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

Saturday, April 30, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Anyone who has followed the pro wrestling industry for a long time can tell you that it is an industry filled with sadness and death. The majority of the pro wrestlers I grew up watching as a kid are now dead, many of them from drug overdoses (like Curt Hennig), many of them from enlarged hearts due to prolonged steroid use (like Davey Boy Smith), and some of them due to freak accidents (like Owen Hart).

The frequency of pro wrestlers dying doesn't make it any easier when someone else you grew up watching passes away, and this is especially true in a case like Chris Candido where it comes out of nowhere. When word came out late Thursday night that Candido had died at the age of 33, I was shocked, and I still am. Candido was a wrestler who had all the charisma and athletic ability needed to be a star on the big stage, as he was for a long time in ECW and a brief time in WWE. Like so many other pro wrestlers, Candido was plagued by drug addiction and was thought to be on the brink of death for several years.

In the last couple of years, something very common happened--- the drug-addled wrestler tried to refocus his life and get clean. However, in Candido's case, something very uncommon in pro wrestling happened along the way--- He actually succeeded for an extended period of time. For every story in pro wrestling about a wrestler who tried to get clean and actually succeeded and is still alive today (like William Regal), there are ten cases of a wrestler who tried to get clean before ultimately failing to do so and passing away at a young age (like Rick Rude).

By all accounts, Candido had been 100% clean since making his comeback to pro wrestling in August 2004, and drugs played no part in his death. Candido started over from the bottom of the pro wrestling industry, working small independent shows for very little money, before finally re-emerging on the national stage in NWA-TNA in just the past few weeks.

Then, last Sunday night on the "TNA: Lockdown" pay-per-view, a wrestler landed awkwardly on Candido during a routine dropkick. Though I didn't see the pay-per-view myself, the resulting snap of Candido's leg was said to be Joe Theismann-like in its brutality. Candido suffered a fractured fibula, fractured tibia, and dislocated ankle on Sunday night.

Candido was taken to the hospital and on Monday morning he underwent reconstructive surgery on his leg. Determined to fulfill all of the commitments that he made before the injury took place, albeit in a non-wrestling role, Candido showed up at the "TNA Impact" television tapings on Tuesday. Candido performed as a manger on the show while in a wheelchair, just 24 hours after his surgery. Candido would continue performing in a non-wrestling role for several months until he was medically cleared to wrestle, at which point he would return to being an active wrestler.

On Thursday evening, Chris Candido collapsed in his home and was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Doctors determined that his death was caused by a blood clot that was brought on by complications from his surgery three days earlier.

The sudden and senseless death of Chris Candido has hit he wrestling industry very hard, as he had friends in many different wrestling promotions around the country, including WWE. Ring of Honor wrestler CM Punk may have best summarized what most of Candido's wrestling colleagues are reportedly feeling when he said, "Nothing f---ing matters. Not all the hard work, the miles, the sleepless nights... nothing. It's not right."

In closing, I will end this post with an excerpt of what the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer had to say in regards to the death of Chris Candido:

"There are times when pro wrestlers pass away and everyone starts talking about what wonderful people they were, and sometimes, you almost have to bite your tongue. This is not one of those times. Through thick and thin, through the bad times, and they were many, I don't think you'll find anyone arguing whether Chris Candido was a really nice guy. He made a comeback at a time when everyone in the industry had given up on him. He was recently brought into TNA just as a test to put people over, and wound up winning a roster spot and was liked by everyone.

Chris loved pro wrestling, even though it came close to killing him at one point in his life. It was more living out his childhood dream than making money. I think he enjoyed it every bit as much when he was barely making ends meet than when he was under a six-figure contract. He was on the road right out of high school. He had a bright future. He squandered that future. But he was determined to end the story of his wrestling career on a high note and with the respect of the people in the profession that he had at times let down. He was on the road to doing all that.

What happened is one of those things that happen in life. There is no rhyme or reason. Life isn't fair. You can question all you want about a guy who fought back from something that most never come back from, but then suffered a fluke broken leg, and suddenly, with no warning, this happened. Chris was very excited about his future in wrestling, particularly because he was starting to escape from the shadow of his past.

No death of someone at a young age isn't sad in some form, whether you know them personally, or followed their lives simply watching them work from a young age. Many people followed Chris from when he was a very young man, and some since he was just a teenager. But for many reasons, this one is harder than most. It's not just because it doesn't appear to have been self-inflicted, but because this was the phone call for years that many people feared we could get at any time. And just when we thought we knew that phone call would never come, it came."

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Friday, April 29, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts/Pro Wrestling--- Tito Ortiz' Potential Future in Pro Wrestling

by Ivan Trembow for MMAWeekly.com

Former UFC fighter Tito Ortiz has signed on to make a special appearance on the next TNA pay-per-view, which will take place on Sunday, May 15th and will be called "Hard Justice." TNA stands for "Total Nonstop Action" and is a pro wrestling promotion that puts on shows three times per month in Orlando, Florida. TNA's official web site made by the announcement by saying, "Former UFC Champion Tito Ortiz has signed to be a major part of TNA Wrestling 'Hard Justice' May 15th on Pay-Per-View."

The announcement from TNA leaves it up to the reader's imagination as to whether Ortiz will actually be doing a pro wrestling match for the company or will simply be making a non-wrestling appearance. In fact, Ortiz' role will be limited to being the "special guest referee" in the scheduled main event of Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles.

The Pro Wrestling Insider web site previously reported that TNA wanted to sign a special guest referee for the Jarrett vs. Styles match and was in negotiations with not only Tito Ortiz, but also Roy Jones Jr., George Foreman, and Mr. T. Jones' and Foreman's asking prices were deemed to be too high by TNA management, and Ortiz was deemed to be a bigger name in 2005 who would create more interest among fans than Mr. T would at this point.

Ortiz, who recently confirmed on his official web site that his days as a UFC fighter are over, could potentially make more special appearances for TNA in the future, but at this point he has only signed on for a one-time appearance. TNA's top main event wrestlers get paid on a per-appearance basis at a rate of anywhere from $1,000 per appearance to the most extreme cases of $5,000 per appearance for names like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, who are huge names among pro wrestling fans.

It is very likely that Ortiz is being paid somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 for his special guest referee appearance on the May 15th TNA PPV. TNA cannot afford to pay more than that because their PPV buy-rates are in the range of 20,000 to an all-time high of 35,000, while the promotion's TV ratings are in the range of 0.1 to an all-time high of 0.3. TNA is currently behind on pay with many of its wrestlers, but it is extremely likely that as a free agent name that they want to impress, they would make sure to pay Ortiz in full.

When Ortiz held out of his UFC contract in 2003, he was in negotiations with WWE management to potentially become a pro wrestler in WWE. Those negotiations never advanced to a point where a deal seemed likely at any time, simply because WWE is very firm in not wanting to bring in anyone who isn't going to be willing to be on the road working for them anywhere from 200 to 300 days per year, and Ortiz is not willing to work that kind of schedule.

On the other hand, TNA has made a habit out of signing free agents to short-term contracts and inserting them in main event story lines, which they did with Ken Shamrock in mid-2004. If Ortiz were interested in doing actual pro wrestling matches instead of just making "special appearances" for TNA, it's very likely that TNA would be interested. However, the downside for Ortiz is that TNA only runs three shows per month (two TV tapings and one PPV taping), and he would only be making $1,000 to $5,000 per appearance.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC 52 Sets All-Time Record for UFC Live Gate, April 9th Event Not as Successful at Box Office

by Ivan Trembow for MMAWeekly.com

The UFC shattered its own all-time records for total attendance and live gate with UFC 52 on April 16th. According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the MGM Grand, the paid attendance for UFC 52 was 12,643, while the number of free "comp" tickets given out to advertisers, TV industry executives, celebrities, and friends of UFC employees was 1,631. The combined result was a sellout crowd of 14,274 in attendance, drawing a total live gate of $2,575,450. An increased demand for tickets drove up ticket prices, causing several thousand tickets to be sold at the box office for $300 or $400.

The live gate of $2,575,450 is a new record for the UFC. The previous record was set by UFC 40 with its live gate of $1,540,340. The top ten live gates in UFC history prior to this event ranged from $650,000 to the aforementioned $1.5 million for UFC 40.

The total attendance of 14,274 is also a new record for the UFC. The previous record was set by UFC 40 with its total attendance of 13,275. In terms of paid attendance, UFC 52 had no chance of breaking the record set by UFC 40 because of the high number of free "comp" tickets given out to executives, celebrities, and friends of UFC employees at UFC 52. UFC 40 had a paid attendance of 13,055 and a total attendance of 13,275, which means that only 220 comp tickets were given out for that event, at a time when there wasn't as much interest from celebrities and TV executives to attend UFC events.

Due to the huge live gate; UFC 52 will turn a profit for Zuffa. This is just the third or fourth event to turn a net profit for Zuffa ever since it bought the UFC in 2001 and ran events starting with UFC 30. Information on UFC 52's pay-per-view buy-rate is still not available, but the expectation going into the event was for it to draw 100,000 buys in the worst-case scenario and 200,000 buys in the best-case scenario.

While UFC 52 was a big success for Zuffa at the live gate, the company's April 9th event at the Cox Pavilion was not. The UFC booked the April 9th event in a small venue that would only hold 2,950 fans, and assumed that it would automatically sell out because of the low number of seats available. Zuffa was so sure that the event would be a quick sell-out that it told its employees at one point that it would not be making the usual "comp" tickets available for them to give out to people. Tickets for the April 9th event were priced at $350, $250, and $150.

With huge live ticket demand for a UFC 52 event that would take place just one week later, along with the fact that the cheapest tickets for the April 9th event were a whopping $150, ticket sales were very slow. Zuffa had to "paper the building" like crazy, which means handing out large amounts of free "comp" tickets in order to fill the building and make it look good on TV. They also had a much stronger than usual demand from TV executives and representatives from other companies who wanted to attend to the first UFC event that would be televised live on free television, including representatives from ESPN. When all was said and done, the building was full with 2,950 fans, but the paid attendance was only 779 and there were 2,171 comp tickets given out. The live gate for the April 9th event was just $180,950.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Former UFC fighter Tito Ortiz recently made a post on his official web site in which he said that he felt "insulted" at UFC 52 by the fact that he did not receive the VIP treatment from the UFC. Ortiz was not given VIP seating and was instead given a free ticket to sit among the fans in the middle area of the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

You have to remember that one week earlier on the live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter, Tito Ortiz went into business for himself, making a fool of himself by screaming at Ken Shamrock in the background as Shamrock was about to step into the Octagon. Do you think the UFC wanted to put Tito in a position to be able to go into business for himself like that yet again?

