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Reading over my post regarding the Dana White – Tito Ortiz situation, I realized that I was coming off a little pro-Tito. While I’m definately not anti-Tito like some people seem to be, I would like to say that from many angles this whole debacle can be seen as Tito’s fault. He’s the one that asked for the match in the first place. He’s the one that just didn’t show up at the weigh-ins. He’s the one that made a statement basically saying “My girlfriend didn’t think it was a good idea to do it”. There were 1001 ways to handle this situation differently that probably would have resulted in no bad blood, a ‘Bad Blood’ with an actual match at the end, and all parties with more moneys in the bank.

Anyways, because Tito got an easy ride, I thought I’d put in my two cents on what Tito needs to do right now. I’m gonna try and keep it light and fluffy because God knows I hate it when Jake Rossen writes his shitty op-ed pieces telling fighters they’re all washed up.

1. Get a manager
It’s actually pretty surprising how many fighters don’t have a manager. The UFC has gotten to a point with many of it’s top guys that they are the closest thing they have to a manager. They set up the fights, the promotional appearances, the sponsorship deals, and the fighter just says yes or no and maybe runs a few things on the side or haggles a little over money. Tito has done a decent job considering everything, but considering the number of balls he’s juggling, it’s about time he gets a manager to deal directly with UFC brass. The root of the whole ‘Bad Blood’ cockup was a lack of communication, and there’s no way this would have happened if there was a manager in Tito’s corner concerned about getting his cut of the proceeds.

2. Jenna Jameson is your girlfriend, not your manager
An extension of point number 1. First off let me say this: Jenna Jameson is a smart chick, and she’s managed to build a very impressive porn empire. I’m not saying she should stop meddling in Tito’s affairs because she’s a girl, or because she’s a porn mogul. But the fact of the matter is that she’s got her own company to run and her own things to attend to. She also doesn’t have the experience or the connections in the fight industry in order to get the job done effectively. Last but not least, mixing business and pleasure is always dangerous … things go sour and it’s a huge mess that could very easily kill a relationship.

3. Train outside of Team Punishment

Team Punishment is a great team, and Tito Ortiz is a good coach. A lot of Ortiz’ fighters are doing very well in the UFC, but past his fights with Ken Shamrock, Ortiz hasn’t been looking very dominating in the ring. While his fight against Liddell wasn’t a bad performance, Liddell neutralized a lot of Ortiz’ abilities with ease. It’s time for this dog to learn some new tricks that will compliment his ground and pound style. Some judo or sambo to help him take opponents down would pay dividends against opponents who’s sprawl has neutralized the wrestling shoot. Honestly, if Tito doesn’t mix things up he’s in danger of suffering the same fate as his rival Ken Shamrock.

4. Make some friends
This goes hand and hand with point 3. Who are you going to train with if nobody likes you? Yeah, I know the badboy image is mostly for show but you’ll find that a lot of the big names in MMA don’t really like Tito Ortiz. That closes a lot of doors as far as who he can work and train with. At this point in his career Tito can’t afford to keep up his Huntington Beach Bad Boy persona. He’s already shed it for the most part during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, so why not go the rest of the way. Watching the show you can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like Tito Ortiz, but he’s the kind of guy who’s great if he’s in your corner but an insufferable bitch if he’s not. A personality change is in order.

5. Find your anger
Oh the contradictions. Let go of the asshole persona but find your anger? What the hell? Well, Tito Ortiz is a fighter that pulled himself up as much from spunk as skills. The guy was the original UFC hothead and he loved to cause trouble. But the root of this was an anger and a drive that pushed him to win. But now we have a Tito Ortiz who’s rich, successful, and happy. He’s got the girl of his dreams and all the attention he could ever want. Past holding the belt again, what more could he ask for?

And that’s a problem when it comes to fighting. I have no doubt that Tito pushes himself hard and is still motivated. But the anger, the need, the desire of his youth that created the star he is today has most likely faded. He either needs to find an emotional place where he can take himself back up to the level where he was at before, or start training smarter to compensate for the lack of killer instinct.

6. Play the field
Tito’s got two fights left … Rashad Evans and then who knows. I’m sure the final opponent will depend on if he resigns with the UFC. I’ve already mentioned in my other article that it’s foolish to assume Tito Ortiz will blindly re-sign with the UFC after this ‘Bad Blood’ debacle. While likely, I would definately field offers from the K1/ProElite alliance and even Bodog.

Taking offers doesn’t actually mean accepting them, and playing the UFC against it’s competitors is a good way to make more money regardless of where you end up going. It’s a dangerous game though … just look at what the UFC had planned on doing to Brandon Vera when their negotiations went sour. Still, right now Tito has to look at what the UFC plans on doing with him … are they going to groom him for repeat title runs or have they decided he’s on his decline and are now happy throwing him to the young wolves to see how he fares? It’d be a smarter move for him to be top dog in a growing K1 than get railroaded down the ladder in the UFC.

