Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- The UFC and the Joys of Re-Writing History
(Plus: Pro Wrestling Booking and Squash Matches in MMA)
Editorial by Ivan Trembow
Note: This editorial was written specifically for Ivan's Blog. Also, the opinions expressed in this editorial are those of Ivan Trembow, and with the exception of the specific quotes in this article, these statements do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.
Within seconds of UFC 60 going on the air on May 27th, Zuffa put its well-respected play-by-play man, Mike Goldberg, in one of the most uncomfortable positions that any announcer can find themselves in. He was, through no fault of his own, put in a position to be deceptive. In this case, it was about the show being "sold out." Goldberg and Joe Rogan did a good job on commentary throughout the evening, as they normally do, but anyone who has been following the sport in recent months is fully aware of the fact that UFC 60's ticket sales came nowhere close to Zuffa's publicly expressed expectations.
Any other UFC event with the same level of attendance would be viewed as a huge success at the live gate, but it's a different story altogether when you have an event that UFC president Dana White repeatedly said would break the all-time attendance records, and it winds up not coming close to doing so. The event was not "sold out," as Goldberg said. Whether UFC management simply told Goldberg that the event was sold out and he repeated it, or whether he was specifically told to say that the event was sold out even though it wasn't, it's generally not an accident when an announcer says, "We're sold out!" several times during a broadcast.
The high ticket prices for UFC 60 were slashed several weeks before the event, and even then, free "comp" tickets were still being given away en masse, in an attempt to make it look good for the cameras. There were promotions such as the one on the KROQ radio station where you didn't even have to be the X numbered caller to get free tickets, as is normally the case with ticket give-aways. Anyone who called got free tickets because there were so many of them to give away.
As recently as the Hughes-Gracie countdown show on Spike TV shortly before UFC 60, White was saying that there would be "over 20,000 fans" in the building, which would have been an extremely difficult task, given the fact that it was configured to hold 16,947 fans.
Zuffa claimed after the event to have sold 14,802 tickets, which is also false. The legitimate attendance numbers for UFC 60 were 10,347 paid tickets and 4,418 free tickets. The total attendance was 14,765, and approximately one-third of those people got into the show for free. Zuffa also floated the ridiculous claim both before and after the event that UFC 60 had a live gate approaching $9 million, which is only a correct statement if you consider $2,900,090 (the actual live gate) to be "approaching $9 million." The actual live gate was, as Dave Meltzer put it, "less than one-third of the numbers that the company had thrown around in the media leading into the show."
I don't know the specific reason that UFC management gave the directive to say that the event was "sold out," but whatever the reason, it was unnecessary. Is it not enough to talk about how far the sport has come, and point out that it would have been unthinkable just six years ago when the UFC was barely alive to suggest that the UFC would be having a big show at the Staples Center? Is it not enough to pan the crowd and make it look impressive to the average PPV viewer without feeling the need to have your play-by-plan man lie about the place being sold out? Is it not enough to say that you had a gigantic live gate of $2.9 million rather than floating the ridiculous $9 million figure?
Unfortunately, this is just a small part of a much bigger trend of deception. On the subject of attendance, Zuffa said that UFC 59 in Anaheim sold 17,000 tickets in just a few days, and it still says on the UFC web site that the event had over 17,000 fans in attendance. The legitimate attendance, as released by the California State Athletic Commission and the arena, was a sellout of 13,814, which is also a very impressive figure. Again, is it not impressive enough to sell out an arena configured for 13,814 seats? Why is there a perceived need to lie and claim that you sold over 17,000 tickets?
The Undefeated Royce Gracie?
The same sentiment applies to the much more blatant lie about Royce Gracie's "MMA record" of 11-0. When the UFC first started up with the false advertising in countless commercials on Spike TV in the weeks before UFC 60, I thought it was just a mistake. After all, the original UFC 60 commercials on Spike TV made it a point to say that Royce Gracie was "undefeated in the Octagon," which is a way of suggesting that he has never lost a fight without actually saying it, and there's nothing wrong with that. That is simple "slight of hand marketing" and is done all the time. That wouldn't be all that big of a deal.
It crossed the line into being some of the most blatant false advertising in recent memory when the updated commercials that the UFC ran on Spike TV simply referred to Royce as "the undefeated Royce Gracie." Again, one could think that it might be a mistake and not intentional, but it ended up being a conscious effort to deceive people, because Royce Gracie was repeatedly listed as having an "MMA record" of 11-0 on the UFC 60 PPV broadcast.
