Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Friday, December 30, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Earlier this week, I posted my thoughts and analysis regarding the top ten finishers in the annual Pro Wrestling Torch Reader Draft, which is the most accurate barometer in the pro wrestling industry of which wrestlers are viewed as the most valuable by the hardcore fans of the business.
Samoa Joe was the run-away #1 finisher, with the rest of the top ten (in order from #2 to #10) being AJ Styles, Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin, Christopher Daniels, Triple H, Edge, and Christian.
The Torch Newsletter also published the combined reader rankings from #11 to #50, and some of the increases and decreases were very interesting.
Matt Hardy finished #29 this year, which is indicative of his standing in the business right now. When he was going to become a free agent and had a chance to jump to TNA, he chose to instead put his faith in WWE, the same company that had fired him three months earlier because his girlfriend cheated on him. Now look at him. He is intentionally being buried by WWE management (as reported by both the Torch and Observer) so that Vince McMahon can prove that he "was right all along," and it's getting harder and harder to find people who will try to deny that fact with a straight face.
To add to his behind-the-scenes troubles, Matt Hardy now also has The Undertaker humiliating him and calling him out in the locker room, reportedly calling him a mark before a recent show in front of a large group of wrestlers (according to the Observer). That is an ironic thing for The Undertaker to say given the fact that he has lived his "Dead Man" gimmick for fifteen years, and has even placed his gimmick higher on his priority list than honoring his dead co-workers.
Anyway, Hardy finished #9 in the 2004 Draft and would probably have finished even higher than that in 2005 if he had gone to TNA and gotten the huge push that was waiting for him. Instead, he's #29 in 2005, and his stock is only going to continue to fall if WWE continues to get its kicks by screwing with him.
Matt Hardy's brother, Jeff, didn't even finish in the top fifty, and it's not difficult to understand why. If he ever gets clean and motivated, Jeff Hardy could be a valuable asset to any pro wrestling promotion. Instead, he just blew his last chance (at least for now) with TNA because he no-showed yet another pay-per-view event. This time, he didn't even call with a half-assed excuse. He actually sent TNA management a text message just two hours before his match was scheduled to start which basically said, "I overslept by several hours and missed my flight... my bad."
It's hard to imagine Jeff Hardy going back to WWE if they're legitimately going to start drug-testing (although that remains a big "if" at this point), which means that Hardy's only choice now is to prove himself on the independent scene if he wants to have any future in the wrestling business.
Trish Stratus continued her long streak of being the highest-ranking female on the list, as she finished #38 in the overall rankings. Barring injury or political BS, it's likely that she will finish even higher next year due to the excellent acting that Trish is currently displaying in her evolving storyline with Mickie James.
Trish was just another pretty face when she debuted in WWE in about 1999, but since then she has become one of the best female in-ring workers ever due to pure hard work and determination. She has also turned into one of the most reliable promo-cutters in the business, and is now showing off her acting ability as well.
The only problem is that WWE management wants to send the message that they can replace any female at any time with someone who will work for dirt-cheap just to be on TV, so unfortunately Trish's days in WWE might be numbered. Also, earlier in 2005 when Trish had to miss a few months of in-ring action with a herniated disk in her back, WWE management expressed displeasure with the fact that she took a few months off, which now means that she could be just one injury away from being unceremoniously dumped by WWE. It's this kind of culture and mentality that often leads to wrestlers doing "whatever it takes" to make the next house show and stay on the road, regardless of what it does to their physical well-being.
Now that he is once again an active pro wrestler (albeit only in Japan for now), Brock Lesnar jumped all the way back to #11. Apparently, people haven't forgotten just how amazingly good Lesnar was before his meltdown/nervous breakdown/stress overload in early 2004 caused him to quit WWE.
WWE is currently trying to hold Lesnar to a six-year no-compete clause, even while refusing to pay him the amount on his original contract if he were to return to WWE. If it were a sure thing that Lesnar would be able to legally work in the United States before 2010, instead of just a possibility, he would have definitely finished even higher than #11. That's looking likely for 2006, because WWE withdrew its latest ridiculous request for a temporary restraining order in its lawsuit against Lesnar, and all indications thus far point to Lesnar's side winning in court.
Kane experienced the most drastic fall in the results, dropping from #18 in 2004 to not even being in the top fifty this year. Maybe it's because people finally figured out that he can't work and has had maybe two or three good matches since he joined the company in 1997.
The only difference between Glen Jacobs (who plays Kane) and Mark Calloway (who plays The Undertaker) in terms of their overall careers is that Undertaker is worse as an in-ring worker and worse on promos... but Undertaker was blessed with a unique gimmick that got over with fans, and was also extremely fortunate to have gotten to work with Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels in their primes. Switch their roles around, and Mark Calloway would be considered even more of a failure than Glen Jacobs is today.
John Cena and Batista
The two world champions in WWE, Batista and John Cena, finished #15 and #18, respectively. It's hard to argue that either of them deserved a higher ranking, although picking Batista over Cena is border-line ridiculous in my opinion. It's even more ridiculous than it otherwise would be when you factor in Batista's current severe injury, and the fact that he is injury-prone in general due to his freakish muscle mass.
Ken Kennedy (pause ... Kennedy)
The highest-ranked newcomer on the list was Ken Kennedy, who finished #20 overall. It's a shame that Kennedy suffered a severely torn lat muscle in his back last month, just as he was starting to gain a huge amount of momentum. Kennedy suffered the same injury that Batista is currently "pain-pilling" his way through, but Kennedy's tear was much more severe (requiring surgery), and he is expected to be out of action for at least six months. Hopefully, Kennedy will pick up right where he left off in mid-2006.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Samoa Joe Dominates Annual Draft Feature in Pro Wrestling Torch
The Pro Wrestling Torch has released its annual list of the Top 50 Reader Draft Picks, and Samoa Joe ran away with the #1 position in a vote that was not even close. The draft feature has been an annual staple in the Torch Newsletter since 1997, and it is generally an excellent barometer of which performers are perceived by the hardcore fans to be the most valuable in the pro wrestling industry.
Each individual reader who participated in the balloting process submitted a list of their top ten hypothetical picks (I published my ballot recently on this page), and wrestlers were given ten points for each #1 ranking, nine points for each #2 ranking, and so forth.
In lieu of publishing the entire Top 50 rankings, I will just list the top ten finishers and write extensively about this. Later this week, I will be back with some additional comments on many of the wrestlers who didn't make the top ten.
Top 10 Reader Picks in the Pro Wrestling Torch 2005 Draft
(based on combined fan voting)
1. Samoa Joe
2. AJ Styles
3. Chris Benoit
4. Shawn Michaels
5. Kurt Angle
6. Shelton Benjamin
7. Christopher Daniels
8. Triple H
Breakdown of Top Ten Wrestlers
1. Samoa Joe
Joe was also my #1 choice, and he won the overall ballot in a run-away. Torch editor Wade Keller wrote, "Samoa Joe's margin of victory over second-place finisher AJ Styles was larger than any other margin among the top five finishers. In other words, he ran away with first place. It was no contest."
This is not surprising given that there were literally more Match of the Year candidates in 2005 that had Samoa Joe in them than there were Match of the Year candidates that did not have Samoa Joe in them. Also, the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer has given a perfect five-star rating to a grand total of four matches since the mid-1990's... and Samoa Joe has been in three of those four matches.
Here's a brief excerpt of what Wade Keller wrote about Samoa Joe in the Torch Newsletter this week: "Joe represents a no-nonsense style that is as remarkable, compelling, and original as Hulkamania, Austin 3:16, and the rise and incredible falls of Mick Foley during their breakthrough years... [Joe] is like nothing wrestling fans have seen over the past two generations... There is something about him, and even more so his strong, realistic, no-nonsense in-ring style, that could be the next trend that leads to a boom period."
2. AJ Styles
Styles was also #2 on my list. Wade Keller wrote, "Styles gets shared credit for Joe's rise because he has been such a perfect opponent--- a Magic Johnson to his Larry Bird... I'm with the readers on this. I have expressed my belief in a smaller, athletic style being a gold mine for the first promoter to properly invest in it and portray it as the top-of-the-card style. Styles would be the ideal choice to head up such a division." I think that sums it up well. Styles' amazing talent is surpassed only by that of Samoa Joe, and his in-ring style is a perfect foil for Joe's extremely stiff style.
3. Chris Benoit
Amazingly, Chris Benoit has finished in the top five of the annual draft feature in eight of the nine years since its inception in 1997. No one else has ever placed in the top five on five different occasions, much less eight. I excluded Benoit from my top ten only because he's in his late 30's and has been working at a world-class, high-impact level for over 15 years now (minus one year that he had to sit out after breaking his neck). Benoit's in-ring style and work ethic combine to put a tremendous amount of stress on his body, and unfortunately one has to think that it could be just a matter of time before injuries start to catch up to him. If none of that were a factor, he would have definitely been in my top five.
One also has to consider the recent Torch news item about Benoit being depressed and much more isolated in the locker room ever since his long-time best friend, Eddie Guerrero, died last month. (The Torch also reported that Benoit may be "questioning his loyalty to WWE," which would make sense given the way that WWE shamelessly exploited Eddie's death to further a pro wrestling storyline two weeks after he died...)
Benoit is probably doing a lot of soul-searching right now because he shares two of the issues that his best friend struggled with for so many years... A) Putting an incredible physical strain on his body with an in-ring work ethic that would be almost impossible to sustain with only the doctor-prescribed amount of pain pills, and B) Maintaining a body type that is carrying far more muscle mass than his frame was ever meant to hold. While Benoit is an absolute freak in terms of working out (doing 1,000 Hindu squats per day, going up and down dozens of flights of stairs per day, etc.), just being physically fit does not mean that he is in good health.
