Fergus Ryan: The 'sale' of the UFC would be a positive move
This week’s MMA column reviews UFC 198, the potential sale of the UFC company and the rescheduling of BAMMA 26.
The Cradle of MMA – the UFC is back in Brazil
UFC 198 Werdum vs. Miocic on paper was a great event; the action on Saturday night in Curitiba, Brazil lived up to the billing.
In the week prior there had been lots of distraction for fans as to whether the UFC was for sale or not but the fighters remained focused and delivered a superb competitive card in the ‘Fight Capital of Brazil’. It was the fourth stadium event in the UFC’s history and all 45,000 tickets sold out in moments.
The ‘Fight of the Night’ performance bonus went to Francisco Trinaldo and Yancy Medeiros. The decorated Brazilian kick boxer, Trinaldo needed all three rounds and a massive heart to overcome the game Hawaiian.
There were a number of contenders for this award including the first two fights of the event. In the show opener Renato Moicano defeat Zubaira Tukhugov by split decision.
A draw is a rare result in MMA competition and this one was a little unfair on Sérgio Moraes who battled back after a tough first round against Luan Chagas. Moraes seemed to have done enough to take the final two rounds but not in the eyes of the judges seated ringside.
My pick of the bunch was the opener to the main card. Bryan Barberena defeated Warlley Alves in a highly competitive three rounder. The American dropped the first round and saw the business end of a guillotine for a period. He walked down Alves for the remaining two rounds and credit to both men, they kept swinging till the final bell sounded.
Littered among the decisions were impressive stoppages. Antônio Rogério Nogueira finished Pat Cummins impressively with strikes in the first; as did Thiago Santos against veteran Nate Marquardt.
Cyborg debuts… So what?
Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino made her long awaited UFC debut and stopped the over matched but game Leslie Smith with strikes in the first round. Though Smith protested the stoppage, I think most watching would agree with the referee. Having been dropped to the canvas Cyborg followed up with relentless ground and pound. It was more a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Cyborg would prevail and thankfully the stoppage came sooner rather than later.
Cyborg has been nothing short of phenomenal in her MMA career laying waste to all her opponents since her debut in 2005. The 30 year old took her record to an impressive 16 wins and one loss. However, her career has been permanently associated with performance enhancing substances, having failed a test in 2011.
While Saturday night provided a nice moment between the fighter and her hometown fans, everything needs to be put in context.
Smith is a journey-woman pro with a so-so record (8-7). Her strongest suit and probably the main reason she got matched against opposition out of her league is due to her ability to take punishment and keep coming forward. Simply put, she was brought in to make Cyborg look good. Mission accomplished.
The bout took place at a catchweight of 140lbs, which is not a standard division weight. Cyborg will need to drop to 135lbs to find regular competition, something she has said in the past that is medically impossible. Or the UFC need to build a 145lb division to at least attempt to get credible competition. Either way it’s likely the UFC career of Cyborg will be nothing more than a sideshow to the UFC women’s divisions proper.
Two Brazilians emerge as title hopefuls
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza took a step towards a middleweight title shot with a lob-sided win over Vitor Belfort. With the benefit of hindsight the win will look more impressive on paper than video tape. Belfort has been a huge name in
the sport of MMA by virtue of his long tenure (debuted in 1997) but mainly because of his string of impressive knockouts during the UFC’s TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) years.
Post TRT Belfort has been a shadow of his enhanced self. His loss to Jacare underlined that. In fairness to Jacare, you can only fight who is in front of you and the emphatic win will serve him well. Champion Luke Rockhold defends his belt against former champ Chris Weidman at UFC 199. Jacare should be waiting to match the winner.
Demian Maia put on another grappling showcase in defeating the always tough Matt Brown by rear naked choke in the final round. Maia is now on a five fight win streak, has the most wins by a Brazilian ever in the UFC and is tied second in the all-time submission wins chart. Prior to the fight he was ranked #6 in the welterweight division and has been campaigning for a title shot after his last number of wins.
With another win against another ranked opponent, there is no doubt that Maia deserves it. It remains to be seen whether the UFC agree. His grappling heavy game plan and his numerous decision in his win column may go against him; unless he challenges for the title in his native Brazil.
In the main event Stipe Miocic sucked the life out of the packed football stadium in just 133 seconds. Miocic capitalised on some over eager and, has to be said, sloppy striking from champion Fabricio Werdum to KO the champ in the first half of the first round.
Werdum chased after Miocic with blatant disrespect for the Cleveland fighters power and ran on to a right hook, dropping him instantly.
Of all the UFC divisions the heavyweight title has been passed around a revolving door of champions. No heavyweight title reign has lasted longer than two defences. Cain Velasquez achieved this during his reign from 2012-13. Prior to that Brock Lesnar put a brief string together in 2008.
Miocic becomes yet another name to be etched on the belt. With Velasquez, Alastair Overeem and Travis Browne all in the title hunt it’s quite likely the belt will trade owner again in the near future.
‘For Sale’ doesn’t mean finished
The MMA world was awash with speculation last week when Jeremy Botter broke the news that the UFC was in advanced talks to with a potential bidder.
What got lost in the soundbites that amount of the company up for sale was estimated to be 11-15%.
The UFC management made a similar transaction in 2010 when they sold approximately 10% of parent company Zuffa LLC to Abu Dhabi based Flash Entertainment in the hope this partnership would unlock the Middle Eastern market.
While the deal did garner some success the UFC has always had its eyes on the most populous places on the planet – namely India and China.
Efforts to get into India came up short, so far. This latest deal is rumoured to be with a Chinese hedge fund and would help the UFC/Zuffa make further progress in the lucrative Asian market.
At this point everything is speculation. UFC president Dana White has said the UFC is not for sale, but he would say that. If there is a deal under way a non-disclosure agreement would forbid him from talking about the deal or even acknowledging a deal was in the works.
I believe it’s highly likely some transaction will go ahead. Firstly, it will allow the UFC owners extract some profit from their tireless efforts to make MMA and the UFC global. Secondly, it will also unlock a lucrative tech savvy market.
The UFC events are currently viewed by approximately 1 billion people around the world. Expanding into the Chinese market could be the quickest way to almost double that number.
When you consider one of the biggest social media channels in the world is WeChat with approximately 900 million monthly active users, which is only available in China, the UFC’s digital platform Fight Pass could see subscribers balloon if the deal goes through.
BAMMA 26 postponed till September
UK promotion, BAMMA were due to hold an event on June 4th in the 3Arena and have postponed this event till September 10th. They released an official statement last week.
“We understand and welcome the fact that regulation for this sport is being put in place here in Ireland. But whilst we await this regulation and the results from the numerous discussions that are currently taking place, we have taken the step to introduce mandatory MRI/MRA scans for all of our fighters for the BAMMA 26 event onwards.”
“Whilst we are already one of the leaders in MMA fighter safety in Europe, after consultation with Professor Dan Healy a leading expert in the MMA medical field, we believe that this is a vital step and will serve as important additional protection for the fighters and should be a key part of new regulation. However, it would not be possible to implement this system in time for our contest on June 4th. So, in order to be certain that we can implement these new scans across all fighters, we have taken the decision to move the event back a few months. We do not take this decision lightly and apologise for the inconvenience to BAMMA fans.”
All tickets already purchased for the event will be honoured, though refund are available.