We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down and chat with the esteemed editor of Bloodyelbow.com, Brent Brookhouse, for the first of what we hope will be many ‘Month in Review’ features. Most of you will know Brent from his work on Bloody Elbow, especially his fantastic investigative journalism, including the recent expose of Lloyd Irvin.
Stephie: I want to ask you if one particular story is currently standing out to you the most; maybe it’s pissing you off, maybe it’s making you happy. What story right now has got your attention?
Brent: The Jones-Sonnen buyrate is, at the very least, the most interesting thing to me at the moment since I can’t really stop thinking about it, I suppose.
Stephie: Were you disappointed by the way Jones promoted, or did not, in effect, promote that fight – that he sort of just dumped it all on Sonnen. Do you think that Sonnen was the reason that the buy-rates were even what they were?
Brent: No, actually I thought that Jones did a better job down the final few days than Chael, who was, you know, kind of giving the same material out and it was so over the top that… You know, it’s always hard to use anecdotal evidence about “people i know, who aren’t hardcore fans” but I did have a lot of people coming to me and saying “why is he still saying this? Why is he saying he’s the best in the world? it’s so ridiculous” People just weren’t buying into that. At least with Jones you had him doing the steroid angle with Sonnen which was somewhat interesting.
I don’t think Sonnen has the ability to move the needle anymore because he lost both of the Silva fights and yeah the first was really close (but) he was on Fox and nearly lost to Bisping. I just don’t think people care enough about Chael at this point for him to move the needle the way that people are expecting.
Stephie: Do you think a fight with him and Wanderlei is going to do any kind of (good) numbers?
Brent: I think if you put it on Fox Sports One, on free TV or basic cable it’ll do fine, but you couldn’t put them on a pay-per-view and expect that to sell. If they just put them on Fox Sports One that’d do really good numbers i’m sure, because it’s better than the majority of fights you get on a channel like that.
Stephie: Since we’re talking about Pay-Per-View numbers, what did you think of the weekends boxing; Floyd’s performance and Showtimes promotion of the event, and also the way Floyd is cleaning house with the money, with 90% of this and 30% of that… Is anybody making any money besides Floyd?
Brent: When the numbers came out yesterday, Dan Rafael of ESPN tweeted that it did less than a million buys, and Kevin Iole of Yahoo said his sources were telling him it was well less than a million, and just looking at the purses from the card and how much Floyd made, it needed to do about 1.2 million buys to break even or make a profit, and people are thinking it did 750-800,000, which is, you know, they’re going to lose money. Showtime’s pushing really hard to be seen as an equal with HBO in terms of program, they’re getting more subscribers and their boxing programming has gotten a lot better.
As for the fight itself, it went about how you’d expect, but the Showtime promotion was OK, but it was really kind of disturbing how they sold out for Floyd, in terms of how they ran the ’30 days of May’ documentary, where Floyd basically spent an hour talking about being a victim, when he was sent to jail for his third domestic violence charge.
The last All-access show, Rueben Guerrero, Robert’s father, had gone on this big rant at the press conference, and kept screaming ‘woman beater’ and stuff. The All-access documentary showed the rant, but cut out every mention of Floyd being a woman beater. They just went out of their way to misrepresent the kind of person Floyd is. Floyd’s a great boxer, but he has a history of beating women, there’s not really a way around that but they’re so invested in Floyd that they’re letting him dictate how they sell his fights.
Stephie: And how the public perceives him too, for sure. What is your opinion on the way Oscar De La Hoya is handling Golden Boy Promotions as the figurehead and the face of it? Because he’s getting rocked and rolled here; Zab Judah is a perfect example, going off on him. I seriously thought Oscar was going to break down in tears there. What’s your opinion on his performance?
Brent: Golden Boy has done a lot of good for the sport, and the whole thing were Showtime is exclusive with Golden Boy and Showtime is exclusive with HBO isn’t good in a lot of ways, but they’re forcing each promotion and each network to up their game, and they’re giving us better cards because of it. But Oscar himself is…I think figurehead is the best way to put it. Richard Schaefer does a lot of the heavy lifting there, Oscar is just the face, and he’s looked really bad lately. He had the Zab Judah think where Zab just lost it on Oscar because they were keeping Garcia and Judah separate. Zab just felt disrespected and he lost it, and Oscar had no idea how to handle that. Similarly during the Rueben Guerrero freakout at the press conference, Oscar is just pawing at his shoulder, trying to get him to sit down. Oscar is not… he’s not much for the business aspect, and he’s not much publicly when he’s stuck trying to deal with an adverse situation. But he’s got the name, and he can smile and give some quotes so he does his job, but Richard Schaefer is the one that does a lot of the heavy lifting for Golden Boy.
Stephie: What do you think about the future of boxing? I noticed that you commented about boxing moving away from the casinos… I’m not a subscriber to the opinion that boxing is a dying sport or anything like that, but where do you think boxing is going, what’s the next big fight that, in your opinion, needs to be made?