Everyone else on the card had their MMA records listed, but Royce had his UFC record listed, while still having it called his MMA record (and it wasn't even his accurate UFC record). For a large percentage of viewers who aren't knowledgeable enough about the sport to know any better, they probably believed it, and that was the whole point of doing it. If a certain percentage of the viewing audience doesn't know any better, you can often get away with deceiving them.
Zuffa is very much in the business of trying to control the flow of information (actual Dana White quote regarding web site traffic in a recent newspaper interview: "Our web site is a real machine for us. We get a lot of hits. They can't go anywhere else to read it, so they come to us.") Part of the advantage of trying to control the flow of information is that you can often re-write history and get away with it. Vince McMahon has done it for years in WWE in many different ways, and the UFC has moved closer and closer to McMahon's less-than-pleasant image by re-writing history in any way that they see fit.
The convenience must be wonderful. Are you on bad terms with Tito Ortiz for a while? Just delete him from the UFC's history, then add him back when he signs another contract with you. Are you on bad terms with Frank Shamrock? Just delete him from the UFC's history, too, and pretend with a straight face at a "Top 10" ceremony that he's not one of the top ten fighters in UFC history. (A couple years later, after he breaks the North American MMA attendance record, keep it on the down-low when you offer him a big-money contract to return to the UFC.)
Is it more convenient for you to lie and say that Royce Gracie is undefeated than it is to display his actual MMA record? Just write your own history and declare that his MMA record is now 11-0. This will make it look like Matt Hughes was the first man to ever beat Royce, even though that's a complete farce.
The fact of the matter is that in reality, Royce Gracie's MMA record going into the Hughes fight was 13-1-3, and that's if you don't count his first fight with Hidehiko Yoshida since it wasn't fought under MMA rules (the rules in that fight limited striking), or the so-called loss to Harold Howard in the fight that never happened at UFC 3.
In addition to his one previous loss, Royce has had three draws in his career, all in bouts where it was agreed before the fight that there would be no judges' decision if the fight went to the time limit. Royce fought to a draw with Ken Shamrock way back in 1995 (which Shamrock would have won if there were judges), and he fought to a draw with Yoshida in 2003 (which Gracie would have won if there judges). Most recently, Gracie fought to a draw (which could have gone either way if there were judges) last December in a fight where Gracie weighed-in at 190 pounds and his opponent, Hideo Tokoro, weighed-in at 152 pounds.
Far more significant than the three draws on Gracie's record is the one previous defeat on his legitimate MMA record of 13-1-3 going into the Hughes fight. That one previous loss came against Kazushi Sakuraba in an epic 90-minute fight, in front of a massive crowd at the Tokyo Dome, in one of the most historically significant MMA matches of all time. In other words, I'm pretty sure that it happened and that I didn't imagine it.
Despite this, there were countless TV commercials referring to Royce as "the undefeated Royce Gracie," and it repeatedly said on the screen during UFC 60, "MMA Record: 11-0." Just because the UFC made the choice not to acknowledge Royce's previous loss in the lead-up to his fight at UFC 60 does not mean that the previous loss doesn't exist, especially given that his previous loss took place in one of the most famous MMA matches of all time.
If anyone wants to try to correct me on a technicality by saying, "But his UFC record really was 11-0!" then that could easily be countered by three points. One, his previous UFC record was not 11-0; it was 11-0-1. Second, it specifically said during UFC 60 on a repeated basis that 11-0 was his "MMA record," as opposed to his "UFC record." Third, with the logic that 11-0 really was his UFC record, then why is it that every other fighter in recent UFC history has had their overall MMA record displayed on the screen instead of just their UFC record? If you're only displaying UFC records, shouldn't Assuerio Silva's record have been listed as 0-1 going into his fight against Mike Swick at UFC 60?
While trying to establish the UFC as a real sport, things this like only serve to make Zuffa look bush league, which is the exact opposite of the image that they want to project. As Dave Meltzer wrote in the Wrestling Observer, "Royce's history was rewritten to where his most famous matches were suddenly no longer part of his story, and the term 'undefeated' constantly being used was not just misleading, but outright deceptive... As much as the UFC wants to be taken seriously as a real sport, Major League Baseball doesn't erase its own history, make up team records or individual player records during the World Series, have commentators change the results of famous games, or claim sell-outs that aren't so. Even boxing, a sport that the UFC compares itself with and talks about being the more honest version of, doesn't do that. HBO Boxing doesn't pretend fights that didn't air on HBO actually didn't happen. Even WWE, with its decades long history of dishonesty, doesn't even do that anymore."
