TSN.ca's MMA staff, including John Pollock - TSN Radio 1050 (@iamjohnpollock), James Lynch - TSN.ca (@lynchonsports), and Jordan Cieciwa - TSN Radio 1290 (@FitCityJordan), take a look at some of the hottest issues in the world of mixed martial arts.
1) After Phil Davis' controversial win over Lyoto Machida at UFC 163, is judging becoming a serious problem in MMA?
Lynch: Yes, because while the sport has evolved over the years, the 10-point Must Scoring System in has not. This style of juding comes from boxing, a sport which essentially is a limited form of fighting and not MMA. No doubt we've seen worse decisions in the past (Machida vs. Shogun I or Henderson vs. Edgar II are some examples), but in those cases, the fighters were able to have a rematch to determine the true winner.
This is a unique case because no title was on the line, hence there will be no rematch, yet this contest is just as significant for the landscape of the 205-pound division. Had Machida rightfully won, this would have been his third straight victory and surely the Brazilian could have made a case for facing the winner of Gustafsson vs. Jones at UFC 165 in Toronto.
Now it should be noted the UFC doesn't appoint judges to score fights, that's left up to the athletic commissions for each state/province. However the UFC no doubt could influence that process as we've seen in the past with other situations (such as getting MMA licensed in Vancouver for UFC 115). The problem is that it doesn't seem like Dana White nor Zuffa is in a hurry to fix this process as they want to encourage fighters to finish fights, rather than going to a decision, which of course is more entertaining for the fans.
JC: We have all heard Dana White and Joe Rogan going off on juding, not just recently but for years. I've been ringside and cornered some top talent and I will say that views get obstructed by referee movement, cages and by the stance fighters take. In defense to the judges, a strike followed by a fighter tripping or moving awkwardly to avoid my appear like a scoring blow. That's where my love for judges will end. They can see the replay's, and they can see the damage on the fighters. The rules and regulations are clear.
Takedowns and Scoring blows
It seems judges are getting away from the basics and trying to find winners where there are none. Machida was robbed of a title shot by this last errant decision. Local governing bodies need to start publicly reprimanding judges who obviously stray from the basics of judging.
It isn't up to Zuffa or the UFC, this problem is from the CSAC and NSAC and other bodies. Their judges obviously feel that they have the right to call a fight based on what they want to see, not what happened. To fix the problem, commissions need to make Judges available to explain their decisions to the media. If they can't review the tape and say for certain, here is why I scored the way I did, they should be publicly held accountable.
The fix to the problem is clarifying the rules of scoring, and holding judges accountable.
Pollock: The judging debate is not one with a simple answer but I do tend to side with the camp that feels judging as a whole isn't the biggest issue facing the sport. There tends to be a decision that will be decreed by the public as a “robbery” while the vast, vast majority of decisions are usually in line with the general consensus of who won the fight in question.
Human error is always going to be an element to judging and I'm not progressive enough to feel that computers should be taking over the judging. I feel as the sport evolves and more and more judges are growing up with a mixed martial arts foundation as opposed to one given discipline you are going to see a better cross section of well rounded judging.
On top of that I want to see more commissions experiment with providing monitors for judges to get an unobstructed view because as Jordan notes, being cage side I find it much tougher than watching on television.
2) Has the frequency of UFC events this year hurt their overall product?
Lynch: Many North American fans didn't purchase UFC 163 last weekend simply because the pay per view product wasn't worth the $60 dollar price tag. While the card overall was decent, expecting casual fans to pay that much and tune into fighters like Cezar Ferreira and Thales Leites on the main card is unacceptable.
Those opposed to this question will undoubtedly say that we shouldn't be complaining about the amount of events the UFC is providing and I understand that. It also makes sense that in Brazil, seeing a litter of hometown fighters on the card is appealing for that audience. However, the saturation in these events is evident and North American fans are simply being ripped off on pay per view. Canadian fans in Winnipeg at UFC 161 for example were robbed of a quality event when the injury bug struck, yet free cards on FOX seem to be getting more and more stacked.
On August 17th, the UFC makes its debut on FOX Sports 1, with a number of the promotions top talent competing on the main card including Shogun Rua, Alistair Overeem, Urijah Faber and Chael Sonnen. Any one of those fights (in particular Brazilian native Yuri Alcantara, who fights Faber) should have been put on the UFC 163 event to boost that card. No doubt TV ratings and the pressure from FOX to produce quality events has played a role in this, but at the end of the day it's the fans that keep this sport alive.
JC: I've said it countless times. I remember the days when I tuned in for UFC super cards. I waited for months, talked them up and couldn't wait to see three or four of the bouts on the card. With that said, in order to be mainstream, UFC needs to be in the public eye. They need the amount of cards in order to be the talk at the water cooler.
The move to free cards and involvement with FOX was brilliant. It allows fans to tune in and watch for free and follow the build up and creation of top contenders. The UFC needs to perfect the ranking system, and create events that are title holders and true title contenders.
The sport has become watered down. The fix will be in the increased payment to fighters (the funds are there), and the continued grass roots development of the sport. MMA needs to continue to grow in small towns and around the country. We need more top level athletes coming on board with the sport. I personally made a decision years ago while training at Team Quest to give up any hope of competition and follow the media/strength training path because the money for low level talent like me isn't there.