Brent: The biggest fight out there now is probably Mayweather against Canelo Alvarez, just because Canelo has that huge built-in Mexican fanbase that will buy his fights, and there’s still a big audience that buys Floyd’s fights. There’s no way that Mayweather Pacquiao is going to happen, Mayweather-Alvarez is possible and that’s a huge fight, but I don’t think that’ll happen either.
Boxing in general is being forced to change because of all these network-promoter allegiences which is providing a lot better fights and eventually everything will sort itself out, with people realising that to make as much money as they can, they have to work together, so… it’ll come, until then we’re going to get better cards, but not necessarily the best possible fights. It’s never going to go back to Lewis-Klitschko doing 7 million viewers on HBO. HBO does about 1-1.5 million for each fight, they can crack 1.7million every now and then, but they’re never going to go back to 7 million area. It’s healthy, like you said moving away from the casinos is a big part of it, trying to put fighters in local arenas where they can draw crowds that are personally invested is a big step, and getting away form the passionless vegas crowds that are mostly comped tickets. They’re learning and trying to adjust, but there’s always going to be a lot of stupid people in boxing that hold it back a little bit.
Iain: Something I was hoping to ask about was the refereeing at UFC 159. I know you’ve done several stories in the past about the commissions, and my take on it has always been that New Jersey is the best commission in the US, but they really seemed to not be on their game; there was the issue with the eye-pokes, fighters not getting recovery time… What do you think happened with the officiating?
Brent: It’s a general problem, where if you look at the rules, the referee called off the fight the second the fighter said that he can’t see. Technically by the rules, that is what you’re supposed to do, but then you have everybody at the commission and other referees saying, ‘well the unspoken thing is you have a doctor check on them’ that shouldn’t be an unspoken thing – referee’s shouldn’t have to try to make some sort of judgement call, it should be if there’s an eyepoke, have the doctor check, her has five minutes, but basically (just now) a referee has to make up his own rules and if you don’t have clarity and a specific way that every instance should be handled, then you end up with really uneven situations and unpleasant results.
Iain: Something that came out of that, is a lot of people have been calling for the gloves to be redesigned, and i notice today the UFC are apparently thinking about redesigning their gloves. Do you think that’s part of the issue, or do you think that’s people looking for something to blame?
Brent: I think it’s people looking for something to blame. Mike Fagan at MMA Owl wrote an article today that broke down how often eye pokes broke down and put it at 3% of fights. So it’s not a problem that happens all the time, but there’s no rule that says a fighter can’t stick his open hand out towards opponents face, it’s just that you can’t touch them in the eye with your open hand. They could adjust the rule to say that, although it would be tough to adjust it too much given the grappling aspects. They could hand down automatic point deductions for eye-pokes, anything that would discourage carelessnes is a better approach than redesigning the gloves, because we see eye pokes with the thumb a lot too, and you can never get rid of the thumb being out as an option because that’s necessary for grappling, so you have to make the penalites prohibitive to where if you foul then you’re going to be punished. Stuff where if a fighter can’t continue because of an eye poke you go to the cards, well the fighter that poked the other guy in the eye should lose a point automatically. He shouldn’t benefit from it going to the cards if he’s already ahead.
Iain: As Stephie mentioned earlier, the buys for UFC 159 were disappointing, I know I was expecting a good 200,000 more buys. Does that change how you expect the July 4th card to do? How many buys do you think that’s going to get after seeing how many buys UFC 159 got?
Brent: It doesn’t change a whole lot. I still imagine it’s going to come in probably 600-700,000. I think it’s going to do surprisingly well; it’s a good weekend for a fight. Jones and Sonnen was a fight that I think they really expected to capture the public’s imagination, and it didn’t because people, you know, Sonnen no longer really captures anybodies attention.
Iain: Anderson Silva was fined $50,000 for missing a media appearance. This is the latest in a few fines the UFC have given out, that seems to be the new enforcement strategy, to fine the fighters. Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think that might backfire on them in the long run or do you think they can be trusted to do it in a careful way?
Brent: It seems like they’re trying to handle it in a decent way. They fined Mitrione for his statements, they won’t say how much they fined Mitrione for his statements on Fallon fox, but the Silva fine I think was more for show. A lot of times you hear guys complain that the stars don’t ever suffer any punishment when they break the rules, or when they do anything wrong, and I think the UFC saw an opportunity to show a decent looking fine that isn’t really going to hurt Silva much, just to kinda go ‘hey, everybody is on the same level, you’re expected to show up and promote your fight, and if you don’t, we’re going to fine you.’ So, they just kind of made a statement with it, I think.
Iain: Your position as the editor of one of the largest MMA sites means you’ve got a unique perspective on MMA media. With that in mind, what do you think the biggest problem in MMA Media is, at the moment?