The last couple weeks have been very typical behavior from Tito Ortiz, and very predictable.

1) Zuffa is not going to meet his ridiculous contract demands and he's not part of the biggest night in American MMA history on April 9th, so he tries to make the show about him again as Shamrock is on his way to the Octagon.

2) That doesn't get a reaction and many people don't even notice due to the cameraman panning away from him, so he goes on InsideFighting and claims that the only reason Pride is equally unwilling to meet his ridiculous contract demands is because the UFC and Pride have a conspiracy against him.

3) UFC 52 comes and goes, and he is again not in the spotlight, so now he frames the debate as, "I'm not coming back to the UFC because they hurt my feelings" instead of, "I'm not coming back to the UFC because I intentionally priced myself out of the sport."

The reality is setting in for Ortiz that the American public is much more familiar with the average Ultimate Fighter contestant than they are with Tito Ortiz, as more people saw The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV than all of Ortiz' fights combined.

For whatever it's worth, though, Ortiz would not have been able to fight in the first round of the Pride Grand Prix even if he wanted to and even if Pride had interest in him. He suffered a broken nose in February at UFC 51 and was medically suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. With a broken nose, there's no way you're going to get medical clearance from the athletic commission just two months after the injury happens, so he wouldn't have been able to fight in April anyway.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Bracketology and The Pride Grand Prix

by Ivan Trembow for MMAWeekly.com

With the first round of the 2005 Pride Grand Prix in the books, it's now time for a little "bracketology," and in this case I'm not referring to college basketball. Pride doesn't have pre-set brackets going into a 16-man tournament of this nature; specifically, so that they can mix and match the remaining fighters as they see fit. Since Pride is going to make the quarterfinal match-ups primarily from a marketing perspective in the Japanese marketplace, that's how we have to think of it when speculating on possible quarterfinal match-ups.

At this point, the remaining fighters in the tournament are Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Kazushi Sakuraba, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Igor Vovchanchyn, Ricardo Arona, and Kazuhiro Nakamura. That's four Brazilian fighters, two Japanese fighters, one Dutch fighter, and one Ukrainian fighter. The American fighters went 0 for 4 in the first round, so there are no Americans left in the tournament.

There are three "absolute truths" that you have to consider when thinking about the possible quarterfinal match-ups:

Truth #1--- Pride does NOT want to put themselves in a position to potentially have four Brazilian fighters in the final four, so that means we have to have at least one Brazilian vs. Brazilian match-up in the quarter-finals.

Truth #2--- Pride definitely wants to have at least one Japanese fighter in the final four so that they can sell more tickets in Japan for the final event with the semi-finals and finals (this isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it's just the way it is from a business standpoint).

Truth #3--- You can't put Nogueira against Arona in the second round because they're teammates on the Brazilian Top Team, and you can't put Silva against Shogun in the second round because they're teammates at the Chute Boxe Academy. If there is going to be a teammate vs. teammate battle in this tournament, it won't be until the finals.

With those parameters in mind, the quarterfinal brackets could breakdown in a different way depending on whether or not Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba meet up in the second round.

Scenario #1--- Silva and Sakuraba Have to Meet in the Quarterfinals
If Sakuraba wants this fight, it's very likely that Pride will give it to him. Despite the fact that Silva obliterated Sakuraba in their three previous meetings, a fourth Silva vs. Sakuraba fight would still be a big money draw in Japan. Being matched up against Silva would also give Sakuraba the "out" that he could be eliminated from the tournament (possibly even knocked out again), and there's no shame in losing to the top 205-pound fighter in the world. So, assuming for the purposes of this scenario that Silva vs. Sakuraba does happen in the second round, how would the other six fighters be matched up?

The most obvious thing is that they would want to give the other remaining Japanese fighter, Kazuhiro Nakamura, the best chance possible to advance to the final four. Looking at the list of possible second-round opponents, there are no "easy fights," but I don't think many people would dispute that Alistair Overeem is the least difficult match-up of the remaining fighters in this scenario. Overeem is no easy opponent (as Vitor Belfort quickly found out), but he's also probably not on the level of Nogueira, Arona, Shogun, and Vovchanchyn. So, if you're Pride and you want to get a Japanese fighter into the final four, you make the match-up of Overeem vs. Nakamura and cross your fingers that Nakamura pulls out the victory (which he very well could). I think it would be similar to the Nogueira-Overeem fight that took place in February, and it's just a matter of whether Nakamura would be able to hang on and get the decision victory like Nogueira did.

So, at that point the four remaining fighters would be Nogueira, Arona, Shogun, and Vovchanchyn, and you can't put Nogueira against Arona because they're teammates. If you think about who is the biggest marquee name out of those four fighters that Pride would want to "protect" if they could, it would have to be Nogueira. Then if you're thinking about Nogueira going up against either Shogun or Vovchanchyn, both of those fights are extremely hard match-ups for any fighter, but I think it's safe to say that there are a lot more people picking Vovchanchyn to win the whole entire tournament than there are people picking Shogun to win the whole tournament. Shogun is still so young and inexperienced, and despite his one-sided destruction of Quinton Jackson, most people would consider Shogun to be a slightly less difficult match-up than Igor Vovchanchyn. So, if Pride wants to protect Nogueira as much as they can in an attempt to get the most marketable final four they possibly can, they would match up Nogueira against Shogun. That would be an explosive fight and has "Fight of the Year" candidate written all over it.

That would leave the final two fighters as Igor Vovchanchyn and Ricardo Arona, both of whom are on a lot of people's lists as their pick to win the entire tournament. Pride would probably root for Vovchanchyn to win here because he has a more exciting style than Arona, and he's a bigger name than Arona in Japan. I think Vovchanchyn could beat Arona if he accepted the fact that he's not going to out-grapple Arona and instead decided to keep the fight in the stand-up. Whether Igor would succeed at his goal of keeping the fight in the stand-up against Arona is a different matter entirely.

Scenario #2--- Pride Plays it Smart and Avoids Silva vs. Sakuraba in the Quarterfinals
But what if Silva vs. Sakuraba doesn't happen in the second round? From the perspective of needing to have a Japanese fighter in the final four if you want to sell out an arena in Japan, it really doesn't make sense to match Sakuraba against Silva. Sakuraba would be extremely likely to lose for a fourth time, and then you would be dependent on Nakamura beating Overeem in order to have a Japanese fighter in the final four. Sure, a fourth Silva vs. Sakuraba match would draw money in Japan, but does that benefit really out-weigh the risk of having a final four without a single Japanese fighter in it? I don't think so.

If Pride plays it smart and avoids the temptation of matching up Silva and Sakuraba in the second round, the obvious match-up would be Sakuraba vs. Nakamura. No matter who wins that fight, it ensures that a Japanese fighter makes it into the final four. It's also a marketable match-up in its own right with the small rivalry that exists between Sakuraba's camp and Yoshida's camp (which Nakamura is a part of). If Nakamura wins, it could make him a huge star in Japan. Even though Sakuraba is a physically broken-down version of his former self (and he would be the first to tell you that), his name value in Japan is still so huge that it would make an instant star out of Nakamura if he were to beat Sakuraba.

So, if Pride decides to match up Sakuraba and Nakamura in the first round, what do you do with the remaining six fighters? The fighter with the most marquee value out of the remaining six is easily Wanderlei Silva, and as discussed above, Alistair Overeem is the least difficult match-up out of the remaining fighters. He's not an easy match-up by any means, but he's an easier match-up than any of the other remaining fighters, so Silva vs. Overeem would be the smart match to make and could also be an exciting slugfest in its own right.

At that point, you would have the same four remaining fighters as in the previous scenario: Nogueira, Arona, Shogun, and Vovchanchyn. And for the same reasons discussed in the previous scenario, the two match-ups that make the most sense in this group of four are Nogueira vs. Shogun, and Arona vs. Vovchanchyn.

Scenario #3--- Pride Insists on Having Two Brazilian vs. Brazilian Matches in the Quarterfinals
The two scenarios above are the two most likely scenarios that could play out, with the "Silva vs. Sakuraba scenario" being the most likely. However, there is another scenario that is less likely but still a legitimate possibility. With Pride president Nobuyuki Sakakibara reportedly saying after the first round that it was time to match the Brazilians against each other, there is a possibility that not only does Pride not want to put themselves in the position of possibly having four Brazilians in the final four, but that they also don't even want to have the possibility of three Brazilians in the final four. If that's really the case, that would require two different Brazilian vs. Brazilian match-ups in the quarterfinals.

If you're going to have two Brazilian vs. Brazilian match-ups, you first have to remind yourself that team affiliations prevent you from being able to put Nogueira against Arona, or from being able to put Silva against Shogun. Then you have to ask yourself, "Who are the two biggest marquee names among the Brazilians that Pride would ideally like to still have on the marquee for the final event?" The answer to that question is easy--- Silva and Nogueira. If you want to give yourself a chance to have both Silva and Nogueira in the final four, you can't match them up against each other in the quarterfinals. That would mean the two Brazilian vs. Brazilian match-ups would have to be Wanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, both of which are extremely intriguing match-ups.

With four non-Brazilian fighters remaining in this scenario, it still makes the most sense to ensure that you move a Japanese fighter into the final four, and that means putting Sakuraba against Nakamura. The only two fighters remaining at that point would be Igor Vovchanchyn and Alistair Overeem. Overeem would have a huge height advantage in that fight, but Vovchanchyn would have a very good chance to be able to out-grapple Overeem and win by ground-and-pound.

There are other possible scenarios, such as Yoshida's student Nakamura going against the man who beat Yoshida in the first round (Silva), but none of those scenarios really make sense from a business standpoint because Pride needs to give itself the best possible chance of getting a Japanese fighter into the final four. Many of the mainstream newspapers in Japan that normally cover MMA didn't even acknowledge the results of the first-round match-ups that didn't have Japanese fighters in them. So, as I stated earlier, it's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing that Pride wants to have at least one Japanese fighter in the final four, it's just the way it is.

To summarize, here are the three quarter-final scenarios that make the most sense from a business standpoint.