Benoit is in his late 30's and has a WWE contract that expires in early 2006. Given that he is one of the most respected wrestlers in all of WWE, someone who the entire locker room looks up to (from the veterans to the younger wrestlers), the choices that Chris Benoit makes in the next few months could have an enormous impact on the pro wrestling industry.
4. Shawn Michaels
After having finished as the top vote-getter in the first two years that the annual Torch draft existed (1997 and 1998), Michaels retired from wrestling due to a severe back injury. Ever since he returned to the ring in 2002, everyone has been holding their collective breath waiting to see how his back would hold up to the rigors of a full-time WWE schedule. Not only has Michaels' back held up, but he is arguably just as good as ever at the finer aspects of working a pro wrestling match in the ring. Michaels has been climbing in the rankings every year since 2002 and is now back in the top five for the first time since 1998. As Wade Keller wrote, Michaels is "making a case as the best in-ring worker ever with every additional year he stacks on top of his already stellar resume." I excluded Michaels from my top ten only because of the fact that at 40 years old, he's only going to be able to maintain his current in-ring athleticism for so many more years.
5. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle needs help and should not step foot into a wrestling ring again until he gets it. The Pro Wrestling Torch has reported in a series of news items that are getting less and less subtle every week that Kurt Angle's life is in danger due to an extreme addiction to high levels of prescription pain pills. Rather than taking time off to let injuries heal (or undergoing major surgery that could be career-ending), Angle wants to prove to WWE management that he can continue to work the full-time WWE schedule and be a reliable main event wrestler. He continues to work despite the fact that he still has what is essentially a broken neck, and he also has an additional major injury (to his back) that he suffered this year. Angle has already lost his wife and children due to his extreme dedication to continuing to work the WWE schedule at all costs, and if someone doesn't do something, this story is not going to have a happy ending.
The Torch was more direct than ever about Kurt Angle's situation in this week's issue. Wade Keller wrote, "[Angle] may push himself so hard without a break that any chance of another entrance into the ring is extinguished. With a neck, back, and overall body as broken down as anyone in the industry today, any match could be his final."
The Torch's Jason Powell was also very direct: "As much as I admire Kurt's work ethic and desire to be the best in the business, I wouldn't put someone in his physical condition in the ring."
We can only hope that someone in WWE steps up and forces Kurt Angle to get the help that he needs before it is too late.
6. Shelton Benjamin
Benjamin has never gotten the push that he deserves in WWE and probably never will no matter how talented he is, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has followed WWE for any number of years. Benjamin was my #7 pick due to his unlimited potential and his streak of amazing athletic performances earlier this year at WrestleMania 21, and in singles matches against Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho.
7. Christopher Daniels
Ironically, when I made Christopher Daniels my #4 pick last week, I wrote that "even with Daniels being as acclaimed as he is, I still think he's under-rated." Now that has come to pass once again, as he finished with a great ranking in the overall Torch reader voting but is still under-rated. Daniels does not have the health concerns associated with him that Benoit, Michaels, and Angle have. I would choose Daniels over Benjamin because while Benjamin has the potential to one day have four-star-plus matches on a regular basis, Daniels already has an established track record of doing so.
8. Triple H
The only reason Triple H is on anyone's top ten list is because he's the final main-eventer from the Monday Night War boom period who is still an active, full-time wrestler, and he's going to draw from that well into it's completely dry. Triple H took several months off this past summer in order to attempt to start a family with his wife, Stephanie McMahon. Perhaps coincidentally (or perhaps not), he has gotten noticeably smaller and lethargic ever since he started trying to have a family. I would strongly doubt that Triple H is going to be told to "have a family on your own time," which is what the late Rick Rude was once told when he wanted to start a family.
As Wade Keller wrote in this week's Torch Newsletter, "[Triple H] has seemed lethargic and uninspired... worn out or bored. His character hasn't advanced in years. His matches, while still good, seem all too familiar." Though it's usually left unsaid by the insider pro wrestling media outlets like the Torch and Observer, the fact is that Triple H wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't started a relationship with Vince McMahon's daughter and subsequently married her. Talent did have some role in Triple H's almost non-stop run of PPV main events over the past six years, but nepotism had a much bigger role.
Edge is in a constant cycle of being punished by WWE management in part for being a younger, fresher, and more talented version of Vince McMahon's son-in-law. Ignoring the fact that he hasn't gotten the full-fledged main event push that he deserves, and ignoring the fact that in real life he slept with Matt Hardy's long-time girlfriend and showed no remorse for doing so (and the fact that his now-former wife publicly outed him as a steroid user when she found out about the affair), the fact remains that Edge is one of the most talented wrestlers in the business today, which is why I made him the #5 choice on my ballot. Like all-too-many WWE wrestlers, Edge is likely to "pain-pill" his way through a major injury (in his case, a torn pectoral muscle) by returning earlier than he should, although at least he's actually taking some time off from in-ring action to let his pectoral muscle heal to some degree (unlike Batista, who is working a full-time schedule with a torn lat muscle in his back).
When Edge recovers from his injury, I imagine that most wrestling fans will remember that Edge has delivered world-class, four-star matches when he has been put in a situation where he is called upon to do so. In the last year in particular, he has also evolved with his smarmy heel promos to the point that he is now one of the best promo guys in the entire business. In addition to playing the arrogant jackass heel, Edge is also capable of turning it up a notch and delivering extremely intense, impassioned promos, as seen on several occasions this past summer. I expect to see Edge ranked even higher next year.
Christian was the #9 pick on my ballot and the #10 pick in the overall Torch standings. It's ironic that Christian and his old tag team partner, Edge, both broke into the top ten in the same year, and it's also ironic that Christian continues to be perceived as one small notch below Edge.
While Edge and Christian are both among the best in the industry on the microphone (in two completely different ways), I don't think you'll find too many people who would argue that Christian is better than Edge in the ring. There is something about the speed and intensity of Edge's in-ring work in main event-type situations that Christian just doesn't seem to fully have a handle on yet.
On the other hand, while Edge remained mired in WWE politics this year, Christian became the first WWE wrestler to turn down a WWE contract renewal offer in order to sign with TNA instead (and he won't be the last). Christian, who is only moderately muscled and certainly not a musclehead, didn't have the right "body type" to get a main event push in WWE. Wade Keller wrote the following about Christian's break-out year: "Although Christian doesn't fit the mold in terms of body type that Vince McMahon saw as a potential main eventer, fans didn't care--- they were entertained by him."
I'll be back later this week with my thoughts on many of the wrestlers who didn't make the Torch's top ten.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- This site is back from its unofficial Christmas vacation, just in time to participate in the Pro Wrestling Torch's annual Top 50 Draft feature. The concept of the draft is for readers of the Torch to choose the ten wrestlers that they would theoretically draft if they were "launching a brand new promotion and could hand-pick any ten wrestlers from the world, regardless of their contract status, to use as the promotion's core wrestlers" (according to the Torch's official description). Each year, the Torch prints the top fifty vote-getters and also includes the ballots of the various Torch writers.
As for the criteria of the draft, the Torch's official position is, "There are no stipulations put on whether you should pick young wrestlers, old wrestlers, big wrestlers, small wrestlers, wrestlers who are great in the ring but can't talk, or wrestlers who are great talkers but are poor in the ring. The point of the poll is to get a pulse on who well-read, informed fans believe are the most valuable wrestlers out there today."
In December 2004, the top ten draft picks among Pro Wrestling Torch readers were (in order from one to ten): Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Triple H, AJ Styles, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Matt Hardy, and CM Punk.
Below are the ten wrestlers that would be on my list in such a hypothetical situation, along with my brief comments on each selection.
Also, to answer the obvious question before it starts getting e-mailed to me, the reason that I didn't include Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, or Shawn Michaels on my list even though they are the top three in-ring workers in WWE is because they are all in their late 30's or early 40's. Additionally, Kurt Angle was excluded from my list not only because of age, but also because of the serious personal issues that he needs to address for his own sake.
My Top Ten Draft Picks
1. Samoa Joe--- As I wrote in my review of TNA's Turning Point pay-per-view, it's hard to fathom how anyone's top two draft picks this year could be anyone other than Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, unless you have absolutely no regard for in-ring work-rate. The reason I have made Samoa Joe my #1 pick is because he is "different" than anyone who has ever come before him. Plenty of other wrestlers have worked the "strong style," but Joe exudes charisma and toughness in his own unique way. With Samoa Joe, you can't say, "He's kind of like so-and-so, but much better." He is a unique entity unto himself. He's not "kind of like" anyone.
2. AJ Styles--- The only reason he is #2 on this list instead of #1 is because you can point to a handful of X Division wrestlers in TNA and say, "AJ Styles is kind of like those guys in terms of his in-ring style, but he's far better than all of them and is also capable of having back-and-forth, brutal wars like the one he had with Samoa Joe," whereas Samoa Joe is completely unique. This is not meant as a knock on Styles at all, because he is right up there with Samoa Joe, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, and Shawn Michaels on the list of "best in-ring workers in North America."
3. Chris Jericho--- Chronically under-rated and disrespected for years, it is only now that he is gone from WWE TV that Chris Jericho is starting to get the respect that he deserves (albeit still not from WWE management). He is the total package of in-ring wrestling ability, interview ability, and personality.
4. Christopher Daniels--- Even with Daniels being as acclaimed as he is, I still think he's under-rated. Daniels is in the same class as the top wrestlers in WWE, but you rarely hear that comparison made.
5. Edge--- I think of Edge in the same sentence as Chris Jericho in that he has the complete package of promos and in-ring wrestling. He is younger than Jericho and is better on promos, but isn't quite as good as Jericho in the ring and doesn't have as much main event polish. (Also, the other wrestlers would have to keep an eye on their girlfriends around Edge, as Matt Hardy could tell you.)