Brent: I think it’s… the interaction between the media and fighters and agents is kind of a strange relationship where a lot of guys are afraid to be as honest as they could be about fighters or situations because a guy or his agent might turn you down the next time you want an interview or the next time you want a quote if you’ve been unfavorable. I think it’s that kind of general thing where there’s not enough honesty, not enough people that are willing to just sit down in front of the keyboard and write what they think and feel. I’m a little different than most I guess because I have no interest in interviewing fighters; i’ll contact them for quotes on stories or whatever, but I don’t ever want to feel beholden to anybody to write something to make them happy.
Beyond that there’s just kind of a thing where people establish a position and they can’t ever really let it go. People are quick to label someone ‘That guys pro UFC!’ ‘That person is anti-UFC!’ which is usually nonsense, but there are people in the media who can’t ever seem to view stories through a lens other than ‘this is good, this is bad’. It’s a young sport, and these are problems that exist in other sports too, but there’s time and I think that the media is evolving towards being an all around better entity as time goes on and younger writers come up and kind of find their voice, and that’s where we’re at right now, a lot of people who have only been writing for a couple of years and it takes a little while to find your voice and find out how to write, and what to write.
Iain: One of the things I’ve noticed is a lot of sites and quite a few writers are trying to chase that headline, and be the first to break news. You’re known for these big, investigative reports and Stephie has told me just how meticulous you are in making sure you have all of your information correct before you go to print, are there any stories that you’ve had that could have been really interesting but you’ve dropped because you couldn’t verify the information you were getting?
Brent: Yeah, there’s been a fair amount of stuff. There’s stuff in the Lloyd Irvin story that I can never say or run, because of either people giving me stuff off the record that I couldn’t verify, a lot of stuff like that. Steph will tell you there’s been times like Melendez vs Henderson, we knew about that and we were talking about that in the Bloody Elbow email group for probably a good month before that was announced, just a combination of I couldn’t get exactly who i wanted to verify it, and we’d rather hold off and wait for it to be absolutey confirmed. We’ve made our mistakes in the past and ran with stuff too early, and it’s embarassing when it happens; it’s not a good look and it’s not fun to go ‘oh, um… sorry about that’. I think everybody at every site has had stories that they either don’t run because they can’t get verified or they’re just not comfortable with the content.
Stephie: I want to get your take on this ongoing battle with Bellator and Eddie Alvarez, and Bellator in general and the way they’re sullying their name right out of the gate with this Spike deal and Viacom backing them and everything, because there’s some things that happen behind the scenes that you and I know about that others don’t know about yet. Give everybody your take on that whole can of worms.
Brent: I can understand both sides of the situation. Bellator doesn’t want to seem like a feeder league, Viacom didn’t get into the Bellator business to lose important mainstay fighters from the promotion, but there’s a degree to which they need to understand that you can look really bad in trying to keep a fighter around who clearly does not want to be there. They may have every contractual right, and that’ll be all ironed out in court in the end, but when Alvarez was out there basically begging to fight anywhere else, it doesn’t look particularly good to say ‘no, you’re with us’. Eddie out there talking about selling off property that was part of his retirement plan and they just start looking like bullies who will do whatever they have to, to keep a guy around who has no interest in being there. It borders on creepy, even if they have the legal right to do it.
Stephie: Do you think they should just let it go, and let him be free?
Brent: I think that’s probably the smartest thing for them to do. That or come to some sort of agreement where instead of a long term deal, you give us one more fight and you’re free to go. You know, meet him somewhere in the middle. He’s not even their champion, is it worth dumping all of this bad press into keeping him? I don’t have the numbers in front me of, but when I looked at the ratings they pulled on MTV2, the ratings fluctuated a lot anyway but Alvarez’ ratings were all over the place. He wasn’t some top draw that they can’t afford to lose. They can lose Alvarez and go on just fine.
Stephie: What do you think about Bellator’s partnership with Spike, and them once again altering their airing days. I just heard they’re going to move from Thursdays to Wednesdays. Do you think that’s a smart move?
Brent: It’s a case where their base is the hardcore MMA fan who is going to know where they’re at, but in terms of growing and finding a new audience and establishing yourself… If you’re on a different network every season and on a different night and a different time, it’s really hard for people to latch on. People get into routines, people like their routines; I like knowing that on a Thursday night I can sit down at this time and watch whatever. When you don’t let people get used to where you’re at and establish a routine watching your programming, I have a really hard time believing they can really build on where they’re at.
Stephie: Do you think that Bellator are shooting themselves in the foot by not having that immediate follow up with the wrestling program that follows them on Thursdays?
Brent: I really don’t think that’s going to make a huge difference. I’m sure it’s nice as far as a lead in, but it’s not like they’re retaining so much of that audience that it’s a huge boost for their ratings. They’ll retain the same basic viewership.