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Monday Memo: Ben Askren’s ONE FC Win, “Bitches in a Beauty Salon,” And a UFC Champion’s Pay Gripes


(Photo by Mags Icasiano/Rappler)

By Brian J. D’Souza

Five under-the-radar stories you may have missed last week…

BEN ASKREN WINS…NOW WHAT?

Exiled from Bellator, refused a contract with the UFC, and having rejected an offer from the World Series of Fighting, undefeated welterweight and 2008 Olympian Ben Askren chose to seek his fortunes in Singapore-based ONE FC.

Last Friday, Askren improved his record to 13-0 in his promotional debut against Bakhtiyar Abbasov (now 11-3), winning in the first round via arm-triangle choke. This marks the third opponent in a row that Askren has finished. Where does this leave the American wrestler?

Askren spoke to CagePotato.com earlier this year and said that he believed he was the best welterweight in the world, with a caveat: “I definitely agree that [Johny Hendricks] should be ranked number one because I haven’t had the ability to prove I’m number one.”

Askren pointed to bantamweight Bibiano Fernandes and lightweight Mike Chandler as top fighters outside the UFC who could give a good challenge to the UFC’s champions at their respective divisions, but he was adamant that the bulk of the sport’s top talent lies within the UFC.

Unfortunately for Askren, there is no reason why the UFC—or any other MMA promotion—has to sign top contenders like himself. Combat sports have always been a business, with the promoter’s mandate being to maximize revenue.

Unlike the organizational titles in place in MMA, there are world titles sanctioned by third parties in boxing. This means that contenders can climb the ladder with each win against ranked opposition, earning leverage towards a title shot. The system is wide-open to corruption—managers and promoters often pay cold hard cash to advance their boxers in the rankings, evidenced by the 1999 IBF rankings scandal. However, with the right backers, fighters can have more career traction in boxing than currently exists in MMA.

Those signed to the UFC have their own grievances—title shots are often assigned based on expedience, with marketable challengers at the front of the line.

Where does all of this leave Ben Askren? As he continues to win fights, curiosity will arise over how he matches up with top UFC welterweights.

BELLATOR ON UPSWING

The industry got a shot in the arm with Bellator 120—the promotion’s debut pay-per-view show—getting over 100,000 buys, according to a report broken on Sherdog.com. Additionally, the Sherdog report stated that the buy rate would be confirmed by Viacom’s SEC filings later this year.

Competition in the pay-per-view market could be a game-changer. UFC fighters renegotiating their contracts have more options and the biggest stars may have even more leverage if they threaten to quit for a competing promotion.

The 100,000 buy rate figure also raises questions about the UFC marketing machine: If Jon Jones or Chris Weidman appeared on a Bellator PPV — yes, this is purely hypothetical — would the buy rate be similar to what those fighters have pulled in the UFC? And would Bellator sweeten the deal by offering them a better contract, with a bigger cut of pay-per-view revenue?

On the downside, Bellator contracts are among the most constrictive in the MMA industry, according to a gripping investigative feature on BloodyElbow.com by John S. Nash. Winning a tournament and a title can lead to multiple extensions of a fighter’s contract.

“The original 6-fights agreement could turn into one for 17-fights or even more, lasting for years,” writes Nash.

Bellator caught widespread flack from fans and media for choosing to exercise the promotion’s right to match the contract offer Eddie Alvarez received from the UFC. Bellator’s new strategy appears to be holding the reigns even tighter in retaining homegrown talent.

“BITCHES IN A BEAUTY SALON”

Despite Randy Couture’s last UFC fight occurring over three years ago at UFC 129, tensions between the former two-division UFC champion and UFC president Dana White continue to simmer.

“Randy Couture looks like a great guy on paper. The reality of it is he’s not. He’s not a good guy. You can ask everybody that’s ever dealt with him,” White told the assembled press after the UFC Fight Night Berlin weigh-ins last Friday.

The roots of the falling out between Couture and Dana White go back to 2007, when Couture attempted to leave the UFC. Couture was chasing a fight with Fedor Emelianenko, and believed he would be free and clear of his contract—where two fights remained—after nine months.

Explains lawyer Rob Maysey, “HDNet on behalf of Couture, believing that Couture had satisfied his promotional obligations under his contract with Zuffa by waiting for the term to expire, filed suit in Texas to obtain a declaratory ruling that its promotional agreement with Couture was valid and that the Zuffa promotional agreement with Couture was no longer in force. In response, Zuffa filed for a motion to stay the HDNet litigation and compel arbitration in Nevada.  The stay was granted, and the dispute regarding the enforceability of Couture’s promotional agreement was pushed into arbitration then pending in Nevada.”

At 45 years of age, time was not on Randy Couture’s side. The matter was settled out of court in 2008 with Couture returning to the UFC—but that does not mean the courts or arbitrator would have ruled unfavorably on Couture’s position.

Dana White was quoted in a Yahoo! article saying UFC fighters were “like bitches in a beauty salon. They pass along rumors and gossip, which has no basis in reality.”

Without disclosure of accurate financial numbers however, gossip and rumors will continue to circulate throughout the industry in the foreseeable future.

TITO ORTIZ IS DANA WHITE’S EX-GIRLFRIEND

Former UFC fighter Tito Ortiz gave a video interview to Rick J. Lee where he likened his situation with the UFC president to that of an old flame, “I’m like his ex-girlfriend or something. I’m like his ex-wife, the guy just doesn’t leave me alone.”

Ortiz bears some responsibility for the situation, as he himself plays into the continuation of the toxic love affair, like when Ortiz demanded to be removed from the UFC’s Hall of Fame after beating Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 120.

“Take me off your Hall of Fame, each and everyone one of these people will remember this the rest of their MMA life,” said Ortiz post-fight.

We can only await the next episode of the soap opera between White and Ortiz—perhaps it will occur during the marketing and promotion preceding Bellator’s next pay-per-view show?

JOSE ALDO WANTS MORE MONEY

UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo became the latest to speak out on UFC fighter pay to ESPN Brazil in an article translated by BloodyElbow.com:

“I do feel devalued, for sure. Every fighter dreams to reach a level where he will make good money. I have other thoughts nowadays — I’ve been around the world, I have a big wide vision about that. At the same time that they give us our business, they could improve it (payment). We bring millions for the company, I’m a very sellable fighter and everybody wants to watch my fights.”

Aldo is hardly alone in his criticism; his Nova Uniao teammate UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao went on the record before UFC 173 to talk about his salary, saying “I’m very happy being a UFC champion. But I would like to improve my contract.”

Throughout the debate concerning Jose Aldo’s contract, the one question that remains unanswered has to do with how his pay as a fighter is calculated against the revenue the UFC earns from events he fights in.

Until legislation appears that allows greater financial transparency of profits in MMA, fighters will continue to be treated like mushrooms by promoters—kept in the dark, and fed lots of shit.

***

Brian J. D’Souza is the author of the critically acclaimed book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts. You can check out an excerpt right here.


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