Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Monday, August 30, 2004
Mixed Martial Arts--- Kimo Fails Post-UFC 48 Drug Test; Disciplinary Action Forthcoming
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Kimo Leopoldo failed the drug test that he took shortly after his loss to Ken Shamrock at UFC 48. The banned substance found in Kimo's body by the Nevada State Athletic Commission was believed to be stanozolol, which was the same anabolic agent that was found in Tim Sylvia's body last year. Stanozolol was also one of the three kinds of anabolic steroids that were found in Josh Barnett's body after his fight at UFC 36 in March 2002.

Kimo will have to take part in a hearing in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission at some point, and will almost certainly be suspended for a length of time that is likely to be in the range of three to twelve months. As with all suspensions handed out by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, it will be valid with all NSAC-sanctioned fighting organizations, a list that includes the UFC, Pride, and K-1. Even in Japan, Pride and K-1 cannot use a suspended fighter on their shows without facing serious repercussions from the NSAC (ie, not being able to hold shows in Nevada anymore).

The other three fighters who were drug-tested at UFC 48 (Ken Shamrock, Frank Mir, and Tim Sylvia) all came back negative. Twelve of the sixteen fighters on the card were not drug-tested in any way.

Two side notes:

1) All NSAC drug tests are outsourced to Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest companies in America when it comes to drug-related and non-drug-related urine tests and blood tests.

2) This is the first time that Kimo has been drug-tested following a UFC fight since Zuffa purchased the UFC in 2001. He was not drug-tested following his previous UFC fight against Tank Abbott. Mixed martial artists are generally not drug-tested by the NSAC unless they are competing in a title fight and/or in the main event.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 29, 2004
Mixed Martial Arts--- K-1's MMA Divison Put on Hold Indefinitely
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

K-1 has confirmed what many in the mixed martial arts world already suspected: K-1 has put its MMA division on hold indefinitely. The second K-1 MMA event was originally scheduled to take place in late September, but before the event was ever officially booked, doubts began to surface about whether K-1 would ever put on a second MMA show. Now K-1 matchmaker Sadaharu Tanigawa has told a Japanese newspaper (as reported by Puroresu Power) that there are no plans for any further K-1 MMA shows in the forseeable future.

The idea of having MMA-only shows starting developing internally in K-1 towards the end of 2003 after Bob Sapp's lackluster performances under K-1 rules against Kimo and Remy Bonjasky (where Sapp got himself intentionally disqualified to avoid being KO'ed or TKO'ed).

K-1 realized that Sapp was no longer going to be able to beat top names in their traditional kickboxing-rules matches, but there was a feeling within K-1 that Sapp would do much better under MMA rules. Having an MMA division would also allow K-1 to sign away more top stars in their ongoing war with Pride in Japan.

So, the IWGP pro wrestling title was to be put on the line for the first time in a shoot fight between Bob Sapp and Kazuyuki Fujita scheduled for May 22 of this year, after which Sapp would be able to fight on numerous shows defending the prestigious belt.

To put it lightly, it didn't work out as K-1 hoped. Sapp was demolished by Fujita, and after losing another K-1 rules bout to Ray Sefo, Sapp was all-but-gone from K-1. He is now filming his role in "The Longest Yard" starring Adam Sandler, and is expected to be back in K-1 next year at the earliest (or never).

The loss of Sapp as the anchor of the MMA division, combined with the broader issue of K-1's huge financial losses due to overpaying fighters and not drawing enough fans into arenas, spelled the end of K-1 MMA for the forseeable future.

The question now becomes, "What will happen to all of the fighters under K-1 MMA contracts?" This includes fighters who previously fought in the UFC like BJ Penn and Genki Sudo, as well as fighters signed away from possible Pride deals like Don Frye, Royler Gracie, Rodrigo Gracie, Alistair Overeem, and Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay (who hadn't even debuted for Pride yet).

According to K-1's Sadaharu Tanigawa, fighters who are under contract to K-1 MMA will not be allowed out of their contracts, but they will be able to fight for other organizations just as long as K-1 acts as the go-between (and thus gets a cut of the fighters' purses).

