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Shill ‘Em All, Part 4: Hustlers, Marks, And the Long Con of Selling Media Coverage


(Look closely, and you can actually see suckers being born every minute. / Photo via Getty / For previous installments of Shill Em’ All, click here.)

By Brian J. D’Souza

Everyone has a vague idea of how three-card Monte works: a street hustler places three cards face-down. A mark is enticed into finding the money card. Using misdirection, subterfuge and distraction, the hustler dupes the mark into picking the wrong card over and over. Sometimes a “shill” aids the hustler by playing the game and making it appear winnable.

The fight game is a similar hustle where many MMA journalists often play the role of the shill. Rather than being independent, certain MMA outlets and journalists are working in concert with the promoter to achieve a specific aim. Often, the promoter is buying publicity for their product, which is fair game considering that running an MMA promotion is a brutal marketplace where only the fittest survive.

Speaking in direct reference to a then-SiriusXM radio personality Scott Ferrall being paid a talent fee to attend UFC shows, UFC president Dana White said, “Believe me, in building this business, we had to do some things.

It’s critical for an event promoter to spend money on the front end — including giving incentives to journalists — so that they can make money on the back end. Sports leagues require massive amounts of capital, as well as leaders capable of executing a clear vision; save for the spectacular Japanese league PRIDE FC that was backed by the yakuza and their dirty money, no one has done a better job of running an MMA promotion than casino magnates Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the majority owners of the UFC.

If the mark happens to be the casual fan being steered into buying an MMA card, so be it. Colonel Tom Parker might have paid girls to scream at Elvis’s early shows, but his product held up to scrutiny over time. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to buy watered down PPV’s or watch lackluster cards.

On the other end, when the mark happens to be the fighters, it’s a much more serious issue. Successful promotions earn tremendous amounts of revenue from pay-per-view buys, television licensing, live gate, merchandise, and other streams. MMA fighters who don’t know or understand their value will continue to be taken for a ride.

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