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Evaluating MMA Promoters and Agents

By on March 10, 2010

DanaWhiteThe mixed martial arts fan has exactly one interest in terms of following the sport itself: to see good fights.  Sure, there may be peripheral stuff as well, but everything that enters the mind of your average MMA fan comes from that one singular desire.

It seems basic enough.  We’re fans, and we want to see fights, right?  So then, what should the role of all the peripheral people that are employed in the fight game be?  You know, writers, production people, referees, and others, but specifically, promoters and agents.  Their role should simply be to do whatever they can to provide the basic want of all fight fans (good fights), while taking care of the fighters as well as they can.  Besides that, they should just be out of the way entirely.

In other words, if you as a non-fighter who somehow earns money as part of the MMA industry are not either contributing to the fans’ enjoyment of great fights, or taking care of fighters in a way that allows them to put on said fights, what exactly are you doing?

I thought of all this when I read yet another news story in the ongoing soap opera that is the relationship between Fedor Emelianenko’s management and…well, everybody.  M-1 Global, and specifically Vadim Finkelstein, seem like good enough test subjects to run through my manifesto in order to test its worthiness.  For fun, I’ll also include some other promoters and agents, as well.  We want to be fair, after all.

For each person, I will evaluate three things: 1) Are they helping us see good fights? 2) Are they helping the fighters do their jobs? 3) Are they doing these things and otherwise staying the hell out of the way?

Vadim Finkelstein

Helping Fans See Good Fights?

This is a clear “no”.  Actually, since the unfortunate demise of Pride Fighting Championships, Finkelstein has gone out of his way to keep these fights from happening.  If the UFC’s inability to sign Fedor was a matter of money, incentives, Fedor wanting to compete in sambo or any other silly thing, I would pin some blame on them, as well.  But for Finkelstein to supposedly be a rational human being with a functional brain and believe that the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world will suddenly co-promote with an almost completely unknown entity simply because they handle Fedor is absolutely stupid.  What would stop Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, or anyone else from making similar demands, then?

Finkelstein hasn’t even helped us see decent fights in Fedor’s Strikeforce tenure.  Because of “renegotiations” (in the middle of a contract, no less), Fedor now will not compete until this summer, over a half year since his last fight in early November.  Was that fight against a top heavyweight who can really challenge Fedor and add to his legacy as the best of all-time?  No, it was against Brett Rogers, who is talented, but simply not ready whatsoever for such a task.

Helping Fighters?

This all depends on what Fedor’s goals are.  If Fedor wants to become very rich, known the world over and cemented as the greatest heavyweight in history, then it’s a resounding “no”.  If Fedor’s goals are to become very rich, known mainly in Japan and Russia and have his legacy debated and possibly bested by someone years from now who will fight the best fighters throughout his entire career, then it’s a “yes” for sure.

Fedor seems like a very loyal guy.  I don’t think he’s ducking the UFC’s top heavyweights at all.  He didn’t duck Nogueira, Cro Cop or anyone else that was highly ranked at the time when he fought them, after all.  I simply think that he wants to fight and stay away from the management of his career.  Unfortunately, that allows Finkelstein and M-1 Global to piggyback off of his considerable talents, even to his career’s detriment.

Staying Out of the Way?

Ha.  Ha.

Dana White

Helping Fans See Good Fights?

Let’s see here.  White has gone to great lengths to sign the most noteworthy fighters from Pride’s heyday, including Fedor himself.  He has also taken his company, which once was limited to pay-per-view on certain outlets only, and put it on basic cable on a regular basis, which opened the door for other promotions to get there as well as on network television, too.  Furthermore, UFC 111 will be viewable in over 25 countries, as well as available online for those who can’t watch it on television.  Love him or hate him, no one person has done more to bring the sport to a worldwide audience than White.

The only negative in this category is that at times, White’s own personal grudges with some fighters leads to their fighting outside of the organization, which has cost fans a fight or two along the line.  Still, White truly does go out of his way to sign fighters that the fans want to see and put on fights that a great number of people can and will want to watch, so this category is a resounding “yes”.