6. Rob Van Dam--- It has been so long since RVD has been allowed to be RVD that I think most people have forgotten what he was like in ECW. Judging Rob Van Dam simply on his work in WWE would be an injustice to him. He should be allowed to work his own custom-made style, which would contrast nicely with the style of a lot of my other draft picks.
7. Shelton Benjamin--- He has a world of potential, but it has never been realized in WWE and sadly, it probably never will be. Benjamin had an excellent match with Shawn Michaels on Raw earlier this year, but most people forget that he also had an excellent match with Chris Jericho the night before on PPV. His star-making performance at WrestleMania tells you what you need to know about Benjamin, and his treatment in WWE since WrestleMania shows what WWE management thinks of him.
8. Paul London--- London is great at highspots, great at making regular moves look special, and also great at psychology when given more three minutes to work a match. Huge upside.
9. Christian--- The only reason Christian is not higher on my list is because so far there appears to be a limit on how good he can be in the ring during singles matches. I think if he reaches his fullest potential as an in-ring worker, he could consistently have three-star matches and three-and-a-half star matches, with a couple of four-star matches per year as well, but he's not going to consistently have matches in the four-stars-or-higher range. His amazing interviews and charisma more than make up for his lack of world-class working ability.
10. Austin Aries--- This pick is based primarily on potential. We all know that Austin Aries can work a great match, but I also see in him an intangible charisma and intensity in everything he does, from the way he walks to the ring to the way he executes simple moves and makes them look good in doing so. He's one of the people who is always in the sentence about the guys who are the "future of the wrestling business," and rightfully so.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- I recently had some great back-and-forth exchanges on the Torch VIP Forum (which is probably the best message board for pro wrestling discussion) about Michael Cole, Stephanie McMahon, and the general culture that exists within WWE. It is not unusual for some of the most in-depth things that I write during the course of any given week to be on one message board or another, and it's often well worth sharing these things on the blog.
The source of this discussion was the appearance of WWE announcers Michael Cole and Tazz on WWE's Internet-based talk show, Byte This. On Byte This, WWE personalities are often told by management to "shoot" (ie, make unscripted comments, or speak openly and out of their pro wrestling character), but there are still certain lines that it would be unwise to ever cross. Here's what happened on the show, as recapped by Michael KopStick on the Torch web site:
"If we are wondering why their voices are so hoarse tonight, Cole lets us in that he and Tazz were just doing voice-overs for a new WWE video game that will be released in 2008. Cole says, 'You know, the storylines will be the same then as they are now. We repeat them every six months.' This comment even makes Tazz blush and he looks down. (Explanation: They were probably told to shoot. But even in the process of shooting, you still have to not cross a certain line. Tazz, being from the old school, understands that. Cole has no comprehension of it and doesn't know where to draw the line. What results from that is a classic comment from a guy who will be severely reprimanded the next day and won't understand why. 'You told us we should shoot,' he'll say, just not getting it.)"
Right after Michael Cole said that, Tazz asked Cole where he's going to work after he gets fired, and Tazz also made an imaginary shotgun with his arms and pretended to fire it at Cole.
Here's what I wrote about the situation: "I think Michael KopStick was right on the money in his Byte This recap when he wrote that Michael Cole is so ignorant about wrestling that he has no idea where 'the line' is that he's not supposed to cross. So when they tell him to go out there and say shoot-like things, he has no idea that such a directive does not include any negative comments about Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, the writing team [led by Stephanie], or Triple H. As Michael KopStick said, Cole is going to get a tongue-lashing at some point for saying what he said, and he's going to have no idea why he's getting it."
Someone then said something like, "Come on, Ivan, he's not an idiot," to which I replied, "In terms of knowledge of the pro wrestling business, I think Michael Cole would be the first to admit that he's an idiot, and would be proud of saying it (after all, he's no pro wrestling mark!). Wade Keller has said as much in a few Keller Audio Updates... that while Cole is a hard worker, he doesn't want to be seen as a 'pro wrestling mark' and doesn't try to learn as much as he can about the wrestling business, in order to avoid that much-feared-within-WWE perception."
Someone asked if Torch editor Wade Keller was just picking on Michael Cole with some of the things he has said and written about Cole, which prompted me to reply with this:
"I don't really get that impression at all, because it's not just Michael Cole who has that attitude within WWE, and Wade Keller has made that very clear in the past. The vast majority of the company's employees (as in the non-wrestlers, as in the ones who actually get medical insurance and pension) have the aforementioned views about the wresstling business.
Wade has talked in the past about how Jonathan Coachman has those same kinds of views, and so do all of the WWE writers, etc. And I know that the Torch and Observer have both covered the fact that this attitude exists because it trickles down from Stephanie.
I believe Wade even used the word "obsessed" at one point to describe how Stephanie feels about Hollywood-izing the writing staff and not wanting them to know much about wrestling.
I also remember when the whole Jim Ross-Mike Goldberg situation in WWE went down, Dave Meltzer wrote a lot about how when the WWE looks for announcers, it's actually considered a plus if you know nothing about the pro wrestling business because they want people who are 'not pro wrestling marks.' The wrestling announcers in WWE who are actual 'wrestling people' is now down to just Tazz, Joey Styles, and Jerry Lawler.
So to say it's just Michael Cole, or that Wade or anyone else is only picking on Michael Cole, is not true. It's the culture of the entire company, and it all trickles down from Stephanie and to a certain extent Vince and Linda as well."
This is where things really got interesting, as the discussion entered into the larger issue of Stephanie McMahon and the culture within WWE. The following are excerpts from a good back-and-forth discussion that I had with a forum member named Graffix.
Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"Ivan, I'm just curious here, that's why I'm asking this. It's not meant as an insult or anything like that. What is your beef with Stephanie? You seem to take a lot of digs at her. You seem to really hate her, almost on a personal level."
Ivan Trembow responds:
"I don't hate Stephanie, but I do dislike her job performance for the exact reasons stated in my previous post. It's not just that she has taken the company down the creative crapper since she officially joined the writing team in 2000, but she is also obsessed with 'Hollywood-izing' the company and eliminating the pro wrestling element of how WWE is run."
Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"But WWE had writers from Hollywood before Stephanie. I believe even Ed Ferrera was brought in from USA Network, and had worked on several TV shows including things like Duckman. It was not all her idea and it had worked before. The only problem is that unlike in the late 90s, there are less wrestling fans in the general public, so finding die-hard fans who also know how to do the job is probably not the easiest task. I'm not saying Stephanie has not made a lot of mistakes and I'm not saying she picked the best part of the her dad's company to work that fits her. But making everything out to be her fault is unfair."
Ivan Trembow responds:
"It's true that there were some writers from Hollywood before Stephanie joined the writing team, but I also don't think it can really be disputed based on what the Observer and Torch have reported since 2000 that Stephanie has changed the culture of the writing staff as a whole, with Wade Keller recently calling it an 'obsession' that Stephanie has. Now it's all about wanting to get in as many 'Hollywood people' as possible and wanting to get the 'pro wrestling marks' out, because of this elitist attitude that the McMahons are 'more than just pro wrestling promoters.'
There's no doubt that a lot of that comes from Vince, and also that the buck ultimately stops with Vince on everything, but Stephanie has made it her own little project to Hollywood-ize the writing team, so to speak.
Also, I wouldn't say that everything is Stephanie's fault. I don't think that the decline in WWE creative since 2000 is entirely her fault. But I do think that she is a big part of it. I also believe that if one wanted to think of a list of people who are most responsible for it, she would have to be somewhere near the top of the list of names.
I also think it's not a stretch to say that she is a failure as the head of the writing team. If she wasn't Vince McMahon's daughter, anyone else with her job performance would have been fired a long time ago. The Torch and Observer usually tip-toe around this particular issue, so I was surprised when Bruce Mitchell came right out and called her 'incompetent" in his recent column. I don't think that wrestling fans should be any less dissatisfied with a poor creative team just because it is going to continue to have the same leader; I think people should voice their opinions either way if they feel strongly about it."
Forum member "Graffix" wrote:
"Wanting to make the WWE more Hollywood than Sports isn't a bad idea in theory. Obviously Hollywood TV shows do better with a mainstream audience than pro wrestling, which would mean more money. The problem is people don't want WWE for this reason and it alienates the fans. This is Stephanie's (and whomever thought up the Diva Search) biggest mistake. Her, or whomever takes over the creative department in the future, will have a big challenge. And that will be getting the wrestling a mainstream audience withough losing what made it so much fun in the first place.
I would not put Stephanie anywhere near the top of the list of people who are most responsible for the decline since 2001. The decline has happened for a number of reasons. The main one being that people have found something better to watch than wrestling and it's just not in style anymore. But it's not like a mainstream audience is watching another federation. If there was another show that was drawing 8's and 9's in the ratings while WWE got 4's, I'd say she was a huge failure. But people aren't interested in wrestling anymore. They are watching Hollywood-written shows, hence the idea to make the WWE more Hollywood."
Ivan Trembow responds:
"You make some valid points and I respect your opinions, but I've still got to strongly disagree with you. This is a 'chicken or the egg' kind of thing. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the people who know the timeline of events behind the scenes would say that Stephanie started to "Hollywood-ize" the writing staff and then their business in the United States started to fall apart... as opposed to 'their business started to fall apart in the US, so in an attempt to breathe new life into the company, Stephanie decided to Hollywood-ize the writing staff.' The way in which Stephanie handled the head booking job has been one of the biggest reasons that business declined so much in the first place.
All of the millions of people who were watching pro wrestling in 2000 didn't stop watching pro wrestling simply because they decided that they didn't like pro wrestling anymore, it's because they fall into one of two groups for the most part: A) People who were WCW fans who did not make the transition to being WWE fans when WCW went out of business, and B) People who completely lost interest in the WWE product, which Stephanie is in charge of creatively.
