Friday, August 2, 2013
News and notes: Bellator changing its tune
By Josh Gross
The Tito Ortiz-Quinton Jackson announcement by Bellator represents a shift in company philosophy.
We'll have to wait until a Monday news conference to know details about Bellator's decision to promote its first pay-per-view event headlined by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz.
For a whole host of reasons it would be easy to pick apart the fight (just look at their records over the past few years) and the decision to promote it, but that won't change the fact that Bellator and Viacom chose to use Jackson and Ortiz in this way.
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One presumes it makes sense for their businesses because they need a pay-per-view showcase. Some have already suggested this news is a reaction to the ongoing lawsuit between Bellator and Eddie Alvarez, in which the ability of the promotion to host and sell pay-per-views is a significant point of contention. Whether or not there's truth to that, and whether or not Bellator or Viacom would cop to it, is unclear.
Bellator officials have discussed getting into the pay-per-view business for some time, so this shouldn't be a shock to anyone. It's just the circumstances and the headliners that have people wondering what's up.
A quiet rumor emanating from Bellator circles the past few months may also have something to do with the matchmaking. There has been talk of a shift in company philosophy. Not just in the way Bellator finds, creates, builds and showcases fighters, but how it treats the idea of signing once-bankable stars, even if they have little to offer in the cage.
Since Viacom purchased a majority stake in Bellator, Bjorn Rebney has moved from a well-staked-out position of not wanting to sign UFC castoffs to making room on a loaded calender to book a pay-per-view attraction between former champions from any top 10 ranking. So, November's pay-per-view is, if nothing else (and it's much more), an important experiment for the people involved in the only real MMA alternative to the UFC.
In the wake of Thursday's announcement, Rebney did express that the Nov. 2 event in Long Beach, Calif., is essentially a one-off. That the model of weekly events shown on free television through Spike TV will continue to dominate its focus. But it's obvious that there are changes underway to Bellator's approach, including spending money on ventures that could serve as loss leaders.
For the moment, the fight accomplished what Bellator folks hoped: It got people talking.
UFC World Tour Wraps
For the past few years at least, UFC hasn't had a problem getting people interested in what it's up to.
Yet, for the first time that I can recall, the company opted to trot out a week-long media tour, investing several hundred thousand dollars and many man-hours into pitching a slew of championship fights set for the last half of 2013.
Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez were flanked by UFC president Dana White and their challengers in Los Angeles and New York. Totaling 150,000 miles traveled, this was no small deal. The crew splintered off, landing in 11 cities in five countries, creating interest and storylines that, presuming everyone stays healthy, should strongly propel the company into 2014.
The week-long cavalcade wrapped in style, as St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, who kicked it off in Las Vegas Monday, scored mat time in front of fans on the field at Cowboys Stadium. Hendricks did well on the tour, making the most of his media attention by publicly wishing to batter the welterweight champion. Call it a toss-up between Rousey and Hendricks for most quotable.
The star of the show was Rousey, who continues to be a huge driver of PR for the UFC. She and Miesha Tate did well, especially during a "car wash" at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Including Saturday's featherweight title fight pitting Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung, as well as an end of August showdown at 155 pounds between champion Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, the back half of this year sets up to be the most impressive stretch in UFC history.
There's no right answer here, but this is how things shake out on my anticipation meter:
The fights mentioned above or the undercards preceding them will probably produce at least one moment addressed by the Association of Boxing Commissions at its annual convention this week in San Antonio.
We've all seen it. We've all groaned. A fighter, hoping to avoid punishment or induce a foul, will touch the ground with a hand. That immediately prevents the opponent from kneeing or kicking the fighter's head. More to the point, it stalls the contest and makes for an awkward moment for all involved.
So, as part of this week's discussion, the ABC addressed the loophole.
As recommended by Nick Lembo (New Jersey), Keith Kizer (Nevada) and Bernie Profato (Ohio) at the convention referee rules meeting:
"Referees should instruct the fighters that they may still be considered a standing fighter even if they have a finger or portion of the hand (or entire hand) on the canvas. In the discretion of the referee, a fighter who has a finger or hand on the canvas may still be legally struck in the head with knees and kicks. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is placing his or her finger or hand down without doing so for an offensive or countering maneuver in an attempt to advance or improve their position. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is instead simply trying to draw a foul. If the referee decides that the fighter is 'touching down' simply to benefit from a foul, the referee may consider that fighter a standing fighter and decide that no foul has occurred."
Considering the state of officiating in MMA, leaving issues like this up to referee discretion creates valid concerns. But the men and women assigned to oversee these contests need leeway here, especially if commissions across the U.S. won't repeal the rule banning knees to the head of a ground opponent. This course correction looks like a smart step in the right direction.