Has MMA Reached Saturation Point?

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The news that Cage Warriors have signed a new TV deal with Channel 4(!), made this seem like the right time to put into words what I’ve been thinking for the little while now.

A little bit of background first. Since my employers decided to upsticks from one side of London to the other, I now have to leave my humble little East End rathole at some ungodly hour to make the two hour commute  to the office. I cut quite the forlorn figure, crammed in a hollow metal tube, my body in physical contact with at least half a dozen other people. Twisted and contorted, staring blankly at my smart phone screen, attempting to watch any crap I can find on BBC iPlayer to pass the time. At the start of my journey, it also gives me a chance to catch up on social media. A couple of posts by Your MMA (who also seem to be habitual early birds) also became a catalyst.

The first was along the lines of “Not much buzz about Brown vs Silva this weekend” and the other was something like “Are you excited for the Bellator PPV?”. The first point was simply down to frequency – with the relentless pace the UFC is setting at the moment, I find it difficult to keep up. With regards to the latter, I simply forgot that Bellator even existed.

A few years ago, I could quite comfortably consume every single piece of televised MMA that the various organisations could throw at me, even finding time to skulk along to the odd regional event to quench my bloodlust. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can find time to catch most of the main bouts.

Who should I blame for this predicament I find myself in? The logical place is to start at the top. Zuffa’s aggressive brand expansion of the UFC has seen it go from an average of one event a month (two if you was lucky) to about four events a month, plus copious amounts of regionalised spin-offs. The UFC used to be a reliable choice, as the cards were of a consistently high calibre, from the main events to the curtain jerkers at the beginning. I’m lucky if a couple of fights on the card pique my interest of late.

Of course it has its haters, but I actually used to like The Ultimate Fighter. I’d find it fascinating to see the backgrounds and personalities of hungry young fighters. Now it appears the well has run dry, and the barrel is being well and truly scraped. Gone are the days where someone could come from practically nowhere and win the whole thing. On the main show, the cast is normally made up of training partners and camp mates from established UFC stars. How can an 0-0 fighter be worthy of a chance to jump straight to the big leagues? Because they’ve got the rub of a good gym/reference behind them.

The fact that most cards now are awash with former TUF contenders isn’t the badge of honour it used to be either. “The runner up of season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs Australia” – I could care less. It’s also diluted the main show horribly, to the point where this current season by rights should be the most important season for Euro MMA fans since Team UK vs Team USA. One of our own is making big waves in the shape of Cathal Pendred, but as-of-yet I’ve managed to watch about half an hour of it.

The regionalisation of content doesn’t stop there. Many moons ago, I’d have loved a UK MMA magazine format show. After a long day slaving over a hot computer, I’m content watching Danny Dyer call someone a “slag” on Eastenders, or dispassionately watching a lisping homosexual tell me the best ways to prepare a razor clam. I don’t have the time nor the patience to watch GAD comprehensively insult my intelligence on Beyond The Octagon.

The fact that Gareth A Davies is the UK’s most prominent MMA ‘journalist’ is a constant source of bemusement. With the increasing churn factor of events and news, most publications want a piece of the MMA pie, and don’t care where they get it from. As my mate Becky discussed on this piece for DWGG, MMA media is groaning under the weight of copy & paste merchants and yes men. What makes my heart sink even further, these people are barely literate when they attempt to write creatively. Come on guys, you’re only lazily trying to articulate what the MMA PR has carefully spoonfed you. Until the overriding power of the PR is broken, you’re unlikely to read a dissenting opinion or anything genuinely critical, as these ‘journalists’ are too scared of being blackballed, and having to be creative off their own back, rather than be told what to write by an outsider.

Meritocracy simply does not exist in MMA in 2014. Whether it’s below-par fighters plucked from obscurity to pad out cards, to below-par writers plucked from obscurity to pad out websites. We’ve reached saturation point, and there’s gonna be a bust soon I think.

Hopefully when natural selection does its job, we won’t be besieged by watered down content. If Cage Warriors don’t try to push too hard to keep pace and hold steady organising consistently coherent events, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for them to be regularly televised live on one of Channel 4’s other stations. Selfishly that would mean I could finally bin off Premier Sports, and put three pints in my belly again, rather than in their pockets. If that did happen, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Dana White hears the news, coughing and spluttering on his protein shake, knowing that quality rather than quantity is the key to mainstream acceptance. BAMMA is currently in its death throes, which will mean above anything else, we can enjoy the final days of Paul Daley in a competitive organisation. I don’t even know if I can watch Bellator any more, is it still on Vibe or whatever it was? Unfortunately, things have to get worse before they can get better.

Mr Ives has been a freelance writer for 13 years, not that you’d know it on the strength of this piece.

BAMMA 15 Predictions

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Apologies for the slightly misleading title – this won’t actually be based upon the upcoming BAMMA 15 event in London as such. It won’t predict the outcome of the fights either, more-so what we can expect to happen after the event.

The most obvious prediction is that this will probably be the last BAMMA event.

