With MMA, UFC influence spilling over to wrestling, are Olympics next?
The U.S. Olympic wrestling trials begin Thursday in Las Vegas. It's the perfect location because so much of the chatter surrounding the event is focused on pushing the ancient sport to sexy, combative extremes.
"People aren't trying to pin each other anymore," said Jason Townsend, who is promoting a new style -- "Grappling" -- for USA Wrestling, the sport's national governing body. "They're trying to choke each other, arm-bar, leg-lock and get their opponent to say, 'Uncle.' How long can you hold out before you tap out?'"
You "tap out" before turning blue, feeling your knee burst or your arm snap.
Welcome to 21st-century international wrestling, and -- perhaps -- the future of Olympic wrestling. Buffeted by a perfect storm of marketing and cultural vectors striking Olympic sports, wrestling -- arguably the most traditional of all -- can be traced back thousands of years, when, Townsend said, "wherever people were, whether they were in a tree, they were wrestling. People have evolved with wrestling."
Freestyle, which is similar to high school and college wrestling, and Greco-Roman, in which no holds or actions are permitted below the waist, remain the classic Olympic styles and are on the Beijing program. But that almost certainly won't be the case 20, 10 or perhaps even five years from now.
"There is a school of thought among traditionalists that our sport will exist in its current form forever," USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. "But even those within that traditionalist community would have to admit our sport has changed. We have to keep our eyes wide-open."
The International Olympic Committee has made it known it seeks to modernize its sports to better attract young audiences. Consider the advent of BMX cycling in Beijing this summer, or snowboarding in the Winter Games.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have exploded onto the sports scene recently, giving rise to the new wrestling style, Grappling, which was approved by FILA, the international wrestling federation, in 2006.
California likely to require clean drug tests for past offenders
California is poised to join Nevada in requiring fighters who previously tested positive for drugs to prove they are clean before being allowed to fight again.
The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) is working on this and other changes to regulations designed to stem the use of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs in combative sports. The proposed change to current rules in California would require a clean drug test for licensure or renewal of a license when an athlete has "previously tested positive for a prohibited substance in any commission state." This clean-test stipulation comes with no expiration date.
To cite a real-world example, this proposed rule change means that if former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk is to fight again in California, whether it's next month or 10 years from now, he will be required to pass a drug test before he's cleared to compete. This is similar to a rule on the books in Nevada, as Sherk was required to pass a drug test prior to his bout with BJ Penn last month at UFC 84.
"This is to assure us that they are safe to be placed into a competitive environment again and prevent repeat test failures," Bill Douglas, acting assistant executive officer with the CSAC, told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "It will only apply if they have had a previously verified test failure."
The proposed rule is working its way through the bureaucratic process in California. That includes a public-comment period, which closed last month, and reviews by a litany of state agencies. Douglas is confident that the rule will pass and be signed into law by the middle of July. If that timing holds, Douglas anticipates the rule would take effect approximately 30 days after being signed to give promoters ample notice of the change.
Few, if any, other states outside of Nevada require this clean test for fighters who have previously tested positive for drugs, according to Douglas.
Another rule change currently under review would permit the commission to overturn a victory when a fighter has won his or her fight and subsequently tested positive for a banned substance. The fight would be declared a no-contest. Currently, victories by fighters who fail a drug test stand.
Following this round of rule revisions, random testing is next on the CSAC agenda.
"One of the things that were also hoping to address in the future with a rules package -- more than likely the very next one I'll be working on -- is out-of-competition testing," said Douglas. "That's currently being done in Nevada, and California is hoping to do the same thing. We're not looking to do this a week or two before a fight. We want to be able to do it whenever we want. So if someone fights and then six months into their training, we can call them up with their date and time (for testing)."
Judo Olympian Ronda Rousey Could Be an MMA Star -- If Her Mom Will Let Her
There's a lot to like about Ronda Rousey. She's America's best hope for an Olympic medal in judo this summer, she's a passionate advocate for her sport, and she has a blog that shows she's smart and funny.