Lets get this out of the way : I really like Mike Swick. How can you not like someone with the nickname ‘Quick’? Yeah, he looks like he belongs in a boyband more than an Octagon, but the dude’s got skills to spare and speed for weeks. Coming into UFC69 I was looking forward to his match because I knew it was a precursor to bigger things – Mike’s been hovering around waiting for his crack at the Middleweight title, and another win or two would cement his shot.

You might have noticed I was pretty severe regarding his loss to Yushin Okami. There’s nothing that drives me crazier than a fighter I like losing a fight they shouldn’t lose. Swick had Okami’s number standing up, and was surviving on the ground. But after a brute force takedown by Okami late in the first round, all the wind went out of Swick’s sails. As he sat at his corner between rounds you could see defeat in his eyes. Even then, Swick threw together a few combinations that had Okami reeling, but he could not turn the match around.

There’s word that Swick is considering dropping down to welterweight. Typically a fighter drops down after getting run out of a division by the belt holders. Sherk couldn’t get past Hughes or St Pierre. Couture couldn’t get past Liddell. Riggs … well, Riggs couldn’t get past anyone. However, I wouldn’t take his loss to Yushin Okami to mean Swick can’t hang with the big boys at middleweight. And I’d go as far to say that the welterweight division is stacked much heavier than the middleweight divison. While size wise Swick might be more even, skill wise I think he’d be out of his league.

Swick’s size at 185 could actually be considered an asset. Most of the top middleweight fighters in the UFC cut hard to make weight. Being a fresh 185 pound fighter has it’s advantages. Swick’s rep as being ‘Quick’ stem from the fact that he’s a smaller, faster opponent than the rest of his divison. And finally, Swick has spent two years working his way up the ladder in the Middleweight division. While his popularity would mean he wouldn’t drop too far down the ladder when switching weightclasses, I can’t imagine he’ll be anywhere even near a title shot in 2007. The Welterweight division is simply too stacked.

The Middleweight division *needs* charismatic fighters like Swick. Past Franklin and Silva he’s the most popular guy they have. Contenders Mardquardt and Kampmann don’t have the personality of Swick and most of the other guys are still developing. If Mike Swick drops himself down to Welterweight he’ll be hard pressed to get any special consideration in the pack.

So there we have it … Mike, for God’s sake, don’t drop down to 170. Especially not because of your loss to Okami. In my opinion, the loss was more mental than physical and if you had gotten past that mental block against Okami and let your hands fly you would have come out on top. The middleweight division has been your home for years and you’ve carved a prominant place up in the top tier of it. Switching now could be the worst mistake of your career.

Tucked in at the bottom of an update on The Fight Network, Loretta Hunt mentions that a 2 round single night tournament was approved by the NCAS. This is an extremely interesting little tidbit, although I wouldn’t expect to see the UFC try something like this any time soon. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Zuffa gives this a test shot through Pride. Sure, Pride has always done this, but now that Zuffa’s in the driver’s seat I imagine they’re a bit leery of it.

Just the fact that it’s now possible for tournaments to be held again is exciting. I’m sure New Jersey and Nevada will be the first two bodies to reinstate knees as well. I’m very happy that (barring California) we seem to be blessed by some very even handed and reasonable regulating bodies.

I hate it when bloggers and columnists compare mixed martial arts to pro wrestling. It’s a symptom of the fact that many of the oldest web writers are from the pro wrestling scene originally, so that’s what they know. People naturally draw parallels to what they know. I come from the club promotion scene so I’m always doing the same thing … however I recognize that my perspective is skewed and try to see things objectively.

For the past years I’ve been hearing non-stop that the UFC is copying the WWE and that Dana White is just like Vince MacMahon. Bullshit, I say. If there’s a sport that the UFC is emulating, it comes much closer to boxing than pro wrestling. And while Dana White might have an ego, love the camera, and use Machiavellian tactics to crush his enemies, I don’t see it on par with Vince MacMahon, who’s hubris seems to blind him to the damage he does to his own company.

Until now that is.

Last week marked the premiere (and hopefully last) airing of ‘Bad Blood : Ortiz vs White’. For full disclosure, I am going to say this now : I did not watch this show so I am not going to comment on the specific content of the show, just the fallout. Tito Ortiz has started a little media tour, putting out a press release and making statements to the MMA community. It’s obvious that he’s pretty pissed about the situation, and he should be.

Removing all the tough guy rhetoric and machismo, the truth of the matter is that Tito Ortiz is one of the UFC’s most bankable assets. You can make an argument to say that many fighters are more popular, but I still believe Tito Ortiz is the best known. For five years he was the marketing jewel of an ailing UFC, the only star that average people knew or cared about.

2006 was a phenomenal year for both parties, as Tito Ortiz’s feud with Ken Shamrock generated the highest ratings and pay per view buyrates in the history of the company. This was followed up by Tito’s rematch with Chuck Liddell which destroyed the previous record PPV buyrates. There’s no denying that Ortiz was the single largest money maker for the UFC in 2006, no small feat considering the exposure generated by him was pushing the UFC further into the mainstream.