Also, it would be nice if the root motivation for Stephanie's Hollywood-ization of the writing team in the first place was to help WWE reach a more mainstream audience than ever before, but that's just not the case based on everything that the Torch and Observer have ever reported. And on this front, it's not just Stephanie and her writing team, it's also the people in charge of hiring announcers.
When hiring new writers or announcers, they don't want people who know anything about pro wrestling because those people are viewed as 'pro wrestling marks,' and WWE feels those people are beneath them. The McMahon family members absolutely hate to view themselves as 'just pro wrestling promoters,' so they don't want to be hiring people who they perceive as 'pro wrestling marks.'
The only people who would be semi-qualified to be writers in WWE who also know nothing about pro wrestling would be writers who have Hollywood writing experience and are willing to give it a try.
If a potential new writer or potential new announcer knows anything about wrestling or is a fan of wrestling, it's actually looked down upon and they are less likely to get the job, specifically because WWE management looks down on those people. That's just a grossly counter-productive way of doing things."
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE's exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's death (which I originally wrote about in this post) is no less sickening now than it was when it took place two weeks ago, which was just two weeks after Eddie's death. The difference is that now the mainstream media has started to pick up on it.
In a piece about the general decline of WWE's storylines, TV Guide (the most widely-read publication in the United States) included the following line:
"A recent plot focused on the 'killing' of the Undertaker - in poor taste in light of the November 13 death of Eddie Guerrero. Sure it may be sports entertainment, but we still wonder what past greats like Gorgeous George and Bruno Sammartino would think of the current state of their livelihood."
The popular satire web site, The Onion, wrote a parody story about The Undertaker as it relates to Eddie Guerrero's death (a story that you can read here). On the surface, one might think The Onion is making fun of Eddie Guerrero's death, but that's not the case at all. If you've read The Onion for any length of time, you know that the vast majority of their stories have the dual tracks of what is being said on the surface and what is being said between the lines.
In this article, the "reading between the lines" aspect is not particularly subtle. Clearly, someone at The Onion saw the episode of WWE Smackdown where the Undertaker's gimmick collided head-on with the memory of Eddie Guerrero, and where getting over characters was more important to WWE than not spitting in the face of Eddie Guerrero's legacy.
That episode of Smackdown was also booked in a way where Wrestling Booking 101 would dictate that Eddie Guerrero could run out at any moment to save Rey Mysterio from the heinous Big Show, or to save Undertaker from the heinous Randy Orton, if it weren't for the fact that as inconvenient as it might be for WWE, Eddie Guerrero is really dead in real life and not as part of one of their stupid storylines. Hence the Onion article's focus on the possibility of Eddie Guerrero making a surprise return, and an equal focus on Undertaker's dead man gimmick.
It didn't take long after I started reading the Onion article for me to start to realize that The Onion was actually ripping into WWE's exploitation of Eddie Guerrero on that episode of WWE Smackdown. Any doubt that The Onion's writers were going for that effect was eliminated with the following paragraph:
"'The Undertaker is starting to run his mouth just because Eddie's dead,' said Guerrero's nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr., staring at a Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story 2004 promotional movie poster hanging in his dressing room."
You don't put that in there unless you're trying to make the point that WWE exploited Eddie Guerrero's death and made it part of a storyline.
Most notably of all, the UK Sun (which is the most-read newspaper in the United Kingdom) published an article about WWE's crass exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's death, as well as the fact that one week later WWE was making fun of Terry Gordy's premature death. The following are extended excerpts from the UK Sun article:
"When Eddie Guerrero died, the first thing we feared is that Vince McMahon would turn it into some sort of wrestling angle. But then our common sense got the better of us and we thought, 'Surely even the man responsible for Katie Vick and Muhammad Hassan wouldn't exploit such a real and amazing outpouring of grief.'
Sadly, once again, we underestimated what Vince and his head writer/daughter Stephanie will do for a ratings boost...
... [On the November 29th episode of Smackdown], Rey Mysterio came out in one Eddie's lowriders, prayed, and dedicated the bout to his friend... Then during the match the shock tactics started. Big Show, who was in tears on the episode of Raw after Guerrero's death, suddenly started using the lowrider to get heel heat. He powerbombed Rey on the hood of the car and clearly spat on it, too...
If a wrestler had 'died' as part of storyline, this may have been a justified way to continue that angle. But Eddie is really dead, and Rey Mysterio has really lost someone he saw as a brother, and Big Show had been crying real tears.
... Randy Orton has tried to 'kill' Undertaker a few times now [in WWE storylines], but we thought in the wake of a real tragedy the WWE may have decided on a more tasteful, not to mention original, idea for them. What we weren't expecting was Orton to put Taker into Eddie's lowrider and crash it into the stage, setting it on fire to 'murder' Undertaker once again.
Despite Chavo Guerrero going on Byte This to tell the world this was what his Uncle Eddie would have wanted, many family members, friends and fans were mad. Message boards and columns like ours have been bombarded with e-mails of complaint, and the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer reporting that one of WWE's biggest stars of the last ten years wrote to him in fury...
... At the end of the day, there is no justification for using Guerrero's memory or lowrider to further a fictional storyline. It's not going to make people boo Big Show or Randy Orton, but it will make the millions of fans touched by Eddie's passing hate the company that Big Show and Orton work for.
It seems to be the vogue to use dead wrestlers for cheap heat, as [the next week on Raw] Edge overstepped the mark for the second week running in a segment with WWE road agent and former superstar Michael Hayes...
... The line was truly crossed when Edge asked Hayes why his Fabulous Freebirds tag team partner wasn't out there backing him up, then added: "You know why? Because Terry Gordy is dead!"
Like Eddie Guerrero, Terry Gordy gave his life for the wrestling business - dying in 2001 at just 40 years old. He left a son, two daughters, parents, a sister, and lots of other friends and family.
Gordy and Hayes were very close, with Michael helping organize tribute shows to help raise cash for his grief-stricken family.
Does the WWE really think this kind of thing makes people want to watch wrestling matches? Is this the sort of coverage they want for their product? Do they honestly believe it's a tribute to Eddie and Terry?
Or are Vince and Stephanie so wrapped up in their own world that they can longer differentiate between fact and fiction?"
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- The TNA Turning Point pay-per-view event would have been better if it had simply ended with the phenomenal Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles match (which I wrote about here), but instead we had to sit through another Jeff Jarrett match. Jarrett vs. Rhino was the standard Jarrett match, with the only notable variation being Rhino's crazy bump off the scaffolding. That's the kind of legitimately dangerous bump that should be sold for several minutes, if not longer, and I feel that Rhino did himself and the match a huge disservice by going back on offense less than 60 seconds after the bump. The teased count-out finish would have been incredibly stupid, and the finish that actually did take place was only slightly less stupid.
I hope TNA's real-life president, Dixie Carter, was listening and realized that it wasn't just "heel heat" when the crowd was chanting, "Fire Jarrett!" He could still work backstage and still be a booker (and a pretty good one at that), but there is absolutely no reason that Jeff Jarrett should still be in the main event picture or on television at all. Internal politics aside, the fact remains that the Carter family owns the majority of TNA and can do whatever they want with the company. All we need now is for Dixie Carter to grow a backbone and do what needs to be done with Jarrett.
The show-closing announcement about Sting signing with TNA is being sold as a far bigger deal than it actually is, and you can already tell just how much of a full-time schedule Sting is going to work in TNA by the fact that he couldn't even be bothered to show up for the big announcement. I'm assuming that Sting is going to be thrust into the main event picture even though he is 15 years older and nowhere near as charismatic or talented as TNA's other recent big signing, Christian. Even if part of the deal to sign Sting was that he had to be in the main event slot, is there a person on this earth whose last name is not Jarrett or Carter who honestly believes that Jarrett vs. Sting would be any more of a draw than Rhino vs. Sting, or any number of other people vs. Sting?
Even though he hasn't had a good match since 1998, it's possible to bring Sting into the promotion and get some former wrestling fans to sample the TNA product without making him a title challenger. He could be put in the same "special attraction" role that Undertaker has had for years in WWE, where he's pushed prominently but also separately from the world title picture. It would be fitting since Sting and Undertaker are both 45-year-old men who can't put on good matches, and were never particularly good in their peak years, either.
The X Division tag team match with Alex Shelley & Roderick Strong vs. Austin Aries & Matt Bentley was a very good match. It should have been booked to go longer than it did, but within that timeframe there was a lot of world-class action and also some solid character development. TNA developed the character of Alex Shelley over the past several weeks, a move that is a welcome and long overdue addition to the X Division.
You can't go from having no character development to all of a sudden having nuanced character development for all of the X Division wrestlers, and Alex Shelley was the obvious choice to be the first person to get this treatment. The past few weeks of TNA Impact on Spike TV have shown that Shelley's character is about a lot more than setting up the stupid video camera at ringside to film his matches. He has had a cocky demeanor that is very reminiscent of a young Chris Jericho. Logic would dictate that TNA should now spend the next month giving Austin Aries (or Chris Sabin, or Roderick Strong) a unique identity that separates him from all of the other X Division wrestlers, and then the next month give the same treatment to another X Division wrestler, and so on.
The Barbed Wire match between Abyss and Sabu did an excellent job at what it was meant to do, which was to provide the fans with an exciting, brutal, gore-fest. We just had a pay-per-view earlier this year (WWE No Way Out in February) where an entire month of TV was dedicated to pushing the barbed wire stipulation, only to have nobody use, touch, or come in contact with the barbed wire in any way during the match (see dictionary definition: "false advertising"). This match was a huge step up not only from that low standard, but also a step up from the usage of barbed wire in general on wrestling PPVs in the past.