Ideal Quarter-Finals If Silva vs. Sakuraba Has to Happen in the Quarter-Finals:
-Vanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
-Alistair Overeem vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
-Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
-Ricardo Arona vs. Igor Vovchanchyn

Ideal Quarter-Finals If Pride Plays it Smart and Avoids Silva vs. Sakuraba in the Quarter-Finals:
-Vanderlei Silva vs. Alistair Overeem
-Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
-Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
-Ricardo Arona vs. Igor Vovchanchyn

Ideal Quarter-Finals If Pride Insists on Having Two Brazilian vs. Brazilian Matches in the Quarter-Finals:
-Vanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona
-Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
-Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
-Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Alistair Overeem

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Monday, April 25, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- I went eight for eight with my picks for the opening round of the Pride Grand Prix, which is by far the deepest collection of talent in a single tournament in MMA history. I only got two of the eight "methods of victory" correct, but I'll still take 8-for-8 in picking winners. I thought that Kevin Randleman would predictably gas out, be unable to do anything, and get submitted by Kazuhiro Nakamura. Instead, Randleman gassed out, was unable to do anything, and lost a lopsided decision to Nakamura. Randleman has now lost five of his last six fights, although that one win sure was a doozy. Ricardo Arona vs. Dean Lister is a fight that I thought Arona would win by decision because he has been unable to finish people in the past whose submission defense is nowhere near the level of Lister's. Arona by decision ended up being exactly what happened, and was just one of two picks that I got exactly right.

Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Yuki Kondo is a fight that I thought Igor would win by KO. It seemed at various times like Igor could win by KO if he kept the fight standing, but instead he chose to show off "Igor Vovchanchyn the grappler," who dominated Kondo from bell to bell and won a unanimous decision. I thought Alistair Overeem would knock out Vitor Belfort after Belfort gassed out, and never in my craziest dreams would I have picked the actual outcome of Overeem winning by submission. I thought Antonio Rogerio Nogueira would beat Dan Henderson, but I didn't think Nogueira would be able to finish a fighter of Henderson's caliber. I was wrong as Nogueira out-fought Henderson in the stand-up, out-fought Henderson on the ground, and ultimately got the armbar submission.

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Yoon Dong Sik is a fight that I had Sakuraba winning by submission, and instead Sakuraba won by quick knockout. I did pick Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to beat Quinton Jackson by knockout because Jackson simply hasn't been the same fighter since he met up with Vanderlei Silva. Shogun did knock out Jackson as I expected, but there's no way I thought it would be as quick and one-sided as it was. Finally, I thought Vanderlei Silva would beat Hidehiko Yoshida by knockout, and Yoshida surpassed my expectations just as he did in the first fight with Vanderlei. While Silva did pick up the win by decision, it was a good fight in which Yoshida showed a ton of heart.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005
Video Games--- Now that the cheat and glitch fix for Halo 2 is out, it is much harder for people to cheat, and those who do cheat are getting suspended or banned at a drastically increased rate. Bungie has also made subtle changes to the weapon balancing, such as making plasma grenades and melee attacks more powerful while making certain weapon combinations less powerful. The balance-tweaking and the cheat-fixing have combined to significantly improve the Halo 2 online experience, and it's only going to get better when the new maps come out this Monday.

When asked on Bungie.net how it will deal with people who break the rules in Halo 2, Bungie offered the following diplomatic response:

"If you're cheating, it's very easy for us to detect and you WILL be banned from matchmaking. Also, are you being an idiot online? Cursing continually? Making threats? Being a racist jackass? BANNED. Oh, and a word to screamers – BANNED. Synonym for a group of musicians? BAND. Things are going to get a lot tighter around here. We have more tools and better awareness, and all you have to do to avoid being BANNED is QUIT BEING AN IDIOT. You're not funny. You're not clever. You're a boring loser and people hate you. And I hope you get boils. And I hope the boils are full of acid-spewing spiders that burst out and hump your face."


Saturday, April 16, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- First Live UFC Broadcast on Free Television Draws Strong 1.9 Overall Rating
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The first live UFC broadcast on non-pay-per-view television; airing from 9:00 PM to 11:30 PM on Saturday, April 9th on Spike TV; drew an overall rating of 1.9. In the advertiser-friendly demographic that Spike TV and much of the television industry targets (18 to 34 year old males), the show drew a 3.3 rating. It was the most-watched show in that coveted demographic on Saturday night not only on all of cable television, but on all of television, period (including the six broadcast networks).

Rating vs. Number of Viewers
Though the 1.9 overall rating falls short of The Ultimate Fighter's previous high rating of 2.0, it was actually the most-watched episode of the series to date (and the second-most watched original show in Spike TV history) with 2.6 million viewers. The reason for the discrepancy between the rating and the number of viewers is because there were more viewers per household for the season finale, with many people watching the show in large group settings or having an "Ultimate Fighter" party.

In the hours since news of the rating broke, there have been lots of questions from MMA fans about what the difference is between a show's rating and the number of viewers in the Neilsen rating system that all TV networks rely on, and how exactly this dynamic works. The Neilsen system does take into account how many people are watching per household, but it's not a perfect system because it depends on TV viewers with Neilsen boxes to give an accurate indication at all times of how many people are watching the TV in their household. So, if there are three people watching the Neilsen-enabled TV in a given household, the owner of the Neilsen box should have it set to indicate that three people are watching instead of one. Many times people forget to do this and still have it set to "one viewer," but usually people with Neilsen boxes are responsible and make it a point to accurately indicate how many people are watching TV with them.

Two different people watching in one household counts as two viewers, but only one "TV household," which is what makes up the actual rating. That's why you always see two figures for any TV show--- the rating is the percentage of United States TV households that were watching the show, and the number of viewers is the total number of people watching the show in those households. That's why there were two different numbers in the press release about The Ultimate Fighter's rating--- 1,726,000 was the average number of TV households that were watching, and 2.6 million was the average number of people watching in those households. For the 2004-2005 TV season, there are approximately 109.6 million TV households in the United States, but only 85-90 million of them have cable or satellite. There are still 20-25 million households in the United States that only get the "broadcast" channels that can be picked up by any TV antenna, which are CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, The WB, and UPN.

Compared to the same time period a year ago when Spike TV aired Most Extreme Elimination, WWE Velocity, and WWE Confidential, the number of viewers for The Ultimate Fighter was an increase of 226 percent, the rating among 18 to 49 year old males was an increase of 477 percent, and the rating among 18 to 34 year old men was an increase of 562 percent.

Though ratings are not available for individual demographics by race, it is well known that a decent percentage of boxing fans and MMA fans are Hispanic. The expectation going into the April 9th season finale was that the show's Hispanic viewership would suffer greatly as a result of the show going head-to-head with the Marco Antonio Barrera boxing PPV that aired at the same time. There is no way to gauge how much (if at all) this affected The Ultimate Fighter's ratings, other than the obvious facts that A) It couldn't have helped, and B) It wouldn't decrease the overall rating by more than a few tenths of a rating point. Nonetheless, a few tenths of a rating point is the difference between a 1.9 overall rating and a 2.2 overall rating or something along those lines, so it's worth pointing out the competition from the Barrera fight.

Expectations Were Always Unrealistic
Though the 1.9 overall rating was not as high as Spike TV and Zuffa had hoped for, those hopes and expectations were unrealistic to begin with. Every episode of the series up to this point debuted on a Monday night, and then all of a sudden there was a new episode debuting on a different night--- and that night just happened to be Saturday night, the least-watched night of television by far every week. As I have said all along, the best target to shoot for under those circumstances would be to exceed the series' average for Monday nights, which was a 1.6 rating. Last Saturday night's 1.9 rating did that, but it did not meet Zuffa's unrealistic expectations of a 2.5 rating.

In terms of setting expectations for the final rating unrealistically high, the biggest mistake made by Spike TV and Zuffa was when Dana White said on MMAWeekly Radio that he had been told by Spike TV to expect a 6.0 rating. That information came from a single person at Spike TV who had no idea what they were talking about, and as soon as the ridiculous 6.0 number went public on MMAWeekly Radio, it was quickly retracted by Spike TV and Zuffa. Spike TV and Zuffa then set a new goal of three million viewers or a 2.5 rating, which was much less insane but still unrealistically high for reasons explained above.

Season Finale Ratings vs. First Twelve Weeks
Comparing the average of the first twelve weeks of The Ultimate Fighter to the live season finale on April 9th, the ratings were up overall, and even more so in the most important demographics.

-In terms of final overall ratings, factoring in males and females of all ages, the show averaged an overall rating of 1.6 through twelve weeks. This week's show drew a 1.9 overall rating, with a peak quarter-hour rating of 2.5.

-In the 18 to 24 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 2.0 rating through twelve weeks. This week's show drew a 3.5 rating in that demographic, with a peak quarter-hour rating of 4.2.

-In the 25 to 34 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 2.2 rating through twelve weeks. This week's show drew a 3.2 rating in that demographic, with a peak quarter-hour rating of 4.0.

-In the 35 to 49 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 1.5 rating through twelve weeks. This week's show drew a 2.1 rating in that demographic, with a peak quarter-hour rating of 2.9.

Quarter-Hour Ratings Tell Several Interesting Stories
All of the episodes of The Ultimate Fighter up to this point have been tasked with trying to retain the audience through a one-hour period, or four quarter-hours. In the case of the season finale, the show had to try to retain its audience over a much longer period of two-and-a-half hours, or ten quarter-hours. An analysis of these numbers tells several very interesting stories.

The first part of that story is that the UFC made a mistake in filling the first 30 minutes of the broadcast with as much recap material as they did. It's an unwritten rule that any reality series has to have a large amount of recapping in its season finale, and The Ultimate Fighter was no exception. The quarter-hour ratings shot up when the first fight actually started, and then started to decrease again when there was no longer a fight on the screen. The ratings then shot up drastically for the beginning of the Stephan Bonnar-Forrest Griffin fight, and even more so for the middle and end of the Bonnar-Griffin fight. This indicates a heavy trend of positive word of mouth as untold numbers of people undoubtedly called their friends on the phone and said, "You HAVE to turn to Spike TV and watch this amazing fight."

In general, the quarter-hour ratings for the show built as the broadcast went on, and continued to build through the end of primetime (which is regarded as every night from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM). The end of primetime is considered to be 11:00 PM for a reason: People start going to bed or going out in large quantities at about 11:00 PM and more so in every quarter-hour thereafter. The quarter-hour ratings for show started to decrease at about that same time, partially because the Bonnar-Griffin fight was over and partially because it was 11:00 PM, but not by as much as one might expect.

In terms of the overall ratings, factoring in males and females of all ages, the quarter-hour ratings for the first hour of the show were 1.5, 1.6, 1.9, and 1.7. So, the first hour of the show averaged a 1.7 overall rating. The quarter-hour ratings for the second hour of the show were 1.8, 2.1, 2.5, and 2.3, meaning that the second hour of the show averaged a 2.2 overall rating. The final 30 minutes of the show drew quarter-hour ratings of 2.2 and 2.0, meaning that the last half-hour of the show averaged a 2.1 overall rating.

