Week in MMA & Boxing #9- 9-25-15
MMA & Boxing News From the week of
September 19 - September 25, 2015
Bellator falls Short of a Dynamite Night
Bellator’s first Dynamite show, held 9/19 at the SAP Center in San Jose, was probably more of a lesson than any show in a long time.
Instead of pushing a grudge match using pro wrestling tactics, which Bellator did successfully with Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar and Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock, setting ratings records for the former, and smashing them for the latter, they attempted to market the big show concept like WWE has successfully done with WrestleMania.
While WWE can sell shows today based on a name, they are also filled with matches that have been built up for months, and lots of recognizable names. Scott Coker’s concept was to try and recreate the glory days of Pride, with a presentation like he used to see in Japan. But what we learned this weekend is that people don’t know Liam McGeary, and the mainstream doesn’t know or care enough about Bellator titles.
What we also learned is that bringing in names from UFC like Josh Thomson, who was a star fighter in Strikeforce, and Phil Davis, who was one of UFC’s top light heavyweights, don’t mean a lot unless they were big names in UFC. Coker also tried to promote the specialness of the show, the stage, the Pride-like entrances and even brought back Lennie Hardt. That was really cool for the audience that watched Pride in the early 00s when it was on fire, but Pride was never big in the U.S. and Pride nostalgia means a lot to some hardcore fans, but not enough to draw mainstream ratings.
The Dynamite Show
Besides Ortiz going for the title and creating the Pride atmosphere, the other concepts were bringing back the tournament, and having a ring and a cage together with both MMA fights and kickboxing matches together.
The four-man one night tournament to create a light heavyweight title contender on the same night as a title match, made perfect booking sense. You have a tournament winner, and a champion, and when the show is over you have a match you want to see next.
Ortiz took down McGeary right away and worked from the top, but McGeary proved to be slick on the ground with dangerous submissions off his back, and got Ortiz with a beautiful inverted triangle in 4:41.
In the tournament, King Mo Lawal beat Linton Vassell via decision in a good fight. Because the California commission would only allow a fighter to do five total rounds, the first round fights were two rounds with the tournament final being three rounds. Lawal scored three first round knockdowns and should have gotten an easy 10-8 first round, which all but clinched him the fight.
In the second round, Lawal threw Vassell with an overhead suplex, and in doing so, suffered a rib injury that was later diagnosed as torn rib cartilage and a fractured seventh rib. Lawal knew he was hurt, but didn’t know how bad. He thought he could go on when he was still warm, but as he cooled down, it got to where he couldn’t lift his arm and ended up in the hospital. By rules of the tournament, Vassell would take his place, but because Vassell took so many hard shots, the doctors wouldn’t allow him to continue. Vassell took hard shots, but he’s got great recuperative powers as he made quick recoveries from all the knockdowns. He was very upset after the show, saying they made the wrong call in not letting him fight, but given the shots he took, the commission probably made the right call.
Phil Davis quickly won the other first round fight by submitting Emanuel Newton with a Kimura in 4:39.
With Lawal and Vassell both out, Davis instead met Francis Carmont in the finals. Carmont had won a decision two-and–a-half hours before TV started, from Anthony Ruiz in a two-round alternates fight. Davis knocked Carmont out with a left hook to the jaw at 2:15 to win the tournament. The negative was the tournament didn’t have the hoped for Davis vs. Lawal climax.
The silver lining is that Davis won two first round fights and came across like a star, and if you watched the show, it should have created interest at least to the Bellator fan base in McGeary vs. Davis for the title. Scott Coker said that fight would probably be made in early 2016, although Davis was talking like he’d want it on the New Year’s Eve show. Lawal will have to take six to eight weeks off training (he said if asked, he would fight Fedor on New Year’s Eve although he probably isn’t going to be asked to do that), is also a ready-made contender for either Davis or McGeary.
As far as the live show went, Coker after the show said the attendance was about 11,000 and estimated the gate at $700,000, blowing away all previous Bellator records. The talk is that while Bellator will run all over the country, they will concentrate on three markets for big shows, which are San Jose, St. Louis and the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. While there were a lot of empty seats, because you had a ring and a cage, and lighting equipment over both, it meant a ton of seats were obstructed view. There were only 300 non-obstructed view seats still left as of minutes before the start of the prelims.