The NHL pays it's fourth line guys a minimum of roughly $500,000. We need to see some contact athletes in the UFC and guys knowing there is big money available in the sport. At present, top champions still make less than one-million/year. That's not going to bring guys over in droves. The sport is hard on the body. That leads to the other problem.
Injuries plague top cards. The UFC needs to put a system in place so there are no surprises. Last minute change ups like Chang Sung Jung for Pettis can't happen. Fans need to know a back up is in place, and the back up is worth watching. UFC 161 was a prime example. The card crumpled and the fact that there were no solid back ups killed the buzz internationally. The city of WInnipeg loved having the UFC, but it hurt the international ratings and travel to the City.
Pollock: This was an inevitable conclusion when the UFC added so many cards to their schedule. The fact is the UFC has diversified their revenue pillars and are much more than simply a pay-per-view company and are also being paid $100-million a year from FOX and with that contract have to supply “x” amount of new content for those rights fees.
It's much closer to a boxing model today than it was in 2007 where the “UFC” brand was a big seller in and of itself and today it's more personality driven and pay-per-views will ebb and flow based on marquee attractions. The basement might be lower when it comes to a low end pay-per-views but the ceiling is also very high when they promote a card that connects with the general public. It's not going to change but it was inevitable with so many fight cards that people were going to be forced to pick and choose what they will check out and what shows they can skip.
3) Is Bellator making the right choice having Rampage Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz headlining their inaugural pay-per-view event?
Lynch: For all the flack this promotion receives playing second fiddle to the UFC, they have a number of quality champions including Michael Chandler, Pat Curran and Ben Askren who don't get nearly enough recognition with casual MMA fans. So booking a main event between Rampage and Ortiz for Bellator's first pay per view show is a smart idea, simply because it allows their promotional champions to compete on the same card as two former UFC title holders.
While matchup would have been much more intriguing if this was say... seven years ago, Rampage and the Huntington Beach Bad Boy have always had the ability to sell a fight. With Vicacoms multi-platform television empire consisting of MTV, VH1 and of course SPIKE TV (which also has TNA Wrestling) selling this fight won't be as much of a hurdle. In addition, assuming the legal woes between Eddie Alvarez and Bellator get squashed in the before the November 2 date, a Chandler vs. Alvarez 155-pound title rematch could serve as the night's co-feature which would certainly add star power to the card (which if you haven't seen it, go on YouTube and watch their first fight) That rematch alone I believe would draw fans in to purchase the rumored pay per view price of $35-$40 dollars.
With the UFC essentially being a monopoly in having the world's best fighters, critics of Bellator's move should ask themselves who else who could headline a pay per view outside of the Zuffa promotion? In my opinion, this is a good start.
JC: I'm torn here. I love Bellator because it isn't the UFC. I know a lot of fighters who made a home with Bellator that have been treated like gold, while being shrugged off by the UFC. My hope here is the point is proven, UFC needs to treat it's athletes better.
Tito and Rampage also is a very interesting fight. They have both slowed down lately, but have the ability to put on a very gritty fight. It will get a lot of UFC fan's talking. This fight should have taken place years ago, and I'll tune in just to see it happen. That means myself, and a group of fans are going to be treated to a lot of top talent out of Bellator. Tito and Rampage will bring a lot of eyes on to some very skilled competitors who are not getting the attention they deserve.
It's a good decision, but Bellator needs to be very careful that they don't become the "minor" league to the UFC. Picking up to much of the UFC's washed up or tossed aside fighters is going to hurt them in the long run. Fortunately, they have a solid line up of athletes ready to show the world that there are a lot of high quality athletes in Bellator. It's a tough battle to take anything away from the UFC, but Bellator can do it with their line up right now.
Pollock: Lets assess under the premise that Bellator is hell bent on producing a pay-per-view (because a strong argument can be made they are not ready to make that jump). If that is the case and people are negative on this fight, I ask – what is the bigger fight that Bellator can put together to headline and do business? One of the common misconceptions many people make is equating fighter skill to their drawing ability – Michael Chandler, Ben Askren and Pat Curran are all great fighters but are not going to draw on pay-per-view and that's including Eddie Alvarez being paired with Chandler.
Bellator is a niche product that has failed to create a star in four-years, their deepest card in company history last week didn't even draw enough viewers to equal Spike TV's prime time average, their reality show has dipped as low as half of Spike's prime time average and that begs the question that if people won't watch Bellator for free then why would they pay for that version of the product? Ortiz vs. Rampage is not near anyone's list of most desired fights but it's a shot at fans buying a fight based on name value, have drawn massive numbers for Spike TV and on pay-per-view in the past and the hope of using these names to showcase talented fighters such as Chandler, Curran etc.
If you're #2 in the marketplace (and they are a far off #2 from the industry leader) you have to be experimental and try things and at worst you lose money on this pay-per-view and you call it a failed experiment but the other options being thrown out are guaranteed money losers on pay-per-view and therefore I reserve judgment until we see what the promotion is like for this fight and if they are able to generate a buzz come the week of the fight and find out if there is an appetite for non-UFC MMA on pay-per-view.
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