Of all the fighters listed above, BJ Penn is undoubtedly the one who is most damaged by his decision to sign with K-1. Penn won the UFC Welterweight Title by defeating Matt Hughes in January of this year, then turned down the UFC's requests for him to defend the belt against Hughes or one other welterweight fighter. As with all championship bout agreements, the UFC 46 bout agreement that Penn signed stipulated that Penn would be an exclusive UFC fighter for a period of one year if he won the belt. Nonetheless, Penn chose to take a higher financial offer from K-1 MMA to fight on their May 22 card, and as a result he was immediately outcast from the UFC and stripped of the Welterweight Title.

Where does BJ Penn go from here, you ask? As far as big-money offers go, the answer is more than likely nowhere. The UFC is not going to re-hire someone who violated an exclusive UFC contract. K-1 does not have an MMA division anymore, and it is very unlikely that Penn would agree to start fighting in K-1 under kickboxing rules. Pride may or may not be interested in adding Penn to their smaller Bushido line of shows, but they wouldn't be offering anywhere near the amount of money that K-1 offered, or even necessarily the amount that Penn was making in the UFC. Penn may be limited to fighting for his family's own Hawaii-based promotion, Rumble on the Rocks.

As for the other fighters who signed K-1 MMA contracts:

-Several of the fighters in question have fought under K-1's kickboxing rules in the past and/or would have no problem doing so in the future (Gary Goodridge, Duane Ludwig, Alistair Overeem, Sylvester Terkay).

-Rodrigo and Royler Gracie will be able to get MMA bookings in Pride if they choose to, provided that they don't set their asking price too high.

-Don Frye makes most of his money in pro wrestling anyway, and is very limited in what he can do physically at this point due to spinal injuries which he has still not had surgery on. (You can add Frye to Pat Miletich and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on the list of fighters who have had back or spinal injuries for a couple of years but have not had corrective surgery.)

-Ricco Rodriguez will be greatly hurt by K-1 MMA's closure due to the fact that he has already burned his bridges with the UFC and Pride, and as previously reported on MMAWeekly, his last remaining option to make big-time money was in K-1 MMA.

-Kazuyuki Fujita is under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling and is loyal to Antonio Inoki, who is one of the lead money backers behind New Japan and K-1. This makes any future Pride appearances for Fujita very unlikely given the intense nature of the war between K-1 and Pride, with Inoki firmly entrenched on the K-1 side of the battle.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 27, 2004
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Japan Card Developing Nicely, but Ortiz Remains a Question Mark
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Scheduled to take place on December 12 in Japan, UFC 51's card is developing nicely and is going to be well-stocked with Japanese fighters. The UFC has been in negotiations with Caol Uno, Genki Sudo, and Tsuyoshi Kosaka to compete on the show.

In addition, Pancrase president Mr. Ozaki recently announced that several Pancrase fighters will be appearing on the card, as reported by Puroresu Power. The Pancrase representatives at UFC 51 could include Yuki Kondo, Yoshiki Takahashi, Ikushi Minowa, Sanae Kikuta, or any number of other Pancrase fighters. Pancrase frequently loans out its contracted fighters to other organizations for a fee, with the most recent example being Yuki Kondo going to Pride to fight Wanderlei Silva.

The only title fight on the show will be Frank Mir vs. Andrei Arlovski for the UFC Heavyweight Title, provided that both fighters are healthy and ready to compete in the proper timeframe. As reported yesterday on MMAWeekly, Tim Sylvia also hopes to be ready to go by December as he continues to recover from the broken forearm bones he suffered in his loss to Frank Mir at UFC 48.

Additionally, any pretense of Vitor Belfort vs. Tito Ortiz being a secret is out the window, not only due to Belfort's comments after UFC 49, but also because UFC president Dana White confirmed it in an interview with Full Contact Fighter. White told FCF that the plan is for Ortiz to fight Belfort regardless of who wins the UFC 49 match between Ortiz and Guy Mezger.

