Journo to Journo: Kid Nate on UFC promotion tactics, Jon Jones & more (Part 1)

In my latest journo to journo piece with Bloody Elbow founder and editor in chief, Kid Nate, we discuss the goings on at UFC 165 and the UFC promotion machine in part 1 of this 2 part extravaganza.

As many of you know, I do 'Journo to Journo' segments with the leading journalists in mixed martial arts. Kid Nate is always in high demand, so I've taken to doing a monthly segment with him. In the September edition, we discuss the UFC's promotional tactics, the best way to promote Jon Jones, bad judging and Keith Kizer, the Dominic Cruz dilemma and a personal section where we can all get to know Nate a little better on a non professional level. The interview was lengthy, so it's been split into two parts. This is Part I.

Thoughts on Jones vs Gustafsson

I had Jones winning it. I can't remember exactly which rounds I had for him, but I think I had the third, fourth and fifth for Jones. I just thought Jones' shots hit harder and I thought Gustafsson had the initiative, especially early on. He definitely won the first round, every round after that except the fourth and fifth are negotiable. I think the champ won it. I think he showed heart. I think Gustafsson had a tricky style for him, and I don't think Jones liked being in there with Gustafsson, but I really have to take my hat off to both guys.

Gustafsson obviously astounded everybody, and Jones really impressed by digging deep and gutting it out. He missed several spinning elbows early on, and I thought Gustafsson was reading his elbows, but Jones just stuck with it and finally nailed him with one that really made the difference, that's why he's the champ. It was an incredible fight.

UFC's Marketing & Promotion Strategies

I thought the UFC pretty much botched the promotion of this fight completely with the ridiculous, "They're both tall! Oh my god, these guys are tall!" My wife was walking in and out as I was watching the show early on, and she was just dying. She hadn't heard any of this. She doesn't pay attention to the UFC anymore, and she heard Dana's spiel and Rogan's spiel, and she was just like, "Wow, these guys are really tall, huh?"

That's the thing about the UFC, even when they don't do the best job of promoting, they sometimes deliver incredible fights in spite of themselves. Hats off to everybody involved, that was a great show.

As far as the UFC and viral videos go, they've always kind of prided themselves on their use of the internet and social media, and to a certain extent they've been very successful at it. I think they've handicapped themselves by being overzealous with the YouTube takedown requests. The deal with the UFC right now is the top level fighters are still very popular, and fighters can break into that top level with an incredible performance, like Weidman against Anderson Silva, but you basically have to beat the champion to break out now.

I think Gustafsson has become a breakout star based on his performance on Saturday, we'll see what they Pay-Per-View numbers were. I'm afraid they're going to be low, though. I'm expecting the original play to be one of Jones' weakest Pay-Per-View performances, which is not something you want to see from a champion this far into his tenure. I think their bad promotion of the fight was part of that. Why would you choose to promote it as, "These guys are both tall!" Rather than, "Can Jon Jones break the record? Is Jon Jones the greatest light heavyweight of all time?" Let's be real about it, Gustafsson was an 8-1 underdog, everybody knows that, so why make a secret about it?

What you're seeing, is the second tier of fighters is way weaker than it was a few years ago. The first time Condit fought Kampmann on Spike TV, they had over a million and a half viewers, maybe even closer to two million viewers. When they fought on Fox Sports 1, they had 800,000. That's not the way things are supposed to work, you know? You put in three years, Condit had a title shot and he was the interim champion, you would think his brand value would be increasing, not dropping. Part of that is the network change, but part of it is just that people aren't feeling this new generation.

The generation of fighters that UFC fans are most fixated on is the GSP era of fighters, and the second wave hasn't been built up. I honestly believe that part of it is that you can't see these guys fight. A few years ago, when Pride was an independent entity, a big part of the growth in MMA's popularity was how new, curious fans could get online and see Fedor Emelianenko's fights. They could see Shogun Rua fight. They could pass links around the office. They could get a buddy interested, and then hit him with 10 videos. You would have somebody who goes from totally disinterested to, "Wow, I can't believe I just spent two hours watching cage fighting."

The UFC does such a good job of stripping all of that content from YouTube, and they don't do a very good job of making it available themselves, and who wants to pay to check something out? I think it's totally reasonable to ask people to pay for HD fight. To me, as a hardcore fan, I subscribe to UFC.com, I think it's worthwhile, but I also wish it had every f**king fight, and not just a random selection. If I want to see Frank Shamrock's old fights, I have to go dig up my VHS tapes. They don't have it available, and it's just totally arbitrary.

