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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Congrats Randy

As the press, marketing and build up of last night's UFC 118 co-main event between Randy Couture VS James Toney was geared towards UFC VS Boxing, I took something different away from it. To me, it was more of a celebration of a man, who in some ways has become bigger than the sport itself. It was the perfect stage to showcase the most beloved fighter in UFC history and probably of all-time (at least in North America) up to this point in the sport's history.

Hopefully the PPV buyrates will be strong and it will bring more attention to the sport of MMA and help it crossover a bit to the boxing audience and commentators who I'm sure were just waiting to see James Toney, give Couture a lesson in "real fighting". The phrase "styles make fights" is used quite regularly in the combat sports and in the case of Couture VS Toney, "rules make fights" would have been a better way to explain the match up. Those of us who are MMA fans learned the reality of needing some type of ground game to be successful in this limited-rules combat sport in 1993 and now hopefully more people outside of the MMA bubble will understand that too. If that's the case, maybe it will also bring more money into the sport and help the athletes take home bigger paydays, gain more leverage with the promoters, unify as a group and eventually set up a union to get health insurance and a pension. I'm just kidding about the union part, that will never happen in a 100 years. Well actually more than a 100 years as boxing has shown throughout its history. But maybe fighter purses will increase a bit with higher PPV numbers and more sponsors looking to get in.

If nothing earth shattering comes from his most recent win, which chances are they won't, than at least the spotlight shined brightly on a guy that has done more for MMA than just about anybody. Couture continues to help grow the sport not only by being its best ambassador, crossing over to movie roles and owning a gym, Xtreme Couture, where many former and future champions call home. Most importantly, it is what he has done by just being himself for the last 13 years and giving his best to a sport that desperately needed someone like him to come along, as to why he will always be such a fan favorite.

(PHOTO by Getty Images.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hedging Your Bets In MMA; Building Talent

The outcome and aftermath in the Chad Griggs VS Bobby Lashley fight on August 21 promoted by Strikeforce was an all too familiar outcome in a sport where there truly are no "safe bets".  The only really safe bet is to build up and promote both competitors on a somewhat equal basis so when the inevitable happens and the favorite loses, the promoter still comes out with a marketable storyline.  It is no secret that promoters have their favorites and that in and of itself is not wrong. It's natural to form stronger relationships with some people than with others. When dealing with a fight promoter, usually those stronger relationships tend to be built with fighters who have a direct impact on the bottom line and increasing the wealth of the promoter.

Such is the case of Bobby Lashley. Literally millions of dollars have been spent on building his brand and marketing him to the consumer ever before he stepped foot in Strikeforce or MMA for that matter.  He has a huge following from his professional wrestling days, has a great look, is an intelligent interview, and has the "it" factor. All very positive things to build around. The only problem with that is when a guy like Lashley eventually loses as all top MMA fighters do, if his opponent has not been marketed and promoted alongside, the promoter loses twice. His money-maker loses and the winner of the bout loses a little something too because nobody saw him as a credible threat in the first place even though many times the underdog matches up very well as in this case with Chad Griggs. It will now be a bit more difficult for Strikeforce and its partners to promote Griggs as a rising star in the organization.  It also hurts Lashley to a point too because if he would have lost to a more "accomplished" fighter it would be easier to promote his comeback fight and make fans believe in the value of a rematch.  

Strikeforce has had quite the one-two combo in the last few months. Along with Bobby Lashley losing, the premier fighter on the Strikeforce roster, Fedor Emelianenko, also lost in an upset to Fabricio Werdum. Neither Griggs' nor Werdum's credentials were sold to the audience in a manner portraying them as having a legitimate chance of winning. To his credit, Strikeforce CEO, Scott Coker, did say he wouldn't be surprised if Werdum beat Fedor, but the pre-fight build up, press, along with the promos and vignettes shown on Showtime did not give the audience that impression. It was built up as another easy massacre for Emelianenko, even though in his last bout he had his hands full with Brett Rogers, a man who had just recently become a full-time fighter. So instead of transferring the star power over and strapping the rocket on to Werdum and Griggs most of the promotional fuel just spilled out of the cage alongside Fedor and Lashley.

If MMA has taught the sports world anything it's a lesson in unpredictability. Putting all of your promotional eggs in one or two baskets is always going to end up leaving you with very few options in the long run. The great thing about MMA is it is a business that constantly is in promotional mode. These recent hiccups of Strikeforce should only reinforce to all promoters the need to promote and market each of their fighters as credible athletes, instead of just focusing on a few. Strikeforce still has an intelligent business model and powerful television partners in CBS and Showtime (a must have in this age), that should enable them to continue as a viable second option to the MMA fanbase. They have a roster full of great athletes with great stories; Tim Kennedy, Nick Diaz, Mayhem Miller, Gilbert Melendez, Alistair Overeem and King Mo to name a few.  Combined with their production value and extensive library collection (which now includes the first legitimate loss of Fedor's career), Strikeforce will continue to provide quality entertainment at both the television and live events level.     

As for what Strikeforce can do next, there's always Bobby Lashley VS Dave Bautista - the MMA version....It would draw.