What causes the "Royce Gracie is undefeated" lie to make such little sense is that it was completely unnecessary. Zuffa could have just as easily pushed to new viewers and reinforced to long-time viewers that Royce Gracie is a legend in the sport who changed the entire perception of fighting in the United States, and they could have sold the fight just as well in doing so without lying about his MMA record. Instead, they lied in order to enhance something that didn't necessarily need to be enhanced.
Zuffa Pays TUF Winners Six-Figure Salaries?
The same can be said about the so-called "six-figure" contracts that are awarded to the winners of The Ultimate Fighter. If you say to the average person that you're making "six figures" in salary from a particular employer, that is widely regarded to mean that you are making in excess of $100,000 per year from that employer (hence the actual phrase "six figures"... this concept is not rocket science).
Zuffa's use of the phrase "six figures" is misleading and has been since the first season, when it was specifically said by Zuffa (and reported at the time) that the TUF winner's contracts were for three years and $350,000. In reality, the winner's contracts for the first three seasons have the following terms.
The TUF winner's contracts bind the fighter exclusively to the UFC for three years, with three fights per year. In the first year, the salary for each fight is $12,000 to fight and an additional $12,000 to win. Fighting income for the year would range from $36,000 to $72,000, depending on wins and losses.
In the second year, it's $16,000 and $16,000 per fight, meaning that fighting income for the year would range from $48,000 to $96,000. In the third year, it's $22,000 and $22,000 per fight, meaning that fighting income for the year would range from $66,000 to $122,000. That is actually a six-figure income in one year out of three, or zero years out of three, depending on wins and losses.
Total fighting income paid to the fighter by Zuffa over the course of the three-year contract would range from $150,000 to $300,000, depending on wins and losses, and would only hit the $300,000 mark if the fighter went 9-0 in his first nine UFC fights. The UFC could just as easily say that the winners of TUF get "UFC contracts" or even "big UFC contracts," and they would still have an attractive prize for TUF. There is no need to be so misleading about the terms of the deal.
This is straight out of the WWE playbook, where there was a so-called "Million Dollar Tough Enough competition" that was won by MMA fighter Daniel Puder, and the reality of the contract was actually, "It's four years at $250,000 per year, and only the first year is guaranteed, and you're very likely to be released after one year."
One area in which Zuffa may have actually topped McMahon on the classless scale is in the percentage of revenue that goes to the talent, which I have written about extensively in the past and once again this past week with a series of articles looking at the UFC's PPV sales, live gate revenue, and fighter salaries. One example from earlier this year is that UFC 59 generated a total of over $18 million in gross revenue, and yet there were still six different fighters on the UFC 59 card who made $5,000 or less (which is less than the cost of a 60-second commercial on The Ultimate Fighter).
The top fighters are now making more money due to the huge explosion in revenue that started in early 2005. However, the UFC fighters who fill out the prelims and even the main cards are still getting paychecks that should be embarrassing for any self-respecting businessman to be paying fighters, given the company's huge revenue streams and its desire to be seen as a major-league sport. Even if it's basic capitalism to pay as little as possible, the UFC's pay scale is not doing the company any favors if Zuffa wants the UFC to be seen as a major-league sport, as opposed to a bush-league sport whose athletes have to get side jobs to support themselves, or a sport like boxing with a trashy mainstream media image.
Zuffa Added Most of the Rules and Regulations?
When it comes to talking to mainstream media reporters, lying is the norm rather than the exception for Zuffa, and there is a mountain of evidence to back up that assertion.
Again, on the issue of re-writing history, what do you do if you're Zuffa and you want to inflate your place in the history of the sport? Just tell mainstream media reporters who don't know any better that it was only since 2001, when Zuffa started running things, that the UFC added things like weight classes (actually 1997), multiple judges scoring a fight if it goes the distance (1995), doctors at ringside (1993), medical exams of fighters (1993), time limits (1995), gloves (1995), multiple timed rounds (1999), the banning of groin strikes (1994), the ability of the referee to stop the fight (1994), and whatever else you can get them to believe.
