Wednesday, 13 February 2008

New in Japan

Following Zuffa's acquisition of Pride FC last April, the UFC would have expected to have become the premier global MMA brand. With its forays into the UK market (UFCs 70,72, 75 and 80) and Canada (UFC83), the UFC certainly does have the largest global presence of all the MMA players, consistently producing profitable events and expanding its business. But what it lacks is a significant presence in the Japanese and East Asian markets. The acquisition of Pride looked to be a step in that direction as it appeared to give Zuffa access to Pride's fighters, administrators and highlight-reel-rich back catalogue. Any business school student could probably tell you that when one company acquires another, securing the services of the acquired firm's talent is vital for long-term success. While it's understandable that Zuffa was unable to secure the services of many of Pride's fighters because they had non-exclusive contracts, it's remarkable that they (apparently) didn't acquire the services of many of the former staffers of Pride or its parent group, Dream Stage Entertainment.

Instead, many of those staffers went on to produce Yarennoka!, a New Year's Eve show in collaboration with Fight Entertainment Group (FEG), DEEP and M-1 Global (more info here on Wikipedia). Hailed as a parting thank you from DSE executives, it provided more questions than answers. Now many of those questions have been answered, as we now know that two rival MMA organisations have been created - World Victory Road (WVR) and Dream. While WVR is a solo venture, Dream appears to be the heir to Yarennoka! as it sees collaboration between many former Pride staff and K-1 parent company, FEG. Each has announced that it's first events will be March - WVR's Sengoku on March 5th and Dream's as-yet-unnamed event on March 15th. The Sengoku card is coming together nicely so far, combining a number of tried-and-tested former Pride fighters with some newish faces (incl Josh Barnett vs Hidehiko Yoshida, Takanori Gomi vs Duane Ludwig, Kazuo Misaki vs Siyar Bahadurzada). Meanwhile, Dream has announced that the Dream 1 card will include the Shinya Aoki - JZ Calvancanti fight that was originally slated for Yarennoka! (but postponed when JZ suffered an injury), along with the return to Japan of Mirko Cro Cop. While Dream is basically a rebranding of K-1 Heroes, the addition of further heavyweight talent such as Cro Cop to its roster is a welcome addition to the depth it's had in the lower weight classes.

The emergence of WVR and Dream is certainly good news for fight fans. How this pans out for the two new organisations may well depend on whether they work together or not. While their focus is definitely on the Japanese (and to a lesser extent, Korean) market, the standard of the fighters on display will be of interest to a global audience. Whether they attempt to establish a global presence remains to be seen. What is clear is that in missing the opportunity to push the UFC brand into Japan or continue to promote Pride shows, Zuffa appears to have made a strategic mistake in allowing these two new ventures to gain a foothold in the Japanese market.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The Big Comeback

Continuing on with the previous statistical analysis of fighters from TUF, I turn my attention to the fighters from Season 4: The Comeback. As we previously saw, fighters from this season have the worst win-loss record of those in all of the seasons (in aggregate). Here we compare the UFC fortunes of fighters both before and after the show aired. The table below summarises their record, first overall, then pre-TUF4, then Post-TUF4 and then with results from the season finale removed (when 14 of the fighters fought each other). For quick identification, table elements are colour-coded to highlight the perfect records (1.000=dark green), winning records (better than 0.500=green), neutral records (0.500=yellow), losing records (less than 0.500=orange) and complete losses (0.0=dark red).

Fighter

UFC Record

Pre-TUF

Post-TUF

Minus Season Finale

Age

Edwin DeWees

0.00 (3)

0.00 (2)

0.00 (1)

(0)

25

Pete Sell

0.20 (5)

0.50 (2)

0.00 (3)

0.00 (2)

25

Jeremy Jackson

0.00 (2)

0.00 (1)

0.00 (1)

(0)

27

Charles McCarthy

0.50 (2)

0.00 (1)

1.00 (1)

(0)

27

Patrick Côté

0.43 (7)

0.00 (3)

0.75 (4)

1.00 (3)

27

Scott Smith

0.25 (4)

0.00 (1)

0.33 (3)

0.00 (2)

28

Rich Clementi

0.50 (6)

0.00 (1)

0.60 (5)

0.75 (4)

30

Din Thomas

0.63 (8)

0.50 (4)

