Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Decline and Fall of the Fertitta Empire (pt 2)

Why Boxing Won

Many of Guatemala’s crimes are mundane: murder, kidnapping, robbery. Some are novel and disturbing, such as officials demanding thousand dollar bribes to release a newly adopted child. Some are otherworldly, a vigilante response to a worthless legal system. Lynchings. Mobs dousing corrupt cops with gasoline. Mobs lighting matches. Processions of civilians through streets in the night, flashlights and weapons in hand. And the weapons: axe handles, shovels, chains, knives … if lucky, you may see a pair of nunchaku.

But the most alien are simply prehistoric. Local rumors hold that foreigners steal children and kill them to sell their organs. Tetsuo Yamahiro and his busdriver, Edgar Castellanos, were beaten to death by a mob of 500 Maya due to suspicions raised by the tourist’s photography of children. Castellanos was also doused in gasoline. Someone in the mob had a light.

Strangely isolated, these Guatemalan Maya. Many do not speak Spanish. Their women wear brightly colored, woven dresses, which differ from tribe to tribe. In the Spanish schools they give seminars, often on their dress, aimed at preserving Maya identity, and occasionally they parade together in their dresses in a show of Maya solidarity.

From conversations I know that many of them, as in any group, are unaware of the roots of their tradition. They’re unaware that their tribe-based color scheme was a Spanish-implemented Maya filing system, or that their dresses are old world peasant garb. They certainly don’t learn so in the second-rate schools they’re sent to.

The poorest of them live, isolated, in their villages, struggling to learn Spanish as their languages die, practicing fascinating variations of Catholicism (one of which includes a department store mannequin as a god), farming coffee beans, weaving, and dying by governmental incompetence. Their only act of defiance, through decades of civil war, severe poverty, and systematic discrimination, is to hold tight to the beautiful slave uniforms of whose origin they’re unaware.

But their defiance should be a reaction, a casting off, a look back to their greatness. How many psilocybin mushrooms must I offer for them to see their true path to glory? Hasn’t it become obvious? They must shed their clothes, restore the Maya calendar, and build a step pyramid in Guatemala City.

For our purposes, let’s skip the shrooms and head straight to LSD. How do you feel about boxing?

UFC fan on boxing: Boxing is dying. It’s the sport of old men. The UFC is the future!

Two tabs of LSD later: Our perspectives change and we reexamine the UFC. We watch the pseudo-mobster president sitting in the crowd, his amateur boxing record stamped on his forehead. The roaring crowd behind him coordinates. He stands and throws rhythmic punches and they follow with poor form behind him, Nu Metal blasting out over them, the sweat pouring to the floor.

From somewhere we hear Don Frye’s distinctive voice – he’s in the ring, fighting, but looking directly at Dana.

“I'm starting to realize why your wife might want to give your son a sissy name."

We look in another direction and see the vice president. He’s wearing a sequined headband with the inscription: “Marc Ratner: Inductee, Boxing Hall of Fame”. Next to him sits John McCain, surrounded on this hot Las Vegas evening by boxing promoters fanning him with hundred dollar bills. Behind them sits Larry King, or a wax figure of him, and they speak gravely of human cockfighting. Lorenzo Fertitta’s not far away; we see him on a committee arguing persuasively against sanctioning.

Next to the judging box sits Keith Kizer. He looks jealously towards the Zuffa employees. Both of his positions in the commission were vacated by employees relocating to Zuffa, and he knows it’s his turn next – the internship is almost over. He gives a thumbs up to the judges.

There they sit: Adalaide Byrd, Cecil Peoples, and Patricia Morse Jarman. Rutten lands repeated leg kicks and knees to the body. The judges yawn. Frye secures the takedown. Byrd goes to the bathroom. Peoples dozes off. Jarman furrows her brow.

“What is he doing?” she asks Kizer.

He shrugs. “Good matchmaking creating tough, close fights that are hard to score. The judging criteria are posted on the NSAC’s official website:”

The next round begins. Rutten lands a beautiful four-punch combination. These boxing judges ooh and ah and scribble frantically with their pencils. We suddenly see the scoring criteria, and note, with disappointment, that they are little more than revisions of boxing’s. Our trip ends.

Our conclusion: boxing defeated the UFC years ago, castrated it, purchased it, and took over. The UFC is boxing marketed to the young – more permissive to appeal to youthful rebellion, but boxing all the same – right down to the reality show.

The supposed battle between boxing and the UFC is much the same as the choice between two political candidates who differ on irrelevant but divisive issues, with no ultimate plan to fix anything.

With the rise of the reality show, legions of fans in Zuffa-brand shirts laughed as the ratings rose and gloated as boxing’s fell. There was a strange animosity. It was as though they felt themselves part of some counter culture pitted against the boxing mainstream, and they attack boxing to this day. Perhaps we will see a Zuffa-shirted parade of solidarity against boxing. I’m sure that would make Ratner’s day.

A note on the reality show. The standard narrative is that the reality show increased the UFC’s popularity, which lead directly to greater fighter salaries. When looking at fighter salaries compared to revenue, however, the UFC actually reduced total fighter salaries compared to revenue for close to year. This was likely due to the watering down of cards allowed by reality show contestants. It was only after the emergence of several threatening organizations that salaries significantly climbed.