The show drew 800,000 viewers, not only well below the 1.2 million average rating last November for Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar and 1.58 million for Shamrock vs. Slice, but actually below the average of 892,000 during the Coker era. Part of it was football. Alabama vs. Mississippi drew 7.61 million viewers on ESPN head-to-head, and there were a plethora of other games on cable.
Still, the November show last year had tons of college football competition, a live UFC PPV and a World Series of Fighting bout. There may be a time years from now when the Dynamite concept of Bellator’s biggest event of the year is established and a show can draw based on the name. But that’s not going to work on the first installment.
The quarter-hours taught a few lessons. The show opened solidly enough, as the opening match with King Mo Lawal vs. Linton Vassell did 930,000 viewers. That was a good start, but nothing grew from there. There was no Bobby Lashley growth, and no huge main event growth. Even with Ortiz going for the title, the fight started at 711,000 viewers and ended at 807,000 as far the quarter hours went. When the minute-by-minutes come out, it’ll probably be higher. But those numbers are direct comparison to 1.8 million for Ortiz vs. Bonnar and 2.1 million for Shamrock vs. Slice. In a nutshell, that is the story of the night.
Arguments that the show was too long, maybe should have been one match shorter, and the main event got into the ring late are valid to a point. The fact is, if people wanted to see the main event, they would have tuned in. UFC Saturday night main events usually go into the ring after 12:30 a.m., a few minutes after this one did. Sometimes the audience doesn’t stay for the main event with UFC, but when it’s a big one, they do.
The usual Bellator fan base watched, and stayed with the show. Nothing captured the mainstream. On the flip side, people did not tune out for the kickboxing matches, but they didn’t grow for them as well.
USDA Responds to Allegations
USADA filed a response to the article by Thomas Hauser in SB Nation last week with a point-by-point response.
The key to all this is USADA has just started taking care of the drug testing in UFC. The Hauser article would give one the impression that USADA has allowed Mayweather, because his camp were co-promoters, or perhaps because of his star power, to violate policy both before the Manny Pacquiao fight and also in 2012.
Most of Hauser’s points were addressed. Some were explained as to why they happened. The IV issue as noted one could argue was played up too strongly in the article since IV’s are routinely used after weigh-ins by boxers and MMA fighters and commissions have no regulations against using them. USADA does, but has held off enforcing that ban in MMA until October. But for Mayweather-Pacquiao, under USADA rules, it was to be banned, but they were aware he was using as they were there, and gave him a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) retroactively for it nearly three weeks after the fight. USADA claimed that they didn’t just show up and see Floyd Mayweather Jr. administering an IV, but that USADA officials had been with him from 1:45 p.m. the day before the fight until about 8:15 p.m.
They said he had told them ahead of time what he was going to do and they were with him and watching the entire time. They gave him the okay even though it was against the WADA rules they are supposed to go by, but as noted, using an IV is not against Nevada’s boxing rules. USADA didn’t address why Mayweather Jr. was allowed to use far more than the allowable level of fluids other than saying if you have a TUE (which they later gave him), you are allowed more than the limit. It never explained what health issues he had to require that, and rehydrating would be strange since Mayweather isn’t a guy who cuts much weight.
They also noted when Hauser talked about how the Nevada commission wasn’t aware of this until 19 days after the fight, which they didn’t deny, they said they told Nevada they had cleared it in advance and that Mayweather provided urine both before and after the IV, and both tests were negative.
They noted retroactive TUE’s are standard in WADA, which is true, but retroactive TUE’s are supposed to be for situations where someone’s health is in danger and they don’t have time to fill out paperwork and they need to get whatever treatment they can immediately. Unless there was a significant health issue that Mayweather had the day before the fight, while it was legal for them to grant him a TUE, it is still suspicious as hell based on the nature of what the reasons that retroactive TUE’s are supposed to be about.
They did, and rightly so, nail Hauser for using a quote from Jeff Novitzky, UFC’s Vice President of Athlete’s Heath and Performance, and making it misleading. The quote used by Hauser was that Victor Conte now has “an anti-doping platform” and has come “over to the good side.”
