With the ruckus of the UFC World Tour finally dying down, and Bellator's curious new venture out on full display, it's time once again to grab a seat and debate the latest happenings in the world of MMA.
For that I'm happy to once again be joined by my colleague, Dave Meltzer, for this latest edition of the MMA Roundtable. We'll weigh the merits of Rampage vs. Tito, discuss whether a $45 price tag is too much to ask for fading legends, and forecast the future of Ronda Rousey's acting career. But first, let's look back on the weekend's biggest uproar.
1. Even before Lyoto Machida lost on Saturday, he seemed strangely far away from a title shot for a No. 1 ranked fighter. Where does he go from here?
Al-Shatti: Presumably to middleweight, where he would immediately become a top-4 fighter and inject some new blood into a suddenly fascinating division.
We can argue the merits of the Davis-Machida decision all day -- personally, I scored it 29-28 Machida, though I wouldn't be opposed to a few 10-10 rounds coming into play. But what I found most compelling about the whole debacle, and perhaps most telling, was the completely even-keeled reaction from UFC President Dana White. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but just reread his tweet: "Wow!!! I had Machida winning all 3 rds but that's what happens when u leave it up to the judges!"
No outrage there at all. Later in the night, White told Yahoo Sports the blame laid with Machida, that "he went out there and let [them] do it." Once again, absolutely no outrage, and absolutely no sympathy. In most cases of controversial decisions, White usually defends the wronged fighter. If anything, that shows me how little Machida's loss actually meant for the UFC, because it's not like he was going to get a title shot anyway. Jon Jones was already calling for Glover Teixeira after Alexander Gustafsson, and White clearly wasn't sad to see a contender fall from the LHW ranks.
It seems weird to say, but Machida might actually be closer to a challenging for a belt now than he was before UFC 163. Before you rush to the comments to call me an idiot, hear me out. If he had edged Davis, presumably Machida would've stayed at LHW and continued to get passed over in favor of new challenges for Jones (aka Teixeira and Cormier), since White obviously wasn't impressed with the Brazilian's performance. But now, since few people consider the Davis fight to be a loss, Machida's public stock remains high. If he drops down to middleweight, one dominant victory over a top-7 fighter would be all it took to sell him as a revitalized, albeit 35-year-old, contender in a brand new division. MMA is weird sometimes.
Meltzer: Machida's biggest problem right now is his mentality. He's a fighter with the skills to beat almost anyone, but he's gotten so comfortable with a style that has cost him two fights that he should have won (Rampage Jackson and Phil Davis, although he also did get one win he didn't deserve in the first Shogun Rua fight). But this is not a business strictly about wins and losses. It's a business about becoming a star and earning main events. UFC gives you the opportunity. They can help you become a star, but in the end, you have to figure out a way make yourself a star, or, you're not a star. Winning is part of it, but you've got blinders on for years if you go with the mentality it's all of it.
At the end of the day, people are not clamoring for a Jon Jones vs. Machida fight. They didn't the first time, which is one of the reasons Jones hasn't been anxious for a rematch. And they aren't today. As effective as Machida is within his style, he has to recognize his own weaknesses because pleasing the people who pay to see you perform is a big part of being a professional fighter. And he, for the most part, falls short.
There would have been nothing wrong with him getting the shot before losing to Phil Davis, but there are two types of contenders. There are the guys who are put in because there is a date and an opponent is needed and they have ability and a good record. And there are the guys who beat the door down in every way possible, create a public interest and clamor, and those guys if things are equal, or even if they are slightly another contender when it comes to ability, they are going to get the shots.
Machida was a guy who was going to get a title shot if nobody else was available. The timing just never worked out right for him. And he still is, although he's probably going to need a win or two because of the bad decision in the Davis fight. But as long as a guy like Daniel Cormier talks about it enough, people will want that guy to get the shot. And UFC is going to give the shot to the person they perceive the public wants to see in that position.
A weight cut isn't going to change anything unless Machida's mentality changes. If Machida can make 185 and be healthy at that weight, and wins fights, sure, he can be a contender there if there's nobody else who has won several fights in a row available on a certain date. But unless he becomes the title package, which is a winner who becomes a crowd pleaser and makes people want to see get a title shot, the weight class isn't an issue. It's the comfortable style and overall attitude.
As far as should he move? If he feels he can be more dominant, sure. But people who didn't clamor to see him get a shot at Jon Jones aren't going to clamor to see him anymore against Chris Weidman, unless he makes the necessary changes. Dropping a few pounds leaves him with all the same problems.
2. Bellator announced on Monday that Rampage Jackson vs. Tito Ortiz will sell from anywhere between $35 to $45. Is that a wise decision?
Al-Shatti: My immediate reaction: absolutely not. Between Mayweather-Canelo and the UFC's blockbuster winter schedule, the fourth quarter of 2013 is littered with high-quality pay-per-views. Fight fans are much pickier and choosier when it comes to plopping down their hard earned cash these days, and compared to that blistering combat sports slate, Rampage-Ortiz barely registers as a blip on the radar.
The flood of dismissive belly laughs heard around the MMA community following Rebney's announcement probably isn't a good sign either, if only because it means Viacom is starting from behind. But Bellator has a decent stockpile of assets at its disposal, and Rebney vowed to fill the card with championship fights. Assuming the promotion stacks some combination of Chandler/Curran/Lawal/Askren under Jackson-Ortiz, $35 dollars isn't too preposterous a price to ask, even if it's far from ideal.
I'm just puzzled by the fact that Bellator would elect to set such a risky price point for their first venture into uncharted waters when a lower one would guarantee them a far greater chance of success and even the vaguest semblance of goodwill within the community. Think about it: If Rebney announces a $15 to $20 price tag for Chandler-Jansen, Lawal-Vegh, Curran-Straus and Jackson-Ortiz, that's not a bad deal. It's reasonable to expect fans to shell out $15 to watch three legitimate top-15 fighters and a borderline circus fight between aging names. But $45? Unless you can guarantee those three title fights, that's almost offensive, especially for a company with no built-in pay-per-view following. Promotions need the type of fans that will purchase UFC 147 just because it's the thing to do, and Bellator just doesn't have those type of fans yet.
If anything, this whole situation comes off as forced. Bellator's mantra has always been that it's the organization where stardom is earned, not manufactured. Rebney even repeated that philosophy several times on Monday. But the thing is, that's now in direct contrast with reality. By promoting a bout between aging former UFC names -- two men who've collectively lost six consecutive fights -- above a slew of homegrown champions, including its best, brightest star in Chandler, Bellator's message is telling.
Meltzer: When it comes to pay-per-view, it's about guys getting together with friends. If they want to see the fight, they order it. If they don't, they won't. Price is never an issue unless you are pricing yourself completely out of the level people are used to paying.
MMA fans are used to paying $44.95 for a show. They buy more shows at $44.95 than they did at $34.95. When the price was $39.95, perhaps they bought a few more bottom shows when they were used to it at that price, but UFC increased price and total buys for the year went up a significant amount the same year the price went up. That's not that more people want to spend more money, but if you give people a show they want to see, $44.95 isn't going to stop them from wanting to see it. If they don't want to see it, you can get the price down all you want. You're still presenting an attraction people don't want to see.
Now, there is a limit. If people are used to $44.95 for standard and $54.95 for HD, and you suddenly charge $69.95 for HD, yeah, people will think twice and many will back off. But that's not the issue here.
The closest similarity I can come up with on this was the WEC pay-per-view with Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo. At the time, when they announced a $44.95 price, I thought with lesser known fighters and not having the UFC brand name, which was of huge value at the time, it was a mistake charging UFC prices. Dana White argued that $44.95 was the price of an MMA pay-per-view. So I did a survey with my own web site readership at the time, not necessarily to prove him wrong, but to test it out.
What I found out is that the vast majority of people had no problem spending $44.95 to watch that pay-per-view if they wanted to see it. It was what they were used to and it was a show they wanted to see. Those who didn't want to see small guys or non-UFC fighters, they weren't going to pay for it, but they weren't interested in seeing it in the first place.
There were some people who said they'd buy at $34.95, but not $44.95, but they were a very small percentage. From a total revenue standpoint, it was clear $44.95 was the right price for that show, and that's the closest equivalent there is for this show. The number who said they'd buy at $24.95, but not $34.95 or $44.95, was almost nobody.
The people who want to see it are used to paying that price. The people who don't, you can cut it down all you want, they still don't want to see it. Low priced introductions don't work in the pay-per-view market when there is so much free MMA on television. If people watch the product on TV, they'll either buy or they won't. For those who don't, they have their reasons, and they are valid for those people. But while some will say they'll buy it at a cheaper price, it won't be enough to offset the difference in revenue.
There's also a mentality from the public about if it's cheaper, then it's second rate, and as someone new to the marketplace, whether it's true or not, it's not good to start out and tell consumers you are second rate.
I can bring two pro wrestling examples from the 90s that come to mind. In the mid-90s, pro wrestling tickets were a $12 buy, with the idea that you couldn't go higher because the audience would be priced out of the market. Zane Bresloff, a concert promoter who was hired by World Championship Wrestling to run that division, after he had worked with WWF, who was a close friend of mine, immediately raised the price from a $12 average to a $30 average. Everyone thought he was nuts. His argument was that a $12 ticket was cheap entertainment and you were viewed as secondary when you came to town. All the big events, football, concerts, hockey, you couldn't get into the biggest arena in town for a $12 average. Wrestling people were telling the public they were low-rent entertainment. He said, if you're on a date on a Friday night, you'd never take a girl out to a $12 ticket event because she'd never date you again. But a $30 event (keep in mind there's been inflation since then), she wouldn't look at you the same way.
That is not the reason wrestling attendance for WCW went up 59% the next year. It did so because the product connected with the public better. But they nearly tripled ticket prices and wouldn't you know it, they attracted a higher clientele, more fans, more guys on dates, it turned out to be spot on.
At about the same time, WWF, as WWE was known, did an experiment. They had four major pay-per-views a year that they were charging $29.95 for. So they decided to add eight new shows, but feeling they couldn't get their audience to pay $29.95 every month, they priced the new shows at $14.95, emphasizing you could see a pay-per-view at a lower price than ever before.
The concept bombed. Far less people ordered the cheap show than the expensive shows, even when the cheap shows often had a top quality main event. The public essentially figured it was a secondary show, and not worth going out of your way to see. At the same time, their competition starting running monthly at $29.95 and was doing well for all 12 shows. When WWF moved the price of those secondary shows to $29.95, not only did revenue increase, but total buys did, significantly. Granted again, the move was made at a time wrestling started to get more popular. But the increase at the higher price was immediate, and WWF's big popularity boom really came a year later.
Bellator may do great. They may bomb. But charging less money than people are used to paying isn't going to change the inevitable result.
3. Does being promoted on pro wrestling help or hurt Bellator's PPV show?
Meltzer: This is a double edge sword because Spike's pro wrestling vehicle, TNA Wrestling, gets about 1.2 or 1.3 million viewers weekly, which is probably double or more what Bellator will be getting on Friday's this fall to directly build up the match. But the two men appearing as characters on a scripted television show in the guise of building up the pay-per-view can easily give the whole thing a scripted feel.
Keep in mind that many or the storylines used to build up boxing and MMA fights are come up with by people who work in the offices of the promotions and in that way, aren't necessarily all that different from pro wrestling, past the actual fight itself being real sport as opposed to athletic entertainment.
And with Rampage Jackson, constantly talking about Pride and entertainment, that the idea is to entertain the fans and it's not all about winning and losing, that's not all that far from pro wrestling.
In a perfect world, the answer is that it helps the pay-per-view, but I'm not so confident it does in this case. Yes, it gets the faces and the match on television to a new audience. Yes, a lot of pro wrestling fans have purchased MMA pay-per-views--there's a reason Brock Lesnar is the biggest MMA draw on pay-per-view in history.
The question becomes whether wrestling fans will feel they are being infringed on, and how convincing Ortiz and Jackson are. Pro wrestling can come across as a circus, but there is a standard of talking that is very high. Ortiz and Jackson were both great in edited sound bites at times when they were fighting in UFC. There were few UFC fights in history better built up than Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock and Jackson vs. Rashad Evans. But speaking before a live audience with no second takes is a different ball game
But TNA has struggled to be able to successfully promote pay-per-views from its own product. In a sense, it would almost be embarrassing if they could successfully do it for somebody else's. For this reason, I don't think it hurts, but it's not going to help a lot.
Al-Shatti: Like my colleague Luke Thomas, I have to admit that I know absolutely nothing about professional wrestling. Outside of logging roughly a billion hours into WWF King of the Ring on my childhood Game Boy, my pro wrestling experience is limited to catching a few post-UFC Brock Lesnar matches and "King Mo" Lawal's amateur debut on YouTube, so I'm probably not the person you'd go to for a nuanced answer on the subject.
What I will say, though, is that I'm extremely curious to see the route Viacom elects to take here. Rebney indicated during Monday's press conference that Viacom plans to use its vast array of tools to get behind this pay-per-view, and Tito Ortiz's surprise appearance on last week's TNA was only a first step. If anything, that opens the door for a creative pay-per-view marketing approach, one which would be a welcome breath of fresh air for fight fans bored by bombastic, hard rock fueled promos interlaced with random howls about somebody being a "killer" or a "monster." Here's to hoping.
4. Will Ronda Rousey's career ultimately be cut shorter due to acting?
Meltzer: As soon as Ronda Rousey started getting all the media attention earlier in this year leading up to the first UFC woman's fight, I thought there was an interesting long-term inevitability.
Either Rousey wouldn't catch on, and all the publicity wouldn't matter, or she would, she'd become a significant star. But if she became a really big star, exactly what UFC would hope for, that publicity would lead to getting offers from outside forces like nobody else the company has had. Rousey is a pretty girl who can fight, who has an attitude, and is a lot more glib than Gina Carano. And we've already seen how the Carano story played out. It wasn't as if she got into fighting as a springboard to movies, but when movie people see a pretty girl who is proven box office, the offers are going to come.
No, I don't see her in a shampoo commercial yet, but Rousey getting a fairly significant role in The Expendables 3 seems like step one in the same direction. If she does a good enough job, and can garner attention, it would lead to more roles.
The lure of movies for a fighter is that you don't really risk getting beaten up, you can train to the level that it's fun and not the level where it's not, and if you create a name, there is a lot more longevity.
Part of the answer may be that you do what you're good at and luckiest at, because fighting and acting are both unpredictable worlds with no futures guaranteed. Carano was probably a better fighter than actress, but once she landed her first starring role, we never saw her again in the cage. But if Rousey makes a name in both, when you have a choice between getting dressed up for red carpets and flashbulbs, or getting punched in the face in a smelly gym when your body is hurting from overuse, after a few years one starts feeling a lot better than the other.
Al-Shatti: Sadly, Dave hit the nail on the head with this one. For Rousey, I think that outcome is more likely than not.
If the rowdy one was trying to build herself an acting career, she couldn't have asked for a better start than The Expendables 3. It's an already established franchise -- the first two films grossed a combined $188 million -- and one that's success isn't reliant on a single performance as much as that of an ensemble cast. Even though Rousey reportedly landed a major role in the film, the very nature of the series means that a mediocre-to-poor performance can been shuffled into the background behind the explosions and gunfire of Stallone, Statham and the handful of other '90's action stars that'll inevitably be featured alongside her. And if Rousey does well, which I suspect she might, then hey, she couldn't ask for a bigger platform.
Honestly, the way in which this all came to be -- Rousey's star exploding into the public conscious almost overnight -- makes the notion of her leaving for bigger and better pastures seem like somewhat of an inevitability, but only if she keeps tearing arms off and crafting her aura of invincibility at its current rate. It's already been proven, the mainstream media loves articulate, attractive women who can fight. With every victory Rousey's profile will continue to skyrocket, the A-list offers will become more frequent, and the allure to expand her horizons will become more enticing.
Like Dave said, fighting is a hard life. Even on the high end of the scale, it doesn't pay well, and an athlete's window of opportunity is quite small. Enter the plushy world of Hollywood, where eight-figure budgets reign supreme and, in the immortal words of Nick Diaz, pampering yourself the f--k up is the norm, and UFC stardom pales in comparison. Unless Zuffa can put together some kind of monstrous offer, or Rousey is just the world's worst actress, it only seems like a matter of time before she becomes the next Gina Carano.