Unfortunately, beyond those two weeks in August in Beijing, she's not going to have many opportunities to be in the public eye, or to make a living as a professional athlete. So that's why it makes sense that, as Beau Dure of USA Today reports, she's considering turning her attention to mixed martial arts:
"I have quite a few people who have been trying to get me to do MMA," Rousey says. "A coach has been talking to me about teaching me striking (punches, kicks) after the Olympics....
"My mom's generally not a big fan of the idea, so we'll see if I can convince her,"
Guy Mezger on PRIDE and Worked Fights
From an interview with MMAyou.com:
MMAyou.com: Here’s a question from one of your fans that I thought was a really good question. Why did the Pride judges hate you so much?
Mezger: You know, I’ll tell you truthfully man, I wouldn’t play ball with them on certain things. They wanted me to do certain things that’s just not something that I’m gonna do. It’s against my, kind of my moral code and I think it pissed them off because I’m not gonna do some of the stuff that they wanted me to do
Josh thomson trains For Milendez (and doesn't like dog fighting)
Current lightweight champion Josh Thomson has joined Cung Le as the second Strikeforce fighter to record a PSA for California-based non-profit Knock Out Dog Fighting. The program is organized by For Pits' Sake, Inc., who "has recruited the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) to help teach children that dog fighters are losers and that it is not a sign of strength to torture helpless animals."
Testify, Brother Thomson:
Dog fighting is animal abuse, plain and simple. Torturing animals is not cool; nor is it a sign of being a real man. Real fighters stand up for what's right and protect those who are unable to do so.
Dana White Refutes N.Y. Regulation Is Topic Of "Big Announcement"
As we previously reported, UFC President Dana White made a guest appearance yesterday on CNBC's "Power Lunch" to announce a merchandising deal with JAKKS. During the interview White took time to publicly address rumors that are swirling around the internet involving another big announcement that the UFC has planned for next Tuesday - stating that Floyd Mayweather will not be signing with the UFC, the company will not go public, Vince McMahon will not buy out the Fertitta's and the UFC will not be shown on free TV anytime soon. (Click here to watch the interview)
The nature of the UFC's big announcement has remained secret, but White has boasted that the announcement will reveal MMA's direction over the next five years. Fans and insiders have speculated about the nature of the announcement and a variety of plausible scenarios have surfaced; all from "reliable sources", all appear legitimate and all of this speculation greatly benefits the UFC.
After EliteXC's mainstream success and Affliction signing or partnering up with every big name tough guy out there, including business mogul Donald Trump, is it possible that White and Co. floated a number of these rumors to in order to drum up some interest and get the conversation back onto the UFC? While unlikely, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, and the fact remains that all of this speculation can only be good for the industry leaders.
White and the UFC appear to be getting such a kick, not to mention publicity, out of all of the speculation surrounding their impending press conference that they decided to let us all flail about a bit more by pushing back the day of the press conference from this Thursday to next Tuesday. Good business decision, bad for all of us grown-ups who had a tough time waiting for Christmas as kids.
Sam Caplin reported earlier today that he had revealed White's big surprise; an MMA New York sanction, but that was quickly shot down by White himself through German MMA reporter Oliver Copp. Apparently, White told Copp and other reporters in London that the big surprise would not be New York regulation. There you have it.
New York votes against sanctioning MMA, but all hope is not dead.
Word has spread quickly throughout the MMA community that the state of New York's Committee on Tourism, Arts and Sports Development has overwhelmingly voted down a bill that would govern the regulation of MMA in the state.
However, according to an official within committee chair (and bill sponsor) Steve Engelbright's office, the bill is still very much alive with the committee, and it will be revisited at a committee session next Wednesday.
