It’s amazing the number of people who don’t get what went down with Affliction. Here’s the facts of the matter to the best of my understanding, based on what Dave Meltzer and others have reported in various media:
– Affliction’s first attempts to get out of the promoting game came shortly after their first show when they realized that the 300,000 buys they projected and budgeted for was completely unrealistic, and they’d had at least two previous talks with UFC and some with Strikeforce about deals similar to the one they eventually made. Those talks fell apart over personality clashes with UFC or Strikeforce’s financial concerns about the scale of pay on Affliction’s fighter contracts.
– Whether Affliction: Bad Idea had happened or not, and regardless of any reasonably likely figure for its buyrate, Affliction the promotion was dead after this show anyway. All their initial contracts were for 3 fights and they had not begun serious negotiations to extend any of them, not had they contacted potential future sites for theoretical additional shows. The reason was simple: they were losing money hand over fist despite doing very respectable PPV business, because their costs were completely out of control.
– Josh Barnett is getting too much heat on this one. Yes, he’s a giant ‘roid monkey who’s tested positive twice despite spending most of his carer in a non-drug tested environment, but most reasonably informed people around the sport will tell you that PED use is somewhere between rampant and endemic and his biggest sin may simply be bad luck and not knowing how to cycle properly. Furthermore, he did not kill Affliction- there were multiple other options to headline the show in his place who would not have materially affected the buyrate (Vitor most obviously) and he was not the first main eventer to suddenly be unavailable for a major show. See: Shamrock vs. Kimbo and Kevin Randleman at UFC 24 among others, and both of those happened day-of-fight without the show being canceled. Afflicition had a week to find a replacement and had a guy with some name recognition already on the undercard willing to step in. Barnett’s test failure was an excuse which allowed the people in charge who wanted out anyway to pull the plug and force the move immediately on those who didn’t. If Barnett never gets caught, all that changes is that the promotion dies one show later- a big deal for the fighters who were supposed to be drawing a fight check, but of very little consequence to anyone else and of exactly no long term import.
To put this in perspective, EliteXC was on the verge of being purchased and funded by CBS/Showtime when Seth Petruzelli made his comments post-Kimbo fight, and those interviews killed the CBS/EliteXC prospective deal. Petruzelli- inadvertently- actually killed EliteXC. Barnett’s actions, though not really excusable, had no real reason to even kill a single event let alone an entire promotion.
– And most importantly: it cannot be overstated how fucked up Affliction’s business model was from jump. This is a promotion which locked themselves into astronomical costs based on the expectation that they could draw 300,000 buys in this country with no television and limited advertisement using mostly non-names and building around a headliner who doesn’t even speak English. Every bit of evidence from the fight promotion business for the last… ever, really would tell you that this was a completely insane idea, and yet they went ahead and did it anyway because…well, who can really say? It’s been suggested that it was intended as a form of advertising for their shirt business which seems to not match the facts to me, but that’s a more rational explanation than most others.
The point is, intentional or not, as a self-contained promotion Affliction was simply never a viable self-sustaining economic entity based on the business model which they had designed; and so unless the shirt company was willing and able to fund large promotional losses indefinitely or the promotional side was willing to radically reassess their business decisions, it was a matter of when and not whether they would go tits-up. None of that has anything to do with steroids, or Josh Barnett, or how good their shows were (and they were good!), or how talented their roster was, or anything other than that they were locked into spending far more than they could ever make. If they could have gotten a good TV deal with serious financial backing and the chance to promote their shows through television, they might have had a chance; but that was never in the cards, and they knew it.
Bottom line: Affliction thought that if they signed the best heavyweight and put on a good MMA show, they could waltz into the PPV market which UFC has created and do similar business. They turned out to be really, really wrong, and once they realized they were they began trying to get out of the mistake they’d made as quickly and painlessly as possible. The second show, and the third if it had come off, were essentially nothing more than exercises in recouping sunk costs and saving face. That’s the difference between them and a promotion like Strikeforce- Strikeforce is attempting, and succeeding, in building a sustainable and economically viable promotion; Affliction were vultures trying to make a quick buck. For the fighters’ sake I’m sad to see them go, but I don’t think it hurts MMA to have their kind of promoter run out, and I don’t think it does fans any good to romanticize or fail to recognize what they were.
Bottom line: Affliction spent several million dollars and two years of their time in order to fund a two-show vanity promotion and then get their old sponsorship agreement back. Way. To. Go. From a sporting perspective, two quick thoughts:
1. Fighter-wise, this means likely nothing. Anyone UFC wants they’ll get except Fedor, but given the way Affliction contracts were structured (non-exclusive/1 more fight on them) they’ll probably all have to be renegotiated anyway and UFC would have had their pick as the industry big dog even without this deal. Don’t expect Babalu and Fedor on the UFC 105 card or anything. Vitor obviously is a guaranteed signing now, given UFC’s publicly expressed interest; him and Andy Silva is a fun fight.