Why the UFC thinks that Tito Ortiz can be depended upon to fight two times in less than two months is beyond the comprehension of any person who looks at the situation objectively and considers Tito's track record.

All one has to do is look at Tito's history over the past several years to see why it's almost ridiculous to suggest that he can be counted on to fight twice in less than eight weeks. The norm for a UFC fighter who is working the maximum schedule (ie, Matt Hughes) is to fight once every four months. Dating back to 2001, Tito went 14 months between his fight with Vladimir Matyushenko and his fight with Ken Shamrock. Another ten months passed before Ortiz fought Randy Couture, followed by six months before the fight Chuck Liddell. By the time the Ortiz-Mezger fight happens, six months will have passed from the time of Ortiz-Liddell.

So, the length of time that Tito goes between fights on the last four occasions has been 14 months, ten months, six months, and six months... and now the UFC expects him to fight twice in less than eight weeks? This situation could end up hurting the UFC badly, not only when it comes to fan disappointment over not seeing Ortiz vs. Belfort, but also due to pay-per-view advertising deadlines. The advertising deadline for a pay-per-view event scheduled for mid-December is only a few weeks away. Stay tuned to MMAWeekly for the latest on the UFC 51 card as it continues to develop.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Mixed Martial Arts--- K-1 Bellagio Fighter Salaries Raise Eyebrows
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Before we get into the analysis and commentary on these numbers and an interview with Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Marc Ratner, let's take a look at the numbers themselves. These are the dollar figures that K-1 submitted to the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the K-1 USA event that took place on August 7, 2004.

K-1: Battle the Bellagio III Fighter Salaries
-Marvin Eastman: $10,000
-Sergei Gur: $9,100
-Chad "Akebono" Rowan: $7,800
-Gary Goodridge: $7,800
-Rony Sefo: $7,800
-Brecht Walis: $7,800
-Jorgen Kruth: $7,800
-Jan Nortje: $7,800
-Ray Sefo: $6,550
-Alexander Ustinov: $6,500
-Carter Williams: $6,000
-Rick Roufus: $6,000
-Dewey Cooper: $6,000
-"Mighty" Mo Siliga: $5,550
-Tommy Glanville: $5,000
-Scott Lighty: $2,000
-Frank Cota, Jr: $2,000
-Rob McCullough: $2,000
-Anthony Brown: $1,800
-Brian Warren: $1,500
-Raul Romero: $1,500
-James Martinez: $1,000
-Alex Jucan: $1,000
Total Fighter Payroll: $120,300

Commentary and Analysis:

-You may be asking yourself how it's possible that not a single one of the fighters made more than $10,000 on a card promoted by a company with deep pockets like K-1. While there's no doubt that K-1 doesn't spend as much money on its American shows as it does on its Japanese shows, the company as a whole has the deepest pockets of any MMA/kickboxing organization in the world. K-1 as a company has more money to throw around and is more notorious for throwing such money around than its Japanese competitor Dream Stage Entertainment (which runs Pride), and is in a different league financially than the UFC.

-While exact figures are not known, by all accounts K-1's top fighters make six-figures per fight in Japan or at least high five-figures. Even if one makes the assumption that American fighters make a lot less money on K-1 USA shows since the shows don't generate a large amount of revenue, it would be naive to think that K-1's top fighters in the Japanese market are not well taken care of, especially considering the bidding wars that frequently take place between K-1 and Pride.

-K-1 is not legally required to disclose to the Nevada State Athletic Commission the complete financial structure of any given fighter's contract, and we'll get into why that's the case later in this article. It would certainly seem that K-1 is using its legal right to not disclose the complete salaries, because it would be hard to look at the salaries listed above and believe that K-1 is paying 20+ fighters a grand total of $120,300. That would be a very difficult to believe assertion in general, but let's look at three cases that would be particularly hard to believe.