Both parties made a lot of money, but one has to ask why the UFC would repay Tito for all the good business they did by producing a 90 minute special taking him down a notch? From a business perspective, the Bad Blood show did nothing but damage Tito Ortiz’s reputation, which damages one of the most valuable assets the UFC has.

Not only that, but they have angered one of the only fighters that could really cause waves by leaving. While many have pointed out that Ortiz is chained to the UFC by his need for celebrity, I’m not so sure. I’ll bet that Ortiz (with only one fight left on his contract after Rashad Evans) will be paying very close attention to the K1/Pro Elite event in July. While there is no doubt that money and fame mean a lot to Ortiz, his wallet is full and he’s a regular feature on the Hollywood gossip pages already. If Tito Ortiz is feeling disrespected by the UFC, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump ship.

So now back to the original point. Up until this point I didn’t feel like you could compare Dana White to Vince MacMahon. But this time I will concede. Dana White has taken a valuable commodity and tarnished it to stroke his own ego. From a business perspective, the Bad Blood special made no sense. Abusing a famously hot-headed and not always rational fighter like Tito Ortiz could create long lasting issues for the company and possibly result in Ortiz leaving the UFC when his contract is up. This in turn could help a competing organization like K1 or Bodog get the foothold they need to become a legitimate competitor to the UFC.
And for what? To make Dana White look good? To put Tito Ortiz ‘in his place’? Perhaps Dana White feels like he has Ortiz in his pocket. Perhaps this is a manifestation of how Dana feels he can treat all his fighters. If this is the case, it’s a very dangerous assumption. In the 90’s, Vince MacMahon’s “Only Show in Town” attitude gave Ted Turner’s WCW show the leverage to steal away top talent. With several well-funded companies on the peripheral watching from the sidelines, the same potential exists now in MMA.

Dana White has often said he doesn’t want to be remembered as “a scumbag promoter who screws people over”. Well, he might want to reconsider what he’s doing in this case. While he may have came out looking like a tougher guy following last week’s special, history will treat him harshly if this ends up being the prelude to Tito Ortiz leaving the UFC.

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s blogs and forum posts regarding GSP and why they think he shouldn’t get a title shot any time soon, that he should ‘go to the back of the line’ now. Well, that’s not really the way the title ladder in the UFC works, and I’ll explain it here:

GSP spent the past year and a half on a divisional tear, climbing the ladder and convincingly beating all of his opponents. The list of fighters he defeated is a who’s who of the welterweight division, and through his rise he has set back the title ambitions of all these guys. Jason Mayhem Miller still hasn’t returned to the octagon. GSP was also Frank Trigg’s last UFC fight. Sean Sherk dropped to lightweight after getting pummelled by GSP. And BJ Penn only got his shot against Hughes because Georges was injured. That injury was a blessing for the UFC, who got a Penn-Hughes fight that everyone wanted to see but the company couldn’t justify until GSP had to pull out.

And there’s the crux of the situation. If the UFC listened to these forum posters and bloggers and put GSP to the back of the line, there’s no doubt that he’d tear his way back up again, defeating a number of rising stars and sending the title ladder back into disarray. The UFC wants to create big money title shots. They want their top contenders fighting eachother only when the belt is on the line. While a fight between Diego Sanchez and Georges St Pierre for #1 contender is something every fight fan would love to see, on the business end it only leaves one of the two in a position for a title shot.

I often call Joe Silva a crackhead for his retarded booking decisions, but the title ladder is a tricky thing to book around. It’s easy to book for the lower levels of each division, matching fighters up against eachother in a sort of crucible to weed out the weak. Winning fighters get put up against their stylistic opposites to further narrow the pool to well rounded contenders. Some succeed (Evans vs Salmon was a test to see how Evans would fare against a better wrestler than him), others falter (Kongo vs Marerro pointed out that Kongo didn’t have the ground skills).

Once a fighter has shown his promise, the UFC starts to position them in the title ladder. Diego Sanchez is a perfect example … while his list of wins in the UFC is definately impressive, you’ll note that he was put up against fighters who were stalled or slipping down the ladder – Nick Diaz, Karo Parysian, and Joe Riggs. And that’s how the title ladder works : you’re building a fighter up as a commodity while not destroying the value of other commodities on the upswing. That’s why Matt Hughes was put up against Chris Lytle and not a more competitive opponent. That way Hughes can be positioned by the company into a title shot without risking a loss or destroying the respective title rise of a Diego Sanchez or a Karo Parysian.

So many of the bookings in the UFC revolve around the title ladder. Every time you see a match that makes you scratch your head, try to put it into the context I’ve laid out and I’m sure you’ll see it makes more sense. Obviously, this formula doesn’t always apply and there are often factors behind the scene that change how things get booked. But my title ladder hypothesis is based around the idea that title fights make the most money, and the more compelling title matches you have, the more money you’ll make. While the uFC doesn’t exactly protect it’s fighters, it does book based on an upswing/downswing approach to hedge it’s bets and keep a healthy flow of contenders moving through the divisions.

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