0.75 (4)

0.67 (3)

31

Chris Lytle

0.36 (11)

0.33 (6)

0.40 (5)

0.50 (4)

33

Matt Serra

0.60 (10)

0.50 (8)

1.00 (2)

1.00 (1)

33

Mikey Burnett

0.67 (3)

0.67 (3)

(0)

(0)

33

Gideon Ray

0.00 (3)

0.00 (2)

0.00 (1)

(0)

34

Travis Lutter

0.40 (5)

0.33 (3)

0.50 (2)

0.00 (1)

34

Shonie Carter

0.50 (6)

0.60 (5)

0.00 (1)

0.00 (1)

35

Jorge Rivera

0.50 (8)

0.40 (5)

0.67 (3)

0.50 (2)

35

Pete Spratt

0.43 (7)

0.50 (4)

0.33 (3)

0.00 (2)

37

Overall

0.42 (90)

0.37 (51)

0.49 (39)

0.48 (25)


who have a better As expected, given that this season has such an overall low winning percentage, there are few fighters with better than 0.500 records. Overall, only Din Thomas, Matt Serra and Mikey Burnett fall into this category. Of these three, Mikey Burnett didn't fight after TUF4 (where his performance didn't suggest that he'd do well), but both Thomas and Serra improved from even records to be positive. It is only these two fighters, along with Rich Clementi and Patrick Côtéthan evens record since the TUF4 season finale (though Serra has only had one fight, what a fight it was to win!). It appears that these four fighters have best taken the opportunity that appearing on TUF4 provided, to improve their competitiveness, while Chris Lytle and Jorge Rivera are also doing but to a much more marginal degree - they've improved to evens records at present.

What is really interesting though is the ages of the fighters that have been more successful. It's the fighters who are now aged 27-33 who are performing best - those younger have fallen by the wayside, has have those who are older (with the exception of Rivera). This suggests that the currently successful fighters have (1) the necessary mental, physical and emotional maturity that some of the younger fighters may not have, (2) the drive and ambition that some of the older fighters lack, and (3) the ability to add new dimensions to their game that the older, more one-dimensional fighters lack. It's on that basis that I think Charles McCarthy in his return to the Octagon at UFC83 against Michael Bisping might do much better than most predict.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

UFC Lightweight Tournament

I was thinking about the year-spanning tournaments that K-1 have and Pride used to have and was wondering if we might ever see anything like it in the UFC. Chances are slim that they'd create events specifically for a tournament but how about incorporating the tournaments into fight cards, perhaps in such a way to establish a number one contender to the title. Thinking about the weight classes as they are at present, the light heavyweight and the lightweights appear to show the most promise for this scenario given that they appear to have the flattest contender structures in the UFC.

But having a light heavyweight tournament doesn't make a lot of sense when some of the fighters there are the biggest ppv draws and you want to use their brands to establish cards when necessary. In contrast, the lightweights are currently much lower profile and are still establishing their brands, despite their record of exciting bouts. So who would you include in a tournament of 16 fighters if you were going to establish a #1 contender to BJ Penn? Well first the top-level exclusions - Joe Stevenson because they just met at UFC80, Sean Sherk because he's fighting Penn at UFC84 and Roger Huerta because he's taking time off to concentrate on studies. But excluding them still leaves a huge list of potential entrants: Aurelio, Bocek, Clementi, Danzig, Diaz, Edgar, Fisher, Florian, Gamburyan, Griffin, Guida, Lauzon, Maynard, Miller, Pellegrino, Stephens, Stout, Tavares, Tibau, Thomas is already 20!

But look at those names closely and you see that a number of fighters are booked for UFN13 and UFC83. At UFN 13 we have the headline of Florian-Lauzon, plus Edgar-Maynard, Aurelio-Fisher, Guida-Schiavo and Thomas-Neer. Then at UFC83, Clementi-Stout and Bocek-Danzig. Is there something going on that we don't know about; has Joe Silva actually set up a tournament for #1 contender that we don't know about? If I was designing the tournament I'd include 6 of those bouts, choosing to exclude the Thomas-Neer fight on the basis of Neer's track record.