1. Ray Sefo has been a huge star in K-1 for years, and this year has been groomed to become one of K-1's very top stars by being fed a burnt-out Bob Sapp in a match in Japan, which Sefo predictably won by TKO. He is listed as making $6,550 on this show. Okay, maybe Sefo just loves to fight and is willing to travel to America and do it for next-to-nothing. That argument can be made, but it's a lot harder to explain the cases of Gary Goodridge and Chad "Akebono" Rowan.

2. Gary Goodridge is one of many fighters who have been snatched away from the competing company in the ongoing war between K-1 and Pride in Japan. Goodridge had a contract with Pride that paid him high five-figures or low six-figures, and he was signed away by K-1 with the promise of more money. He is listed as making $7,800 on this show.

3. Chad "Akebono" Rowan, despite never having won a K-1 fight, is one of K-1's mega-stars in Japan, having drawn several of K-1's top ratings of all time. He makes well into the six-figure range per fight, and yet he is listed as making $7,800 on this show. To put that number in perspective, eleven of the sixteen fighters who were on the UFC 48 card made more than that... and the UFC has a small fraction of the money to work with that K-1 has.

Digging deeper only reveals more questionable numbers. Let's take a look very specifically at some of K-1's top stars in Japan and how much money they supposedly made for various fights in America over the course of the past three years.

-Perennial Grand Prix players Peter Aerts and Stefan Leko supposedly made $750 each for a K-1 USA show on August 11, 2001.

-Multi-time World Grand Prix Champion Ernesto Hoost was listed as making $100 at K-1 USA's show on August 17, 2002. On the same show, Stefan Leko and Mike Bernardo were also listed as making $100, while Gary Goodridge supposedly made $1,100. Additionally, all eight fighters in that night's tournament were listed as making between $100 and $500.

-Former World Grand Prix Champion Mark Hunt supposedly made $50 for his K-1 USA fight on May 2, 2003. Gary Goodridge and Stefan Leko also allegedly made $50 that night.

-Bob Sapp was listed as making $5,000 for his April 30, 2004 fight against Tommy Glanville in Las Vegas. When you consider that Sapp was one of the K-1's biggest stars of all time, and very likely K-1's highest-paid fighter of all time, it seems ridiculous to suggest that he would be fighting for $5,000 under any circumstances.

-If you think Bob Sapp fighting for $5,000 is questionable, consider this: For his K-1 fight against Kimo on August 15, 2003, Sapp supposedly made $50. One of the biggest stars in K-1's history... signing a bout agreement that pays him fifty bucks.

-How would it be legal for K-1 to not report the full amount that the fighters are making, you ask? Well, as a foreign company with foreign contracts that are not bound by US law, K-1 is fully entitled to have "promotional contracts" wherein a particular fighter might make X amount of dollars per year and X amount of dollars per fight on top of that.

These promotional contracts are not public record in Japan and are completely outside the jurisdiction of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and all other branches of US government. Therefore, there is no way to know how much K-1 fighters are making on their promotional contracts, or if K-1 is reporting these figures to the appropriate branches of government in Japan. In no way does MMAWeekly have evidence of K-1 doing anything illegal in this situation; all we seek to do is report on the numbers that K-1 has filed with the athletic commission over the years and then raise the obvious questions that those numbers bring up. K-1 has not responded to MMAWeekly's requests for comment as of press time.

If one assumes that K-1 has promotional contracts with fighters in Japan that pay the fighters a base salary and an additional amount for any given fight, it would still be hard to believe that Akebono's amount for any single fight would be $7,800; or that Peter Aerts' amount for any single fight would be $750, or that Ernesto Hoost's amount for any single fight would be $100, or that Bob Sapp's amount for any single fight would be $50.

After taking all of the above into consideration, one also has to consider that K-1's former CEO Kazuyoshi Ishii was convicted of massive tax fraud in Japan earlier this year and was sentenced to 22 months of prison time. According to court records and numerous Japanese newspapers, the court found that Ishii and at least two other K-1 employees concealed millions of dollars of income over several years and thus avoided paying millions of dollars in taxes. While K-1's business practices in Japan do not necessarily have any bearing on any of the company's US operations, Ishii's conviction means at the very least that one cannot simply give K-1 the benefit of the doubt in any legal matter without looking at the matter from every possible angle.