More of Slightly Older Male Audience Retained for Final Thirty Minutes
Looking at the quarter-hour ratings in the three most important demographics, it's very interesting to note that the highest ratings of the night actually came after 11:00 PM in the case of one demographic, that being 35 to 49 year old males. This indicates that the 35 to 49 year old male demographic was the one that most interested in seeing Ken Shamrock fight Rich Franklin, which is not surprising given that the people who are 35 to 49 years old today are much more likely to have been big fans of Ken Shamrock in the early UFC days than younger viewers who may have been as young as six years old when the UFC was created in 1993.

-In the 18 to 24 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 3.0 rating in the first hour, a 3.9 rating in the second hour, and a 3.6 rating in the last half-hour.

-In the 24 to 35 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 3.0 rating in the first hour, a 3.6 rating in the second hour, and a 3.1 rating in the last half-hour.

-In the 35 to 49 year old male demographic, the show averaged a 1.7 rating in the first hour, a 2.4 rating in the second hour, and a 2.5 rating in the last half-hour.

So, while the ratings in almost all demographics started to decrease at about 11:00 PM as more people either went to bed or went out, the rating actually increased in the 35 to 49 year old male demographic after 11:00 PM. The credit for this ratings abnormality can be given almost exclusively to the ratings-drawing ability of Ken Shamrock. The fact that the ratings in the younger demographics didn't decrease far more than they actually did when the 11:00 PM hour struck is also a testament to Shamrock's power as a ratings draw.

UFC Gets Vote of Confidence from Spike TV, the Media, and Poll Results
With Zuffa and Spike TV still working out all of the financial details for the second season (and possibly third season) of The Ultimate Fighter, one would not expect to see Spike TV publicly heaping as much praise on the UFC as they have been recently. The art of negotiating dictates that for maximum leverage in any negotiations, Side A is going to act like it doesn't need Side B, and Side B is going to act like it doesn't need Side A. Despite this, Spike TV executives have not been shy in their praise of the UFC.

A press release about the season finale's ratings was posted on Yahoo News with the headline, "Knockout Ratings For The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Spike TV" at the following URL: http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050412/nytu156.html?.v=3. In that press release, Spike TV's recently-installed president Doug Herzog said, "These record-breaking numbers illustrate that UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts fighting is on the rise. It is also a true testament to the incredible dedicated and fearless athletes on The Ultimate Fighter."

The UFC also got prominent write-ups in such major newspapers as USA Today and the Boston Globe. In the USA Today article, Spike TV's executive vice president of programming Kevin Kay went as far as to say, "We think we're on to the next big emerging sport."

Also, in a situation that is about as good as publicity gets, the UFC is faring extremely well in a poll on the USA Today web site. In a question related to the "violence factor" and whether the UFC should be shown in primetime, the poll asks visitors of USAToday.com, "Should Spike TV show UFC fights live on primetime television?" At press time, an amazing 75 percent of all poll respondents have said, "Yes, it is no worse than boxing and more exciting." Another 19 percent of respondents have said, "Yes, turn the channel if you don't want to watch."

Only one percent of respondents have said, "Yes, I don't like the show, but hate censorship." Only one percent have said, "No, it should only run pay-per-view or latenight." Only two percent have said, "No, it's barbaric and increases violent behavior." Only two percent have said, "No, the media is promoting violence for ratings."

Adding up the various poll answers, a whopping 94% of all poll respondents have had a response that is positive towards the UFC, while only 6% of respondents have had a response that is negative towards the UFC. This is the first poll of its kind, and the data is overwhelmingly in favor of the UFC.

The Ultimate Fighter's Affect on UFC Pay-Per-View Buys
With the added exposure that The Ultimate Fighter has given to mixed martial arts in general and the UFC in particular, it's not unreasonable to expect an increase in future UFC pay-per-view buy-rates. This is already evidenced by looking at the buy-rate for UFC 50 in October 2004 (before TUF debuted), and comparing it with the buy-rate for UFC 51 in February 2005 (which took place after TUF had been on the air for almost a month).

UFC 50, headlined with the advertised main event of Tito Ortiz vs. Guy Mezger (which was still advertised by cable companies right up until show-time), only drew approximately 35,000 pay-per-view buys nationwide, which is among the lowest buy-rates since Zuffa bought the UFC in 2001. This seriously called into question Ortiz' drawing power. The next PPV advertised a main event of Ortiz vs. Vitor Belfort, which wasn't that much more of a marquee main event to the casual MMA fan, but did have the added exposure of having the UFC reality series on cable TV for a month at that point. With those factors in play, UFC 51 drew approximately 100,000 PPV buys nationwide. Some of that increase can be attributed to the fact that Ortiz vs. Belfort is a bigger fight than Ortiz vs. Mezger, but the belief inside Spike TV, Zuffa, InDemand, and the PPV industry in general is that the exposure on cable television was largely responsible for such a large increase from one show to the next.

With the UFC now having gotten 13 weeks of cable TV exposure and its first live event on cable TV, it's fair to say that anything less than 100,000 buys would be considered a huge disappointment for UFC 52. It's reasonable to expect at least 100,000 buys for UFC 52, maybe 150,000 and maybe even 200,000. However, to expect anything more than that indicates a general lack of understanding of the pay-per-view industry.

In terms of the economics of the pay-per-view industry, the best comparison I can give is World Wrestling Entertainment (insert elitist, pro wrestling-induced "groan" sound effect here). If you add up all of WWE's weekly TV shows, from WWE Raw on Spike TV to Smackdown on network television to their weekend cable shows to their syndicated shows, they have a total of more than ten million people watching WWE programming in the United States every week. Despite this fact, the biggest WWE pay-per-view event of the year, WrestleMania, only draws somewhere between 550,000 and 900,000 PPV buys each year. The vast majority of WWE PPVs only draw somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 PPV buys, with a few WWE PPV events in 2004 even slipping below the 200,000 mark.

That's for a product that has a combined total of more than ten million people watching it on TV every week, for 52 weeks a year. In comparison, the UFC has been on cable television for 13 weeks, with the highest number of viewers for any given week being less than three million. To know all of this and still expect future UFC pay-per-views to draw a million buys or 500,000 or even 300,000 is nothing short of ridiculous. As I said before, cross your fingers and hope for 150,000 or maybe even 200,000, but don't get carried away.

Second Season of TUF Coming with Huge Sign of Mainstream Respect
By seeking applications from fighters who want to be a part of second season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC has confirmed that there will be a second season of the show on Spike TV. While the first season of the show featured light-heavyweights and middleweights, the second season will feature heavyweights and welterweights. The second season will be looked at differently in the TV industry from day one due to the fact that the UFC has won the respect of an industry that doesn't respect you until you prove yourself as a ratings draw, and even then won't necessarily respect you.

The fact that the winners of the first season got a Toyota Scion might not have seemed like a big deal at first glance, but getting sponsorship from Toyota is actually a huge deal. Car manufacturers are considered "high-end advertisers" that often refrain from sponsoring shows that they feel are beneath their corporate image. As an example, Vince McMahon recently complained in a Wall Street Journal article about the fact that not a single car manufacturer has a sponsorship deal to advertise on WWE Raw on a national basis.

Not only are far more advertisers going to be advertising on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, but they're going to be paying more to do it. As previously detailed in the TV trade journal Television Week, the commercial slots for the first season of TUF were sold on the "scatter market" due to the unproven nature of MMA on television, whereas now big-time advertisers are increasingly willing to pay Spike TV up-front to advertise on future episodes of The Ultimate Fighter.

Instead of paying a much smaller than normal CPM rate (which is how much an advertiser pays for an individual commercial per viewer), the second season of The Ultimate Fighter will have the same CPM rate as any other sports programming. That is a huge deal and a huge sign of respect from the television industry. For the purposes of comparison, companies that advertise on WWE programming still pay a significantly smaller than normal CPM rate even with WWE's huge ratings, due to the perception that WWE's viewers have less disposable income than the average sports entertainment fan. The Ultimate Fighter overcame an obstacle in 13 weeks that pro wrestling has not been able to overcome for decades.

The altered perception of MMA in the television industry has also manifested itself in other ways that are smaller but still important. Besides Spike TV openly saying that it wants to make the UFC a big part of its network in the future, another thing that speaks volumes about the UFC's standing in the TV industry (which everyone seems to have overlooked) is the line-up for the UFC's last pre-taped special on Fox Sports Net.

Since late 2004, the UFC has been airing specials on FSN before every UFC pay-per-view, and these specials have featured previous UFC match-ups with the fighters who will be competing on the upcoming PPV. However, FSN was still sticking to the demand that it has had all along, flat-out telling the UFC that it would not air any fight that contained ground-fighting. This demand was rooted in gross ignorance about MMA and the misguided notion that the general public would refuse to watch any fight with ground-fighting in it, and was upheld as recently as the UFC's special that aired on FSN in February.

Now look at the line-up that aired on Fox Sports Net affiliates last week to promote the UFC's next pay-per-view, and notice the inclusion of Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg, a fight that took place almost entirely on the ground. Fox Sports Net has lifted its "no ground fighting" restriction thanks to the fact that The Ultimate Fighter has established itself as the break-out new hit of this season on all of cable television. In addition to the big things like advertising rates, it's little things like this that demonstrate how the perception of MMA has changed in TV industry circles.

Potential Fight Show in the Future: Weekly or Monthly?
There's more to the UFC's future on television than The Ultimate Fighter. If the second season of TUF is as much of a ratings success as the first season, the UFC could very well end up with a deal to have original fights broadcast on Spike TV or Fox Sports Net. These fights could be pre-recorded bouts that are taped specifically to be shown on TV over a period of time, or they could be live bouts as was the case on April 9th.

While we would all ideally love to see a weekly MMA fight show on cable television, I believe that a monthly fight show would make more sense and be more practical. The UFC would need time to hype the TV fights and make people care about the people who are going to be fighting on TV. That's part of the reason that the audience was so into the middleweight and light-heavyweight finals--- because they had gotten to know the fighters over the previous weeks.

Obviously, it would be nice to have a weekly timeslot that shows actual UFC fights on a weekly basis, but the UFC can't produce fights to be broadcast on a weekly basis without stretching itself too thin. I think the solution might be to have a weekly timeslot with live original fights once per month, and then the UFC could fill the other three shows during the month with replays of older UFC fights. They would also want to include plenty of hype on the three "replay" shows for the next TV fights and for the next UFC PPV event.

