Friday, February 16, 2007

Matt Lindland, The World’s Free Agent

By Aaron Crecy

Fueled largely by the dizzying success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport of mixed martial arts has attracted an unprecedented influx of ravenous investors eager to replicate its recent cash windfall.

That Zuffa LLC. was in the hole to red to the tune of approximately $44 million prior to its unlikely turnaround should be a warning flag for any Johnny-come-lately. What remains to be seen is whether it is MMA that has surged in popularity or simply the UFC brand.

In July 2006, the World Fighting Alliance found the latter to be the case. After signing a myriad of UFC and PRIDE veterans to expensive contracts, the WFA fell flat on their collective faces. Six months later, the organization folded and sold its outstanding contacts to Zuffa.

The acquisition epitomized the UFC’s current challenge—even as pay-per-view revenues soar and its media presence continues to grow, the organization is engaged in a fight for top talent. The December 2006 acquisitions of the WFA and World Extreme Cagefighting certainly bolstered the Zuffa roster. However, with an aggressive programming schedule that includes frequent fare on Spike TV, Versus, HBO and pay-per-view, the UFC must ensure that it has an adequate pipeline of A-level fighters to appease its fan base.

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