With an excellent promo by Abyss' manager James Mitchell on the pre-show, TNA finally explained why the normally fearless Abyss is so afraid of barbed wire, and it added to the story of the match if you cared to see it. In the storyline, Abyss was able to overcome his fear of having any contact with barbed wire enough to not only enter the ring and have the match, but also to give Sabu a run for his money... but he was still not able to take it to a level where he could beat Sabu in a match that is Sabu's specialty. Now, how much storyline is that compared to the non-existent storyline in most hardcore stunt matches? The answer is, "A hell of a lot more than you would ordinarily see."
Both of these men put their bodies in the line in a dangerous, brutal back-and-forth match with legit barbed wire, as evidenced by the way the barbed wire ripped at their clothes, and stuck to Abyss' hair at the end. More sickening than anything in the match, though, was the fact that the Torch's Wade Keller (who is one of the journalists that I respect the most in any field of journalism) crapped on this match while giving a much higher rating to the Jeff Jarrett vs. Rhino match, which seems a bit silly to me.
The promos back and forth between Christian and Monty Brown leading up to their PPV match have been fantastic from both men (which surprised me in Brown's case but not in Christian's case). While their match at the PPV wasn't as good as the promos leading up to it, it was still a good match. I just hope that Christian isn't big-footed by an untold number of months of Jarrett vs. Sting main events, which wouldn't be all that different from being held down by the Triple H's and Undertaker's of WWE.
Team Canada and Four-Live-Krew had the same match that they always have... that is, until the extremely well done heel turn by Konnan at the end. The reactions of BG James and Ron Killings were also excellent. After Konnan took it a step further by also hitting BG James in the head with the chair, and then hugging Ron Killings and leaving the ring, the look on Killings' face (which basically said, "What the f--k just happened?") was absolutely priceless and fit perfectly with the storyline that was playing out.
There has been no word on why Jeff Hardy no-showed his match on the pre-show, but if it's because he went into another stupor, then TNA should either pay for him to go to drug rehab or fire him if he refuses. Otherwise, they're just enabling him at this point, and if that's the case, this story is going to have a sad ending that none of us want to see.
The tables match between Team 3D and America's Most Wanted was pretty much what I expected. I think they should have made it more clear that it was a non-title match, as I initially thought that Team 3D won the tag team titles when the won the match. I hope Team 3D doesn't get in trouble for accidentally letting the word "Dudleys" slip out in their pre-match promo... actually, I hope they do "get in trouble" so that WWE gets thrown out of court for trying to prevent the Dudleys from using the name that they used for years before they ever worked for WWE.
I was, once again, pleasantly surprised by the announcing of both Mike Tenay and Don West. They did a great job not only with the Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles match, but with the other matches on the card as well. It's different on TV when they're (understandbly) in the "sell the upcoming PPV" mode, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised when Tenay and West do a top-notch job announcing at next month's PPV. It's amazing how far Don West has come, from being an infomercial pitchman who knew very little about pro wrestling in 2002, to at this point being better at the serious side of being a color commentator than Jerry Lawler and in the same ballpark as Tazz.
The storyline with Raven and Larry Zbyszko has started to grow on me in recent weeks and is actually a pretty good storyline at this point, but they really need to come up with something better for the PPVs than to have Raven face a different person from his past each month who isn't in top ring shape (not that Raven is right now, either). Also, we've had a month of hints about a woman in Raven's life making him go soft and lose his edge, so it's time for TNA to deliver on that aspect of the storyline, whatever it might be.
The angle with AJ Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox did what it was meant to do, which was to get TNA a lot of mainstream publicity. It was nice to see Chris Sabin and Sonjay Dutt get the rub from this angle, and it was also nice to see Bobby Heenan make a special appearance after his battles with throat cancer over the past few years. It was hilarious when TNA officials presented Pierzynski with a "TNA Championship Ring" after the match, only to have Heenan immediately grab the ring and bite into it, as if to see if it was fake. Heenan still has the intangible quality that made him such a beloved personality in the first place, and I hope that his health continues to improve.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Samoa Joe and AJ Styles Tear Down the House at TNA's Turning Point Pay-Per-View
I have seen the future of the pro wrestling business, and his name is Samoa Joe. I have been a huge Samoa Joe fan, based on seeing his TNA appearances and a few of his Ring of Honor matches, but it wasn't until tonight that it truly hit me that he is the future of the wrestling business.
The incredible match between Samoa Joe and AJ Styles on the TNA Turning Point pay-per-view was a hairline shy of five stars, and I would rank it as the best match I have seen in 2005, even better than the two classics between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. (Ironically, the widespread choice up to this point for Match of the Year, which I have not yet seen, also features Samoa Joe in an ROH match where he went against Kenta Kobashi.)
This match blew me away on many different levels that often conflict with each other in wrestling matches, but didn't in this case. There was the sheer brutality of the match from start to finish, contrasted nicely by the excellent technical wrestling skills displayed by both men. There was the brilliant in-ring psychology and the story that the match successfully told, contrasted nicely by the amazing highspots such as AJ Styles' absolutely insane running, over-the-top-rope, onto-the-floor Shooting Star Press.
There were great near-falls where you really believed the match could have ended, culminating with a brilliant finishing sequence as Samoa Joe transitioned from a simple roll-up into a rear naked choke in a seamless, realistic, and unexpected way. Also adding to the match were the rabid crowd (which broke out into chants of "This is awesome!" on several occasions), and the excellent announcing by Mike Tenay and Don West.
But more than anything else, what set this match apart from Angle vs. Michaels and other wrestling classics over the years is that instead of feeling like these two guys were putting on the performance of a lifetime, in a suspenseful but still somewhat theatrical way, in this match it really seemed like they were beating the crap out of each other. Samoa Joe's offense is just sick-looking, and very few people in the business are better at selling than AJ Styles.
The match also showed off just how versatile both wrestlers are, with Samoa Joe executing highspots and Styles having bursts of the brutal-looking offense that is Samoa Joe's trademark. (The only thing that detracted from the match was the post-match angle between Joe and Christopher Daniels, which was a good angle that should have been saved for next week's episode of Impact in order to pay the proper amount of respect to the classic match that had just taken place.)
Unless you have absolutely no regard for in-ring workrate, I honestly can't fathom how anyone's top two proverbial "draft picks" could be anyone other than Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. Joe and Styles are just as good in the ring as the top three in-ring wrestlers in WWE (Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, and Chris Benoit), with one key difference being that Michaels, Angle, and Benoit are all in their late 30's or early 40's, while Styles and Joe are both in their mid-20's and still improving all the time.
The reason that I'm even more impressed with Samoa Joe than I am with AJ Styles is because Joe is "different" than anyone who has ever come before him. You can point to a handful of X Division wrestlers in TNA and say, "AJ Styles is kind of like those guys in terms of his in-ring style, but he's far better than all of them and is also capable of having back-and-forth, brutal wars like this one."
With Samoa Joe, you can't say, "He's kind of like so-and-so, but much better." He is a unique entity unto himself. He's not "kind of like" anyone.
I'll be back in a couple of days with my review of the rest of the TNA Turning Point pay-per-view.
Injury Update from the Wrestling Observer on Monday, December 12:
"There were no major injuries at last night's TNA PPV. James Storm had a stinger and momentarily lost control of his legs, but is fine today. Well, as fine as he's going to be. He will be working the main event tomorrow night. Samoa Joe and AJ Styles were brutalized and the worst off. Styles needed seven stitches on his lip, and Joe suffered a dislocated jaw. Both are also scheduled to wrestle on the TV tapings tomorrow."
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- There has been a lot of reaction in the past week to Vince McMahon and WWE's blatant exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's death on last week's Tuesday night Smackdown Special. The signature low-rider that was supposedly at ringisde "in loving memory of Eddie Guerrero" (who had died just two weeks earlier) was used in a pro wrestling storyline to help get Randy Orton more over in his role as a top heel.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer confirmed that was indeed the motivation for the closing segment, as he wrote that the purpose of the angle was to make viewers outraged, though not at WWE management for having its lack of basic human decency in scripting such a segment. It was meant to make fans outraged with Randy Orton, and the purpose of any pro wrestling heel is generally to make fans hate him as much as possible.
A reader named David Gur wrote into the Observer web site, "It's time to stop making excuses for the wrestlers themselves. It's time they grew a spine and stood up for their profession and their passion. It's too late for Big Show, Rey Mysterio, and the others who cold have stopped the degradation of a beloved man's memory."
The response to that from Dave Meltzer was, "You don't know the situation Show or Mysterio are in. Triple H could say no. So could Undertaker. Anyone else would have to deal with booking repraisals."
To that, I say this: What's more important? Booking repraisals, or not pissing on the memory of your dead friend? I understand the general point and I know it's the pro wrestling business, but come on! Also, as Meltzer acknowledged, The Undertaker doesn't even have that excuse. Due to his position in the company, he could have said no without any consequences. So does he just got off scotch-free from all of this even though he's the only one of the bunch who could have said no without any consequences? I was particularly offended that it was Undertaker participating in the show-closing segment because this is a man who has always put his stupid gimmick higher on the priority list than honoring his dead co-workers, so for him to be the one in this angle was just another kick in the stomach.
There were apparently a lot of other people who agreed that the wrestlers should have refused to participate in such a trashy, exploitative storyline. The next day on the Observer web site, Meltzer wrote the following: "The Eddie Guerrero death exploitation angles remain very polarizing, both in and out of the company. Chavo Guerrero was put on Byte This yesterday to defend it, saying that Eddie would be glad they are keeping his name alive and saying he liked it. A couple of people were upset with the situation, but not necessarily with Chavo because they know the situation he's in, and it may even be his honest feelings (although even if it wasn't, he'd pretty much be pressured into doing it); and another noted how the company has gotten terribly defensive of the criticism."