This solution gives the UFC the saturation of getting the MMA product out there, getting people to have a lot more MMA fights under the viewing belts, and getting people a lot more used to watching MMA fights on a weekly basis. At the same time, it avoids the pitfalls of the UFC spreading itself too thin, trying to do too much, and overexposing the product.

How Tito Ortiz Fits Into the UFC's Future
In speculating who Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar should fight in their first few UFC bouts, I have seen a lot of people say, "So-and-so should fight Tito Ortiz and then if they win that fight, they would get a shot at the title" or statements along those lines. What these people are forgetting is the fact that Tito Ortiz is not a UFC fighter at this point, and it doesn't look like he's going to be a UFC fighter for the forseeable future.

As previously reported by MMAWeekly, Tito Ortiz' contract demands are for him to be paid $350,000 in guaranteed money per fight. That is a ridiculous demand that the Ortiz camp knows is ridiculous. That's not a demand that you make if you're really interested in fighting at the present time. You know, kind of like when the Ortiz camp demanded a multi-fight deal valued at more than one million dollars, only to drastically come down in price as soon as Randy Couture beat Chuck Liddell in June 2003.

Ultimately, Tito Ortiz got a significant raise after sitting out much of 2003, refusing to fight Chuck Liddell. Two fights into a six-fight contract, Ortiz demanded a raise from his contractually agreed-upon salary of $80,000 to fight and $80,000 more to win. When everyone and their dog thought that Chuck Liddell was going to beat Randy Couture at UFC 43 and there would be no other UFC fight for Ortiz other than to fight Chuck Liddell, the Ortiz camp came up with a ridiculous offer sheet valued at more than one million dollars that they knew full well would never possibly be accepted by the UFC.

As soon as Couture beat Liddell, and Ortiz felt much more confident about his chances against Couture than against Liddell, the demands came back down to earth. Tito's new contract called for him to make $125,000 for every fight and an additional $50,000 for every win. Despite publicly denying that he even got a raise (responding to a question about money at the UFC 44 teleconference by saying, "The money is basically the same"), the fact is that Ortiz got a significant raise from his previous salary of $80,000 to fight and $80,000 more to win. This has to weigh heavily on the mind of the UFC, Pride, K-1, or anyone else who might consider offering Ortiz a contract in the future. If he has signed contracts in the past that he hasn't honored, how can any company sign him to a multi-fight deal and have full confidence that he's going to honor the contract rather than holding them up and demanding a raise one-third of the way through it?

After his victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 51, with his UFC contract expired and with his 30th birthday having passed (he previously said he would retire at 30), Ortiz then dropped the bombshell through media interviews that he wanted $350,000 in guaranteed money per fight. It seemed to be nothing more than a case of intentionally pricing himself out of the sport, or not being willing to fight for anything less than a gigantic amount of money, and that's exactly how the major MMA promotions treated it.

The UFC showed no interest in signing Ortiz at that price, and neither did Pride. From Pride's standpoint, Ortiz is not a big star in Japan and certainly not worth that much money. From the UFC's perspective, Ortiz is their fourth-biggest PPV draw behind Ken Shamrock, Randy Couture, and Chuck Liddell, and he just recently headlined a PPV that drew a paltry 35,000 buys. Also, the UFC is at a point now where most of the fighters who were on The Ultimate Fighter are better known to the American public than Tito Ortiz.

Just this past weekend, Ortiz began to show signs of desperation. At the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter on Saturday night, Ortiz could be seen as Ken Shamrock was just about ready to enter the Octagon... standing about ten feet behind Shamrock, cupping his hands over his mouth and screaming at him in an attempt to get a reaction. The camera-man panned away from Ortiz rather than spotlighting him, and that was the extent of Ortiz' involvement on one of the biggest nights in the history of MMA in North America.

Ortiz then did an interview with InsideFighting where he made statements like, "I've been loyal to the UFC for seven years" and "I've done right by the UFC for seven years," apparently having forgotten of all the facts outlined above regarding his contract adventures in 2002 and 2003. In the biggest doozy of all, Ortiz took the fact that Pride is not interested in paying him the kind of money he wants and concluded that this must mean the UFC and Pride have a secret agreement not to sign each other's free agents. Never mind the fact that Pride did actually make several offers to free agent Vitor Belfort a couple of months ago before he eventually decided to re-sign with the UFC, and never mind the fact that there is no way Pride is going to pay Tito Ortiz $350,000 per fight under any circumstances. If Pride doesn't want to pay Tito Ortiz that kind of money, it must be because they're doing the UFC a giant favor and not signing him for that reason.

When reached for comment about Ortiz' statements in the InsideFighting article, UFC president Dana White would not comment on Ortiz' contractual status with the UFC, or on the lack of any negotiations between the two sides. In addition, White would not comment on Ortiz' statements about previously being loyal to the UFC. The one thing White was willing to comment on was Ortiz' statements about Pride. White said that Ortiz' beliefs about the UFC and Pride are completely false. When asked about the relationship between the UFC and Pride and whether Pride would be willing to do such a favor for the UFC, White replied, "Are you serious? These guys have been telling me for two years that they were going to send Saku to fight in a UFC event. They have never done anything for the UFC."

Ignorance Among MMA Fans Rears its Ugly Head
It's expected that with all the new fans of the UFC, there will be a certain level of ignorance that is normal for casual fans of any sport, but there is also a certain level of ignorance among hardcore MMA fans who are suggesting that Ken Shamrock vs. Rich Franklin was a worked fight. It doesn't take much in the way of actual facts and logic to dispel this misguided theory.

First of all, someone slipping on the mat twice does not mean a fight is worked. How many times did both fighters slip at various points in the fight between Chuck Liddell and Vernon "Tiger" White? Does that mean that fight was worked? How many times have fighters slipped on the advertising logos on the mat in both MMA and boxing? Does that mean all of those fights were worked?

Also, if you watch the tape closely you can see that after the first slip, Shamrock tries not to put any pressure on his left leg for a while, clearly indicating that he hurt his left leg in the first slip. When he finally does try to put pressure on his left leg by planting it as he throws a kick with his right leg, you can see his left leg noticeably buckle just before the second slip.

If you watch from the camera angle that shows Shamrock's face after the second slip (not the camera angle that shows the back of his head but not his face), you can see that he is alert upon hitting the ground. You can also see if you look at Shamrock's face and in particular his eyes that he was knocked into a semi-conscious state by either the second haymaker punch from Rich Franklin on the ground, or the third one. From that point, he's just lying there in a semi-conscious state as Franklin pounds away, waiting for the ref to stop the fight, as Shamrock's head bounces off the mat like a basketball several times. If you're looking at the camera angle with the back of Shamrock's head in it, he's just lying there taking shot after shot. It's only when you look at the camera angle that shows Shamrock's face that you can clearly see he was no longer there after the second or third punch.

This is not all that unusual. Rich Franklin is a fighter who hits very, very hard, as evidenced by his impressive TKO win over a fighter the caliber of Evan Tanner who has been in there with many great fighters. Seeing someone get knocked into unconsciousness or semi-consciousness after being pounced upon on the mat is also not unusual. When Ricco Rodriguez went down in the fight with Tim Sylvia, close inspection shows that he was still conscious and fairly alert when he hit the ground. It wasn't until Sylvia pounced on him and landed several punches flush on Rodriguez' face that he was knocked out. The same goes for Mirko Cro Cop vs. Kevin Randleman. Again, it's not unusual.

Besides this evidence, there is the fact that Rich Franklin said he felt his ankle pop when Shamrock put him in the ankle lock. If you watch closely and know what you're watching, you know that Shamrock nearly finished the fight and the only reason Franklin escaped was because he knew exactly how to roll to put the least amount of pressure on his ankle and exactly how to escape. There is also the fact that the Nevada State Athletic Commission determined after the fight that Ken Shamrock suffered an eye injury, which may be a scratched cornea. You normally wouldn't see tweaked ankles and scratched eyeballs in a worked fight.

More than anything else, there's common sense. Why would Ken Shamrock significantly reduce his future earnings potential in any viable career field (MMA, pro wrestling, or acting) by "working" and losing a fight the way he lost that fight? The Wrestling Observer recently reported that Shamrock owes a large sum of money to the IRS in back taxes, and it's probably a greater amount that he earned in the fight with Franklin. You mean to tell me that someone who owes money to the IRS is going to significantly reduce his future earnings potential that he could use to pay off that debt, and he's going to do it intentionally? That just defies common sense.

My Personal Take on the April 9th Show
I truly think that April 9th, 2005 is a day that will go down in MMA history. Not only did we get the first ever MMA fights on live TV, but to get an all-time classic like Bonnar-Griffin was amazing. We also got two other fights that were short but were excellent while they lasted. In Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, the UFC has two legitimate stars who are A) Great fighters, B) Great personalities that can give good interviews in both a serious way and a funny way, and C) Good people who live the kind of lifestyles we'd all want UFC fighters to live... the anti-Tank Abbott, if you will.

I think from a business standpoint, what Bonnar and Griffin did during the fight was matched by what they did after the fight, as they had the crowd in the palms of their hands cheering for them, genuinely laughing at their post-fight jokes, liking both guys and wanting to see them both again, etc. The decision was close and I would have personally had it 29 to 28 in favor of Bonnar, but it was close enough that you can't say it's anything even resembling a "robbery" either way.

The live crowd and the viewing audience seem to have been very pleased by the UFC's decision to not only give Forrest Griffin and Diego Sanchez the "winner" contracts, but also Stephan Bonnar. I believe that giving Bonnar the contract was not only warranted and a good decision, but realistically it was also something that the UFC had to do or he would have been scooped up with a big offer from Pride or K-1 in a heartbeat.

In addition to Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar becoming huge stars, I believe that stars were also born with Diego Sanchez and Rich Franklin. By the way, interviews conducted since the fights on Saturday have clearly established that Rich Franklin is definitely moving back down to 185 pounds, and Diego Sanchez is definitely moving back down to 170 pounds. The UFC also has four potential future stars at 185 pounds coming out of the undercard with Nate Quarry, Chris Leben, Josh Koscheck, and Mike Swick.

The best thing one can say about the April 9th UFC broadcast on Spike TV is this: That show was so good, it's bound to create new MMA fans. I think it's safe to say that you can take that two-and-a-half hours of tape and show it to a group of non-MMA-fans, and the majority of them will turn out to be MMA fans after watching it. That's one of the biggest goals of any MMA show, and few shows have ever pulled it off as well as the April 9th season finale of The Ultimate Fighter.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- This will go down as one of the most important days in the history of MMA in the United States. Tonight at 9:00 PM Eastern Time on Spike TV will be the first time ever that live MMA fights take place on cable television (as opposed to pay-per-view), with an audience of millions.

