With his public spat with Jon Jones now seemingly settled after a closed-door meeting on Friday, Dana White took on some new and old targets after UFC 152 concluded last night.
Last night's list of victims of the White poison tongue included boxing promoter Bob Arum, Spike TV, Bellator, reporter Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun and the biggest surprise of all, a portion of the UFC's fan base.
White, when talking about how happy he was that boxing had a big weekend, noted that he's a fan of boxing, loves to see great fights and isn't like Arum who gets mad when anyone else is successful in the fight game.
Regarding Spike, he ripped on their programming, said they didn't have any hit shows compared to FX, the station Ultimate Fighter now airs on. He blamed them for releasing negative ratings information, even though there are web sites that release all cable and network ratings the next day. Ratings for Ultimate Fighter are down markedly, including in the prized Male 18-34 demo, since UFC moved to FX. Much of it is the move to Fridays, the worst night possible for the show. White noted that in its time slot, Ultimate Fighter was No. 1 in that demo.
You don't have to have a great crystal ball to see what's upcoming. In 2013, Spike will be airing Bellator, the closest thing to a rival promotion on the U.S. scene, which will greatly increase the viewership and prominence of the brand. It is highly unlikely Bellator's numbers will come close to that of UFC programming, but White has always been ultra-competitive when it comes to opposition.
White was critical of Bellator for how they've handled some contracts, in particular Roger Hollett and Tyson Nam. Hollett had signed with Bellator, wasn't used, and was released. However, when UFC showed interest in Hollett, Bellator claimed a matching rights period which basically froze Hollett out of being able to sign. Nam was a fighter few had heard of that Bellator had given up on, but in Brazil, defeated Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas and suddenly there was interest in him from many places.
White noted that UFC has similar clauses in contracts where, if a fighter's deal expires, they have a time frame they have the right to match an outside offer. But he said he would never do that to a fighter the company has already decided against using.
"I don't talk much about Bellator, but what they do is one of the dirtiest things you can do in the business," said White. "It's dirty, it's grimy, and it's just despicable. I have the right to match, but once I cut a guy and let him go and somebody else tries to sign him, I don't come back and say, `Oh, you're breaking the contract. I have matching rights."'
White has often reacted hard against what he perceives as negative media stories. In this case it was a story in Friday's Toronto Sun, by Simmons, which noted that the interest in the third UFC show in the city was not at the level of the first two.
That's both a fair point and one hard to argue with. But the reality is that the general rule in every market that UFC is hot in is the novelty of the first show is huge, and then it becomes tougher to pull those kinds of numbers with return visits.
More than 50,000 tickets were sold for UFC's first show in Toronto at Rogers Centre, by far the biggest live event in company history. Building officials estimated that based on the level of demand, they believed they could have sold 100,000 tickets to the show. Anyone in the city that week could sense the atmosphere and a level of mainstream interest that perhaps only UFC 100 could have approached.
The second show, this past December, did a near sellout of 18,303, about 15,000 paid, and $3.9 million for Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida. Saturday night's show did 16,800 fans, about 10,000 paid, and $1.9 million, with Jones on top once again. About 6,800 of those tickets were sold before Jones was added to the show. The numbers aren't alarming, because that's the nature of repeat business in most markets. But it's hard to argue Simmons point about how there didn't appear to be the same level of interest in show No. 3.
White brought the subject up out of nowhere and went on a tirade. He cited the total gate numbers of all UFC events in Canada since they started running there in 2008, and the legitimate nine figures of economic impact his company has had in the country. He claimed the article was wrong because of the claim Brock Lesnar was the company's top attraction and had left, and that Georges St-Pierre was the company's top attraction.
Simmons wrote, "UFC 152, the Toronto show, happens to be the seventh consecutive fight card in which a main card fight had to be changed, canceled or reintroduced because of injury. The injuries have come in a year in which No. 1 attraction Brock Lesnar walked away, in which the overpopulate Georges St-Pierre wasn't healthy enough to fight, in which veterans staples and long-term staples such as Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell got too old to continue."