The mainstream media reporters won't bother to do five minutes of research to correct you, and it'll seem like you took the sport directly from a no-rules street fighting contest into a civilized affair! You won't be directly quoted, but the same series of lies will just happen to appear in most mainstream media articles about the UFC in which you're quoted talking about other things.
You want examples? There are literally far too many to list, so let's focus on some of the more recent and high-profile examples.
In the high-profile trade journal MultiChannel News in June, the author of an article about the UFC happened to write this immediately after quoting Dana White about something else: "Once Zuffa purchased the franchise from [Bob] Meyrowitz, it immediately imposed rules to make the sport more appealing to state athletic commissions and cable operators. The sport has outlawed such moves as eye gouging, biting and kicks to the crotch. Much like boxing, the UFC emphasized weight classes and allowed referees to stop matches at their discretion. In 2001, Zuffa was able to convince boxing-friendly athletic associations in New Jersey and Nevada to sanction UFC fights."
Besides the usual lies about when various rules were implemented (seriously, eye gouging and biting?), the MultiChannel News article also repeated Zuffa's oft-mentioned claim that it got the UFC sanctioned in both Nevada and New Jersey. In reality, before Zuffa ever bought the UFC, it was sanctioned and regulated by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which was widely regarded as the second most important sanctioning body in the country.
The "old UFC" also ran fully sanctioned UFC events in states such as Iowa, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but it was New Jersey that was regarded as having the second-biggest sanctioning body (behind only Nevada's) in terms of importance and prestige. In addition to getting fully sanctioned in New Jersey, the previous owners of the UFC also made an unsuccessful attempt to get sanctioned in Nevada shortly before selling the UFC to Zuffa for $2 million, which means that it's complete BS whenever you read that the previous owners "ran from regulation" or "ran from sanctioning."
There was a flood of poorly-researched hack-jobs about Zuffa's history in early July, which coincided with a flood of Dana White interviews in mainstream newspapers, and this kicked off with an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The article repeatedly misspelled the name of former UFC president Bob Meyrowitz, which shows how much research was done for the article, and the author of the article wrote that Meyrowitz "kept conducting UFC cards in states without athletic commissions that would not regulate it, which only fueled the sport's outlaw reputation and further angered McCain."
Immediately before that point in the article, Dana White is quoted as saying, "I could see that if this was done the right way, if someone didn't run away from regulation but embraced it, if someone cleaned it up and shined it a little, this thing could be huge." Shortly after the line about Meyrowitz and his non-existent rebel UFC events in states that specifically banned MMA, White is quoted again, this time saying, "We all felt if we made some changes and embraced regulation, this had the potential to just go crazy."
Again, that is re-writing history at best, and lying through your teeth at worst. The previous owners did not "run away from regulation." They sought sanctioning and actually got it in New Jersey, and then shortly before selling the UFC to Zuffa, the previous owners tried unsuccessfully to get it sanctioned in Nevada.
The article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal added the following, just in case any knowledgeable readers were still wondering if the article was a hack-job: "White traveled the country like a carnival barker... It wasn't long before New Jersey and Nevada approved the UFC and agreed to allow mixed martial arts fights, leading to nearly every major boxing state approving it."
Even the Washington Post, which normally does a good job with basic fact-checking, fell for this line of BS in a July 8th article that also happened to quote Dana White about Zuffa's purchase of the UFC in 2001. The author of the article wrote, "UFC President Dana White and Zuffa LLC took over in 2001 and since then the UFC has tightened its rules and restrictions. It banned elbowing, head-butting and knee strikes to the head while on the ground, introduced weight classes and implemented various other protections, such as referee training, and mandatory fight doctors." We've already gone over the timeline of when those things were actually implemented (much earlier than 2001).
Several days after the Washington Post story was published, a much longer article (which also quoted Dana White about Zuffa's purchase of the UFC) appeared in the Boston Globe, and it repeated an even more brazen set of lies. The author of the Globe article actually wrote that Zuffa "resurrected UFC from the scrap heap of bad marketing and no-holds-barred mayhem when they bought the company name from Bob Meyrowitz for around $160,000. At the time ultimate fighting had a sullied reputation. No state would sanction its bouts because it had no rules and boasted of its refusal to cooperate with state regulatory bodies."
Zuffa bought the UFC for $160,000? No state would sanction UFC bouts in 2001? The UFC had no rules in 2001? The previous owners boasted of their refusal to cooperate with state regulatory bodies? I think the Boston Globe may have set a new record for "most factually incorrect information ever fit into a few sentences," but it fits right in with the kinds of things that Zuffa would like everyone to believe.