The ratings success of "The Ultimate Fighter" has been far greater than expected, but that was still a reality series with pre-taped fights. Now we're talking about live fights on free television, just like any other sport. For the most in-depth coverage of "The Ultimate Fighter" that you'll find anywhere, check out my articles in the Weekly Columns section of MMAWeekly.com

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Thursday, April 07, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- Full Breakdown of UFC 51 Fighter Salaries
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

UFC 51 Fighter Salaries
Event took place on February 5, 2005
-Tito Ortiz: $175,000 ($125,000 for fighting; $50,000 win bonus)
-Vitor Belfort: $100,000 ($100,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $40,000)
-Tim Sylvia: $40,000 ($40,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $40,000)
-Evan Tanner: $38,000 ($18,000 for fighting; $20,000 win bonus)
-Andrei Arlovski: $30,000 ($12,000 for fighting; $18,000 win bonus)
-Nick Diaz: $11,000 ($6,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Phil Baroni: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Paul Buentello: $8,000 ($4,000 for fighting; $4,000 win bonus)
-Karo Parisyan: $8,000 ($4,000 for fighting; $4,000 win bonus)
-Mike Kyle: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting, $3,000 win bonus)
-David Terrell: $6,000 ($6,000 for fighting, win bonus would have been $6,000)
-Justin Eilers: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Chris Lytle: $4,000 ($4,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $4,000)
-David Loiseau: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Pete Sell: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-James Irvin: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Drew Fickett: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Gideon Ray: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $456,000

Comparative Notes on Total Fighter Payroll
UFC 48: $586,000
UFC 49: $535,000
UFC 51: $456,000

Analysis of UFC 51 Fighter Salaries
-Tito Ortiz was the highest-paid fighter on the UFC 51 card. Tito's contract for the past four fights has been $125,000 to fight and $50,000 more to win. Tito has now completed his six-fight UFC contract, which was to originally pay him $80,000 for each fight and an additional $80,000 for each win.

What's interesting to note is how much more Tito is being paid than Chuck Liddell. Tito has been making $125,000 and $50,000; while Liddell made $60,000 to fight and $60,000 more to win in his most recent outing. That is likely to change, with Couture and Liddell becoming the two highest-paid fighters in the UFC, because of the exposure Couture and Liddell are getting on Spike TV. More people have watched The Ultimate Fighter than have watched all of Tito's fights combined, so I would be shocked if Liddell is still making $60,000 and $60,000 for his next UFC contract.

Before UFC 51, a contract was offered to Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock for them to fight at some point... a contract that Shamrock signed and Ortiz didn't. The reason is now clear: As a free agent, Ortiz is seeking a huge raise that would make him the highest-paid fighter in the UFC by far. In an interview with Sherdog's Josh Gross before UFC 51, Tito's agent said that Ortiz would be seeking a minimum of $300,000 per fight. And that's not $150,000 to fight and $150,000 more to win; the agent said Tito wanted at least $300,000 for any given fight in guaranteed money, win or lose.

The contract demands from the Ortiz camp are all the more shocking when you consider the massive hit that Ortiz recently took in his reputation as a PPV draw. Zuffa had a string of pay-per-views with good buy rates, including approximately 80,000 buys for UFC 49, which headlined with Couture vs. Belfort, and with Liddell in a "second from the top" position. UFC 50, which had an advertised main event of Tito Ortiz vs. Guy Mezger right up until the last minute, drew somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 to 40,000 buys according to the Observer Newsletter, an atrociously bad buy rate not seen since UFC 42. Tito's reputation for being able to draw good PPV buy rates on his own was shattered, and even if UFC 51 ends up being a PPV success, Tito's drawing power will still be mitigated by the PPV failure of UFC 50.

Seeking a huge raise and with no financial leverage on his side, Tito Ortiz once again proved what a shrewd and calculating businessman he is with his post-fight performance. Ortiz called out Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock, naturally causing both of them to get into verbal confrontations with him, and helping to create an artificially inflated impression of the demand for Ortiz vs. Shamrock II or Ortiz vs. Liddell II. There's no doubt that both of those fights would draw PPV buys, but would it be worth it for Zuffa to pay Ortiz a minimum of $300,000 in guaranteed money for both fights? That will be up to Zuffa to decide.

There are a lot of questions about Tito Ortiz' MMA future, but two things are clear. One is that whatever salary Ortiz may or may not get from the UFC in the future, it will have to be within the context of Couture and Liddell now being much bigger stars than he is due to the exposure from The Ultimate Fighter. Two is that whether he would want to or not, Ortiz will not be fighting on the April 9th live special on Spike TV, he will not be fighting on the April 16th UFC 52 card, and he will not be fighting in the first round of Pride's 205-pound Grand Prix in April. Ortiz was officially diagnosed with a broken nose after his fight with Vitor Belfort at UFC 51, and even if he recovers from a broken nose quicker than most athletes do, he still wouldn't be ready to fight in April. Any future that Ortiz may or may not have with the UFC or Pride is not going to start until after those events have taken place.

-If there's one other thing that sticks out about the UFC 51 salaries, it's the fact that Phil Baroni was still paid $10,000 to fight and $10,000 more to win, a salary that is well above average in the UFC. Other UFC fighters, some on this very card, have had to start over on the UFC pay scale with salaries of $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win after a single loss. Going into his UFC 51 fight with Pete Sell, Baroni had gone 0-3 in the UFC over the previous two years.

-Elsewhere on the UFC 51 card, Vitor Belfort finished out the last fight on a contract that paid him $100,000 for each fight and an additional $40,000 for each win. Vitor may have been worth that high salary as a big-name free agent when the contract was signed in 2001, but he may or may not be worth that now after losing two consecutive high-profile fights in the UFC. Working in Belfort's favor is the fact that a lot of people think the judges should have given him the decision victory by a 29-28 margin instead of awarding the victory to Ortiz by the same margin.

Still, a loss is ultimately a loss, and that's how it's going to be recorded in the record books. At this point in Belfort's career, the UFC may or may not be interested in continuing to pay him the same high salary, but it could be a moot point. As reported on the MMAWeekly SoundOff Forum after UFC 51, Belfort is said to be leaning towards Pride and is interested in entering Pride's upcoming 16-man, 205-pound Grand Prix tournament. Pride is a much bigger company than the UFC with far more money to throw around, so they might end up paying Belfort however much he wants, or at least more than the UFC would be able to pay him. Also influencing Belfort's decision to lean towards Pride is the fact that he has returned to the Brazilian Top Team, which has strong ties to Pride.

-Andrei Arlovski, took a risk in his contract for UFC 51 and had it pay off in a big way. Arlovski's contract for his previous fight, a UFC 47 victory over Cabbage, paid him $15,000 to fight and $8,000 more to win. For his UFC 51 fight against Sylvia, Arlovski re-negotiated and got a new contract that paid him $12,000 to fight and $18,000 more to win. Arlovski took a lower guaranteed amount in exchange for a higher win bonus, and as a result of that risk paying off, his gross earnings were $30,000 for the Sylvia fight as opposed to $23,000 for his previous fight in the UFC. It would be reasonable to expect Arlovski to get a big raise now that he is the UFC's Interim Heavyweight Champion.

-After being vacant for a ridiculously long time period of over two years, the UFC Middleweight Championship now has a home on Evan Tanner's shoulders. People don't realize it, but Tanner is one of the fighters with the most wins in the UFC, and that finally paid off for him with a championship belt at UFC 51. Tanner's overall record in the UFC is 10-2, including 7-2 in the "Zuffa-era UFC." He has not only won his last four UFC fights, but he has also won seven of his last eight fights in the UFC. Tanner's stature in the UFC is starting to show up in the checkbook, as his previous salary of $15,000 to fight and $15,000 more to win was increased at UFC 51 to the new mark of $18,000 to fight and $20,000 more to win.

-Fighters tend to get paid less as their weight class gets lower, but welterweight Nick Diaz stands as a case study of fighters who get paid more in the UFC as they establish themselves more. Diaz made $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win for his UFC debut, a victory over Jeremy Jackson. His paycheck was increased slightly to the new mark of $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win for his next UFC fight, a knockout victory over Robbie Lawler. After a high-profile win like that, Diaz got a raise with a new contract that paid him $6,000 to fight and $5,000 more to win, a contract that he fought under at UFC 49 and again at UFC 51. At this point in his career, Diaz is 3-1 in the UFC, with his only loss being a decision loss to fellow welterweight standout Karo Parisyan.

-Despite beating Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan is slightly lower than Diaz on the UFC pay totem pole because he is only on a two-fight winning streak in the UFC, whereas Diaz is on a three-fight winning streak in the UFC. Like Diaz, Parisyan made $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win in his first UFC fight. Like Diaz, Parisyan had a contract for $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win for his second UFC fight. The difference is that Parisyan lost his second UFC fight, whereas Diaz knocked out Robbie Lawler in his second UFC fight. So while Diaz got a raise, Parisyan's salary stayed at $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win. Parisyan's salary going into his UFC 51 fight against Chris Lytle was $4,000 to fight and $4,000 to win, and the fact that Parisyan racked up another impressive victory should ensure that he continues to move higher on the UFC pay scale. Parisyan is 3-1 in the UFC, with his only loss being a close decision loss to Georges St. Pierre.

-David Terrell made more for his UFC debut and more for his second UFC fight than most fighters do, in large part because the UFC had to strike a deal with the Pancrase organization in Japan just to have the right to use Terrell on a UFC card. Terrell made $3,000 to fight and $5,000 more to win for his UFC debut. At UFC 51, fighting for a title belt, Terrell's contract was for $6,000 to fight and $6,000 more to win. After losing decisively to Evan Tanner, Terrell probably won't be getting a raise anytime soon, but he could still potentially be a force in the UFC's middleweight division. Terrell is yet another victim of MMA "bandwagon-ism," but as history has shown us, losing one fight does not mean that you're incompetent as a fighter.

-Chris Lytle has been steadily rising through the ranks of the UFC pay scale, making $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win at UFC 47; then making $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win at UFC 49; and at UFC 51 making $4,000 to fight and $4,000 more to win. Lytle lost to Karo Parisyan by decision at UFC 51, but has still won two of his last three UFC fights (his previous two UFC fights were submission wins over Tiki Ghosen and Ronald Jhun). I would expect Lytle to still be in the UFC after his decision loss to Parisyan, though his pay could be rolled back slightly or at the very least stay at its current level rather than increasing.