So if those 6 fights are part of a tourney, who might be in the other 2 (which I'd expect to see at UFC84)? Well of the remaining 20, that leaves Diaz, Gamburyan, Griffin, Miller, Pellegrino, Stephens, Tavares and Tibau. Let's stretch our tournament theory even further and say that there have already been entry fights into the tournament - the recent fights including these fighters at UFC81, Griffin-Tibau, and UFN12 Miller-Stephens, to eliminate Tibau and Miller. Griffin is at the top of the pile of these fighters and must be included. Also, given their status from TUF5, Diaz and Gamburyan must be included. That leaves a tough call between Pellegrino, Stephens and Tavares. Of those I've got to pick Tavares as the best call (maybe Stephens-Miller wasn't an eliminator after all?).

Leaving the four of Diaz, Gamburyan, Griffin and Tavares, there's a potentially intriguing rematch between the TUF5 finalists, with Gamburyan given the chance to make up for his freak loss on that occasion. The problem with this rematch, aside from it being too early to make anything of, is that it'd also leave Griffin and Tavares rematching their UFC76 fight. Instead I'll pick Diaz-Tavares in a bjj battle and Gamburyan-Griffin to grapple and bang.

So that gives us the 8 fights: Florian-Lauzon, Edgar-Maynard, Aurelio-Fisher, Guida-Schiavo, Clementi-Stout, Bocek-Danzig, Diaz-Tavares and Gamburyan-Griffin. To continue the speculation, I'll pick Florian, Edgar, Fisher, Guida, Clementi, Danzig, Tavares and Griffin to emerge victorious. Then in the quarters we'll get match-ups along the lines of Griffin-Fisher, Edgar-Guida, Florian-Tavares and Danzig-Clementi. Griffin, Edgar, Tavares and Danzig win through, Griffin then beats Danzig and Tavares submits Edgar to set up a Griffin-Tavares rematch for #1 contender.

Tavares to win, then meet BJ Penn in a championship bout, which Tavares wins sometime in the second quarter of '09.

Pure fantasy, eh?

The TUFfest Teams

While hardly the stuff of headlines, Rob Emerson's split decision victory over Keita Nakamura at UFC 81 continued the magnificent record of fighters from TUF5. In a recent post I examined the records of the cohorts of fighters from each season of TUF. Emerson's victory led me to wonder how the overall records of fighters from Team Penn and Team Pulver compared. So I've looked at the statistics for the first five seasons, comparing the records of fighters from each of the teams.

Team

Overall record

Overall win %

Record minus TUFx fights

Minus TUFx win %

1

Liddell

27-14

65.85

20-8

71.43

Couture

23-13

63.89

18-7

72.00

2

Hughes

16-15

51.61

11-11

50.00

Franklin

23-14

60.53

20-10

64.52

3

Ortiz

12-11

52.17

6-7

46.15

Shamrock

6-10

37.50

5-7

41.67

4

No Love

15-21

41.67

11-18

37.93

Mojo

22-30

42.31

16-23

41.03

5

Penn

9-4

69.23

7-3

70.00

Pulver

7-4

63.64

5-1

83.33


So to answer my initial thoughts about Penn vs Pulver is that Team Pulver has the better win percentage to date (excluding fights just between TUF5 fighters, ie from the season finale fight night), blemished only by Cole Miller's recent loss at Fight Night 12. However, Team Penn's record also includes 3 fights from before the show - Lauzon's shock win over Pulver and losses by Wiman and Ruediger. Remove them from the record and Team Penn has an near identical post-show record of 6-1. It's going to take a little time to see which of these teams' fighters have longevity in the UFC.

What's interesting to examine is not the actually records themselves but the comparison between the two head coaches on each season. My opinion would be that the coaches with the better records on the show demonstrated an overall ability to identify talent and hear. I'm not entirely sure how much fighters would improve their skills during the show, but I'd say that the coaches also played a factor in encouraging the improvement of existing talent.

Chuck and Randy's teams have near identical (and impressive) records from the first season. But there are significant differences in the records of teams in the second and third seasons. In TUF2, Team Franklin has a significantly superior record against Team Hughes - basically because Team Franklin included 3 standouts (Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans and Marcus Davis) against 1 in Team Hughes (Joe Stevenson). [It's notably that 3/4 of these standouts have dropped down a division from their TUF weight division and that both Jardine and Evans are part of Team Jackson].