One could do an article and spin numbers and come up with whatever result you would want to in comparing the two. St-Pierre has headlined more shows over the years than Lesnar and thus, drawn more dollars overall in his career. Lesnar, during his run as heavyweight champion, was a monster pay-per-view draw, the strongest the company ever had. By far, when his big fights would air on television replays, Lesnar was the strongest ratings draw. St-Pierre, because of fighting so often in Canada where he's a national hero, sold more tickets to live events, particularly that first Toronto show and big crowds in Montreal against Matt Serra and Josh Koscheck.
At the time Lesnar left, after two first-round losses, it is extremely doubtful had he continued that his 2012 pay-per-view numbers would be at the same level of those of St-Pierre as welterweight champion. So White arguing that right now, St-Pierre was the company's biggest pay per view draw is probably correct. But it's a silly point to get stuck on, since Lesnar was gigantic when heavyweight champion.
On the flip side, two years ago, at UFC 100, when both shared the same card, it was UFC that devoted the Prime Time hype show and the key parts of the Countdown show to Lesnar's title defense with Frank Mir, and not St-Pierre's title defense against Thiago Alves. While both were key parts of the biggest event in company history, anyone watching the build up of that show would have seen that in the company's eyes, it was Lesnar's fight that was the key to drawing the most money.
Simmons article stated the once super level of growth has slowed down, but also that the company isn't in serious trouble. I don't agree with his statement that it would be in UFC's best interest to cut to three or four pay-per-views a year, although I do think having them come in two and three-week intervals, as they did over the summer was too much. White in the past has said he you wouldn't want to do more than one a month, and I've always thought one per cable billing period is a good rule to try and stick to. But there are so many issues with building availability and fulfilling commitments to networks both domestic and abroad that there are deals with that lead to an imperfect schedule. I don't see where cutting shows from 11 or 12 matches down to nine, as Simmons suggested, would make any difference. It just cuts down on the number of guys on the roster. But the guy is certainly entitled to his opinion.
But Simmons' main point is that there are challenges going forward. Of course there are, and there always will be with an organization of this type. The injury rate, and constant need to create new stars insures there will always be shows where there is bad luck. There will be shows they will struggle to put together, and shows they will struggle to keep together.
But the biggest surprise was his going off on a percentage of his own fan base.
"Let me tell you what, if you didn't like that flyweight fight, please, I'm begging you, don't ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again," White said. "Don't ever buy another one. I don't want your money. You're a moron you don't like fighting and you don't appreciate great talent or heart if you didn't like that flyweight fight."
I'd be lying if I didn't say I was steaming hearing the boos from the audience in what was the fastest paced and best technical fight on the show. But I wasn't shocked at the reaction. It's the second time in recent months a lighter-weight title fight that went the distance has gotten that kind of reaction. The same happened at the Renan Barao vs. Urijah Faber interim bantamweight title bout in Calgary. That also saw White after the fact go off on people who didn't appreciate it, saying they weren't real fight fans.There is a perception issue. The old WEC had some of the greatest cards around, with every fight being smaller guys. But when everyone is a certain size, there's no real size perception issue at the show. When you have bigger guys with names, like Michael Bisping and Brian Stann, and you follow with guys so much smaller, and have it that late in the show, there are going to be people who have less patience and are by that point just wanting to see the main event. The feeling is smaller guys are less likely to finish, which, by percentage, they are. So the crowd gets impatient.
I've seen it before. Back on Feb. 23, 2001, when UFC first introduced the lightweight championship, Jens Pulver and Caol Uno battled to a fast-paced and tight five-round bout to create the first champion in Atlantic City. The people at ringside stood up and gave them a standing ovation when it was over, thinking the fight was great. And then the rest of the arena was booing. Fans were simply not ready for seeing guys of that size go that long. It took time to establish that division. And it'll take time to establish this division.