-David Loiseau was previously a victim of the "one and done" philosophy that the UFC sometimes uses. After making an impressive UFC debut in 2003 with a knockout win over Mark Weir, Loiseau lost his next UFC fight by decision to Jorge Rivera and was not seen or heard from again in the UFC. Finally, Loiseau was given another chance in the UFC, though at a reduced salary of $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win, and he took advantage of the opportunity with a victory over GIdeon Ray.

-When Robbie Lawler had to pull out of his fight with Phil Baroni, the expectations weren't very high for Pete Sell. He hadn't fought in ten months, he was taking the fight on a month's notice, and he only had five fights in his young MMA career. Sell took the fight against Baroni for a purse of $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win. Sell defied expectations holding his own in the stand-up with Baroni before choking out Baroni with about 45 seconds left to go in the fight. With the upset victory, Sell has earned himself another shot in the UFC.

-Heavyweight Mike Kyle was able to fight his way back into the winner's circle at UFC 51, improving his UFC record to 2-1. Kyle's contract for his UFC debut was for $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win, and after winning his UFC debut he got a raise in his second UFC fight to the new total of $4,000 to fight and $4,000 more to win. After losing in his second UFC outing, Kyle's pay was rolled back to the previous level of $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win, which is what he fought for at UFC 51.

-Like Mike Kyle, heavyweight Justin Eilers also made $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win, but Eilers received a slightly larger raise due to the potential and star power that he showed in his UFC debut. Eilers' pay for his second UFC fight at UFC 51 was for $5,000 to fight and $5,000 more to win. After losing to Paul Buentello, Eilers is now 1-1 in the UFC.

-Paul Buentello got slightly more than most heavyweights get for their UFC debut, with a UFC 51 bout agreement that paid him $4,000 to fight and $4,000 more to win. With his impressive win over Justin Eilers and the star power that he showed during and after the fight, Buentello could be a big player in the heavyweight division in the future.

-James Irvin got the standard pay for a heavyweight making his debut in the UFC: $3,000 to fight and $3,000 more to win, while Drew Fickett and Gideon Ray got the standard pay for a non-heavyweight making his debut in the UFC: $2,000 to fight and $2,000 more to win.

Unfortunately for these fighters, most of the fighters who lose their first UFC match do not return to the UFC, or at least not until they rack up an impressive winning streak on smaller shows. Like any fighter who loses his UFC debut, the chances of Irvin, Fickett, and Ray making it back to the UFC someday will likely depend on how dedicated they are to improving themselves and continuing to build their resumes on the independent scene.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Politics--- Hilarity ensues in the House of Representatives as Rep. Al Edwards of Texas, after presumably finding himself to be aroused by high school cheerleading routines, proposes legislation to ban any "sexually suggestive" cheerleading. Does this man not sound literally just like the stereotypical Senator Tankerbell from Mr. Show in the mid-90s, who wanted to ban anything that might cause him to be "aroused" or "titillated" or "confused"? This is an actual quote from Rep. Edwards:

"It's just too sexually oriented, you know, the way they're shaking their behinds and going on, breaking it down... and the teachers and directors are helping them go through those kind of gyrations."


Monday, April 04, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WrestleMania 21 has come and gone, and here is my full review of the event.

WWE WrestleMania 21 Review
Score (out of 10): 9.0
Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: The Big Show vs. Akebono

WrestleMania was a great event overall with a few big disappointments but also two matches that were absolute classics.

Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio had a very good match that could have been a great match if it had more time to develop, instead of only having 12 minutes to work with. The 12 minutes of the match that did take place were very good and had the crowd popping for everything, with the only minor distraction being Mysterio constantly having to re-adjust his mask as it constantly came loose. For these two guys to be given 12 minutes on a four-hour PPV, especially in the Los Angeles market where they are even more over with the audience than they are in the rest of the country, is nothing less than a proverbial middle finger to both guys from WWE management.

The six-man ladder match was a strong Match of the Year candidate with plenty of incredible bumps and "holy s--t" moments. Not much in the way of psychology, but it was a sensational stunt-fest that offered a different take on the ladder match with six different guys all fending for themselves. In particular, Shelton Benjamin's plancha over the top rope, Chris Benoit's headbutt from the top of the ladder, and Benjamin's running clothesline up the "ladder rampway" were all incredible moves that took a ton of guts and athleticism. Benoit's selling of his arm injury at the end of the match was so intense and believable that it left me wondering if he really did hurt his arm.

The segment with Hulk Hogan, Mohammad Hassan, and Khosrow Daivari accomplished its purpose, although it occurred to me when Hogan threw Hassan & Daivari out of the ring instead of giving them the leg-drop that he physically can't do the leg-drop right now. On the other hand, the Piper's Pit segment with Roddy Piper and Steve Austin was brilliantly executed. You knew it was going to be something special when Piper started the segment by saying, "Welcome to Piper's Pit!" and giving Austin a stiff slap to the face, and then Austin responded by saying, "Thanks for having me, you son of a bitch!" before delivering his own stiff slap. Piper may have stolen the show verbally with various things like interacting with the "What?"-chanting crowd and delivering the line, "I was pissing Vince McMahon off when the red on the back of your neck was diaper rash." The involvement of Carlito Cool was also very well done and served to elevate Carlito while giving Austin and Piper someone they could both beat up.

The Randy Orton-Undertaker match was better than most Undertaker matches, but that's like saying horse manure smells better than chicken droppings. Orton did a lot more than I thought he could do physically with his torn rotator cuff, but the near-falls weren't convincing because it was very clear who was going to win the match. It's not just that you're not going to see Undertaker jobbing to Orton at WrestleMania; you're not going to see him jobbing to Orton, period. Seriously, the last time Undertaker did a clean job was in October 2002 against Brock Lesnar.

It's amazing to see how much more over the characters were in the women's title match at WrestleMania compared to past years, and you can give most of that credit to the constantly improving Trish Stratus. Looking as good as she does, Trish could have easily rested on her laurels, still have gotten by just fine, and still have been a huge star, but instead she has dedicated the last several years of her life to improving her craft in a way that no other female in WWE has--- first in terms of being a good in-ring worker and then in terms of being a dynamic personality with great interviews. I laughed out loud when the announcers talked about Lita training Christy Hemme and someone who was watching the event with me (who doesn't follow wrestling closely but does know what Lita did to Matt Hardy in real life) said, "The only thing Christy is going to learn from Lita is how to be a whore and how to get injured constantly."

Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle delivered an absolute classic of a match that was a lot better than the excellent ladder match earlier on the show. The difference between the two matches is that this one had top-notch wrestling psychology. There was great psychology early in the match with Michaels getting the better of Angle at his own game with some strong mat-work, in a similar way to the first half of the WrestleMania 12 Iron Man Match where the story was that Michaels was getting the better of Bret Hart at Hart's own specialty of technical wrestling. The psychology of the match changed completely after Michaels' back-first bump into the ring post, and built up with exciting highspots and convincing near-falls later in the match. The atmosphere of the match was further enhanced by the dueling "Let's go Angle, Let's go Michaels" chants from the crowd. I really don't think Kurt Angle should be taking stomach-first moonsault bumps with the condition of his neck and spine, but I also know after all this time that nobody is going to stop him (whether it's his wife and kids or Vince McMahon). I went into the match thinking that Michaels was going to win, and I left the match feeling glad that Angle won because while Michaels really has been "Mr. WrestleMania" over the years, Kurt Angle has never really had a high-profile WrestleMania victory on this level and might not be around as an in-ring wrestler for future WrestleMania's.

The Big Show vs. Akebono match was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen on a pro wrestling PPV, and that's really saying something. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the creative meeting where jobber-to-the-stars John Laurenitis pitched the idea that having a worked sumo match at WrestleMania would make for a nice addition to the card--- and then somehow the idea was accepted. You've got to feel bad for Big Show, who in six weeks went from being in the main event of a pay-per-view to wearing a sumo outfit and jobbing to an obese man that nobody in the building cared about.

With only the two world title matches left, it was clear that they were running a little bit behind on time. As Wade Keller wrote on the Torch web site, "Nobody is telling Triple H he has to shave even a minute off of his alloted match," so instead we had Triple H vs. Batista last 22 minutes and JBL vs. John Cena last a ridiuclously short eleven minutes. The Smackdown title match got no reaction specifically because of decisions like this. No one in the crowd thought for a minute that the Smackdown title was worth a damn, because they have been conditioned to believe that over the past couple of years, and so they were just waiting for the "real main event" to start. Having the biggest Smackdown match of the year only last eleven minutes just reinforced the image of Smackdown as the "B-brand" and also made JBL and Cena look like a joke. The match itself was nothing special, either, as they clearly tried to cram all of their previously planned spots into eleven minutes.

When the "real main event" did start with Triple H vs. Batista, the crowd was very hot for the opening, but then surprinsingly a large percentage of them seemed to go to sleep (and some could even be seen leaving early). You can't tell me it was just a cold crowd that wasn't into the action on this night, because the crowd was going absolutely nuts for the ladder match and Angle vs. Michaels. This match dragged on way too long, and the finishing sequence was damaged quite a bit by the fact that you could clearly hear Triple H call out, "Spinebuster" to Batista if you were listening. The match exposed two things that most people already knew: A) Triple H does not carry anyone to a great match, he only has great matches when he's in there with superior workers, and B) Batista is far from the worst worker in the world, but he's still limited in what he can do. Of course, if you've followed wrestling closely enough over the past five years, you know that's precisely the point. When Batista has a "surprisingly disappointing" title reign due to the sudden revelation that he's limited in the ring, the same thing is going to happen as when Randy Orton had a "surprisingly disappointing" title reign due to his sudden babyface turn--- the belt will go back to You Know Who before too long.

Looking at this card from a historical standpoint, the ladder match was an excellent match that will probably blur together with the other great ladder matches in recent years, Angle vs. Michaels was a classic that people will be talking about for years to come, and I think more notably than anything else, the crowd crapped all over the two big babyface title wins. When you think of WrestleMania history and main event babyfaces winning the world title for the first time, you think of memorable moments like Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12 or Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. Hell, just last year the crowd for WrestleMania 20 was almost riotous for much of the match and went absolutely ape s--t when Chris Benoit finally won the title. This year, John Cena and Batista both got their first world titles, and the crowd reaction during and after the title changes were more or less, "Ehh." No matter how successful or unsuccessful Cena and Batista are in the future, that's something they are never going to be able to get back. This was a great self-contained show, but we're not going to have "the beginning of a new era" as long as the same people remain in charge.