But wait, the Boston Globe didn't also repeat the lies about Zuffa creating all of the rules, right? No, they did that, too: "By 1997, no-holds-barred events had been relegated to smoke-filled rooms in unregulated states... but by using Lorenzo Fertitta’s connections as a former Nevada boxing commissioner, doors began to open within the regulatory community when UFC came up with a set of rules. Where once anything was allowed, turning events into bloody barroom brawls without the cocktail glasses, [Dana] White and his associates added strict adherence to such things as weight classes, five-minute rounds, judges, and mandatory drug testing... [Zuffa] embraced regulatory bodies in states such as Nevada, New Jersey, and California, which had refused to acknowledge UFC."
The Wrestling Observer responded to the Boston Globe story by writing, "The story features the same b.s. about how in 2001, no state would sanction MMA when Bob Meyrowitz owned it and how the old UFC refused to cooperate with state athletic commissions. The truth is the exact opposite... Yes, another story about how the new owners added rules, and embraced regulation. It’s almost sickening how much this crap gets propagated and nobody does one iota of research to see how bogus it is."
Regarding one specific similarity to Vince McMahon's similar pattern of propaganda, Meltzer wrote, "Old-time wrestling fans will love this one. The old UFC was held in 'smoke-filled rooms in unregulated states' [according to the Boston Globe article]. That was the old Vince McMahon line about taking pro wrestling out of smoke filled arenas... what took both out of smoke-filled arenas was the creation of indoor smoking laws, not promoters."
One interesting side note to the Boston Globe article is that White also acknowledged in the article, "If there was no Web when we started, we wouldn't have been able to sustain it. UFC stayed alive on the Web. Our [demographic] could never have found out about us without it because the mainstream media was ignoring us." So, just to clarify, it's not what White isn't aware that the Internet kept the UFC alive for a time. He's fully aware of that; it's just not going to stop him from trying to control the flow of information and crack down on any form of independent, MMA-dedicated media.
In the biggest coup of all from a spreading of misinformation standpoint, an Associated Press reporter bit on the BS-bearing hook and included the same kind of factually incorrect in an AP news story about the UFC. As an AP article, it appeared in the majority of major (and minor) newspapers across the United States, as well as huge web sites throughout the world, including ESPN.com. The story claimed that when Zuffa bought the UFC and got it sanctioned in Nevada in 2001, "Out went bloody head butts and other vicious blows that could cause serious harm. In came a skilled and conditioned fighter."
With the exception of the lie about the previous owners "running from sanctioning," White is usually bright enough to not actually be quoted on the record repeating these lies. They just happen to show up in every mainstream article that quotes him talking about other topics. But in a very brazen example just this week on ESPNews' The Hot List, White flat-out lied, on the record, for everyone to see on national television.
On The Hot List, White said that the UFC "wasn't sanctioned by any of the major athletic commissions" before Zuffa bought it. This is not a matter for debate. It's just flat-out factually incorrect, as I've already detailed in this article.
Dana White also said on The Hot List, "When we first bought the sport, not only was it not in any of the major venues here in the United States, but it also wasn't on pay-per-view. We were on DirecTV, but we weren't on any of the cable pay-per-view systems." While I wasn't aware that Zuffa "bought the sport," White's statement about the PPV situation is absolutely correct. However, his statement about major venues is once again factually incorrect, unless the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City is not considered a "major venue."
White knew better than to repeat the lies about Zuffa adding all of the rules on national television. Interestingly, Dave Meltzer noted in the Observer several months back that when longtime Observer subscriber Dave Doyle (who writes about MMA for Fox) was talking to White for an interview, White dropped any signs of trying to pretend that Zuffa added most of the UFC's rules... as soon as it became clear in the conversation that Doyle was a longtime MMA fan who knew the history of the sport and would be able to tell the difference between reality and BS (as opposed to mainstream media reporters who know nothing about MMA and will repeat anything that you tell them because they don't know any better and generally won't bother to do five minutes of research).
Regarding the specific line that the previous owners of the UFC "ran from sanctioning," which is one line that Dana White does not have a problem giving on-the-record in any mainstream media interview, the previous owners did not "run from sanctioning," and Zuffa knows that based on the circumstances of how Zuffa bought the UFC. In fact, one of the last things that the previous owners did before selling the UFC to Zuffa was to try unsuccessfully to get the UFC sanctioned in Nevada.