The actual quote by Novitzky on Conte was: “I’m asked about him often and I always say I welcome anyone over to the good side. I’m a firm believer in second chances. I think you have to take everything he says with a little bit, a grain of salt. I read somewhere the other day that he still keeps a hand in kind of the dark world and that’s where he learns about all this stuff. And if you’re truly, if you’re truly an anti-doping advocate and you know about things going on in the dark world, and you’re not exposing who those people are, then you’re really not truly an anti-doping advocate. But the guys is a character. I mean, I enjoy, he’s one of those guys, in my former career, you would run into a lot of characters like that. I enjoy everything about those people. You know, living life, running into characters like that, in a good or bad way, it makes life fun.” “You know he’s been a bit critical of me, but I’m waiting for a thank you from him for bringing him over to the good side.”
The differences in the two portrayals of what Novitzky said about Conte; the first one makes Conte appear to be a good guy in Novitzky’s eyes, the goal of the piece since Conte is on the pro-VADA anti-USADA side of the fence and was being used in the article as an expert on the subject by Hauser. Hauser never listed Conte’s ties to VADA (for the record, VADA has told me in the past Conte has no ties to them, but Conte has constantly promoted VADA in media articles and on Twitter, and also constantly attacks USADA and the two companies are in competition for the major drug testing franchises, with Conte always promoting the virtues of the CIR testing to detect exogenous testosterone, the most popular steroid for athletes, in people’s system as more accurate than the long used T/E ratio testing).
Accidental Email spills some Truth
The UFC had its own drug story in the media, a Deadspin story written by Josh Gross. Gross’ story claimed that three weeks before his 2012 fight with Jon Jones, that UFC accidentally e-mailed results of a blood test to a number of people that showed Belfort had higher than an allowable level of testosterone in his system.
The fight in question was the main event of UFC 152, held September 22, 2012, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Jones had refused to fight at the previous PPV after opponent Dan Henderson pulled out due to a knee injury and he turned down the only replacement the company could get on short notice, Chael Sonnen. It was the first time UFC had ever canceled a PPV (it did so a second time due to a Jose Aldo injury and being unable to make a suitable PPV main event).
Even more embarrassing at the time was that UFC had announced Jones to defend the title at UFC 152 against Lyoto Machida, before asking Machida, I guess figuring he would jump at the chance. Machida instead turned the fight down. He had lost once to Jones, and it was a short notice fight where he wouldn’t be able to get into his best shape. He said he wouldn’t take the short notice title fight unless UFC offered what he called “Anderson Silva money.” Lorenzo Fertitta of UFC then personally contacted Belfort, and when Belfort accepted, praised him for being a real fighter.
Among those close to the situation, it was well known that Belfort was not in shape for a title fight on that night, also because of the late notice of it being put together. A week or so before the fight, someone close to the situation told said that Belfort had roughly enough gas in the tank for three hard minutes, and if he didn’t get Jones early, he wasn’t likely to put up much resistance.
The fight itself was notable because early on, Belfort caught Jones with an armbar. Belfort injured Jones’ elbow, but Jones refused to tap, and eventually escaped. But Belfort was done from that point on, and Jones was on top of him, elbowing him in the face and beating him up in a one-sided fight where Belfort was on his back every round, before Jones made Belfort submit at :54 of the fourth round.
According to the story, a few weeks earlier, an accidental e-mail with Belfort’s blood test results went out to 29 people, some fighters, managers and trainers. Gross wrote that the test showed Belfort had higher than allowable levels of testosterone in his system. It is not a secret now that Belfort was on testosterone replacement therapy during that period, and was being monitored, and it was largely believed that was the case then, but nobody officially said it. Belfort had not been approved for TRT in Nevada, the commission that was most public with information on who was given TUE’s and for what substances.
The story noted that the UFC, Belfort and those close to him, all ignored requests to comment on the story. The story noted the controversy starting at weigh-ins for Belfort’s 5/23 fight with Chris Weidman. Weidman was furious the day before the fight when Belfort, who went from Bobby Lashley to the physique of a 45-year-old recreational trainer, had suspicious test results which Weidman felt indicated Belfort was still cheating. Weidman in his tests in the weeks leading to the fight in Las Vegas had two readings identical, of 370 ng/dl, which would be in the low range of normal. Belfort’s test results were 500, completely normal, and 1,200, which would be moderately suspicious for anyone, particularly the enormous swing and the one very high reading, right at the top of the allowable levels.