Meltzer continued, "Several of Eddie's best friends have e-mailed me in the last day or called and all of them were mad, including being disappointed at Rey Mysterio for going through with it. One of Eddie's best friends (and one of the company's biggest stars of the past decade) wrote this: 'Everyone has the power to say no. Booking reprisals be damned. There comes a time when you have to stand up for what you believe in. Vincent Kennedy McMahon may have a hissy fit for a few weeks, but with the talent roster as thin as it is right now, nothing majorly bad would happen. Even if it did, it wouldn't last, because he has nobody else to carry the load. Shame on all of those guys.'"
For reasons that any logical person could not grasp (maybe WWE just thinks exploiting death is fun), the next week of Raw featured a storyline in which current wrestler Adam "Edge" Copeland and former wrestler Michael Hayes had a verbal confrontation. At one point, Edge said, "Your tag team partner, Terry Gordy, isn't here to back you up, and you know why? Because he's dead! Ha ha ha!" I'm sure Vince McMahon got a big laugh out of that scripted line, but is the fact that Terry Gordy died prematurely really funny, and is it really something that should be fodder for furthering a pro wrestling storyline?
A few months ago on an episode of Smackdown, the young heel tag team MNM were having a confrontation with Road Warrior Animal (Joe Laurenitis), who combined with Road Warrior Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) to create one of the most legendary tag teams in wrestling history. Hawk died of heart failure in 2003, in his early 40's, just as he was about to move into a new house with his wife and kids, and just as he had finally found peace in his life.
So, MNM were having a verbal confrontation with Road Warrior Animal and were about to beat up him in a two-on-one assault, at which point they said something to the effect of, "Maybe Hawk will come out to help you. Oh, wait. He can't... he's dead! Ha ha ha." Again, even though it may give Vince McMahon his jollies, is the fact that Michael Hegstrand died prematurely really funny, and is it really something that should be fodder for further a pro wrestling storyline?
The answer is obviously no. No is also the answer that all of the participating wrestlers should have given to WWE management (no matter how severe the consequences) when they were told that they would be furthering a pro wrestling storyline and making a punch-line out of the deaths of Road Warrior Hawk, Terry Gordy, and Eddie Guerrero. Sadly, exploiting death is nothing new for WWE, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- I have gotten a lot of e-mail, and there have been a lot of message board posts, about my UFC salary article from earlier this week, so I wanted to respond to many of the points that have been made.
As discusssed in the article, it's true that the UFC hasn't always been profitable, and it's true that the fighters are able to make more money via sponsorships than they could in the past, though not as much as they could before the new sponsorship restrictions were put in place. I have also done several stories in the past on smaller MMA promotions in the United States vs. the UFC in terms of fighter salaries, and there's no doubt that for most (but not all) fighters, the UFC pays more.
The people who responded by saying that Zuffa CAN pay these fighters such low salaries (because of a complete lack of comparable competition in the United States) are correct, but does that make it right? Does that make it right to pay someone $2,000 to step into the Octagon and put their body on the line when you could easily afford to pay them a heck of a lot more than $2,000?
At what point does the pay situation cross the line from being "smart business" on Zuffa's part, to being a situation where Zuffa is raking in huge amounts of money and largely choosing to keep it in their own pockets instead of giving a larger percentage of it back to the fighters who make the sport possible? Though it may be unpopular to say, there is no sport without the fighters.
This is not a perfectly comparable story but is the same principle: Jerry Jarrett used to say for years in Memphis that if wrestlers were willing to work for $20 per show, if they would not get up and walk out of his pro wrestling promotion, if he could "get away with" paying them $20 per show, then he would pay them $20 per show. And that's what many wrestlers were paid, even though many of them had to travel long distances to get there, and even though many of them couldn't feed their families. Jerry Jarrett made a hefty profit in the old Memphis territory as a result... did that make it right? (Also consider that the aforementioned wrestlers had a hell of a lot more choices of where to take their services than UFC fighters do right now.) UFC fighters today don't live under the kind of poverty that I'm describing, but that's because at least half of them have other jobs.
If you don't want to look at it from the moral standpoint of Zuffa not paying the fighters who put their bodies on the line a decent wage, just because they can "get away with it," how about looking at it from a pure business standpoint? If any other company's revenues shot up as dramatically as the UFC's revenue has in the past year, do you think that over time its employees would A) Make more money, B) Make the same exact amount of money, or C) Actually make slightly less money? In the case of the past few UFC events, as documented in the article, the answer in this case is actually B and C.
It's actually a more drastic case with the UFC than the aforementioned scenario, because we're not just talking about pre-existing revenue streams that have shot up dramatically. Sure, they have much more revenue in live attendance, pay-per-view, DVD sales, and other revenue streams that existed a year ago (including a huge new DVD distribution deal)... but large "programming rights fees" from Spike TV simply did not exist as a revenue stream in 2004. Neither did "half of the advertising revenue from the commercials on two different successful weekly TV shows."
If you want to argue that "Zuffa needs a little bit of time to recoup its previous losses," then I would respond with two things:
A) We spent early 2005 and mid-2005 taking the "wait-and-see approach" to see if maybe the average salaries would go up gradually over time, and they haven't. Zuffa has now had a full year; the time for waiting is over.
B) Zuffa's principal owners are billionaires who would certainly not be put into the poor house by immediately starting to pay the fighters decent wages, now that they know they have skyrocketing revenues coming in. If anyone is going to cry poverty for the UFC while it pays fighters peanuts, that would be no more valid than WWE crying poverty when it comes time to renew a wrestler's contract at the same time that Vince McMahon makes $47 million per year just from his stock dividends alone. (Actually, the main difference would be that the net worth of the Fertitta family is a heck of a lot more than the net worth of the McMahon family.)
I also want to make it clear that I'm not arguing with the people who say that the fighters' only other option if Pride won't sign them is to work on smaller shows that would in most cases (but not all cases) pay them smaller salaries. But if there's anyone who doesn't want to look at this from a moral standpoint and doesn't want to look at this from a business standpoint, how about an image standpoint?
The UFC often calls itself "The Super Bowl of Mixed Martial Arts" during its PPV broadcasts. So, what kind of image do you think it gives the sport of MMA if a mainstream media reporter is covering the "Super Bowl of MMA" and sees, for example, Terry Martin get brutally knocked out and stretchered to the back, and then someone tells him, "Oh, by the way, that guy only made $2,000 for that fight"?
Even for the fighters who win their fights and don't get knocked out or injured, what does it say if the "Super Bowl of MMA" has a big TV event going head-to-head with WWE Raw for the first time ever on October 3rd, and nine of the fourteen fighters on the card were fighting for either $3,000/$3,000 or $2,000/$2,000? To someone on the outside looking in who doesn't know anything about the sport, it would say to them that even the supposed apex of the sport is still bush-league, and that's certainly not the image that the UFC should be giving off to the increasingly interested mainstream media.
The UFC can't have it both ways if they want to be upfront about it. They can't call themselves the "Super Bowl of MMA" with a straight face, while at the same time paying fighters the ridiculously small salaries that are documented in my most recent article and previous articles that I've written. Whether you want to look at it from a moral standpoint, a purely business standpoint, or an image standpoint, it just doesn't add up.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Salaries Fail to Grow Even as Sport's Popularity Skyrockets
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly
Complete Salary Breakdown for UFC Ultimate Fight Night 2, UFC Ultimate Finale 2, and UFC 56
The popularity of mixed martial arts in the United States continues to grow at a rapid pace, and for much of 2005 many people (including myself) have been waiting to see the hugely increased revenue and popularity of the sport pay off for the fighters in the form of increased salaries. The year is just about over, and we're still waiting. So, prior to offering a full breakdown of all the recent UFC salaries, the general trend in UFC salaries needs to be addressed.
In early 2005, The Ultimate Fighter television show was first airing on Spike TV, and the UFC's mainstream recognition went through the roof compared to 2004, when you could only see first-run material on pay-per-view. When the salaries of UFC fighters did not increase in early 2005, I brought this to your attention but naturally felt that the pay scale wasn't going to increase overnight and that it would take a little while for the higher revenue to be reflected in higher salaries.
Over the summer of 2005, this concern grew as more shows took place. As a general trend, the salaries were still not increasing, even with the extremely lucrative contract that Zuffa scored for The Ultimate Fighter 2. I expressed concern about this and proposed a new minimum salary for UFC fighters (an amount that would still be fairly low: $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win). However, the possibility still existed that Zuffa was just being a little bit slow in the process of making its fighters' salaries more proportionate to the company's own huge increases in revenue.
Now, with the UFC having run its last event of 2005, the fighters' salaries have still not increased, and on the whole they appear to have actually decreased slightly. MMAWeekly has been bringing you the full scoop on fighter salaries for several years, and throughout that time, most everyone associated with the sport has agreed that MMA fighters deserve to be paid a lot more than they actually get paid. However, in the period of 2001 through 2004, Zuffa could legitimately say that it was losing money on most UFC events, and it honestly couldn't afford to pay the fighters more.
In 2005, that simply isn't the case anymore. The UFC is now a mainstream fixture on cable television. It draws higher advertising rates per-viewer than WWE programming. Zuffa had drawn a million-dollar live gate less than ten times from 2001 to 2004, and it now draws a million-dollar live gate for every PPV event even if there is no marquee main event. Pay-per-view buyrates and revenue are up, as is sponsorship revenue. Zuffa gets paid a "rights fee" from Spike TV for every single episode that is produced of UFC Unleashed, The Ultimate Fighter, or a live fight special. On top of that, the Wrestling Observer has reported that Zuffa gets approximately half of the advertising revenue that is derived from The Ultimate Fighter, which would easily be a seven-figure dollar amount on its own.
All of this additional revenue that simply didn't exist in late 2004 is now in abundance in 2005, and yet the UFC just put on a live TV special in October with the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any UFC event since Zuffa bought the UFC. Just a couple of weeks ago, the UFC 56 pay-per-view had the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any UFC PPV that Zuffa has ever held in the state of Nevada.
