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UFC Strikes Gold with FOX TV Deal…D’Souza

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By: Brian J. D’Souza

After years of speculation, it was announced last week that the UFC had reached a seven-year broadcast deal with the FOX network to air UFC fights, The Ultimate Fighter reality series and related programming on their channels. Network television has dabbled with MMA before—most notably with CBS airing Elite XC, and later, Strikeforce shows. So what’s different now, and what exactly does this mean for the fighters and the future of the UFC?

The first question is whether the airing of four live events per year on FOX terrestrial will increase interest in MMA. It’s a loaded question, since television ratings will hinge primarily upon seeing big-name fighters in quality match-ups.

“I can tell you that we’re going to deliver big fights on broadcast network – fights that mean something and there’s a lot hanging on the line,” said current UFC president, Dana White.

As talented as UFC champions like Frankie Edgar or Dominic Cruz are, they won’t be able to generate much mainstream interest; neither will the typical watered-down undercards that maximize PPV revenue while simultaneously milking the fans. Therefore, the best bait that FOX/UFC could really count upon to move the needle might include the return of Brock Lesnar, a marquee match-up like GSP vs. Anderson Silva, or a more-hyped version of Jon Jones set against an equally compelling foe, like Dan Henderson.

How much will the UFC be given to spend on programming? The Sports Business Daily Journal reported the contract to be worth an average of $100 million a year. Therein lies the question—what kind of dollars will the stars of the UFC like Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, BJ Penn or Cain Velasquez settle for to appear on television? Would putting their best stars on a regular UFC PPV be more profitable for the UFC? And are there better show concepts than the stale Ultimate Fighter that has notched continually disappointing ratings regardless of the coach’s star power?

The deal also includes UFC product to air on other FOX channels, including 32 fights to be aired on cable channel FX, and UFC programming to be aired on Fuel TV. Countdown shows and older fight archives will be useful to promote future PPV’s, just as Spike TV acted as a gigantic infomercial for the UFC brand.

One of many problems with Elite XC’s time on CBS was that the promotion was built around an overhyped/under-talented star in Kimbo Slice. When the window of opportunity arrived for Strikeforce to gain exposure through CBS, the proceedings were marred by the Strikeforce: Nashville brawl between Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller and the entire Cesar Gracie crew—an out-of-control mess that made CBS executives ice cold on the idea of promoting MMA in the future. Fedor Emelianenko’s unavailability (caused by M-1’s contract wrangling) for the CBS TV dates was also a headache that was never solved.

What the UFC needs to do in 2012 is get back to the action-packed series of fights that helped the promotion breakout of obscurity. It will take more than scheduling the best talent for blockbuster cards—the fighters can’t drop out due to injury, nor can they perform in a risk-free manner that alienates new audiences.

According to a news article by MMAJunkie.com’s John Morgan, FOX Sports Media Group chairman David Hill recounted a telling story from Lorenzo Fertitta from ten years ago, “He said, ‘What boxing was to your generation, UFC will be and is to the next upcoming generation.”

The disconnect between boxing and MMA comes through the longer history of boxing that has seen spikes of mainstream interest followed by fallow periods where the sport lacked breakout stars like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson or Manny Pacquaio.

Truth be told, the television deal is underwritten with the promise of hard results. FOX will have expectations when it comes to ratings, advertising revenue, and public perception. Showtime warmed to MMA when it realized that it required a way to replenish its wilting subscriber base; FOX as a similar angle in nabbing the 18-34 male demographic while airing programming that will be watched live without anyone fast-forwarding through the commercials.

The reality isn’t all positive as low ratings would mean the UFC would find itself announced as being cut from FOX’s television lineup rather than the typical announcements about the UFC cutting fighters. Marquee fighters are already hard-pressed to fight on tape-delayed PPV’s in Europe or Australia that will earn them less money as they get a cut from fewer buys; how will they react if FOX doesn’t cough up the same resources for payroll that they’re used to earning from the PPV model?