While our good friend Sam Caplan at FiveOuncesOfPain.com first reported that the "bill was voted down in overwhelming fashion," according to a member of a major state athletic commission, sources within Engelbright's office refuted that claim when contacted by MMAjunkie.com.
Ticket Sales Slow For Adrenaline MMA
According to USA Today:
"All the shows that I've been running and other people have been running have suffered," Monte Cox said. "The only people that seem immune to that are the UFC. But for the rest of us who do shows on a regular basis we're feeling the pinch, as far as the entertainment dollar."
Cox blamed the current economic slowdown for hurting smaller promotions, though Mike Regan, Global Fighting's chief financial officer remained hopeful that fans in the Charlotte area would buy tickets as the event date nears.
"I just think that right it's the type of thing where they'll wait until the last minute to do it," Regan said.
McCarthy, ABC to Review ‘Grounded Knees'
"Big" John McCarthy will propose legalizing knees to the head of a grounded opponent when the Association of Boxing Commissions meets for its annual convention July 2-5 in Montreal. McCarthy, who retired from officiating in December, made the revelation during Sherdog.com's Beatdown radio show on Monday.
"It's a good technique," said McCarthy, who refereed 535 matches during his 15-year career. "It's a very effective tool, and it opens fights up."
The most recognized referee in the game has met privately with ABC representatives in the last few months to discuss amendments to the sport's Unified Rules of Combat. The ABC will unveil their efforts at its annual gathering, where its membership of nearly 80 state and tribal athletic commissions throughout North America will review them.
McCarthy also addressed the controversy surrounding referee Dan Miragliotta, who was criticized for his officiating in the Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson-James Thompson main event at EliteXC "Primetime" on May 31 in Newark, N.J., and the Brandon Vera-Fabricio Werdum heavyweight matchup at UFC 85 on Saturday in London.
"A lot of people are all over Dan," McCarthy said. "Refereeing - it's opinion. Some people are going to look at you and say, ‘You're right,' and some people are going to look at you and say, ‘You're wrong.' We're all human."
Miragliotta made what many viewed as a crucial error in judgment in the Ferguson-Thompson bout on CBS, when he forced the fighters to stand after Thompson had passed Ferguson's guard and secured side control on the ground in the second round.
"When your opponent gets to side control, there are very few things you can do," said McCarthy, who was offered the chance to officiate the Ferguson-Thompson fight. "When you take a fighter out of side control, you're giving the advantage to one fighter over another. James was in a dominant position, and Dan stood them up."
Shooto To Change Rules
Once again, Jordan Breen has the scoop:
In a move that will assuredly garner praise from the MMA world, the International Shooto Commission has announced that in the coming months all Shooto events worldwide will abandon two of its most contentious rules: strikes to the back of the head and the much-maligned knockdown count.
Because of Shooto's ongoing rookie tournament series already having its rules defined at the year's onset, the knockdown rule will be abolished officially on Jan. 1, 2009. However, strikes to the back of the head will be outlawed as of Sept. 1, due to a more pressing medical necessity.
MMA doesn't need more rules, it needs the right interpretation
Moments after being stopped by Fabricio Werdum with only a few seconds left in the first round at Ultimate Fighting Championship 85, heavyweight Brandon Vera did what most conscious fighters would do in such a situation: complain.
He jumped to his feet, got in the referee's face, milked the crowd's sympathy -- all for nothing. Arguing an early stoppage in mixed martial arts is like arguing a pitch's location in baseball. An umpire will never change a strike to a ball, and a batter just looks like a fool for even trying.
But Vera had a legitimate gripe Saturday. His fight was stopped too soon, even if the call did adhere to a hazy refereeing standard regarding unanswered blows.
Per the vague rule, a fighter's failure to intelligently defend himself is cause for stoppage; a fighter's covering up to protect his face from a flood of punches is not. Most of the time the standard is fair. But it caters to a specific situation -- one of many in a sport with numerous fight permutations. One that didn't occur in the Werdum-Vera bout.
