall asked Travis Tygart, the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, to evaluate the NSAC’s current drug testing program. Tygart’s paraphrased response was, “You can do better. You can do a lot better, and I ask you to do so on behalf of clean athletes.”

Tygart added that when athletes are coming to USADA for drug testing because they know that the NSAC’s drug testing is inadequate, something is wrong. Tygart would be referring to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Shane Mosley, and there were also statements that were made a few weeks ago by Josh Koscheck indicating that he wants USADA testing for his upcoming UFC fight against Georges St. Pierre, to which St. Pierre reportedly agreed. However, UFC President Dana White later said in public interviews that Koscheck needs to “shut up” about his desire for USADA-level drug testing in his UFC fights.

In addition to the NSAC’s lack of any blood-based drug testing, both Tygart and Dr. Robert Voy said at the June 9 meeting that there is a reliable, urine-based drug test for EPO that is not currently being used by the NSAC.

Among the list of questionable athletes who appeared on the two cards, Ivan left out the star of UFC 116, Brock Lesnar, which was arrested once for steroid possession, but charges were dropped when it turned out to be just “some kind of growth hormone”, you know, just the sort of thing that Nevada’s piss poor (quite literally) testing procedures aren’t able to catch.

Fightlinker responds to the news with what can best be described as “enablers gonna enable” attitude:

Let’s all just admit at this point that most commissions are doing the bare minimum required of them to catch steroid cheats. I’m still not sure if that makes me happy or sad – a sudden shift towards effective testing would probably beat our sport up worse than Cris Cyborg beat up Jan Finney, so we don’t need a witch hunt. But these incremental changes and tightening test requirements were supposed to put athletes on notice that the days of nearly idiot-proof juicing were over. Instead it’s looking like it’s business as usual for steroid cheats.

On a topic that firmly falls into black and white Ryan decidedly chooses to work in the gray. I take exception to the passage – “a sudden shift towards effective testing would probably beat our sport up worse than Cris Cyborg beat up Jan Finney, so we don’t need a witch hunt” – when most estimates by fighters like Dennis Hallman and journos like Dave Meltzer put the percentage of those on at least some kind of PED being at least 50%…I’m sorry your sport deserves to be beat up worse than Jan Finney, and witch hunts have gotten a bit of a bad rap in my book. If those numbers are indeed true, MMA falls in the same neighborhood of cycling, which has bordered on farce for years due to the rampant doping issues in that sport. If the PED usuage is that high, then it is because the athletic commissions and fight companies (UFC/Strikeforce/Etc.) facillitate and foster an environment where it can take place. If a witch hunt blows the brains out of the popularity of MMA, let the record indicate that it was a self inflicted gunshot. If actual competent and complete drug testing upset the apple cart (maybe derail the money train may be a better metaphor) then so be it. A shrug of the shoulders, the general feeling i get from Ryan’s post, just isn’t the appropriate response in my book.

Lesnar vs Carwin and Historical Context

The heavyweight fight from Saturday night brought back memories of another great fight from the 80’s, the epic showdown between Thomas Hitman Hearns and Mavelous Marvin Hagler. While the narratives aren’t totally symmetrical they share a lot of the same virtues in my book. Both bouts were abbreviated but epic in nature, 7 to 8 minutes of fury that gave the viewer their PPV money’s worth despite lacking in length. The Hagler v Hearns bout lasted only a few rounds but it had a resonance that has echoed in memories and history, a fate that Lesnar v Carwin should enjoy. In both there were wild swings of momentum. Hagler went from being in big trouble in the 1st round to triumphantly and definitively finishing the fight just minutes later, a storyline that Lesnar repeated. Seeming cardio issues played a role in both, with Hearns and Carwin both emptying all reserves in a bid to seize glory. Both veered into a certain sloppiness, but that didn’t detract away from the enjoyment. Hearns didn’t win his fight with Hagler, but that fight as much as any helped to cement his stature in boxing circles, elevating him from great fighter to legend of the sport. While the same isn’t true of Carwin – even the kindest reading of his efforts so far would be a far cry from legend- but his efforts in the Lesnar match have elevated him from the flotsam and jetsam of the heavyweight picture and into a much larger profile in the company. Hagler’s win cemented his preeminence as the king of the middleweight division, if but for a short time until his loss to Sugar Ray Leonard. Lesnar’s win did much the same in launching him to heavy kingpin status in the wake of Fedor’s loss.

For those of you not familiar with Hearns v Hagler, check it out below: