Covering MMA: Fascinating, frustrating, never dull

One of my projects for this year is to wrap up a book on my experiences covering mixed martial arts. I promise it’ll be a fun read. So I was happy to see SI’s terrific media reporter, Richard Deitsch, hosting a roundtable of MMA journalists. He got a good cross-section — people are very much “in” the UFC orbit (Heidi Fang, Ariel Helwani) and those who are “out” (Josh Gross). It’s a unique environment. I’ve never covered another sport that handed out copies of Playboy featuring an employee. I’ve rarely found athletes in other sports who’ll just chat, though that’s … Continue reading Covering MMA: Fascinating, frustrating, never dull

UFC: Your unofficial guide to survival as a reporter

Dana White can make things very difficult for those who cross him in any way. Rival promotions are left in the dust. Fighters are cut. And reporters, even entire news organizations, can be tossed into the cold. The funny thing is that I still like him on a personal level, and I respect what he and the Fertitta brothers did to build MMA from a sideshow to a main event. Had the UFC folded circa 2004 when the brothers were losing a ton of money, I doubt MMA would ever have risen to anything resembling the prominence it has today. … Continue reading UFC: Your unofficial guide to survival as a reporter

Today in wrestling’s Olympic battle

Hey, Dana White! Bjorn Rebney! What do you big-time MMA promoters think wrestling should do to stay in the Olympics? Wrestling’s leaders have indeed asked, and my former USA TODAY colleague Kelly Whiteside has the story on what they’re considering — everything from dramatic walkouts to new clothes. The story includes this great anecdote:  “Two pieces? Dan will probably roll over in his grave,” (Mike Novogratz) said about the legend standing next to him. “Nah. I wore a three-piece in college,” said Gable about his time at Iowa State in the late 1960s. “A shirt, tights and a pair of … Continue reading Today in wrestling’s Olympic battle

DaMarques Johnson’s UFC cut sends bad message

Let’s say you’re an MMA promoter. In fact, let’s say you’re the biggest in the world. Your fight cards will inevitably be undercut by injuries and other changes of plans. So you’ll need to have fighters who are willing to step in on short notice. You may even heap praise among fighters who take such calls. You may question the manhood, dedication, sanity or humanity of fighters who do not take short-notice fights. So then why would you cut someone from your roster after they step up? DaMarques Johnson cut from UFC roster – MMA Fighting Let’s make this clear: Rich Attonito, … Continue reading DaMarques Johnson’s UFC cut sends bad message

Jon Jones: The UFC’s fault lines finally lead to an earthquake

When Dana White is angry, he doesn’t hide it. Even through the impersonal nature of a conference call, White’s anger crackles over the phone lines. Dana White is angry. And he’s angry at his best fighter, Jon Jones. That in itself would be a big story. The fact that the UFC has just canceled a card for the first time, at least since White and the Fertitta brothers bought the company more than 10 years ago, is a bigger story. So today, White held that conference call and dumped all over Jones and his coach, Greg Jackson. The issue, in … Continue reading Jon Jones: The UFC’s fault lines finally lead to an earthquake

UFC in transition as it debuts on Fox

A montage of Fox Sports properties scrolls past, with the UFC listed alongside the Super Bowl, World Series and other major American events. Then we see an overhead shot of the Honda Center in Anaheim, mimicking the skyline and arena shots that opened the first Ultimate Fighting Championship broadcast exactly 18 years earlier. But instead of generic music and graphics, it’s the familiar Fox theme and feel.

The first UFC on Fox broadcast is a milestone for a young sport. Yet it’s more of a symptom of the sport’s upheaval and progress than the cause. The UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole are still in a state of rapid transition from an underground movement with breakthrough stars to a new world of great potential … and uncertainty.

Technically, little about Saturday night’s broadcast was a “first.” It wasn’t the first UFC appearance on a Fox network — a 2002 bout between Robbie Lawler and Steve Berger was plucked from a hastily assembled fight card to air later on Fox Sports Net’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Live UFC fights have been on cable for several years. Mixed martial arts had been on network TV with CBS a few times, with UFC rival EliteXC leading the way in May 2008.

EliteXC’s run, though, was over by the end of 2008. Though the organization had a few good fighters — Lawler once again was on the broadcast, and outstanding female fighter Gina Carano drew plenty of publicity — EliteXC put much of its promotional efforts behind Kimbo Slice, who had risen to celebrity through YouTube videos of his knockouts in backyards and boat yards. It was the equivalent of an upstart basketball league hiring locked-out NBA players but featuring someone who had an impressive reel of playground dunks.

UFC President Dana White had pledged that he wouldn’t do a network TV deal just to say he had one. He waited until he and a broadcast partner could do it right.

Continue reading “UFC in transition as it debuts on Fox”

The actual cause for concern beneath the Brock Lesnar panic

In a whirlwind of a heavyweight title fight Saturday night, Cain Velasquez wrested the UFC heavyweight belt away from Brock Lesnar. No controversies in this one — Lesnar was gracious in defeat, and referee Herb Dean stopped it at exactly the right time. The reaction: Lesnar’s wrestling isn’t enough for him to succeed, the era of the colossal heavyweight might be over, Lesnar might not have a “fighter’s heart” and Dana White has to be fretting about business with his big-time draw defeated. And that’s just at Bloody Elbow, a reasonable MMA blog (and a great partner for USA TODAY). … Continue reading The actual cause for concern beneath the Brock Lesnar panic