The top-level fighters are making practically the same amount of money per fight that they were making before the Zuffa revenue boom of 2005, and in some cases they are making literally the same exact amount. One example is Matt Hughes, who got paid the same exact amount by Zuffa in late 2005 that he got paid in 2004, 2003, and 2002.
The entry-level fighters who used to be making peanuts are still making peanuts, and as I wrote earlier this year, Zuffa should be embarrassed to be paying any fighter $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win, given how mainstream and lucrative the sport now is compared to where it was. Many fighters make a lot more money from sponsorships than they used to, but then again, so does Zuffa, which is just one of the half-dozen aforementioned reasons that they can afford to pay fighters a lot more.
The time is over for fans, fighters, and managers to merely wait and hope that Zuffa does the right thing at some point, because Zuffa has now had a whole year to ratchet up the pay scale and they have failed to do so. When I get e-mails following the publication of one of these salary articles with readers saying that they can't believe how little UFC fighters actually make, I used to be able to tell those people, "Well, Zuffa isn't making a lot of money, so you can't realistically expect to see UFC fighters make what they deserve until the UFC starts to make a lot of money." What is there for anyone to say now in response to such e-mails? "Actually, Zuffa is making a ton of money now, but they would apparently rather keep that money to themselves rather than sharing a larger percentage of it with the fighters who put their bodies on the line in the cage"?
I don't want to hear that this is some kind of anti-UFC bias or that I'm not "supporting the sport." Facts are facts: Zuffa's revenue has drastically increased over the past year, while the average fighter salaries have not. There is no pro-UFC bias or anti-UFC bias in the world that is going to change that basic truth. As for "supporting the sport," don't you think the first thing that a true fan of MMA should want is for the fighters to be compensated fairly for their services?
Would it be better to smile and pretend that Zuffa's revenues are the same now that they were in late 2004, or to draw attention to the fact that revenues are up drastically while fighter salaries remain largely unchanged? How "supportive" of the sport is it to watch a UFC event knowing that at least half of the fighters who compete in the UFC have to hold down other jobs to make ends meet, when that doesn't necessarily have to be the case for many of those fighters?
None of us can precisely determine that "X fighter deserves to be paid X amount per fight" and then do the same thing for the entire UFC roster. However, all it takes is common sense and the slightest bit of business knowledge to come to the conclusion that with Zuffa's revenues at an all-time high, the average salaries of UFC fighters should not be staying the same as they were before the revenue boom, and they sure as hell shouldn't be decreasing.
What follows is a complete salary breakdown for three recent UFC events, followed by my commentary and analysis on each event's salaries.
"UFC Ultimate Fight Night 2" Fighter Salaries
Event took place on October 3, 2005
-Evan Tanner: $20,000 ($20,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $22,000)
-David Loiseau: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Chris Leben: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Drew Fickett: $8,000 ($4,000 for fighting; $4,000 win bonus)
-Brandon Vera: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Josh Koscheck: $5,000 ($5,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Spencer Fisher: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Jonathan Goulet: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Jon Fitch: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Fabiano Scherner: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Edwin Dewees: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Thiago Alves: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Jay Hieron: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Brock Larson: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $82,000 (average of $5,857 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-This event had the lowest Total Fighter Payroll of any event in the history of the UFC since it was purchased by Zuffa. There were no huge names on this card, but this only draws more attention to the fact that the bottom rung of UFC fighters is making an embarrassing amount of money.
I have written before that the minimum salary for any UFC fighter in any given fight should be at least $5,000 to fight and an additional $5,000 to win. Certainly, it would not put Zuffa out of business (or even put them in the red) to have a minimum salary of $10,000 to fight and an additional $10,000 to win, but it would be a huge step in the right direction even if half that amount were to be implemented.
In the past, one could honestly say that the fighters making less than the "$5,000/$5,000" figure were fairly rare in the big picture of the UFC pay scale, but that can no longer be said. With the UFC running more shows and bringing in more fighters than ever before, there are all too many fighters who are fighting for peanuts. Looking at this event specifically, only four of the fourteen fighters met the $5,000/$5,000 standard, and only one fighter surpassed that amount.
It should be even more embarrassing for Zuffa that with the UFC's mainstream media credibility at an all-time high and with the company's revenues increasing dramatically, they just put on an event where seven of the fourteen fighters on the card were paid $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win. As I've written before, the UFC should be ashamed to be paying any fighter that amount of money to step in the Octagon and put their bodies on the line, especially when you look at some of the medical suspensions/injuries that are often sustained in MMA bouts.
-Looking at the salaries of specific fighters on this card, the fighter who jumps out at me as being the most under-paid is David Loiseau. Why is one of the top middleweight contenders in the UFC only making $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win? Even before Zuffa's 2005 revenue boom, one would expect someone in Loiseau's position to be making a much higher amount per fight, based on prior UFC pay scales.
-Evan Tanner has a slightly different contract than most UFC fighters, in that his win bonus is larger than his "show" money, so he would have actually made $42,000 if he had beaten David Loiseau.
-Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck made the standard amount for a TUF 1 contestant who didn't win the reality show competition: $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. While obviously Leben and Koscheck deserve a lot more than that, it's hard to argue that they should get their raise before the many fighters who are making $2,000/$2,000 get their raise, especially given the fact that the TUF fighters make a lot more in sponsorship income than the non-TUF fighters, many of whom have similar or greater MMA experience.
-Up to this point in his UFC career, Drew Fickett had only been making $2,000 to fight and $2,000 to win; he was given a raise for this fight to $4,000 and $4,000. One would think that he would get a pretty significant raise after beating a well-known mainstream fighter like Josh Koscheck, but only time will tell on that one.
-Edwin Dewees made $2,000 and $2,000 for his UFC debut way back in 2003 when he fought Rich Franklin, and he was still making $2,000 and $2,000 for this event, despite the fact that he was fighting in the second-from-the-top fight against Chris Leben on national cable television.
-All of the other fighters on this card fought for the increasingly ridiculous amount of $2,000 and $2,000, with the exception of Brandon Vera and Fabiano Scherner. Even in the case of Vera and Scherner, who were paid more because they were fighting at heavyweight, they were still only making $3,000 and $3,000.
"UFC Ultimate Finale 2" Fighter Salaries
Event took place on November 5, 2005
-Diego Sanchez: $24,000 ($12,000 to fight; $12,000 win bonus)
-Kenny Florian: $12,000 ($6,000 to fight; $6,000 win bonus)
-Rashad Evans: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Joe Stevenson: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Josh Burkman: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Melvin Guillard: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Keith Jardine: $10,000 ($5,000 to fight; $5,000 win bonus)
-Nick Diaz: $10,000 ($10,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Brad Imes: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Luke Cummo: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Sam Morgan: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Marcus Davis: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Kerry Schall: $5,000 ($5,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $5,000)
-Kit Cope: $2,000 ($2,000 to fight; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $123,000 (average of $8,786 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-The first thing that needs to be addressed for this event is the actual contracts that are awarded to the winners of the Ultimate Fighter reality show, as one of the TUF 1 winners fought on this show and two new TUF winners were crowned. The term "six-figure contract" was loosely thrown around throughout the second season, and the UFC specifically said regarding the winners of the TUF 1 competition that they would be getting "three-year contracts valued at over $300,000."
As it turns out, that was not exactly the case. In fact, the TUF winners do not get paid X amount of dollars per year for three years. The TUF winners actually get paid a certain amount per fight for the first year, a slightly higher amount per fight for the second year, and a slightly higher amount per fight for the third year.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Observer Newsletter, these are the legitimate figures that the TUF winners actually get paid by the UFC, and these figures are supported by the payroll information obtained by MMAWeekly. Keep in mind that the term "six figures" (which was thrown around so much during TUF 2) is normally used to refer to someone who is making at least $100,000 per year.
In the first year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $12,000 to fight and $12,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $36,000 and $72,000, depending on their win/loss record.
In the second year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $16,000 to fight and $16,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $48,000 and $96,000, depending on their win/loss record.
In the third year of their three-year contracts, the TUF winners get three fights, and for each fight they get paid $22,000 to fight and $22,000 to win. So, their total fight salary for the year would be somewhere between $66,000 and $132,000, depending on their win/loss record.
If you add up those numbers, you'll find that the legit salary that the TUF winners are actually paid by the UFC is somewhere between $150,000 and $300,000 over the course of three years (although if they're losing so many fights that the amount is close to $150,000, they would likely be released and re-signed for a cheaper price tag).
Realistically, a fighter like Forrest Griffin could probably go to Pride and immediately make a lot more than $12,000 and $12,000 per fight for the first year of his contract. However, all TUF contestants are locked into the UFC in the event that they win the competition, based on the contract that they have no choice but to sign when they sign up to be on TUF in the first place. There's also the fact that the various TUF winners might get more sponsorship deals fighting in the United States than they would get if they fought in Japan, but their sponsorship money would not disappear altogether, and Pride would likely make it worth their while financially if it weren't for the long-term UFC contracts.
In reality, the so-called "six-figure contracts" that are given to the TUF winners are not so much guarantees for the TUF winners about their long-term financial future; they serve more as guarantees for Zuffa that the TUF winners are locked up for three years/nine fights and won't be taking their new-found mainstream fame to the competition. It's hard to blame the UFC for putting these clauses in the contracts, but they could stand to be a lot more up-front about it.
-Given that he is still in the first year of the three-year contract that he got for winning TUF, Diego Sanchez made $12,000 to fight and an additional $12,000 to win on this event. He still has one more fight at that salary before his salary gets bumped up to $16,000 and $16,000. Additionally, Diego Sanchez was fined $500 by the Nevada State Athletic Commission prior to his match because he showed up late to the weigh-ins.