I held off buying tickets until a few days before the show, as I was genuinely unsure if I’d have other plans on a Saturday night. As it turns out, my ladyfriend has got blood drunk on MMA recently, and insisted that we go. This will be our third event in as many months. Having never been to the Copper Box before (I really did think it was some dodgy East End boozer, and the fights would be in a circle of chalk in the car park), I was unsure as to what ticket band to purchase. I decided to go one up from the cheapest seats for safety, and was really surprised to be allocated seats three rows behind the pricier VIP section. A few hours after purchasing tickets, BAMMA made the announcement that they’re going to be streaming the whole event in the UK via Facebook to ‘widen their audience’.

That’s quite an interesting way to look at it, rather than on the free-to-air Five* channel that has been their home for many years now, they’re  going directly to their Facebook community. Now, I’m not privy to the viewing figures on TV, but at the time of writing, they have 46,000 ‘likers’ on Facebook. Coincidentally, they’ve also lost their TV deal in the US, and are now signed up for ESPN3, which is also a streaming service.

The loss of the US deal might be in some part due to their changing UK TV presence. You can almost certainly blame that on the UFC. Regardless of what you think of the quality of their Fight Night London coverage, the UFC swung in, and occupied Five*’s bigger brother, Channel 5 and their regular Saturday night combat sports slot. The bigger boys came along and stole BAMMA’s ball. For the industry leader, they view BAMMA as more of a competitor than Cage Warriors.

This isn’t a critique of Cage Warriors content, more that BAMMA have/had a non-subscription based TV deal, which means they have access to a much larger audience, who in turn could potentially generate larger advertising revenues. The UFC craves mainstream acceptance and exposure, so if it means trampling over BAMMA then so be it.

Cage Warriors is an interesting one, they’ll remain out of the UFC’s crosshairs for as long as they’re useful. With the UFC unfurling over Europe in the coming months, and diluting their content by running so many events, Fight Pass or otherwise, they’ll need a steady supply of European beef to bulk out their cards. Where better place to start than Cage Warriors? Their mix of considered matchmaking, regular events, and recognisable talent is just what the UFC needs. 20+ former Cage Warriors have fought in the UFC in recent years, heck they even picked up one of their commentators to front their Euro Fight Pass content. In the space of one calendar month, two former Cage Warriors champions, in Neil Seery and Jim Alers, have signed on the dotted line with the UFC. Plus their former Welterweight champion Cathal Pendred is predicted to be a massive star in the upcoming Ultimate Fighter 19 series.

Moving back to BAMMA, I have been critical of them over the years, mainly out of frustration. They have an impressive product, a suitably glitzy presentation, but they’ve often lacked continuity, which has seen a lot of great British fighters jump ship to Cage Warriors and beyond, as they simply can’t earn a decent crust fighting once, maybe twice a year. I’d actually be disappointed if they were no longer around, as ultimately if there is less choice, the consumer suffers in the end. Having said that, I wouldn’t have a problem with Daley vs Dalby for the Cage Warriors Welterweight title somewhere down the line.

Come at me on Twitter bros/ladybros – I’m easy to find – it’s @xives

BAMMA 14 – Winners & Losers

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I’m sure you’ll agree, if you’re an MMA enthusiast, the weekend of 13/14/15 December 2013 has been rammo jammo with action. Cage Warriors, BAMMA and UFC events all hours apart. I’ll be addressing the televised portion of BAMMA 14, as the prelims aren’t available to see just yet. Imagine an alcohol dependant Charlie Brooker, and we’re more-or-less on the same page.

Firstly, there’s a marked improvement to the product overall. Ken Shamrock is history, which benefits the presentation no-end. Trigg isn’t actually too bad, but last time around, Sharmrock managed to pull him into a bitter world occupied by former pro’s, bitching about the young stars,  grinding axes along with their aged bones. OJ Borg was also a massive surprise, they actually let him talk, rather than script him to within an inch of his life, and he actually seems into MMA. Who knew?!

According to a friend of 5th Round, @ChrisScadden, the arena was pretty full, and it would appear that the Midlands is the stronghold of BAMMA within the UK. First up was Judo ‘Jimmy’ Wallhead against Florent Betorangal. This might point to a lack of European MMA knowledge on my part, but a lot of these French fighters that BAMMA ship in are complete unknown quantities to me, so when Florent was announced as grappler, my heart sunk. On paper, two fighters with similar styles sounds like a great match-up, in reality, to try to negate their strong points, they’ll go elsewhere, and I fully expected an amateurish kickboxing bout. As it turns out, I was wrong. Betorangal’s heavy hands made Wallhead take it to the floor. For the first two rounds it was pretty evenly matched roughhousing. At the start of the third, Jimmy slammed the Frenchman, and scored a straight-up KO. Pretty visceral stuff. Only Florent wasn’t moving. What followed was a very tense and elongated ad break. As a professional wrestling fan too (for my sins), I’ve seen a televised fatality before, and I don’t care how tough you purport to be, it’s a very eerie feeling. Thankfully, when we return to the action a visibly dazed Betorangal is standing and smiling, ready to receive the decision. Good to see Jimmy back to winning ways.