Here's the actual story about how SEG came to sell the UFC to Zuffa, gathered from multiple issues of the Wrestling Observer, with edits made in brackets to fill in context or correct grammar, and with a timeline clarification courtesy of Whaledog.com: "Meyrowitz [former UFC president Bob Meyrowitz] would go to InDemand [the PPV company] and ask what he needed to do to get back on InDemand, and they said the UFC needed to get sanctioned [by a major sanctioning body]. He got sanctioned in New Jersey, and was basically told that he needed to get it sanctioned in Nevada, as that was the most influential athletic commission in the country. [Meyrowitz] set up a meeting in Las Vegas, and at the time, sanctioning was going to happen based on what inside sources were telling both Meyrowitz and InDemand. Suddenly, the night before the approval that was going to be the step to put the UFC back on the map, Meyrowitz was told that he was going to be voted down [the next day, when his request was scheduled to be voted on by the members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission]. He didn't have the votes. He was also told that if he followed through the next day, and was voted down, he would never have an opportunity to be sanctioned. So, he pulled out, they created some cover reason as to why he was pulling his attempt at sanctioning, and basically he was screwed. Lorenzo Fertitta [the current co-owner of the UFC] was an influential member of the Nevada commission at the time. [Approximately one year later], Fertitta purchased the UFC [for $2 million], then got sanctioning in Nevada, and then got on PPV."
There are dozens and dozens more examples of mainstream articles that quote Dana White as part of the article, and also just happen to keep giving Zuffa far more credit than is deserved for adding all of the rules, along with repeating the same set of lies about the previous owners of the UFC.
This particular set of deceptions and distortions, constantly repeated to mainstream media members who print them without knowing any better, is also completely unnecessary. Zuffa legitimately did a lot of great things for the sport in the aforementioned time period (and also has in the years since then), such as getting sanctioning in Nevada, unifying the rules between Nevada and the pre-existing New Jersey sanctioning, and getting back on cable PPV, so there's no need to lie about it. The truth is flattering enough. There's no valid reason for continuing to propagate these lies, and yet it keeps happening.
MMA is Merging with Pro Wrestling
It should also be troubling to any hardcore fan of MMA that the direction of the UFC is becoming increasingly similar to pro wrestling. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who is actually a fan of pro wrestling, butalso wants MMA to be more of a "real sport" than what it is becoming. This trend towards a pro wrestling-like product should be a lot more upsetting to you if happen to be one of the many MMA fans who dislike pro wrestling.
It's also important to note that I still find the UFC product to be enjoyable even in its current form, and there are still a decent amount of quality fights to be found in the UFC. There's just nowhere near as many as there would be if the current UFC product actually had anything to do with determining who the best fighters are (you know, like how every season of the NFL determines who the best football team is, and every season of the NBA determines who the best basketball team is).
I have written previously about the worked pull-aparts between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock on The Ultimate Fighter 3, and have explained exactly what I mean by the phrase "worked pull-aparts." Ken Shamrock was even kind enough to add more pro wrestling terminology into the hype during the ridiculous Episode 12 pull-apart. An interesting note to add on that front is that when TUF 3 contestant Tait Fletcher was asked in an interview with Jason Milloff about the interaction between Ortiz and Shamrock, Fletcher said, "It was a joke. It was comedy. Again, you could probably see me laughing... when Ken goes off into his pro wrestling/WWE mode, does he really expect anyone to take him seriously? That’s kind of hard to do."
But I'm not just talking about the worked pull-aparts and other nonsense such as having a fighter on TUF 3 who has a losing record in MMA. I'm also talking about the fact that it is now considered commonplace for the UFC to book squash matches in PPV main events just to elevate someone or pop a PPV buyrate.
Make no mistake about it, Pride does this all the time as well. The difference is that Pride has been, from its very inception, rooted in the tradition of pro wrestling, since it was originally born out of the UWFI, a "strong-style pro wrestling" company. On the other hand, the UFC has always vehemently claimed to be above this kind of thing, and has always balked at any pro wrestling comparisons, actually going so far as to deny the viewership crossover between UFC programming and pro wrestling on Spike TV (even when overwhelming evidence shows that the two audiences are, in large part, the same people).