That reading for someone who had claimed the need for years for testosterone replacement therapy due to low testosterone, and whose levels were below 200 in tests after Nevada banned TRT completely in 2014, was well past suspicious. Weidman knew it, and at weigh-ins, got all emotional and in Belfort’s face, telling him he was going to pay for still cheating. The ironic thing is Belfort had a major loss of muscle tone even with those high readings, looking deflated in a manner one would expect a former steroid user who had gone clean to look. His body looked like it had aged ten to 15 years since his previous fight. He was also much smaller. If anything, his body totally contradicted that second high testosterone reading.
The controversy died because of the results of the fight. But not without “that moment.” Like in the Jones fight, for a split second early, Belfort nearly won the fight, flooring Weidman and knocking him silly. But Weidman got up and took Belfort down, and from that point, Belfort was destroyed, with it stopped in just 2:53 due to the beating Weidman was giving him from punches while on top of him. The article showed a document from a test taken on September 1, 2012, from Ageless Forever.
Three days later, a UFC paralegal was to send an e-mail with the results of that test to three UFC executives. Instead, it went to 29 people, some of which, according to Gross, were people the promotion had openly feuded with in the past. Three minutes later the person who sent the e-mail attempted to recall the message. 51 minutes after that, an e-mail was sent to the same people saying the first e-mail was sent in error, that a recall came too late and those who got the message were told to please delete the e-mail as soon as possible.
A little over three hours later, another e-mail was sent, from Lawrence Epstein, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of UFC telling people that they were unintended recipients of an email that contained personal, confidential information related to Belfort. Epstein asked that people destroy the contents immediately. The letter also asked that the people he sent it to refrain from any discussions of the contents of the e-mail or disseminate the e-mail or its content to anyone. “You do not have the authority to be in possession of or to disclose to any third party this information.” Epstein wrote that if you do disclose or disseminate this information, “Zuffa will have no choice but to seek all available judicial remedies against you in both your professional and personal capacities. I respectfully request that you confirm via a response to this e-mail that you have received this e-mail and that you will comply with the directives contained herein immediately.”
Monte Cox, a manager, said that getting e-mails by mistake from UFC in that period was not unusual, but this was the only one with drug test results, and nothing ever led to an e-mail like the one Epstein wrote. Cox said he’d get e-mails like that once or twice a month, but in most cases they were errors because they thought he managed a fighter and it was information for a manager, except he was not the manager. Cox said he got the e-mail and did delete the document.
The article stated that Belfort’s blood test measured serum testosterone at 1,038 ng/dl. Since it was during a period he was on TRT, the number was within limits, but certainly higher than average. In Nevada, when they issued TUE’s for testosterone, while the top limit was 1,200, when Keith Kizer ran the commission, he wanted the numbers in the more normal 500 to 700 range and would get on people with high levels to get the levels down, but they higher numbers would not be failures or subject to suspensions.
Depending on who you ask, because there really is no set standard, the high-end of allowable would be 1,150 to 1,200, and normal for an average person is about 600. Testosterone is a very confusing science, in the sense that everyone has a normal level and function well with it. If you’re normal is 400, it does not necessary hinder athlete performance as compared to someone whose normal is 800. If you are a 400 guy, and you take stuff to boost it to 700, you are going to have a performance edge over the natural 800 guy.
The PED aspect of testosterone is getting you over your normal level. The belief is, if you are under 300, that will negatively affect performance and quality of life, and also can lead to health issues. Those people would have a medical need for it, but you can argue that medical need should not allow them to compete in sports with that boost. His free testosterone level was 47.7 pg/ml, which was extremely high, as normal ranges can vary, but with the company that gave him his test, the upper level of normal was 25.1. It was this test that Gross noted being over the limit. It was extremely high, nearly double the top level. It’s certainly a figure that would lead to questions, but even the doctors Gross spoke with, as well as doctors we’ve spoken with, didn’t go so far as to say it’s a test failure and the fight should have been canceled.
Some doctors said you wouldn’t necessarily flag someone for that, but they should be heavily tested and followed up with. Given that all we have is the one test result, and since this was UFC, and not the Nevada commission, where it would be public record, we don’t know how heavily it was followed up on. The problem is someone on TRT is taking testosterone, and he was allowed to do so, so levels won’t be normal in all tests.
The assertion from the article going around is that Belfort failed a test, UFC covered it up and let him fight for the title. UFC did not respond to the story nor did it make any statement regarding it. But it’s a complex issue that isn’t as cut-and-dried, past the point that a guy like Belfort who had failed a steroid test previously shouldn’t have been given a TUE for testosterone to begin with, and UFC did approve it and was monitoring him, hence this test. It had been written all over the place about how Belfort was fighting in Brazil, away from U.S. commissions, over a several year period with the idea UFC was doing that on purpose.