When someone like Conor McGregor comes to fans attention, and they want to check him out and see his fights on YouTube, they're not there. How are people supposed to get into the product when they can't sample the product? I don't think that old, bad quality copies of fights on YouTube cost the UFC sales. Nobody that's going to buy a DVD is going to be like, "Oh, I'm not going to buy a DVD, ‘cause I can watch a shitty version on YouTube for free." That's not how it works. You buy the DVD because you want to have it. You want to have it in HD, and watch it at your leisure and add it to your collection as a hardcore fan. People that want to check things out on YouTube, those are casuals. Those are people that are future customers, and they're making it harder on themselves.

Adam "MMA Roasted" Hunter Being on FS1 for UFC

To my understanding that's a Fox Sports decision, not a UFC decision. The lines are kind of thin sometimes, so it can be hard to tell who is working for who, but I think that's on Fox. I think that's part of Fox Sports' intention, to have more of a ‘brotastic' approach to sports broadcasting than ESPN, who they seem to view as too serious. Obviously, they're having to work to get Fox Sports 1 & 2 off the ground, but I think they know what they're doing. They've got the licensing to a lot of big sports; this is just the beginning.

How Kid Nate Would Promote Jon Jones

I think that the performance on Saturday night is definitely going to boost his cache with fans considerably. Combat sports take two to tango. You always need a rival. Muhammed Ali is such a great legend in part because he had not just Joe Frazier, but also George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Ken Norton and Leon Spinks. Ali had multiple great rivalries, and that's what got people so excited. They want to see swords clashing, they want to see sparks flying and people being tested. One of the reason the Mike Tyson era leaves a bad taste in my mouth is he never really consummated a great rivalry. He was in jail during the peak of his athletic years.

By the time he fought Holyfield he was already a shadow of himself and already very erratic mentally. I think by the time Holyfield and Lennox Lewis got together they were both a little bit past their prime. I would have liked to have seen those fights happen earlier, but at least they happened. That made boxing a lot bigger than it would have been otherwise. At the time, I thought Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard took too long to fight, but in retrospect, I'm glad they did. Those are legendary fights now, and nobody is going, "Oh they waited too long."

That's what Jon Jones desperately needed; somebody who could test him. Machida tested him a little bit and Belfort tested him pretty seriously, but those fights always had this aura of Jones being too big for these guys, being too much for those guys, and nobody really felt like they were Jones' equal. I think Gustafsson finally brought it in the cage at a level that made some people go, "Damn, that guy beat Jon Jones." That's not what I thought, but he made a case, he made a very close case. That's the key thing; cultivating rivalries that are realistic for him. I thought he was going to have to move up to heavyweight to get that kind of challenge, but I think Gustafsson proved me wrong there. Beyond that, I'm not sure what they can do.

Part of it is just Jones getting comfortable with his persona. He went with the super squeaky clean Christian kid, and that kind of blew up in his face. I think he's better off just being who he is and letting the haters hate. Be cocky. Have some swagger. I think that's a good direction for him, but I think the main thing, and it's a problem that's been solved, is a rivalry. Look at Anderson Silva; until Chael Sonnen pushed him, people didn't really care about him. They were sick of seeing him coast against guys like Demian Maia, Thales Leites and Patrick Cote. They knew Anderson Silva was capable of amazing things, but they felt like he was dogging it and not really trying, but once Chael Sonnen came along, and later Chris Weidman, suddenly Anderson Silva is a much bigger name than he was when he was the champ. That's what we need; to see these champions face adversity and overcome challenges.

Would it Have Been Called a Robbery if Gustafsson Had Won?

Not unless it was ridiculous 50-45 scores or something like that. I mean, I would have questioned Gustafsson winning, because the fourth and fifth rounds were so dominant for Jones, but I could also see giving Gustafsson the first three rounds, so I wouldn't have been upset. Shit, a Gustafsson upset win would have been even better for web traffic than a Jones win, so I would have comforted myself with traffic and advertising revenue, but that's a fairly unique perspective.