Perhaps the future will tell the story, but a successful transition to the big time for MMA may or may not happen. At one point in the millennium, Japan was filling massive stadiums with shows that aired on primetime slots—now that’s as distant a memory as the time when the US wasn’t plagued by reoccurring financial turmoil.  There are many factors at play, but we can all guarantee that the suits at FOX will be watching the results of their new investment with keen interest every step of the way.

 

Brian J. D’Souza is a Canadian writer who has covered Mixed Martial Arts for ESPN.com, FoxSports.com and FIGHT! magazine.

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The International Boxing Hall of Fame Announces the Class of 2022

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PRESS RELEASE: (Dec. 7, 2021) — The International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum announced today the members of the Class of 2022. Living inductees include champions Miguel Cotto, Roy Jones Jr., and James Toney in the men’s Modern category; champions Regina Halmich and Holly Holm in the women’s Modern category; publicist Bill Caplan in the-Non-Participant category; and journalist Ron Borges and historian producer Bob Yalen in the Observer category.

Posthumous inductees are junior lightweight champion “The Seattle Flash” Tod Morgan in the Old Timer category and ring announcer Chuck Hull in the Non-Participant category. Inductees were voted in by members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians.

“We’re extremely excited about the Class of 2022 and are very much looking forward to honoring the newest class of inductees to earn boxing’s highest honor,” said Executive Director Edward Brophy.

Due to the cancellation of the two previous Induction Weekends, the Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 will be honored at a “Once in a Lifetime” Hall of Fame Weekend Induction Trilogy scheduled for June 9-12th in “Boxing’s Hometown.”

With today’s announcement, we are thrilled to have the final piece of the Induction Trilogy in place,” said Brophy.

The Class of 2020 includes Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, Barbara Buttrick, Frank Erne, Paddy Ryan, Lou DiBella, Kathy Duva, Dan Goossen, Bernard Fernandez and Thomas Hauser.

The Class of 2021 includes Wladimir Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, Marian Trimier, Jackie Tonawanda, Davey Moore, Freddie Brown, Dr. Margaret Goodman, Jackie McCoy, George Kimball and Jay Larkin.

The 2022 Hall of Fame Weekend Induction Trilogy will feature many events in “Boxing’s Hometown,” of Canastota throughout the four-day celebration, including a 5K Race / Fun Run, boxing autograph card show, Parade of Champions and the official Induction Ceremony on the Hall of Fame Museum Grounds. The Hall of Fame evening events include Friday night’s Fight Night at Turning Stone and Saturday’s Banquet of Champions. Both events will take place at Turning Stone Resort Casino in nearby Verona, NY.

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Renowned Author Leigh Montville Talks About Muhammad Ali, The Myths and The Man

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Over the course of five-decades-plus, Leigh Montville has delivered books on the careers of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Dale Earnhardt, Jim Calhoun, Manute Bol, Evel Knievel, John Montague and Muhammad Ali. Each is well-written and researched and tells an interesting story, but it’s the 2017 book “Sting Like A Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. The United States Of America, 1966 – 1971,” that somehow stands apart.

The reason is because it deals with a five-year block when he wasn’t boxing and had a legal battle on his hands after refusing to be inducted into the military for religious reasons.

“I was looking for a book topic and floated one to my editor at Random House, Jason Kaufman, but he rejected it. He said I should look for an iconic figure, someone like Ruth or Williams or Earnhardt, who had been previous subjects. I made a list of iconic sports figures, all kinds of people, but felt I was missing someone,” explained Montville, whose most recent literary offering is, “Tall Men, Short Shorts: The 1969 NBA Finals: Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, And A Very Young Reporter.” “Bing! It hit me. Muhammad Ali. The most iconic sports figure of our time.”

Montville then went searching for everything that had been written about Ali in book form.

“I looked to see what had been done on Ali. The best book was ‘King Of The World’’ by David Remnick, which I had read. His story stopped when Ali beat [Sonny] Liston and became a member of the Nation of Islam,” he said. “I thought that this end was when Ali’s most interesting period really began, all of the legal stuff, his time of banishment, his grand return to face [Joe] Frazier in the Fight of the Century. I had no interest in doing a full-scale biography, but this five-year period was fascinating to me.”