That TRT loophole has since been closed and, as noted, it was Belfort who is the person who ended up being the catalyst for that happening. In the long run, that was the best thing for the sport, particularly when fighters, like Belfort, supposedly with low natural testosterone to where they needed it for health reasons, ended up being able to train at the level necessary to be an MMA fighter after cessation of use. Then again, some would claim, looking at Belfort’s levels before the Weidman fight, that things are still suspicious.
But others, where you could see physical differences from TRT and post-TRT, like Dan Henderson, Frank Mir or Ben Rothwell, were able to train to compete and even win against good fighters while having less impressive post-TRT physiques.
However, for those with TUE’s the only number that is used to flag someone, like happened with fighters like Antonio Silva, Nate Marquardt and Ben Rothwell at different times (and once to Belfort in 2014) is being above 1,200 and free testosterone over the limit for a guy taking testosterone would be expected.
The assertion coming out of the article is that UFC allowed a guy who knowingly failed a steroid test to fight for the championship less than three weeks later. But based on the number they use for TRT patients, he was below a level that would be flagged, not that there isn’t suspicion, but there is suspicion in a lot of tests that aren’t flagged,. That’s not to say everything regarding Belfort, his being given approval to use TRT after having a steroid test failure in his past, and his levels even leading up to the Weidman fight, is extremely suspicious.
It is hopeful that with the end of TRT and the new testing program in effect that this very shady era of the industry is, well, not over because that’s a fantasy, but at least shut down as much as possible. Belfort did fail a test in 2014 for being above that level, at 1,472 (and also 50.0 in free testosterone) which was the catalyst of Nevada and the UFC banning TRT. He claimed he missed a dose one week and made up for it taking a double dose the next week when he was tested. While he wasn’t suspended, that test result cost him a scheduled title fight with Weidman, which ended up going to Machida.
Months later, at a hearing before the Nevada commission, Belfort wasn’t suspended. Instead, he agreed he wouldn’t fight anywhere until a fight with Weidman that would have taken place more than nine months after the failed test, and the fight would be in Nevada. So in a sense he’d have served his time, but there was no fine nor suspension put on his record. He agreed he wouldn’t fight elsewhere until that period was up, and thus wasn’t suspended, and he promised to face Weidman in Las Vegas. Due to injuries to both men, the fight was delayed several times, until taking place in May of 2015.
Jon Jones will offer a plea on 9/29 in Albuquerque District Court on his felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm or death. Jones has been back training and once he takes care of his legal issues, is expected to return and immediately get the next available light heavyweight title shot.
UFC Fight Night Japan
This week’s show is from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. It takes place on the morning and afternoon of 9/27 in Saitama, and airs live at normal time for a Saturday night on U.S. TV. The schedule right now has no Fight Pass bouts. The show opens on FS 2 at 8 p.m. with Shinsho Anzai vs. Roger Zapata, Kajan Johnson vs. Naoyuki Kotani, Nick Hein vs. Yusuke Kasyua and Keita Nakamura vs. Li Jingliang.
The main card at 10 p.m. Eastern on FS 1 has Katsunori Kikuno vs. Diego Brandao, Mizuto Hirota vs. Teruto Ishihara in the final of the Road to UFC Japan tournament, which was basically the Japanese version of Ultimate Fighter with the winners getting a match on this card, Takeya Mizugaki vs. George Roop, Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Chico Camus, Gegard Mousasi vs. Uriah Hall and a main event of Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson
Miesha Tate is very unhappy about being passed over for the title shot at Ronda Rousey. She appears to have turned down the fight with Amanda Nunes and apparently, while being as nice and professional as possible, is not doing any favors right now when asked by UFC.
She’s done interviews claiming that they were asking her to fight tougher opponents than Rousey, claiming Jessica Eye was higher ranked and better than Bethe Correia and that Nunes was higher ranked and better than Holly Holm. She’s claimed a feeling of disrespect, both by what happened, but also not being told by anyone in UFC about the change and her finding out when the story broke in the media. .
UFC 191 Bombed, as expected
It’s still early on UFC 191 buys, but early numbers were not good, and all indications are the huge success of UFC 189 and 190 didn’t make any difference as far as raising the bottom show PPV base number