Sunday, April 03, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- It's WrestleMania Sunday, the biggest day of the year for the pro wrestling industry every year since 1985. Very briefly, here's what the line-up looks like:

-Vince McMahon's Son-in-Law vs. Batista for the World Heavyweight Title

-JBL vs. John Cena for That Other Title That Clearly Isn't As Important

-Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels in a dream match

-Undertaker vs. Randy Orton in this month's episode of "Undertaker Squashes the Young Talent"

-Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio in what could be a show-stealing match with the heel turn we've been waiting for

-A six-person ladder match with Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Edge, Christian, and Kane

-Trish "Beautiful and Talented" Stratus vs. Christy "Mildly Attractive and No Talent" Hemme

-The Big Show vs. Akebono in a "sumo rules" match that is sure to be as much of a train wreck as Akebono's one and only K-1 win (which was worked)

-The return of Piper's Pit with a barely coherent Roddy Piper interviewing Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is not wrestling on the show because of his permanent neck condition

-Also, look for Hulk Hogan to show his wrinkled, manipulative, cancer-to-any-locker-room-he's-in face at some point, perhaps in a segment with Mohammad Hassan that would be sure to garner cheap heat

I'm not sure at this point if I'll be writing a review for WrestleMania after it happens, but it looks like a good line-up on paper, and it damn well better be for fifty bucks. In the meantime, I think this is a good time to look back at the reviews I wrote for three of the previous four WWE pay-per-views. I wrote these reviews after each PPV took place and submitted them as reader feedback on the Pro Wrestling Torch web site.

These reviews offer an explanation as to how a line-up can look on paper (and in some cases actually turn out to be a very good wrestling show), and the company can still be doing all the wrong things and moving in the wrong direction creatively. Raw and Smackdown have been good shows recently, but their long-term potential is anchored to the ground as long as Stephanie McMahon is the head of creative despite all her faults, and as long as her husband Triple H continues to be pushed as the top star of the promotion by far, despite the fact that there are literally a dozen guys on the roster more deserving of his spot than he is.

The three PPV events reviewed below took place in December 2004, January 2005, and February 2005.

WWE Armageddon 2004 Review
Score (out of 10): 2.0
Best Match: Rob Van Dam & Rey Mysterio vs. Kenzo Suzuki & Renee Dupree
Worst Match: John Cena vs. Jesus Aguilera

Only the back-and-forth bantering of Tazz and Michael Cole kept me from slipping into a mild coma during one of the worst PPVs I can remember. Can someone please explain to me why everyone (including the ref) has to act completely terrified of a 45-year-old man who wears women's mascara? I would also like an explanation for why Undertaker, in order to "justify" not winning the match, had to A) Dominate offense for the majority of the match, B) Kick out of and no-sell Eddie Guerrero's double finishing move, C) Only lose because mean ole' Heidenreich interfered, and D) Even then, still not be the one to do the job.

After the match when he sat up and realized JBL had retained the title, the look on Undertaker's face was priceless and resembled the look of a newborn baby who has just woken up and realized that he has a dirty diaper. The announcers completely spoiled the fact that JBL was going to retain the title by constantly saying throughout the show that he was definitely going to lose the title. Great job by the director in completely missing the clothesline that JBL used to finish off Booker T.

I hope Charlie Haas gets over with the crowd after the twist in his story line, but why do I have the sinking feeling that the creative team has absolutely nothing else planned for the story line? Hmm, maybe it's because that's what creative always does, in much the same way that Paul London can go from being one of the hottest acts on one Smackdown-brand PPV, to then appearing on ONE of the next eight Smackdown shows, to then not even appearing on the next PPV.

Even though they picked the right man, why would you let the crowd decide who wins a boxing match instead of having judges? Why would you put on a match like Cena vs. Jesus with exactly the kind of tired stand-up brawling that the wrestling industry has seemingly moved past? Why would you reward Hardcore Holly with a PPV appearance (and thus a bonus check) just weeks after he physically assaulted one of his co-workers like a coward? Why would you expect anyone to take Funaki seriously as a champion after treating him like a joke for a half-decade? How is anyone supposed to take Team Angle seriously after they lose a three-on-one handicap match? These are the kinds of obvious questions that need to be asked at WWE creative meetings, and this PPV just serves as proof that there is no one willing to ask these kinds of questions.

WWE Royal Rumble 2005 Review
Score (out of 10): 6.0
Best Match: Royal Rumble match
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Heidenreich

First of all, how many times is Triple H going to be involved in borderline racist things before he is officially declared a borderline racist? How is Triple H calling Eddie Guerrero "a jumping bean" any different than if it was a black wrestler and he used the n word? That was just disgusting. The Royal Rumble match was good, but there were booking decisions all over this show that demonstrated why WWE is moving in the wrong direction.

The finish of the Royal Rumble match was either horribly botched by the wrestlers or just horribly booked. Assuming everything went as planned, how many times per year do we need to see the same stupid finish of, "Ref A thinks one guy was the winner, and Ref B thinks the other guy was the winner"? We have literally seen that in one form or another on WWE TV a half-dozen times over the past year. Why would you have John Cena get squashed and elminated 15 seconds after the match was re-started? Why would Batista and Cena be the final two in the first place if it's only going to build anticipation for the dream match you're NOT giving them at WrestleMania, and it's going to put fans into a position to cheer the elimination of one of the top two most over babyfaces in the company?

WWE sure showed how much faith they have in last year's WrestleMania main eventers, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Guerrero was eliminated midway through the match by Edge with no big deal made of it, and Benoit was stopped just short of making the final four. I don't think it was even mentioned that Benoit was in the ring from the time the match began to the time when the 30th entrant came out, and that achievement is no longer treated as a big deal in general because someone does it every year these days. Isn't there a way to build towards Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle without having yet another Rumble Rumble with an incredibly stupid "invalid elimination"? If Angle can re-enter the match and eliminate Michaels, does that mean if referee Jack Doan ran in and threw Jericho out that Jericho would be eliminated? Or if Edge ran back in after he was eliminated and threw out John Cena, does that mean Cena would eliminated?

Paul London continues to get crapped on by WWE, while Undertaker should get some kind of lifetime achievement award for being in more "Worst Matches of the PPV" than anyone in the modern era. I don't think it's possible to have a tag team match with less talent in it than Undertaker & Kane vs. Snitsky & Heidenreich, but at least they will get most of the "stink" compressed into one match at WrestleMania if that match happens. Seeing Orton get booed and Triple H get cheered was disheartening because that's exactly what has been set up to happen. Orton was turned babyface way too early had his legs intentionally cut out from him as a babyface almost immediately, while Triple H has been booked for months in what is traditionally the babyface role of being outnumbered and overcoming adversity. Then, not only does Triple H beat Orton clean, but Orton doesn't even get a visual pinfill while the ref is down.

If there's one positive thing coming out of this show, it's how it demonstrated the power of the brand split. When wrestlers from the two brands only have physical contact with each other twice per year (Rumble and Mania), it makes it seem like a big deal, as evidenced by the huge monster pop from the crowd when the four Raw wrestlers and the four Smackdown wrestlers stared each other down and then fought. Other than that one factor, the Royal Rumble was a three-hour capsule summary of WWE's problem: Talented wrestlers wasted and mis-used by an incompetent creative team.

Vince McMahon Injury Sidebar: I doubt I am the only one who is not feeling sorry for Vince McMahon in the least bit after his injury at the Royal Rumble. Putting aside the fact that certain lifestyle choices could very well make McMahon more likely to get injured than he otherwise would be, one has to remember that this is the same man who has released wrestlers right when they get their medical clearance after being out with an injury suffered on the job.

Not only that, but this is the same man who showed his appreciation for Andrew Martin (aka Test) putting his body on the line for the company and breaking his neck by releasing Martin just a couple months into his year-long recovery process from spinal surgery. This is the same man who continued the show when a wrestler died in his ring doing a stunt that he was pressured into doing, and has spent the last five years constantly revisiting that night by having many "The show must go on!" kind of moments on TV after worked injuries to various wrestlers. If ever someone was going to suffer a freak injury due to bad karma, wouldn't that person be Vince McMahon?

WWE No Way Out 2005 Review
Score (out of 10): 6.0
Best Match: Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio vs. Doug & Danny Basham
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Luther Reigns

I'm not a former writer for a crappy, cancelled TV show. I am merely a longtime fan of pro wrestling, so I'm sure WWE is not interested in my ideas, but here's one anyway. It would be great to have a "barbed wire steel cage match" and market an entire PPV around the concept that this match is so special that it makes the card worth buying all on its own. Then, just put barbed wire around the top of the cage. Then, don't have anyone ever touch the barbed wire at all, even for a second, under any circumstances. Then, book one of the most stupid finishes in the history of the steel cage. Add all up that, and it's pure gold! (Or something else that is four letters.) Oh, wait, they already did that tonight.

Paul London showed throughout the ridiculously short cruiserweight match why he is a great talent that deserves to get a big push, and WWE showed once again that they would rather say, "Screw you!" to their audience than make money on an idea or a talent that they didn't come up with. The opening tag match was very good and had a surprising finish. To me, the John Cena vs. Kurt Angle match wasn't as good as it could have been because there would be no drama in any near-falls; it would just be a matter of waiting for the ref bump and Shawn Michaels run-in. The entire crowd immediately started chanting "HBK" the minute the referee went down, but he never came out, leaving me to wonder how they're going to properly promote Angle vs. Michaels leading up to WrestleMania.

I do have to give props to Angle for helping to elevate Cena by doing a clean job, which is something that maybe he can explain to Undertaker. As I've said before, The Undertaker deserves some kind of Lifetime Achievement Award for being in the worst match on more PPVs than anyone in history. Month after month, through his determination, laziness, selfishness, and restrictions placed on him by his AARP membership, Undertaker goes out there and proves that he can stink it up just a little bit more than you thought he could. As for elevating young talent in any way, you can forget about that. The most you're going to get out of this guy is a brief facial expression after the match indicating that it was slightly more difficult than he anticipated to beat his opponent. We are now beyond the point of being "a little bit past the time" for Undertaker to retire. You could say that five years ago; now it's just ridiculous.

The bickering between Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie was one of the few funny moments on the show, but in general the three different "Rookie Diva" segments were destined for failure from the moment they were written, and the people who wrote those segments were well aware of that fact. That is the problem with WWE right now: It's not about putting on a good product, it's about making Vince McMahon happy with the product. Whether it's women in their underwear or jacked-up steroid freaks in their underwear, if it tickles Vince McMahon's fancy then apparently it doesn't matter what the fans think.