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CagePotato.com Presents: The 2014 Potato Awards

Most Terrifying Game-Changer: The UFC/Reebok Uniform Deal (12/2/14)

One morning, over 500 UFC fighters woke up and discovered that they had been sponsored by Reebok. At first, that sounds pretty sweet; Reebok is a much more respectable (and wealthy) brand than, say, Dude Wipes and Dynamic Fastener. But the UFC’s new uniform agreement with Reebok came with a couple of catches:

1) When the deal officially kicks off in July 2015, fighters will no longer be able to wear logos of their existing sponsors into the Octagon. For many fighters, that will represent a significant financial setback. Will the new Reebok money make up for it? Nobody knows at this point — not even the UFC’s own champions and stars.

2) The sponsorship money will be distributed based on a tiered-system, in which a fighter’s official ranking will determine how much money they get. You know who puts together those rankings? Morons.

Whether or not the UFC is a monopoly/monopsony will be up to the courts to decide. But one thing is beyond dispute: Unless you’re a big name in the sport, fighters have very little leverage in financial negotiations with the UFC. In terms of fight purses and bonuses, you pretty much have to take what they give you. Sponsorships were the primary means by which fighters could generate income independently outside of the Octagon. Then, the UFC instituted steep sponsor taxes which made it impossible for smaller brands to remain in the game, and that revenue stream immediately began to dry up

Now, the UFC has effectively banned independent sponsorships altogether, and will have near-complete control over how much money its fighters earn starting next summer. That’s a scary thought. And while I’m sure some UFC fighters will benefit from the new arrangement — specifically, contenders with high rankings but low name-value, and Fight Pass prelim nobodies who weren’t making much from sponsorships in the first place — everybody else has some serious cause for concern.

The UFC is further tightening its grip on its roster, a fighter’s slice of the sponsorship pie will be determined by a metric that has little to do with his or her promotional value, and honestly, the pie isn’t that big to begin with. And shit, man, who even wears Reebok anymore?

- Ben Goldstein

Fight of the Year: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler 1, UFC 171 (3/15/14)


(Photo via Jeff Bottari/Getty)

When Johnny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler first met for the UFC welterweight title at UFC 171, Hendricks was coming off of a close decision loss to Georges St-Pierre in their title fight at UFC 167, and Lawler was riding a three-fight win streak earned during an improbable, Rocky-esque UFC comeback in 2013. St-Pierre’s sudden retirement and vacating of the title meant that one of these fighters would emerge from St- Pierre’s shadow as the new UFC welterweight champ.

The fight exceeded our expectations and then some. Both men badly wanted the belt, and both men deserved to be there. To add to the drama, Hendricks suffered a bicep tear early in round one, and was not able to fully unload on Lawler or really defend takedowns. Despite this setback, he connected frequently with his left and kept Lawler guessing with a good overall game. The fight raged back and forth for the full five rounds. It was too close to call going into the last round.

Motivated by his cornerman Marc Laimon, who screamed “YOU HAVE TO WIN THIS ROUND RIGHT FUCKIN’ NOW!!” going into round 5, Hendricks came on strong in the final frame and emerged victorious with the unanimous decision nod. Even fans of Robbie Lawler had to appreciate what an emotional moment it was for the new champion.

Due to his injuries, Hendricks and Lawler couldn’t meet again until nine months later, and as great as their rematch was at UFC 181, it couldn’t quite match the magic of the original.

- Barry Siragusa

Honorable mentions: Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 175, Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown at UFC on FOX 12, Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes II at UFC 179

“WTF?” Moment of the Year: CM Punk Shows Up at UFC 181, Signs With UFC (12/6/14)

Mike Goldberg promised us a special announcement during the pay-per-view portion of UFC 181, but the UFC has had enough “special announcements” fall flat in the past that everyone rolled their eyes or did the jerkoff motion or rolled their eyes while actually jerking off because MMA fans have become accustomed to squeezing in life’s necessities during six-hour marathon UFC broadcasts.

Then the announcement came. CM Punk stands next to Joe Rogan, and you’re thinking, “…the fuck is CM Punk doing here?” Punk, reading your mind through the camera, announces he’s signed a contract to fight in the UFC, and then you took to Twitter to spaz out about CM Punk fighting in the UFC because you’re 1) a pro wrestling mark who misses Pride and loves gimmicky bullshit or 2) a cold-hearted curmudgeon who hates pro wrestling and fun and you still uphold some anachronistic belief about MMA’s sporting purity.

Punk’s debut is tentatively planned for late 2015.

- Mike Fagan

Honorable mentions: Grappler submits and vomits after being farted on, Karyn Bryant screams “Fedor babies!” at the UFC 175 media day (skip to 1:27:20), Cody McKenzie draws a pint of his own blood to make weight.

Promotion of the Year: Bellator

Yes. Bellator.

Here’s a harrowing statistic for you: The last TUF Finale to air on Spike TV was the TUF 14 finale back in 2011. It garnered 2.5 million viewers on average and peaked at 3.4 million.

The most recent TUF finale — for TUF 20 — aired on Fox Sports 1 and drew a paltry average of 989,000 and peaked at 1.2 million.

What does this have to do with Bellator?

November’s Bellator 131 received an average of 1.2 million viewers and peaked at 2 million. While we’re sure people will say Bellator’s best show barely beat out an underwhelming TUF Finale on a worse network, that’s an unsophisticated way to look at it.

The UFC has been on the downswing throughout 2014. PPV numbers are catastrophic, ratings are far removed from the golden days of Spike TV, Zuffa’s revenue is down 40 percent, and now the UFC has an ugly anti-trust lawsuit to deal with, as well as Bellator’s impending legal action over the signing of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Is that really a promotion we can call “promotion of the year?”

Now contrast this to Bellator’s moves in 2014. They hired Scott Coker, fired Baroni, brought back women, drove a bulldozer through the UFC Hall of Fame and re-built it at Dave & Buster’s, they get good ratings, they’ve put on some great shows (we’ll remember the finish to Schilling vs. Manhoef forever) and they signed a legitimate super-prospect in Aaron Pico. Sure, they’re guilty of doing some dumb shit (Bonnar vs. Ortiz, which rightfully won this year’s Minowaman Award), but they certainly haven’t committed as many unforced errors in 2014 as the UFC.

Bellator is CagePotato’s promotion of the year. Go whine about it in the comments.

- Matt Saccaro

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