Montville’s time researching that period unearthed several interesting finds.

“A bunch of misconceptions have developed about Ali in the rush to confer a sort of secular sainthood on him. He wasn’t a big civil rights guy. He wasn’t a great resister of the Vietnam War,” he pointed out. “He promoted a sort of segregationist philosophy, the idea that black people should have their own land, their own society, a place away from white people. It was a sort of Give Us Kansas and let us live by ourselves. He never marched once with Martin Luther King. During the war, he went to one rally, and didn’t like it. He never went again. He was fighting to keep himself out of the army, not anybody else.”

Montville, a sportswriter and columnist at the Boston Globe for more than two decades and a senior writer for a dozen years at Sports Illustrated, added: “He was a kid who had fallen into a cult. His white-guy, businessmen backers in Louisville sent him to Miami and set him up with Angelo Dundee as a trainer, but they didn’t set up anything for his down time when he wasn’t training,” he said. “That was when he fell under the spell of the Nation of Islam’s rhetoric.”

Views and opinions were extremely varied on Ali then. Where did Montville, who has been honored with the Red Smith Award and the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, fit in?

“I’m only 18 months younger than Ali and I was going through the worries about the draft at the same time he was,” he said. “I joined the National Guard. I thought he had just found a clever way to get out of it, a way that was open if you had money and lawyers. He was never a villain in my mind, just a guy working the angles.”

Montville’s view is somewhat different more than five decades later. “I give him a bit more credit now,” he said. “I think he said a lot of those things that got him in trouble just off the top of his head and then had to back them up. I give him credit for seeing them through. I never thought he was a hero during this time, though his views on Vietnam were a lot like mine. It was a bad war.”

During this period the Black Muslims played an important role in Ali’s life.

“The Black Muslims ultimately were very good for Ali. They made him who he was. He would have been another boxer – a very good boxer, to be sure, maybe, yes, the greatest – if it were not for the Muslims,” Montville said. “The time period of my book, the stretch where he was cast out of boxing, followed by the comeback, was what made Ali different. He became a world figure, not just an athlete. Ali never would have been Ali if it were not for the Muslims. He would have been Cassius Clay, a very good fighter, but not much more.”

During the turbulent decade of the 1960s, Ali was front and center and a folk hero to some.

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“I think he’s been captured forever as the face for the Sixties. No documentary of the time can get more than 30 seconds in without having his image flash on the screen, usually backed by some music by the Doors,” said Montville, a graduate of the University of Connecticut. “I don’t think this will change. His importance only has grown in recent years and, as memories of the time get reduced to catch-phrases and sound bites, he is perfect. ‘I got nothing against them Viet Cong!’”

Was Ali a tool for the Nation of Islam? “I think he was a pawn in the beginning. He was the religion’s big catch, the convert brought into the boat and posed in public relations pictures with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” Montville said. “I think things got sketchy when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad realized that Ali had become bigger than he was, the embodiment of the faith. The pawn became the king. That was the problem.”

What period of Ali’s storied life appealed most to Montville? “The part of Ali’s life I liked best was when he didn’t have money and was going around to the colleges, often with his wife, doing his talks, sort of an evangelical minister,” he said. “There was a purity about him then. He was young and misguided, for sure, but he believed what he was doing. When he came back to boxing, all of that disappeared. He became much more venal, sometimes nasty, a creature of the world.”

Montville continued: “The sainthood all came after he retired, after he became sick,” he noted. “I think the sainthood is a myth, but the man underneath, the narcissist, was human and fascinating. You look at his success and he used a lot of the same messaging that [Donald] Trump used. Except he used it first.”

If Ali was boxing today, would he stand out?

“No. Not at all. He came along at a time when boxing was much more important than it is now and when network television was much more important,” Montville said. “He had a captive audience when only three networks were in operation. He would be competing now with other sports, leagues, the constant stream of games and people and other entertainment. His greatest act has been copied by so many people, it would sound ordinary today, kind of ridiculous. At best, he would be a Colin Kaepernick kind of rebel, but on a smaller stage because boxing is a much smaller stage now.”