-For more details on the legalities of this situation, and the specific role that the Nevada State Athletic Commission is able to play in the process of K-1 fighters getting paid when they fight in America, we turn now to the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Marc Ratner. After an initial exchange of e-mails in which I explained what my concerns were, I spoke to Mr. Ratner via telephone and here is how the conversation went.

Ivan Trembow: I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this...

Marc Ratner: ...Well, what you're asking me, we have these contracts and they say they're fighting for a thousand dollars or whatever that number might be. And there are other contracts, promotional contracts in foreign countries, which is legal. Our fiduciary duty at the athletic commission is to make sure that the fighter gets paid what's on the contract that they signed in Nevada, the bout agreement.

Trembow: So provided that K-1 reports the salaries in Japan or whatever country they're paying any given fighter, it would be perfectly legal for any given fighter to be paid additional money in Japan, or with money coming from Japan?

Ratner: Yes, it would be legal because a fighter might have a promotional deal that pays them a certain amount per year, and then whenever they fight they get an additional amount. But the purse that they get in the state of Nevada is what I go on. The contract they sign with the Bellagio... my legal duty, my fiduciary duty is to make sure that they have a check for that amount.

Trembow: So anything else in addition to that would be beyond the jurisdiction of the Nevada State Athletic Commission?

Ratner: Yes, that's correct.

Trembow: And it would be beyond the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's Office or anything else in American government as well?

Ratner: Right, that's correct, because what we're going by is the bout agreements. And I mean, certain fighters in boxing, they have promotionals where they get a certain amount, and then they make a certain amount for fighting, and they might get paid an amount by a promoter in England or wherever it may be. All we want to make sure is that we have the money for what they get paid as far as the contracts that they sign, the bout agreements signed in the state of Nevada. The tax liability is upon the fighter when they get paid and has nothing to do with the state. All the fighter will get here from the Bellagio is a 1099 [tax form that they can fill out] for whatever amount they earn here in Nevada.

Trembow: One big factor that raised a red flag in my mind in the first place is the fact that the former CEO of K-1 in Japan was convicted and sentenced to jail time for tax evasion...

Ratner: ...Right, but I understand that he may have been here, so he's not gone yet.

Trembow: Yeah, he had a suspended sentence as of a few months ago. I'm not sure if it's still suspended or if...

Ratner: ...That's K-1 Japan, and this is an important legal distinction. K-1 Japan is completely separate from K-1 America even though these guys, they're completely separate corporation-wise, I'll say that. And when K-1 fights here in America, the sole promoter is the Bellagio (Hotel & Casino), which has a very important gaming license. And they are aware of Mister Ishii's problems in Japan, and that's why they have an arms-length agreement to do business with K-1 America, because they couldn't do business with a felon in a foreign country. The gaming company wouldn't be able to. So we as the athletic commission, through our lawyer who is also with the gaming commission, made sure that the Bellagio/Mirage/MGM corporate lawyer was aware of everything that's going on in Japan with Mister Ishii, and they are.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 02, 2004
Pro Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC and Pro Wrestling? Zuffa Says No
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

According to a report published by the Pro Wrestling Torch, Zuffa was recently offered the opportunity to do an inter-promotional story line with Nashville-based pro wrestling company NWA-TNA (which stands for National Wrestling Alliance-Total Non-Stop Action). The Torch reports that TNA head booker Jeff Jarrett met with Dana White and other UFC officials sometime before UFC 47 in Las Vegas, where Jarrett proposed that the UFC and TNA should work together on a story line that would lead to UFC fighters making appearances on TNA wrestling events, and vice-versa. Zuffa respectfully declined TNA's offer.

From Zuffa's perspective, they really had no choice but to turn down TNA's offer. Pro wrestling is an openly worked form of "sports entertainment," and there is still a big stigma attached to it despite the fact that wrestling promoters have admitted since the late 1980s that match outcomes are predetermined. Mixed martial arts is just starting to hit its stride and gain momentum in America, and the last thing it needs is to be associated with pro wrestling and have a very large percentage of the American public automatically make assumptions like, "It must be fake if it's involved with pro wrestling!"