-Nick Diaz is another fighter who you'd think would be making a lot more money than he is, given the fact that he was a top contender at welterweight (and could easily be again). Diaz' bout agreement for the Sanchez fight was for $10,000 to fight and $10,000 to win, which was a raise over his previous UFC salary of $6,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. Nick Diaz was not fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
-As with the TUF 1 finale, all of the TUF 2 fighters who competed on this card had bout agreements that paid them $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. All of the TUF 2 fighters who fought on the non-televised undercard got significantly more money than Kit Cope, who fought on the main card and was only paid $2,000 and $2,000.
-Now that they have won the TUF 2 competition, Rashad Evans and Joe Stevenson will be making $12,000 to fight and $12,000 to win for their next three fights. Brad Imes and Luke Cummo, who each lost in the TUF 2 finals, also earned UFC contracts for their efforts.
If TUF 1 is any indication, Imes and Cummo will likely be fighting for $6,000 and $6,000 in their future UFC fights. (That's what Kenny Florian has been making in each of his fights since losing in the TUF 1 finals, including his fight on this card.) So, what's the bottom-line difference between winning in the TUF finals and losing in the TUF finals? The winner gets twice the salary per fight and also theoretically gets a longer-term contract, although they could still be released.
UFC 56 Fighter Salaries
Event took place on November 19, 2005
-Matt Hughes: $110,000 ($55,000 for fighting; $55,000 win bonus)
-Jeremy Horn: $50,000 ($25,000 for fighting; $25,000 win bonus)
-Georges St. Pierre: $35,000 ($16,000 for fighting; $19,000 win bonus)
-Rich Franklin: $26,000 ($13,000 for fighting; $13,000 win bonus)
-Joe Riggs: $12,000 ($12,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $8,000)
-Nate Quarry: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Sean Sherk: $10,000 ($10,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $10,000)
-Sam Hoger: $10,000 ($5,000 for fighting; $5,000 win bonus)
-Trevor Prangley: $6,000 ($6,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $6,000)
-Gabriel Gonzaga: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Nick Thompson: $6,000 ($3,000 for fighting; $3,000 win bonus)
-Thiago Alves: $4,000 ($2,000 for fighting; $2,000 win bonus)
-Kevin Jordan: $3,000 ($3,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $3,000)
-Jeff Newton: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Ansar Chalangov: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
-Keith Wisniewski: $2,000 ($2,000 for fighting; win bonus would have been $2,000)
Total Fighter Payroll: $294,000 (average of $18,375 per fighter)
Commentary and Analysis:
-The Total Fighter Payroll of $294,000 was the lowest for any UFC live pay-per-view event that Zuffa has ever held in Nevada.
-As previously mentioned, Zuffa is paying Matt Hughes the same amount of money per fight that they have been paying him snice 2002, despite the fact that Zuffa is making much more money now than they were in 2002, and despite the fact that Hughes is just coming off a 13-week run as the featured character on a nationally-televised reality TV show.
-While Hughes' lack of a salary increase over the past three years is a bit mind-boggling, the unofficial award for the most grossly underpaid fighter on this show undoubtedly has to go to Rich Franklin. He was only paid $13,000 to fight and an additional $13,000 to win, despite the fact that he was in the main event, and is the UFC Middleweight Champion, and is also just coming off being one of the two coaches on a hit reality TV show.
You may wondering how it's possible for Franklin's contract to only be paying him that amount of money when in the past year alone he decimated a huge name in Ken Shamrock on free television with nearly two million people watching, he dominated the Middleweight Champion Evan Tanner to become the champion, and he was one of the two coaches on TUF 2. The reason it's possible is the same reason that it's possible for the TUF winners to be making what they're making: He's locked into a long-term contract.
You have to give Zuffa credit: They had the foresight to sign Franklin to a seven-fight contract before the Ken Shamrock fight, Evan Tanner fight, or TUF 2 coaching gig ever happened. Now, Franklin is locked into that contract and cannot seek a more appropriate market value for himself elsewhere. Instead, his multi-fight UFC contract is scheduled to pay him slightly more with each passing fight, but he will still be grossly underpaid for the forseeable future unless the UFC decides to voluntarily give him a new and more equitable contract.
While you have to give Zuffa credit for contractually locking Franklin up long-term, you also have to give Franklin credit for being a man of his word. In a situation that was similar in some ways and very different in other ways, Tito Ortiz refused to honor his contract with the UFC just two fights into a six-fight contract, showing that neither his word nor his name on the dotted line really mean anything. Actually, Ortiz was one of the highest-paid UFC fighters even with the contract that he held out to avoid honoring, which is certainly not the case with Franklin.
Also, Franklin's contract pays him about one-sixth per fight what Ortiz' contract paid him, and Franklin is still honoring his contract even as he cements his world-class elite status with the first successful UFC Middleweight Title defense in a very long time. I commend Franklin for being a man of his word, but I also hope for his sake that Zuffa voluntarily re-works his contract to pay him more.
-You might think that Jeremy Horn is over-paid compared to some of the other fighters, but you have to remember that in exchange for this contract, Horn agreed to fight one of the top fighters in the world in a weight class that is one division above the weight class where he would be most comfortable. You also have to take into consideration the fact that Horn is one of the most experienced mixed martial artists in the world, which should count for something. While it's hard to argue after the loss to Liddell that Horn deserves to be paid more than Rich Franklin or Georges St. Pierre, that's really more of a case of Franklin and St. Pierre being under-paid than it is a case of Horn being over-paid. Hopefully, if he keeps winning, Horn will get the Middleweight Title shot that he deserves against the winner of Franklin vs. Loiseau.
-Georges St. Pierre's salary is pretty typical on the current UFC pay scale for a top contender at a given weight class who has never won the championship, but it now has to be considered low given the fact that St. Pierre has becoming one of the biggest emerging superstars in the sport. First of all, St. Pierre is charismatic, he delivers exciting action in the cage, and he's fantastic at interviews. Only St. Pierre could call out a fighter while at the same time being so charming to the live audience, and it was an all-time classic moment (which also endeared him to the crowd) when he said, "He [Matt Hughes] beat me fair and square last time... excuse me, I mean fairly squarely."
Even more importantly than all of that, St. Pierre is an extremely talented fighter when the bell rings. He's still getting better all the time at just 24 years old, and in his last two fights he completely plowed through two elite welterweights. Not a lot of people would have expected St. Pierre to completely dominate Frank Trigg and Sean Sherk in the way that he did, and certainly "Georges St. Pierre by devastating ground-and-pound" was not among the most likely scenarios for his fight against a ground-and-pound specialist like Sherk. St. Pierre's salary for his fight against Sean Sherk was a decent-sized raise over his previous salary (which was $13,000 to fight and an additional $15,000 to win), but one would think that he's in line for a much bigger raise after the kind of star-making performance that he delivered at UFC 56.
-Joe Riggs was scheduled to be the challenger for Matt Hughes' Welterweight Title on this event, and his bout agreement for this fight called for him to make $12,000 to fight and an additional $8,000 to win. As it turned out, Riggs failed to make the welterweight division's 170-pound weight limit, and his fight was changed to a non-title bout.
As with any fighter who fails to make weight in a title fight in their jurisdiction, the Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Riggs 10 percent of his purse, which was $1,200 in this case. As the rules call for, half of that money went to the athletic commission, while the other half went to Matt Hughes. The reason that his opponent got half of the fine is because Riggs' higher weight could have given him an unfair advantage against a smaller opponent, which many feel was the case earlier this year when professional boxer Jose Luis Castillo failed to make weight for his second fight against Diego Corrales and subsequently entered the ring much larger than Corrales.
-Nate Quarry had previously been making the standard amount for a TUF contestant who did not win the competition, which is $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win. Because he stepped up to take on the UFC Middleweight Champion so soon after the conclusion of TUF 1, Quarry's pay for this fight was raised to $10,000 and $10,000. Quarry still has a bright future in the UFC, as there's no shame in losing to one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world in your first title shot.
-Ten thousand dollars to fight and ten thousand dollars to win was also the amount that Sean Sherk was fighting for. Sherk had previously said in media interviews that it wouldn't really be worth it for him to return to MMA full-time unless he were to get paid $20,000 to fight and $20,000 to win. Contrast that with the fact that the UFC would probably pay any other fighter in Sherk's position no more than $5,000 to fight and $5,000 to win; and a compromise was ultimately reached that resulted in Sherk being paid $10,000 and $10,000 for this fight.
-Sam Hoger continues to make the standard amount for a non-winning TUF contestant, and he will continue to earn his spot in the UFC as he long as he continues to either win his fights (as he did against Bobby Southworth and Jeff Newton), or lose fairly close fights (as he did against Stephan Bonnar).
-Trevor Prangley made $6,000 and $6,000 for this event, which was double his previous UFC salary of $3,000 and $3,000. Still, you'd think he would have made more than that amount, given the fact that he was one of a very small group of UFC middleweights who were coming off a win when this fight was made. In fact, when thinking of possible challengers for Rich Franklin's title belt on this card, there were only four fighters who were coming off a win in the middleweight division who were available for this card: Trevor Prangley, Nate Quarry, Chris Leben, and Josh Koscheck.
-The remaining seven fighters on this card all made ridiculously low amounts of money, as they all fought for either $3,000 and $3,000, or they fought for $2,000 and $2,000. I'll say it yet again: There is no reason for anyone to be fighting in the UFC for those dollar figures. If you were to change the bout agreements for all seven of those fighters to $5,000 and $5,000 instead of what they were actually paid, the Total Fighter Payroll for the event would have been $316,000 instead of what it was ($294,000).
At a time when Zuffa's revenues have never been higher, that would have been an increase of just 7 percent, and it would have still been the lowest Total Fighter Payroll for any Nevada-based UFC PPV event that Zuffa has ever held.