Thursday, March 29, 2007

UFC/Pride VS. The World

By Fritz Martin

Overnight the MMA landscape has changed, the "Cold War" has ended between UFC and Pride. They have merged to become the one and only superpower in the sport of MMA.

Mixed martial artists, fans, members of the media, and fight promoters are still coming to terms with the announcement that the Fertittas had purchased Pride FC. Pride FC and UFC had been the two heavyweights in the last decade. Their stranglehold on MMA was akin to the Cold War with the U.S. was on one side of the globe and the Soviet Union on the other. This landmark deal now creates only one superpower to rule them all. With the creation of this monopoly come many advantages and disadvantages for mixed martial arts.

Officials from both organizations had mentioned during the press conference that Pride would be a separate entity from the UFC. Their plans for both organizations would mirror that of the NFL/AFL merger to create an MMA Super Bowl. Also, it was the new owners desire to make MMA as popular as soccer around the world. They called for unified rules across the board and Dana White mentioned that those that didn't abide by those rules should not be considered as MMA. Lorenzo Fertitta also discussed the creation of a mixed martial arts commission and himself as the commissioner.

The Advantages

The most obvious benefit from this merger is that we may finally see mega-dream fights between Price FC superstars against the very best of the UFC. The fans have been clamoring for a fight between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva. I personally still want to see that fight even though the Axe Murderer had been KO'd his last 2 fights. Give Wand a few tune up fights to build him up again and for sure you will see fireworks for that match up. Another fight that I long for is Fedor Emelianenko against the top heavyweights of the UFC: Arlovski, Sylvia, Couture, and Vera. A rematch against a Mirko Cro Cop that has the UFC heavy weight belt would be a great inaugural MMA Super Bowl main event fight. Until then fans can keep on dreaming about the possibilities.

Another gain for MMA is the possibility of unified rules as mentioned by the UFC/PRIDE officials. In order for MMA to be accepted as a mainstream sport the fighters need be recognized as true athletes and have a common barometer in place to compare the competitors. We should not have throwback matches that pair fighters who have vast weight differences nor allow MMA to be used to display freak show fights. No one wants to see a brawl between two behemoths that have no MMA skills and a David vs. Goliath fight that result in the bashing of the smaller fighter.

Also, there needs to be universal consensus regarding the use of elbow and knees. More than likely Pride will follow the rules set forth by the Nevada State Athletic Commission which the UFC currently uses. Unless the Fertittas use their influence to make changes to the rules, Pride fighters will no longer be allowed to knee nor be allowed to foot stomp downed opponents. The sport should at least allow knees to a downed opponent since this technique can change a fight dramatically. Wrestlers in Pride were not able to dominate as much as they did in the UFC due to the knee strikes. Attempting a single or double leg take down had serious consequences if the fighter failed since they could be KO'd with a knee strike. A perfect example would be a Heath Herring fight. His fight against Mark Kerr in Pride and his recent fight with Jake O'Brien in the UFC had very different results. The former he won by TKO and the latter he loss by decision.

The Pride brand and MMA in general will accelerate its presence world wide under the leadership of the Fertittas. They have the clout, the know-how, and the passion for the sport to take it to the next level. They are a smart outfit will surely create synergies between the UFC and Pride.

The Disadvantages

Every fighter, manager, and fight promoter is probably worried about this mega merger and if they are not, they should be. When Pride and UFC were different entities the fighters had the opportunity to maximize their earnings potential by pitting offers from both agencies. When Pride was universally recognized as the global leader in MMA they had the best collection of fighters especially at heavyweight. In order for UFC to take the lead they had to purchase Pride's top fighters (i.e. Cro Cop and Fabricio Werdun). The amount of money the UFC paid for Cro Cop is a whole lot more than what Pride was paying him and they paid double what Werdun was getting from Pride. The UFC/PRIDE organization now can pretty much out pay anyone and no other organization can threaten to take away any of their fighters. It remains to be seen if fighters will be paid less but they will definitely not have the upper hand during contract negotiations.

Fighters must remain in the good graces of UFC/PRIDE or they risk ending their MMA careers fighting in local fight promotions. Any fighter that signs with UFC/PRIDE will more than likely sign exclusive multiple fight contracts which will take away their freedom to fight for other promotions unless given permission to do so. I worry about fighters being given the time to develop their skills before being rushed to a title shot or face opponents that are years ahead in experience and ability.