Being involved with a pro wrestling company in any meaningful way would carry this risk, but having UFC fighters and TNA wrestlers go back and forth between the two different venues as part of a story line would completely eliminate any chance for MMA to ever gain mainstream media credibility in the United States.

Another reason that it wasn't practical for Zuffa to accept TNA's offer is because TNA simply doesn't have a very big following. The company's weekly pay-per-views were expected to draw between 50,000 and 100,000 PPV buys per week before the company hit the airwaves, and instead it is drawing a mere 5,000 to 15,000 PPV buys per week. Even the worst-performing UFC events still draw somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 PPV buys, and there is the occasional spectacular buy rate like UFC 40 with as many as 150,000 buys.

Despite the fact that it's nationally available on pay-per-view every week, TNA is still a small company that has never run a show outside of Nashville and usually draws four-figure PPV buys. UFC events draw more PPV buys than any other live event programming in the United States other than WWE events and two or three big-name boxing events per year.

The only factor that worked in TNA's favor when making its proposal to Zuffa was the fact that TNA apparently has a weekly TV deal in place with Fox Sports Net. It's worth pointing out that Fox Sports Net has had "deals in place" that have fallen through at the last minute with many companies over the past five years, including the UFC and several different pro wrestling start-ups. TNA has been in negotiations with Fox Sports Net for several months, and TNA's Jeff Jarrett reportedly told Zuffa at the Las Vegas meeting that TNA has finalized its deal with Fox Sports Net and will begin airing on the network in June. Whether that ends up being the case or not, the potential exposure on cable TV would seem like a nice opportunity if it weren't for all of the mitigating factors.

Other than the aforementioned credibility issues and the fact that TNA's audience is a fraction of the UFC's, there is one other giant obstacle that prevented a TNA-UFC deal from ever being a realistic possibility. It's not something that anyone thinks about on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis, but the fact remains that Zuffa cannot afford to upset World Wrestling Entertainment and its often erratic chairman Vince McMahon. WWE and Zuffa have had a friendly relationship at arm's length over the past several years, with McMahon keeping an eye on the company with the goal of eventually purchasing it years down the road, and Zuffa's Dana White describing WWE as being "very supportive of the UFC" in an interview with MMAWeekly last summer.

Zuffa significantly changed the look and feel of UFC broadcasts to be more like boxing and less like pro wrestling, in large part so that the UFC couldn't be perceived as "competition" to World Wrestling Entertainment in any way, shape, or form. So if Zuffa ever does upset WWE in some way or is perceived as competition to WWE, why on earth would Zuffa care, you might ask? Well, as reported on MMAWeekly over a year ago, WWE has a long-term contract with Viacom that makes them the exclusive provider of "sports entertainment" programming on all Viacom-owned stations.

This means that WWE has the right to veto any TV deal that Viacom might sign with any pro wrestling company, and that extends to MMA as well. Pro wrestling and MMA are considered "sister sports" in the sense that the UFC is essentially what pro wrestling would look like if pro wrestling had real fights instead of two performers cooperating with each other to put on entertaining matches.

Zuffa has been negotiating for a weekly TV deal with the Viacom owned cable network Spike TV for several years, dating back to before the network was even known as Spike TV (it was formerly known as TNN). Zuffa may or may not have reached a point in negotiations that will allow a weekly UFC TV show to begin airing on Spike TV this fall, and there should be no doubt that forming a partnership with a WWE competitor like TNA would cause WWE to invoke its veto power and prevent the UFC from ever making it on Spike TV or any other Viacom-owned network.

Maybe the UFC and TNA could have had a wonderful relationship under different circumstances, at a different time, and in a culture that viewed pro wrestling differently, but the pitch that TNA made to Zuffa simply wasn't practical and Zuffa did the right thing by turning it down.

Labels: , , ,