But no, I'm not into the whole robbery thing. Judges add a whole other x-factor into it, you know? C.J.Ross wasn't on the panel this time at least, but Cecil Peoples is never far from scoring a fight wrong. If it goes to the judges, anything can happen, I just view that as a whole other aspect to the fight. I wouldn't have been upset if Gustafsson had won. The fight was so close that any reasonable person could have scored it either way.

Bad Judging & Corruption

Controversy is good for business, so it's not going to upset me if they have a bad call, up to a point. I think once you're into the realm of C.J.Ross type decisions, where you are scoring fights that nobody saw that way... Nobody saw the Mayweather fight as a draw, nobody saw Bradley beating Pacquiao, but here you have these judges scoring it that way. That's when you have a problem. That's when you have fans going, ‘Man, that's some corrupt bullshit.'

I think the Pacquiao-Bradley fight in particular had some shady stuff going on. I don't have any evidence of that, but my gut feeling is that somebody thought it would be real cute to have a bad score, and have a rematch. I think Bob Arum backed away from that when he saw how toxic that was, but I think that part of Bob Arum's brain was totally on board with that plan, or "happy accident", or whatever happened.

There was a funny surge in bets on Mayweather-Alvarez being a draw right before the fight, which got reported after the fact. People I know that are gamblers that were hanging around pool halls and poker games and stuff were telling me, ‘Hey dude, everybody is saying it's going to be a draw, money is flying around.' That's just extremely fishy to me. We don't live in candy land, we live in a world with organized crime that is heavily involved in gambling, and Nevada is a state that is not beyond being reached by corrupt forces. Certainly anybody who has paid any attention to the history of Nevada and Las Vegas gambling knows it's not unheard of for somebody to reach a judge or two. That sort of thing is a problem. That's something the commissions really need to stomp on.

Hopefully Keith Kizer is going to get a serious talking to, because he blindly backed C.J.Ross after that fight, and that was just ridiculous and inexcusable. His bosses and higher ups distanced themselves from that immediately, and C.J.Ross took a leave of absence, because she could feel which way the wind was blowing. Kizer was amazingly politically tone deaf to come out in support of her. It reinforces a pattern from Kizer of, ‘No matter what we did, it was right. Nope, we don't need to look into that, everything is ok.' That's not cool. Clearly the Nevada commission has made some serious mistakes, and it's time that somebody over there does something to clean house, because Kizer is just not doing it.

Is Kizer Dirty?

No, I'm not saying he's dirty, I'm just saying he's a dumbass. Well, I don't think he's a dumbass, he's a smart guy, but he's acting like a dumbass. I don't know what his deal is. All I know is his behaviour. Here's a guy who is really easy to deal with for the media. He's one of the few figures in the sport that is accessible, honest and open, and yet he has this weird reflex to dig in and resist doing anything about the actions of the commission, even when they're blatantly, egregiously wrong. I don't know,

I like Keith, I don't think dishonest or corrupt in any way, shape or form. I just think he's a little bit thick and politically maladroit. He either needs to shape up, or they need to get somebody else in there who is a little more nimble, who has their hand on the pulse a little bit better and is more willing to adjust to reality. Someone who, when there has been a mistake or something has been done wrong, is willing to say, ‘Hey, let's fix this,' not deny it and try to insist that everything is cool.

Oscar De La Hoya Going to Rehab Two Days Before the Fight

Man, I can't cast stones. I have immense sympathy for people who are struggling with substance abuse issues. I can only imagine, and this is not the first time Oscar has been in rehab, that he must have been in the middle of a deep, dark place when he made that decision, and he was just looking ahead. I can only imagine that he was thinking, ‘Wow, at the rate I'm going, and at the rate this week is looking to go, I can't make it.' I mean, if you're having a massive drug problem and you're heading into one of the biggest party weekends ever?

I've gotta applaud him for having the balls to stand up and say, ‘I can't hack this. I need help.' That's so much better than just pushing the bender on, especially since it was what, 72 hours before the fight? Three or four more days of hardcore partying and some real bad things could happen. I applaud him for being man enough to step up and say, ‘Hey, I need help, I've got to get out of this situation.' I mean, you know, you can speculate and make conspiracy theories or whatever, but I don't know anything except what the official stories are, so I can't question it.

Part II will be available tomorrow morning, so look for it.

You can follow Kid Nate via his Twitter account, @KidNate

*Thanks to my MMA Sentinel co-host, Iain Kidd for the transcription help on these media member pieces. The audio for the interview will be up tomorrow.*

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