Next up, we had a ‘World’ lightweight title fight betwixt firm fan favourite Colin ‘Freakshow’ Fletcher and the champ Mansour Barnaoui. In his last outting, Mansour shocked Curt Warburton to take the belt. Prior to the fight starting, OJ Borg read a quote from the young Frenchman about lions, clowns and cages. Much the same as Eric Cantona’s famous speech about seagulls and fisherman, in his native tongue, it was probably a sexy, immaculately constructed piece of prose. Converted to English, it sounds a bit bonkers. C’est la vie!

Apparently Freakshow was looking to come into the arena on a horse. This is the one time I wish Shamrock was in the commentary booth, as he would have completely lost his shit. Again, details are kinda sketchy about the 21 year old Frenchman, other than he upset Warburton at the last BAMMA. Well, on the strength of this fight, he’s a very exciting prospect indeed, dropping Fletcher in under 10 seconds, before sticking to the lanky Northerner like stink to shit.  Freakshow rallied, and dropped Mansour about two minutes in, and caught him in a deep d’arce for an almost stoppage. The floor show continued, Barnaoui patiently going after Fletcher’s prone neck, before catching him in an arm-in body triangle, sinking in the RNC for the win. Decisive!

People who listen to our podcast will know that my ladyfriend has a bit of a ‘soft spot’ for Paul Daley (whereas I have a 5 1/2″ ‘hard spot’ for Clare from Steps). You will be pleased to hear she was really upset that Daley is only 5ft 7″ tall, whereas she is a 6 foot Amazonian type. It’ll never work! They’d look ridiculous together! Gutment LC!

Ahem. Rounding off a five fight 2013 for Semtex, he was looking to bounce back from a decision loss in his last fight in Russia (who’d have thought it – a black fighter not getting the nod in Russia – I’m as shocked as you are) – his victim, sorry opponent, was Brazilian Romario da Silva. Dubbed ‘The Junior Killer’, Daley didn’t take too kindly to his infanticidal foe. Round one was all about range finding for Daley against the taller man. Come round two, Semtex had found his stride, opening up more freely, before crumpling the Brazilian with a left cross, set up by a right hand feint. There’s something about a walkaway KO, when the protagonist has deemed his opponent has had enough, and turns his back before the ref has stepped in that really warms the cockles.

So all in, BAMMA 14 represented a massive leap forward for the brand. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, for an organisation with so much potential, they don’t half like to make hard work for themselves. But, with a bit of continuity and a settled roster, 2014 might actually be a good year for them.

Martin ‘A’ Ives also trash talks on The Phantom Knee Podcast. He is most proud of using the word ‘infanticidal’ in this piece.

BAMMA 13 – After The ‘Gold Rush’

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It was a funny old night at BAMMA 13: Night Of Champions – 4x ‘World’ titles were on the line, albeit as three round contests. Generally the results won’t have satisfied the racist patriotic fan, with many of the International journeymen brought in to give an air of legitimacy to the ‘World’ titles (without causing too much trouble to the assembled British talent) actually winning. Continue reading

Paul Daley signs 3 fight, UK exclusive deal with BAMMA

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Following on from his most recent fight at Cage Warriors 57, Paul Daley has been looking for a permanent home to ply his trade and as of Monday afternoon, he’d found one. The welterweight fighter, who had recently been talking up a return to the UFC has signed an exclusive 3 fight deal with BAMMA, that will allow him to also compete on international cards for other organisations but only for BAMMA in the UK. Win/win right?

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Why Paul Daley should bide his time and sign with Cage Warriors

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Paul Daley is a man on a mission. Currently riding a four-fight win streak, including a win over Lukasz Chlewicki at Cage Warriors 57 last month, Daley is pushing for a return to the UFC, the promotion he left in 2010 under a cloud of controversy. Dana White is still not convinced Daley will return, despite his recent release from the UFC’s main rivals, Bellator MMA. Whilst he acknowledges that Daley is one of the best 170 lb fighters outside of the UFC, the history between the two remains a parting factor. But Daley is a man with options, one of which is to remain with Cage Warriors and earn himself a UFC deal. Continue reading

Cage Warriors 57 sets the bar high for UKMMA for the remainder of 2013

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Cage Warriors 57 was long being touted as one of UK MMA’s premier events of 2013 practically from the minute they confirmed that Paul Daley would be headlining the Echo Arena card. As they added further fights, it distanced itself by quite a margin from what other promotions had done in this country this year. Then despite a flux of last minute fight changes the card went on to deliver (due to Ian Dean’s phenomenal match-making). Its now been mentioned by some (myself included) as the MMA card of 2013 so far thanks to the performances of the fighters, especially Steve Dinsdale, Dan Rushworth, Henry Fadipe and Danny Roberts who all shared fight of the night bonuses. The bar has been well and truly set for the remainder of the year in the UK, leaving upcoming Cage Warriors shows and BAMMA 13 a lot to live up to. Continue reading