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Is it curtains for Affliction?

The “good fight” just suffered another setback yesterday with Affliction’s announcement that they will be postponing Oct. 11’s “Day of Reckoning.”

Just what exactly is the “good fight?” It’s a quest to ensure there is at least one other viable mixed martial arts promotional company in the industry in addition to the UFC/WEC.

I grew up watching the UFC and enjoy it thoroughly. In my estimation, there is no promotion out there right now that can challenge the UFC’s roster in terms of depth of talent. That being said, there are too many fighters in this sport for their to be just one promotion, which is why, as a fan, I am rooting for other promotions to do well. Unlike some so-called fans, I do not root for the demise and failure of other promotions.

It’s nothing against the UFC; I just don’t think this sport can reach its full potential if there is only one major national promotion. Some might call it a bias but I don’t see it that way. Again, it’s nothing personal against the UFC, as if there was another promotion that was the market leader and the UFC was number two or three, then I’d be pulling for the UFC to make it. And I’m not rooting for the UFC not to make it; I’m just rooting for them not to be alone in their success. To me, it’s not a matter of initials, it’s a matter of principle.

I feel like competition keeps a company honest. Competition not only brings the best out of athletes, it brings the best out of businesses. If there is only one MMA company then there is a possibility of the sport’s middle class being eliminated. If we live in a UFC-only world, fighters will have almost no leverage when negotiating with Zuffa. Their options will either be to fight under their terms or keep trying to grind out a living on the regional circuit.

The new structure of the business with only one company could be to fight for the entry-level minimum or main event money. The days of fighters making $30,000-$60,000 fight could potentially cease to exist. If you aren’t considered a draw, you might not get paid, as just being a good fighter might no longer be good enough.

Fans and the media could get shut out as well with only one company. If there’s only company in existence, the UFC could retain the ability to essentially decide who gets to cover this sport and who doesn’t. There’s also the potential for ticket and pay-per-view costs to go up if there’s only one place for MMA fans to invest their dollars.

So no, I was none too pleased to hear yesterday’s news. But it’s not the end of the world. After talking to people yesterday, I am confident that there will almost certainly be a second show in January. With ticket sales lagging, Affliction found itself in a position where it knew with almost complete certainty that it was going to take another bath on Oct. 11. Instead of losing $4-6 million, the promotion decided to cut their losses and only lose $1-2 million. Believe it or not, yesterday’s decision was actually the right call.

Despite making the right call, that does not obscure the fact that deciding to run a show in the UFC’s backyard was a horrible decision. Affliction is being run by a lot of people who don’t have backgrounds in the fight game. However, not everyone working with the promotion are neophytes to the MMA industry. There were several people that advised them not to run a show in Las Vegas but they wouldn’t listen.

Affliction was stubborn and ignored the fact that no promotion outside of the UFC has ever drawn well in Sin City. If you watched PRIDE’s two pay-per-views you saw an arena that looked filled but what you didn’t see were how many comps were giving away and how many of their own seats that PRIDE bought and gave away. And the IFL performed so poorly in Vegas during their two shows that they gave up on the town despite having a full-time office located in the city limits.

And while it was the right call, no matter how much Affliction tries to spin the cancellation, it’s still a bad thing. To be honest, I was flabbergasted while reading Affliction’s COO Michael Cohen’s comments to Ariel Helwani of MMA Rated that the cancellation was a great day for Affliction. Cohen didn’t use those exact words, but when Helwani asked “So this is a great day for Affliction,” Cohen responded by saying “Yes it is.” While that’s an exact quote, I am taking it a little out of context, as Cohen alluded to the fact that there has been a major development that will change the way Affliction operates.

Cohen indicated that this huge announcement could become public in two weeks. What is this announcement? Your guess is as good as mine. But even if it’s a reconciliation with Golden Boy Promotions that leads to a deal with HBO; or a deal with a major television network; or a decision by Mark Cuban and HDNet to invest in the company; yesterday’s announcement is not good for the sport.

Perception is everything in business and a lot of managers and fighters that might have been interested in signing with the promotion might no longer want to take a chance in a promotion they are unsure will be around for the long haul. And fighters currently on the roster are probably none too pleased as well. Look at guys such as Jay Hieron and Chris Horodecki who had offers on the table from other promotions but chose to sign with Affliction in recent months. They thought they were going to get paid in October and now the earliest they might start seeing compensation outside of their signing bonuses could be January. Fighters that also had to shell out money to organize a training camp aren’t in a position to ask trainers and sparring partners for refunds; just like Affliction, they are going to have to eat a loss as well.

There’s also the issue that a lot of partners with the company did not learn of the cancellation from the promotion but instead first heard the news via the Internet. In fact, the company has still not issued a formal statement. That’s a mistake that Affliction has to correct. They need a director of communications so that their key fighters and partners never have to learning something via the Internet. Much like Tom Hagen’s relationship with Don Corleone, their fighters and partners should be informed of bad news right away and they should hear it directly from the source.

But promotion in Vegas and not delivering the news to their fighters and partners first-hand aren’t the only mistakes made by Affliction. Going forward, the company needs to get off pay-per-view. We’ve heard how they are willing to take a loss in order to promote their brand of apparel. Unless you’re the UFC, PPV can be the death knell of a company. If it’s about exposure and you’re willing to lose money, why not lose that money on network television or basic cable if front of more eyeballs? If Affliction is okay with losing a couple of million per show, why not lose it in front of a few million people as opposed to a few hundred thousand?

With all the mistakes made, it’s hard to understand Cohen’s plight. That being said, I know why he’s trying to spin things; it’s his job to do damage control. He’s got to make the best of a bad situation. But he’s taking a major risk by going on MMA Rated and dangling a carrot out there. You can’t tell people that there’s a forthcoming announcement that will make yesterday’s announcement not seem so bad and then not deliver. If he’s saying that the announcement can’t be made for another two weeks, that suggests to me that the deal isn’t finalized. He better hope nothing falls through because if it does and there is no announcement in two weeks, then there will be no way they can convince people they will be around for the long haul.

To those who awoke this morning playing “taps” on their bugle in memory of Affliction, save your breath. They aren’t going under — at least not yet. There will be a show in January. The question is though, will there be a show after that? Based on past history, the chances of survival are not in Affliction’s favor.

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