Everlast to start MMA equipment line in September
Everlast is best known as a century-old boxing gear and equipment company. However, in recent months, the company has ventured into MMA, signing a deal with Randy Couture's Xtreme Couture gym to be their exclusive apparel and equipment sponsor.
Now, in an interview with Brandweek.com, Everlast President Adam Geisler says the company will be coming out with a retail MMA equipment line this september.
Geisler explains why in the interview:
"Everlast is the exclusive apparel and equipment sponsor of Randy's Xtreme Couture Gyms. In September we will launch Everlast's MMA equipment line at retail. We are doing a photo shoot with him [this week] for a print campaign that will run in men's and sports magazines. Randy has left UFC and Mark Cuban's HDNet Fights is trying to set up a match between him and [MMA world-class heavyweight] Fedor Emelianenko. If they fight on pay-per-view it could generate [incredible] numbers. Our brand is strong with consumers 30 and older. With Randy and MMA, we will attract 16-22-year olds, a demo we have had trouble attracting. So the opportunity to speak to these younger consumers is key for us. It's a major opportunity to grow our business."
Live shows likely next round for NBC, Strikeforce
The programming suits at NBC have a decision to make.
EliteXC's Saturday Night Fights debut on CBS May 31 proved that live mixed martial arts is more than viable on network television. Despite the fact that most MMA fans jeered the show, ripping into everything from the production to the officiating, SNF was the most-watched MMA event in U.S. television history. The broadcast drew a peak audience of more than 6.5 million viewers – and 4.85 million viewers in total – to top the 5.9 million who tuned into the Quinton Jackson-Dan Henderson match at UFC 75.
Those are game-changing numbers that TV executives simply can't ignore, especially when it comes to delivering the male, 18-to-34 audience that advertisers crave. That demographic comprised a sizeable portion of the viewers who tuned into SNF.
NBC already carries MMA, albeit in a time slot far removed from the bright lights of primetime. Strikeforce launched its weekly 30-minute taped series on the Peacock Network April 12. The promotion, which those familiar with the deal say purchased the airtime from the network, hoped the series would be the catalyst that leads to live shows on NBC.
"Periodically, we're in talks (with NBC)," said Strikeforce's Mike Afromowitz. "Of course, we want to be live on the network. That's always been part of our long-term objective. People want to see live events. The show's been a good way to introduce the brand and the product to people, but moving forward, we want to be live. That's the next step."
Not only do the ratings generated on CBS suggest that the next step might be imminent for NBC, programming brass at the network need to look no further than their own ratings to see that MMA draws a crowd. Viewership of "Strikeforce on NBC," which follows "Poker After Dark" every Saturday night/early Sunday morning, has increased nearly 200 percent from its first show to one of its recent airings.
The fifth episode, during the week of May 5, drew an audience of 949,000 viewers. That topped the average ratings for other late-night fare, including "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson."
"The show has exceeded our expectations," said Afromowitz, who oversees selection of fights featured in the production. "We're only several weeks into the series. We got the production together very quickly with minimal promotion. We didn't have a big, big campaign to promote it, but word spread from the first week we were on."
It seems only a matter of time before NBC makes a more significant commitment to MMA programming.
The Making of a Superstar in Korea
Dong Hyun Kim's impressive May 24 UFC debut was not televised in North America, but in South Korea it was shown live.
And then it was shown again.
And then it was shown again: three times total, with commentary, prior to the resumption of live coverage.
Even before the translator could mangle Kim's responses to Joe Rogan in the postfight interview, YTN, the Korean cable news network, had added "Kim Dong Hyun wins by TKO in first UFC contest" to the news ticker at the bottom of the screen, amid updates on American beef imports and the earthquake in China. KTX trains also added Kim's picture to the queue of rural photographs cycling on the aisle monitors.
Virtually unknown to all but hardcore fight fans, suddenly it seemed as if Kim was on every screen in Korea.