Is it justified that Ali has been looked at differently since he retired from the ring?

“His years of illness probably did more for Ali’s image than anything,” Montville said. “He became like one of those celebrities who died young – Marilyn [Monroe], James Dean, whoever – captured in their prime forever. No matter that he was still alive. He wasn’t out in the world, living, doing things no one expected.”

Montville added: “When he came into the public eye for the last 30 years or so, he was a shambling, Mother Teresa kind of character, beloved by all. If he hadn’t been sick, he would have been out in the everyday world, living, falling into the pitfalls of divorce, drink, whatever,” he said. “Joe Namath, another idol of that time, does those stupid commercials for Social Security supplement insurance. Ali would have done the same and his star would have been diminished.”

Editor’s Note: “Sting Like a Bee: Muhammad Ali vs. the United States Of America, 1966-1971,” is available via Amazon and found at better bookstores everywhere.

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Jake Paul Re-Ups with Tyron Woodley on Dec. 18 after Tommy Fury Pulls Out

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Tommy Fury has pulled out of his Dec. 18 match in Tampa with Jake Paul on Showtime PPV. Stepping in for Fury is Tyron Woodley. This will be a rematch. Paul defeated Woodley by split decision on Aug. 29.

Fury cited a broken rib and a bacterial chest infection in a formal statement in which he said he was “absolutely heartbroken” by this development. “The beginning of my camp was going so incredibly and I never expected anything to come in my way from a victory on December 18th,” he said. “I can’t express how disappointed I am and I really do hope we can get this fight rescheduled in the new year…”

Tommy Fury, 22, is the younger half-brother of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. As a pro boxer, he’s 7-0 but against motley competition. In the aggregate, his opponents were 14-175-5 at the time that he fought them.

In England, Fury is primarily known for his appearances on the 2019 installment of the reality TV show “Love Island.” Paired with supermodel and social media influencer Molly May Hague, he made it to the finals. Fury and Hague subsequently became real-life partners and now share a home together. Needless to say, their relationship has been great sauce for the tabloids.

Tyron Woodley, a 39-year-old father of four, grew-up in Ferguson, Missouri, a crime-plagued community that borders St. Louis. At the University of Missouri where he majored in agricultural economics, ostensibly with the intent of becoming a farmer, he was a two-time All-American wrestler. He went on to become a UFC welterweight (165-pound) champion. However, he would end his MMA career with four straight losses.

In Paul-Woodley I, Jake vaulted to an early lead. “During the first three rounds, it was painful to watch Woodley who seemed lost inside a boxing ring instead of a cage,” wrote TSS mainstay David A. Avila. But Woodley landed the best punch of the fight in round four, hurting Paul with a left hand, and things got a bit dicey from there. At the end of the 8-round contest, the judges had it 78-74, 77-75, and 75-77, giving Paul the nod by split decision.

Before today, Paul showed no interest in a rematch. “I don’t think people wanna see Tyron vs. Jake Paul again; he had his chance,” Paul told TMZ. But Jake is too valuable a commodity for Showtime to lose the date. The Paul-Woodley match in August attracted a sell-out crowd of more than 16,000 to the NBA arena in Cleveland with many in attendance arriving with a parent in tow, being too young to drive.

Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury was given the tagline “One Will Fall.” Paul-Woodley II, an 8-rounder contested at the catchweight of 192 pounds, has been christened “Leave No Doubt.”

Paul, who is 4-0 as a pro, having feasted on thirty-somethings, would have been the underdog against Tommy Fury, barring late developments. One prominent online bookmaking establishment was quoting odds of 9/5 Fury before the fight was taken off the board. They re-posted Jake Paul a 3/1 favorite over Tyron Woodley.

The Dec. 18 card at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, which remains a Showtime PPV, includes an intriguing 10-round contest between unbeaten super lightweights Liam Paro (21-0), and Yomar Alamo (20-0-1). In another bout of note, the great Amanda Serrano (41-1-1) opposes Mariam Gutierrez (14-1).

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