2. The major, major, and less apparent impact of this is that more than ever before, UFC has almost all the negotiating leverage in the industry. Strikeforce is an intelligently run semi-regional promotion, which means they’re guaranteed jobs for some mid-level or slightly higher fighters, but they’re not a major-money option for top stars at this point. Affliction was, but they’re now gone. Japan can offer good deals to some fighters especially ex-Pride guys or lighter-weight guys, but they’re not major competition for stars and even for Fedor, they’re probably not a serious money option unless he just wants to do Sambo and live off one big New Year’s payoff. And even if he wants that, his people won’t.
Expect the knock-on effects of this one to go on for a while; fighters had better hope that Strikeforce grows into a legit #2 in the industry, because if they don’t it’s going to be hard times. I honestly believe that the death of Affliction is a watershed moment for the industry as it represents the real end of the cowboy era in MMA. Once the UFC boom began in 2006 or so, there were a lot of companies with different backing and different plans who all got into the act: IFL, Affliction, Elite XC, Strikeforce, Bodog, etc. All of them except for Strikeforce have died somehow, most in humiliating fashion due to their own terrible business plans or bad promotional gambles. Pride obviously predated the boom but found themselves going under in the same period due to their own inherent weaknesses (yakuza ties, etc.). All that’s left are UFC, Strikeforce, DREAM, and a collection of smaller promotions of varying but universally minor import. There’s no obvious next big money mark with some revolutionary idea on the horizon, no next promoter who fancies himself the genius who can out-think the UFC; organizationally the MMA universe is what it is for the moment with few prospects for change in the future. There’s a lot of knock-on effects of this which deserve their own posts in time, but to sum them up: Yahoo’s changing their MMA tab to UFC may have been accidentally prescient, as the two are probably closer to being identical terms now than at any time in over a decade.
EDIT: ok, betting’s open: who’ll be the first joker who tries to promote Josh Barnett vs. Seth Petruzelli?
Affliction: Clown Shoes has apparently been canceled. What can you even say, other than to begin wondering whether this or Elite XC’s was the more painful and ridiculous death? Dana White talks a mountain of bollocks at even the best of times, but he’s rarely been more accurate than he’s been about these guys. As it stands I seriously doubt this thing will ever be rescheduled- Barnett won’t be getting licensed in California anytime soon, Nevada will respect Cali’s call, there’s no other obvious option to stick in against Fedor as a real opponent who might draw, so the options to run as a serious promotion are slim to none. I suppose they could run Mississippi and stage Fedor vs. Ray Mercer (and that would definitely be more ridiculous than even Elite XC), but I wouldn’t put money on that happening.
EDIT: Dear God has it been a bad week for MMA cards. First Overeem pulls out, then Barnett tests out, then the whole Affliction show is canceled, now Riggs vs. Diaz II is dead due to some sort of medical issue with Riggs. Unfortunate.
Josh Barnett a gasup-gasup, fail off pon substances. He’s denying it, “it” being his second positive test.
Affliction, y’all! A snakebit promotion this one is. Personally it won’t affect my interest much and I can’t say I honestly think it’ll mean 10 buys either way for the PPV, but as a sporting matter it kills the show largely dead outside of Mousasi vs. Babalu. Vitor is Vitor, and there’s a small chance he’ll hit a lucky punch; but the odds are extremely high that he’ll be mauled and destroyed quickly, especially given that at least in theory he’s 2 weight classes below Fedor at this point. Lashley- God bless him, he’s a decent fighter and a decent pro wrestler, but he’s out of training and nowhere near the caliber of fighter Fedor should be fighting. From a business standpoint I understand why you try to make that fight; from the sporting perspective it’s a comical blowout. It’s almost appropriate that Affliction’s probable last show ends this way, given all the issues with this promotion from jump.
It’s amusing as well that this transpires on the same day or so which sees Strikeforce Theoretical Heavyweight Champion Notastar Overeem pull out of his defense against Fabricio Werdum on the 15th of next month. Too bad UFC doesn’t have some sort of fighter- some heavyweight, some talented guy who could grab the public imagination- to step in and seize this moment of disarray among their competitors. Snarky? Me? I will say this- if Lashley or Vitor actually pull this off, Affliction: No Buys will be among the most memorable PPVs of all time, and replay business will go bail. I’m not sure Josh Barnett meant anything to the buyrate in the first place, so if Atencio’s backers are already out of Barnett’s guarantee this may accidentally prove to be a solid break for everyone except the guy who failed the test. Barnett, sadly, is going to have to come up with some solid evidence to avoid a career epitaph of “failed a drug test after his biggest win; failed another before his biggest fight.”
EDIT: I ain’t the guy’s biggest fan, but when Bryan Alvarez on the F4W/Wrestling Observer boards suggested that Tom Atencio himself should replace Barnett, I laughed until it hurt. This really needs to happen. If you can’t do quality, do comedy.