There's a name for something where you match people against each other to draw money and you know the outcome ahead of time. It's called pro wrestling. The only difference between pro wrestling and the UFC in this particular area is that the match outcomes themselves are pre-determined in pro wrestling, whereas the best they can possibly do in the UFC is to manipulate the matchmaking in order to create main event fights where they can have 90% or higher certainty that a particular fighter is going to win. (Think Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie, or Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock, which was indeed the "main event" of UFC 61 since it was given the vast majority of the hype going into the event.)
Bruce Mitchell recently wrote a column in the Pro Wrestling Torch about the UFC's trend to be more like pro wrestling, focusing specifically on TUF 3. This is just an excerpt from a much larger column: "Years ago, fans thought WWF wrestling was real conflict. Today they don't. They still buy tickets based on how the McMahon family manipulates the circumstances around the fighters to get the fans excited enough to buy things... Dana White does the same thing that Vince McMahon and [TNA booker] Jeff Jarrett do. Do you think he chose Tito Ortiz or Ken Shamrock as coaches for Ultimate Fighter because they were the best instructors he could find to teach apprentice fighters, or because their hatred for each other makes good TV? Do you think UFC chose those apprentices solely based on their potential as fighters, like that 33 year old big mouth, or because they'd make good TV personalities? Do you think he's promoting Ortiz vs. Shamrock as a big time main event because they're the two best fighters in the Octagon, or is it because they're two marketable personalities who know how to present themselves and their enmity in charismatic ways? Hell, Shamrock is 42 years old and hasn't won a big match in years."
The UFC's pro wrestling-like direction goes further than the Ortiz-Shamrock dynamic that Mitchell wrote about. For every PPV main event on the UFC's 2006 schedule that is legitimately a championship-level fight, featuring one fighter who is a champion against another fighter who deserves a title shot (like Matt Hughes vs. Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell vs. Renato Sobral, and hopefully Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva), there's another PPV main event on the schedule that exists for the sole purpose of drawing money and/or elevating someone with a huge mismatch (like Hughes vs. Gracie, or Ortiz vs. Shamrock).
Of course, the actual fights are not fixed, and I am not suggesting for a second that they are. Zuffa can never know for sure if the fighter who they expect to win is going to win. Three examples: Rich Franklin still had to go out there and actually win the fight against Ken Shamrock, but the fight was a mismatch that was ultimately booked to draw money and give Franklin a big win over a big name. The same statement applies to Hughes vs. Gracie (White even said before UFC 60 in a media conference call that he would be "pretty screwed" if Gracie won), and it also applies to Ortiz vs. Shamrock, which was always regarded as a fight that was overwhelmingly likely to give Ortiz a big win over a big name before his tentatively planned Light Heavyweight title shot.
It's generally not a good sign if you paid $40 for a PPV main event (like Hughes vs. Gracie) and it would be completely accurate for you to think, "That fight was booked specifically for Fighter A to destroy Fighter B, and everyone involved knew that it was overwhelmingly likely to happen, and that is exactly what did happen, and now Fighter A's standing in the sport has been elevated, and that's why exactly the fight was booked in the first place." That's how pro wrestling is booked, with the only difference being that the promoters can be 100 percent certain of the results in pro wrestling, while MMA promoters can only be 90+ percent certain with mismatched shoot fights. One product is a work and the other is a shoot, but they are becoming increasingly similar.
When Vince McMahon recently said in a MultiChannel News article that the people at Zuffa "don't quite know what they're doing in terms of building characters," the author of the article asked Dana White about the subject of bringing new stars into the UFC. The author of the article then wrote, "White said UFC's momentum won't be pinned down by a lack of star power anytime soon. He added the Ultimate Fighter reality series will continue to unveil up and coming superstars, whose careers fans will be able to track through its live events."
In other words, the new stars in the UFC's future will not be the top free agents from around the world. Sure, some of them will be, and there will also be inter-promotional deals like the one with Pride to bring in Wanderlei Silva for what White described as "probably" a three-fight deal at the UFC 61 post-fight press conference. But with the exception of a few cases like this, the "new stars" in the UFC's future will primarily be TUF contestants.
There wouldn't necessarily be anything wrong with that if TUF really was an outlet for the top up-and-coming MMA fighters in the world to get a shot in the UFC, but that is not the case. If you look at the fighters who were on the second and third seasons of TUF, the amount of people who had no business being on the show given their lack of MMA experience was actually larger than the amount of people who could be accurately described as "up-and-coming MMA fighters."