Helping Fighters?

The cynics among you may be tentative on this one, because of White’s public feuds with certain fighters, or a perception that undercard fighters are not paid well enough, along with other minor issues that have come up along the way.  However, what fighter would seriously deny that the UFC’s explosion in popularity hasn’t helped their career become a more lucrative one?  Even smaller shows unquestionably see benefits from the increase in awareness of the sport in general due to White’s efforts.  He also leads efforts to get the sport regulated and legalized wherever he can, even if the UFC is unlikely to ever run a show in the area.  This gives fighters more places to compete.

Even fighters who run afoul of White or end up cut from the UFC due to poor performance are now “former UFC fighters” and unquestionably will enjoy a larger fan base, more interest from other promotions and a more successful overall career as a result.  You can say that White has hurt fighters in some regards, such as by putting other promotions out of business and giving fighters less top-notch alternatives for where to fight.  However, how many of these alternatives would even exist without White’s efforts?  You have to give White a “yes” here.

Staying Out of the Way?

This is the only area where White gets less than outstanding marks.  Staying out of the way is not his area of expertise, and since the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, he has been as recognizable as the fighters he promotes.  He often says the wrong thing and has been controversial at times, which goes without saying to those who follow the sport.  However, when factoring in the good that he has done, even someone like myself who has criticized White in the past has to give him a pass here.

Just one thing, Dana: could you stop standing in between the fighters when they pose after weigh-ins?  I’ve always thought that looked kind of dumb.

Scott Coker

Helping Fans See Good Fights?

Coker, as the CEO of Strikeforce, has done a good job of trying to put together a quality product for MMA fans.  His promotion is viewable by millions on Showtime, and has even done a show on network television, with more to come.  He has even done the unthinkable and given into Finkelstein’s demands in order to sign Fedor Emelianenko, keeping the world’s best heavyweight from having to fight one-off matches in Japan or Russia somewhere against whoever M-1 Global could find.  While Coker could use a bit of White’s toughness (why would you let your heavyweight champion hold the belt for well over a year without defending it?), he gets good marks here.

Helping Fighters?

Coker seems like a guy who treats fighters pretty well.  Certainly, Strikeforce is one of the only viable options other than the UFC for top-level fighters or promising prospects.  Strikeforce has also provided a platform for female fighters to ply their trade without fighting in local shows or abroad, which has undoubtedly resulted in wider acceptance of women’s MMA not only in Strikeforce, but everywhere else, as well.  There has been some talk about fighters not being treated as professionally by the organization as they were in the UFC (most recently by Matt Hughes), but few would argue that Coker’s net worth to the fighters he deals with isn’t a positive figure overall.

Staying Out of the Way?

Here’s one area where White could take some advice from Coker.  Coker does his job while staying out of the picture for the most part, although he answers questions from media and performs some of the more visible aspects of his job as he should.  While White’s visibility may be part of the success of the UFC, as he has become a personality on the level of the fighters themselves, Coker has shown that you can stay out of the headlines and still do a good job putting on fights that the fans want to see.

Conclusion

So, does my little theory work?  I think so.  We can even evaluate referees, judges, doctors, trainers and yes, writers by these standards.  Referees and judges, for instance, can pass the tests by protecting fighters, accurately deciding the outcome of fights, but most importantly by staying the hell out of the way the rest of the time.  A highly-ranked referee or judge under my system would not constantly be in the headlines for early stoppages, unnecessary point deductions, poor decisions or other forms of interference that harms the fights that MMA fans want to see.

As far as writers like myself go, well, we can’t exactly stay the hell out of the way, can we?  But a good writer can help prepare fans for fights and help them enjoy the sport more by fostering their knowledge and giving them the information they want or need.  They can even help fighters by giving them exposure and keeping fan interest high.

Overall, I think my three-question evaluation method for non-fighters is a success.

Unless you’re Vadim Finkelstein, I guess.

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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