The rapid expansion of the UFC and now the acquisition of Pride by the Fertittas will also increase the number of events held each month. Although this may be a blessing for fight fans but I wonder if the quality of fights will take a down turn since they are only a finite number of world class fighters competing at the moment. We will most likely see only one title fight on each future event as oppose to multiple ones that we have seen in the last few years. We may not even see a title fight at all at every event if they plan to put on as many shows as they do. A major concern is brand dilution. Fight fans eagerly anticipate shows since they are only held once or twice a month. If every week there is a fight held then that special aura around events will disappear.

Other MMA Organizations

In response to the recent merger between UFC and Pride, Showtime with partners Pro Elite and EliteXC announced that they are teaming up with FEG for the K-1 promotion to be held at the L.A. Coliseum on June 2nd. They also announced a partnership with Strikeforce, BodogFight, Cage Rage, and Spirit XC. Strikeforce is an up and coming fight promotion in U.S. which as of late held the record for the largest live attendance of an MMA event. BodogFight is partnership between millionaire Calvin Ayre and Maximum Fighting Championship. Cage Rage is the most popular MMA promoter in England. Spirit XC is the largest MMA promoter in South Korea.

It looks like MMA promoters are in a state of panic regarding the UFC/PRIDE merger. The other promoters have pooled their resources together in order to compete with the new MMA juggernaut. As it is now they will probably end up signing fighters that have been cut by Pride and UFC. If the other MMA organizations manage to build up fighters on their own they will probably be snapped up by the UFC/PRIDE once the fighter starts showing some potential.Since most of the top fighters are already signed by the UFC some promoters will resort to showcasing freak show or circus fights. We already see that in some of the June 2nd card put on by K-1. They have Brock Lesnar facing off Hong-Man Choi. Lesnar is a great physical specimen but this fight was surely set up to bring in the wrestling fans that do not follow MMA. Royce Gracie is also fighting on the card. Royce is a legend, a pioneer in the sport but he is nowhere near the top ten or even in the top 50 of either the 170 lbs. and 185 lbs. weight class. Fans want to see competitive fights between top notch fighters and not "celeberity" matches. I mean what's next, Van Damme against Steven Seagal?

This collaboration between the many different organizations has the potential of challenging the Fertitta owned companies, especially with Showtime involved. The philosophies of both UFC/PRIDE and K1/ProElite and Co. for the future of this sport actually mirror each other. They want unified rules and weight classes and some kind of MMA World Series or World Cup. I wonder if the winner of the proposed "MMA Super Bowl" between UFC and Pride will face the winner of the K1 and Co. in the future. There is another threat on the horizon that will seriously pose a challenge for this new alliance. The dominance of UFC and Pride will be increased further with the addition of HBO as partner. HBO and UFC are already in the processing of hammering out the details but with Showtime involved, it will only accelerate the cooperation between HBO and the UFC. There are rumors circling that ESPN will finally cover the sport of MMA but more specifically only the UFC and perhaps Pride as well. Will UFC and Pride be considered as the only "major league" organizations in MMA? The other MMA organizations have a tough battle ahead of them. The Fertittas initially loss millions of dollars before the UFC turned itself around to become the world leader in MMA. These other MMA organizations better brace themselves because the will surely lose a whole lot more in the begining to compete with the UFC and Pride.

The Conclusion

Overnight the MMA landscape has changed, the "Cold War" has ended between UFC and Pride. They have merged to become the one and only superpower in the sport of MMA. The rules currently used by the UFC will be adopted by Pride. With the exception of the glitzy fireworks, high pitched female announcer, and the use of the ring Pride will essentially become UFC East. The UFC that has dominated North America can be referred to as UFC West. So on New Year's Eve of every year we will probably see an "MMA Super Bowl" between UFC East (Pride) vs. UFC West (UFC) to decide which organization has the best fighters. It's funny because they are really of the same organization but with different brands. In response to the mega merger all the other MMA organization (K1 and Co.) have formed a haphazard alliance. This alliance also wants to create their own "MMA World Cup". It would be interesting to see if the UFC/PRIDE will acknowledge this newly formed alliance. This so called "MMA Super Bowl" will more than likely just involved the UFC and Pride. Other organizations may create their own world series type format but it would probably be regarded as a minor league competition or division II championships. The UFC and Pride are dead set on world domination and as Dana White stated they are going after the best fighters out there.


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