On the upcoming fourth season, there will be 16 former UFC fighters, exactly two of whom have winning records in the UFC. Far from being "former top fighters who just got off-track," which is how this season of TUF is being sold by the UFC, the combined UFC record of the eight welterweights on the fourth season of TUF is 16 wins and 17 losses. The combined UFC record of the middleweights on TUF 4 is four wins and 15 losses (total combined UFC record for both weight classes: 20-32).
Regarding the UFC's trend towards a pro wrestling-like product, the UFC's own Heavyweight Champion, Tim Sylvia, said this in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article about UFC 61: "The only reason he [Ken Shamrock] is fighting is because he's got a mouth and he likes to do that wrestling [talk], that WWE stuff." Sylvia added, "We don't need that. We are world-class athletes, and we need to let our talents make the case for us. People who really know the sport know that, but we're still growing, and we need to represent ourselves a certain way."
In response to that statement by Sylvia, Jeff Thaler wrote the following on Whaledog.com: "Sylvia raises a good point, but the reason Shamrock is headlining [UFC 61] is easy to explain. The UFC likes Ken Shamrock because it promotes itself more like a professional wrestling promotion than a sport - promoting its brand first, its president second, and actual athletes last. Manufactured hype is more important to Zuffa than the quality of athletes or fights."
As Dave Meltzer recently wrote in the Wrestling Observer, "The UFC... would rather try to create their own stars [on The Ultimate Fighter] than pay huge money for people they don't believe have name recognition past the Internet crowd. The truth is, the UFC has never been, at any point in its existence, about trying to find out who the best fighters in the world are."
I can't call that an inaccurate statement, but isn't "finding out who the best are" supposed to be what a real sport is all about when it comes down to it? If there's a situation such as the 2005 NBA Playoffs where the two teams meeting in the NBA Finals are viewed as being an undesirable TV ratings match-up, the NBA doesn't decide to put Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the Finals. The top two teams play, regardless of whether it's going to draw the biggest business. It's a real sport, and that's how it works. Similarly, if two of the smallest-market teams in the NFL make it to the Super Bowl next season, the NFL is not going to decide to bump one of them for the star power of Peyton Manning and the Colts.
The emphasis in the UFC is not on who the best fighters are. Who cares about that, right? (Apparently not Dana White, who recently said in an interview that he doesn't know too much about Fedor Emelianenko, who is almost universally regarded as the most dominant MMA fighter in the world.) The emphasis is purely on who can draw money, and who can be elevated by a fight in order to draw money in subsequent fights. It doesn't have to be that one-sided, nor does it have to be completely in the opposite direction.
It's actually quite possible for the UFC to have entertaining fighters and entertaining fights, while still ultimately trying to match up the best fighters. The proposed Liddell-Silva fight is an excellent example, but that kind of thing is the exception rather than the norm in today's UFC. Just looking at the UFC 60 card, the same card that was headlined by the Hughes-Gracie farce, one can clearly see that it's possible for certain fights to deliver on both sides of this coin, and there's no reason that the main events can't do this more often as well.
Looking at the UFC 60 card, you've got the Hughes-Gracie squash match, where Zuffa got the exact result that it expected, not unlike a lamb being led to slaughter (which is sad, given all that Royce Gracie has done for the sport of MMA).
On the other hand, just look at the Mike Swick and Brandon Vera fights (Swick fought Hoe Riggs, and Vera fought Assuerio Silva). Swick and Vera are generally entertaining, charismatic fighters. Sure, Zuffa probably hoped that Swick and Vera would each win their respective fights because they are both potential future stars, but were Swick and Vera given opponents that were almost certain to result in easy victories for them? No, they weren't.
Swick and Vera were matched up against Joe Riggs and Assuerio Silva, respectively. Riggs and Silva are tough opponents, and either of them could very well have beaten Swick or Vera. In the end, Swick and Vera won fights against tough opposition, and they earned the boost in stature that they got from doing so.
This is the kind of balance that Zuffa should be trying to have in more of its main events as well. For the PPV main events in particular, is it really too much to ask when you're paying $40 to have one fighter who is a champion going up against another fighter who deserves a title shot?
I'm not suggesting that the UFC should be completely antiseptic or sterile, but it would be nice if the UFC resembled a "real sport" more than it resembled a shoot form of pro wrestling.