Dec 11, 2009

MMA: Where Pro Wrestling was 15 years Ago

In the article, I talked about Strikeforce needing to sign Dan Henderson...On December 5th, Henderson signed a 4 fight deal with the company...In another follow up, on December 11, it was announced that Bobby Lashley has also signed with Strikeforce, and will debut on January 30.

Growing up, like most boys my age, I fell in love with sports. Like most boys, the sports I really enjoyed were the “tough guy” sports. In particular, those sports were professional football and professional wrestling. I still remember the first pay per view I watched with my father. It was Summerslam 1992 from Wembley Stadium in London, England. I still remember all the matches that night and the attendance record set in that stadium still stands today in a country that loves its soccer. It was memories like that, watching matches like The Ultimate Warrior vs. Macho Man Randy Savage that led me to watch pro wrestling every week with my father. I wasn’t alone with the passion for pro wrestling. Most of my friends had the same feelings for the sport that I had. We each had our own favorites, and whenever they faced each other, it was like we were fighting in the rings ourselves.
Over 15 years later, pro wrestling is still relevant, but Mixed Martial Arts is the new “in” thing. Fights like Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture at UFC 91 are bringing in fans just like Warrior vs. Savage did. Fights featuring some of the top fighters in MMA like Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko also draw more fans to the sport. Fedor’s most recent fight, his first ever fight in the United States in November vs. Brett Rogers drew 5.46 million viewers. That figure is an amazing total considering the fight aired on a Saturday night at 11pm.
MMA, in particular, the Ultimate Fighting Championship used to be known as legalized street fighting. Head butts, kicks to the groin, kicks to the face of a downed opponent are all acts that were legal and led to Senator John McCain to lead the fight to ban the UFC in the US. McCain called the UFC “human cockfighting,” and asked all governors to ban the company from competing in their states. This led to the UFC being dropped from television and their early slogan “There are no rules,” could no longer survive. McCain’s tactics led MMA fighting to be banned in 36 states. In 2002, on the brink of bankruptcy, Dana White, urged his good friends Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to purchase the UFC for $2 million. The Fertitta’s purchase almost meant nothing when 2 years later; they were $34 million in debt due to fighter salaries. That was the case until 2005, when the UFC created its own reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). In an effort to boost television ratings for the show, Spike TV decided to put the show directly following WWE Monday Night Raw. That was the smartest thing they could have done for TUF considering the demographic that watches Raw is the same demographic the UFC would be looking for. The series finale of TUF featured a Stephan Bonner vs. Forrest Griffin fight which single handedly launched UFC into super stardom. With its popularity, the UFC continues to air 2 seasons of the TUF franchise every year.
In 1995, the World Wrestling Federation (Now WWE) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) fought to bring professional wrestling into our homes each week. The battle between the 2 companies every week increased the popularity of the sport and made pro wrestling important in our society. By 1997, you couldn’t find a person on the street who hadn’t heard of Hulk Hogan, D-X, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock. You couldn’t walk down the street without seeing their t-shirts. The same could be said now about fighters like Chuck Liddell, Lesnar, and Silva. If you walk down the street today, instead of pro wrestling shirts, you’ll likely see Tapout, Affliction, and Strikeforce shirts.
The biggest difference between the UFC today, and WWE and WCW in the nineties is UFC President White doesn’t want his company to just be the top MMA organization in the world. He wants his organization to be more popular than the NFL, MLB and NBA. While that goal is great, the biggest problem that could hinder that goal is the lack of competition. In 2001, when WWE owner Vince McMahon bought WCW from Ted Turner, he ended any chance of pro wrestling elevating any further. The UFC unfortunately, not willing to learn from past experiences has started on the same path. In 2007, the Pride Fighting Championships, based out of Japan was bought by Zuffa, Inc., the parent company to the UFC. Since that time, many companies have come and gone after trying to take advantage of the new found popularity of the sport. CBS brought in EliteXC to try to capitalize on the ever growing popularity. That organization lasted only 3 televised events which had women fighters, and Kimbo Slice, the internet street fighting king, as their biggest draws. Strikeforce is another company trying to get into the MMA game. The company has been promoting kickboxing events since 1985 and in 2006, got into the MMA game. In November, they aired their first show on CBS featuring the US premiere of Fedor.
Strikeforce being able to sign Fedor away from the UFC is a step in the right direction when talking about competition between the 2 companies. Fedors presence in Strikeforce will not be enough to make them serious competitors to the UFC throne. However, free agents Dan Henderson and Bobby Lashley could make things interesting if they decided to join Strikeforce. In a way, White should hope that he can’t sign either of those fighters. Only then, when the UFC is seriously challenged, will White’s hope to become the top sports organization in the world have a chance to come true.
To some, Dana White is his own worst enemy. He is the first to discredit and bad mouth any fighter not signed by the UFC. He is the first to post video blogs bad mouthing other fighting companies, including boxing organizations. White is a brash talker, and says what he feels, when he feels it. I have no problems with that, but as the head of this multimillion dollar company, you need to tone that down to an extent, and make sure not to anger the people who might have helped you get there. What White doesn’t realize, is that the only way his company can truly become the top sports organization in the world, is to have their backs against the wall, and fight out of it.
Presently, the UFC has to be considered one of the top 4 in sports behind the NFL, MLB and NBA and ahead of the NHL. Without serious competition, that’s as high as they’ll get. Even though the UFC wants nothing to do with the WWE, they should look back on the path they took and understand that the WWE was never any better than when they were competing for their lives with WCW. Instead of bashing Fedor and Strikeforce, White should hope they do well. If they do well, that means business is great, and only at that time will the UFC be considered a real threat to the NFL.

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