It is Strikeforce that has now become the most threatening. Dana White’s personality ruined the Fedor deal and a shot at NBC. Now Strikeforce has both. If you are a Whiteshirt, the following graph may disturb you:

The red line represents UFC searches, the yellow Lesnar, the blue, Fedor. Fedor alone captured more interest than the entire UFC. If you don’t believe that’s significant, name another such fighter. I know of only two: Carano and Kimbo. But Carano is gone and Kimbo’s a short-term investment. Fedor and network exposure are a frightening combination.

We can also examine Wikipedia page views:
Ultimate_Fighting_Championship has been viewed 115963 times in 200911.
Brock_Lesnar has been viewed 291713 times in 200911.
Fedor_Emelianenko has been viewed 520780 times in 200911.

Kimbo, as stated, is a short-term investment. Oversaturation of weak cards in a recession is a short-term decision. Bad judging, which protects favored fighters but disillusions fans, is a short-term decision. And that explains everything.

The UFC is in debt. Remember Xyience? Xyience was, for a time, portrayed as a top-notch sponsor for the UFC for the purposes of securing a 325 million dollar loan. But Zuffa was funding Xyience, and Xyience was run by old Fertitta friends. Once the loan was secured, the company went bankrupt.

And what was the loan used for? To increase fighter pay? Advertising? No – it was used to purchase and destroy Pride.

And then Station Casinos went bankrupt. A Nov. 20 report from Rich Bergeron, discoverer of the Xyience debacle:

“A new report from Local 226 (see below), an unlikely source but nonetheless an appropriate voice, reveals how the Fertitta family and other insiders at Station allegedly turned a personal profit of over $1 billion on the back of the business.”

“Still, if the Fertittas continue to struggle and get bogged down and distracted because of the Station Casinos bankruptcy, they will not have as much of their own personal money to put toward getting the UFC out of debt. There is talk of selling an interest in the company, and it’s not as unlikely now to think about the whole thing going up for sale in time.”

This is consistent with the management’s recent treatment of the UFC as a short-term investment.

The Fertitta empire has declined and is nearing its ultimate fall. The black swan event of simultaneous main draw illnesses is a significant blow. Strikeforce will continue forcing the UFC to pay greater salaries to retain talent and buyrates will continue to fall with oversaturation of weak talent. The sponsorship bans will make Strikeforce contracts more profitable than a salary comparison would imply. Poor judging will disillusion fans. The UFC will be sold, White fired, and we will see a new equilibrium between fight organizations.

And none of it will matter.

The commissions will still be in place. Strikeforce, with its ban on elbows, is yet another step towards boxing. The judges will still be incompetent, the incentives towards corruption enticing, and the scoring system absurd. Regardless of what happens to the Fertittas and Dana White, the Citadel will still stand, and no true form of MMA shall pass through its gates.

Imagine what the Castrati, along with newer, non-Whiteshirt fans, the types who do not mock allusions to works such as “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, could invent to replace the sport of Nu Boxing. It is trivial to design a better sport. What are the sport’s three greatest problems? Poor judging, early/late stoppages, and boring fights.

All three can be eliminated by changing the scoring system from the “Ten Point Must” system to the “Predict – Wager” system. It is incredibly simple, eliminating the pages of criteria judges seem incapable of remembering.

The Predict – Wager System:

“The judge shall be paid in accordance to his return on real-time wagers on the fight. The judge will bet on the likelihood of fighter A finishing fighter B by placing a wager, weighted by his estimation of the likelihood of a finish. The value of the wager drops as time passes, and the value of the chips used in wagering drops as more total chips are wagered.

“If there is no finish, the judge will be recorded as voting for the fighter he bet most heavily on to finish the fight, the fighter who receives the most votes shall win the decision, and the judges shall be paid a fixed rate.”

A judge, witnessing a knockdown, would bet strongly, as he would upon seeing a close armbar attempt. He would bet weakly on takedowns, depending on the finishing ability of the fighter on top. He would bet very little on a fighter like Sherk. Racking up points would become obsolete. The FOTN would be easy to calculate, based on total chips bet. Skilled judges would be quantitatively identified simply by being those who make the most money – those who saw danger and predicted it without having devalued their chips. Unskilled judges would then be dismissed, or would quit due to low pay. With three judges betting very heavily that a fighter is about to be finished, the fight could be automatically stopped, and the referees who stop the fight at the correct moment can be easily identified. To greatly increase the action and risk taking of the sport, we would make the fighter’s pay in large part determined by the amount of chips bet.

We thus change the incentives: first having no incentive to judge correctly, the judge is now paid directly in accordance with how well he judges. People who know MMA then have a strong incentive to become judges; Peoples would quickly retire. And previously having little incentive to finish a tough but controllable opponent, a fighter now has every incentive to attempt to finish the fight at all times.

Such a system is far too efficient for the Citadel, but imagining alternate systems is marvelous escapism. And escape is exactly what we need. My next post will detail the escape from and defeat of the Citadel, the construction of the Step Pyramid, and the promised explanation of the role of the Castrati.

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