Meanwhile in TUF3, the most disappointing season to date (in terms of records), Team Ortiz has performed better than Team Shamrock. The winners of both weight divisions were from Team Ortiz (Michael Bisping and Kendall Grove) and while Grove retains a positive 3-2 record, it's only Bisping (4-1) and Matt Hamill (3-1) that have decent UFC records.

Finally, season 4 needs further analysis - the records include fights both from before and after the show so in a future post I'll look at the effect of appearing on the show on the fighters' records.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

UFC 81 - Playing the odds

I'm not much of a gambler by nature as I tend to avoid risks but betting on MMA cards is becoming popular so why not jump in with some virtual dollars. I'm going to give myself £100 to bet on the outcome of the UFC 81 card. Let's take a look at the fights and the best odds available.

Tim Sylvia +145 (S)
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -115 (b)

Frank Mir +130 (S)
Brock Lesnar -150 (b,B)

Jeremy Horn +215 (S)
Nate Marquardt -225 (b)

Ricardo Almeida
Alan Belcher
*Belcher's out of this one and there aren't odds yet available on his replacement.

Gleison Tibau +325 (B)
Tyson Griffin -420 (S)

Kyle Bradley +500 (B)
Chris Lytle -600 (b,S)

Marvin Eastman +180 (b,B)
Terry Martin -220 (b)

Tim Boetsch +210 (b)
David Heath -235 (S)

Rob Emerson +220 (B)
Keita Nakamura -255 (S)


Odds-wise, I like Sylvia over Nog and Mir over Lesnar in the main events. I think Marquardt will have too much for Horn but those aren't bad numbers for a punt on Horn. Down the card I think a sprinkle on Tibau and Eastman are worth it at those odds. The problem with the undercard is that I must admit to having little knowledge of the skills of the fighters. Octagon newcomers don't tend to fair very well on their debuts but I can't help but throw something on Bradley at +500 even though Lytle's the likely winner.

So my bets:
£30 Sylvia
£20 Mir
£10 Horn
£10 Tibau
£10 Bradley
£10 Eastman
£10 Boetsch

I'll back the underdogs all the way and on this card I think that Sylvia is the best value underdog with his ability to take a decision victory over Nogueira. Is this a good betting strategy? I don't know, I'm new to this ;-)

Notes on abbreviations:
B = BetUS
b = bodog
S = Sportbet

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Who are "The Ultimate Fighters"?

If you search the blogosphere you'll find enough mma blogs to keep you entertained right through the working day. Some offer news and gossip about scheduled bouts, most give reports on previous cards and plenty just give their opinions about who they think will win upcoming bouts. Here are the aggregated results, which I hope are self-explanatory:

Vs TUF1

Vs TUF2

Vs TUF3

Vs TUF4

Vs TUF5

TUF1

(12)

0.33 (6)

0.5 (2)

1.0 (9)

- (0)

TUF2

0.67 (6)

(8)

0.8 (5)

0.67 (3)

1.0 (1)

TUF3

0.5 (2)

0.2 (5)

(7)

0.25 (4)

- (0)

TUF4

0 (9)

0.33 (3)

0.75 (4)

(10)

- (0)

TUF5

- (0)

0 (1)

- (0)

- (0)

(4)


UFC Record

UFC Record (minus TUFx fights)

Vs all TUF

UFC Record (minus all TUF fights)

TUF1

0.649 (65)

0.717 (53)

0.706 (17)

0.722 (36)

TUF2

0.565 (60)

0.596 (52)

0.733 (15)

0.541 (37)

TUF3

0.462 (32)

0.440 (25)

0.273 (11)

0.571 (14)

TUF4

0.420 (78)

0.397 (68)

0.25 (16)

0.442 (52)

TUF5

0.652 (19)

0.733 (15)

0 (1)

0.786 (14)


A number of interesting points become apparent:
  • So far TUF5 has the best fighter record - although this is a small sample and I expect these figures to change in the coming months as the TUF5 fighters face more difficult challenges.
  • Prior to TUF5, the winning percentage of TUF fighters had decreased steadily from the first season to the fourth (against all fighters except those on the same season of the show).
  • Fighters from TUF1 and TUF2 have far superior records against other TUF fighters than those fighters from TUF3 and TUF4.
  • TUF1 season fighters have beaten TUF4 fighters on all 9 occasions they have fought.
More thoughts and in-depth analysis later.