This year is just one month in and already off to a pretty tumultuous start. We've seen Fight Pass introduced, despite not being a complete product, ringside physicians going full tilt against TRT exemptions, a girl who basically got Kerrigan'd and more.
With all these goings on, my trusty MMA Sentinel partner in crime, Mr. Iain Kidd and myself figured it was high time to bring back a guy who rants like no other. This week's Journo To Journo session is with MMA Fighting's Luke Thomas. Topic's of discussion revolve around TRT, Fight Pass and Bellator.
*Many thanks to Iain for the transcript help*
MMA Sentinel: Let's talk about TRT. The Association of Ringside Physicians wants to ban it, which Dana seems to support, but Frank Mir just got an exemption. What's your take on the whole thing?
Luke Thomas: I don't think it'd be fair to say that an athletic commission is roughly as capable of regulating the sport as the same people who run your local DMV... I certainly think that would be very unfair... though honestly, in states like Jersey, Nevada and California there's a significantly higher degree of competency going on.
I think there are some things athletic commissions are perfectly suited to regulate. For instance, whether or not someone deserves to get a license. I think they do that job pretty well. But on questions of medical science which are so far out in front of them, and everyone else, I just don't find them equipped to handle it. Even when they have their own physicians, even when they have some kind of outside help giving them assistance to interpret what it all means, I just don't trust them to do the job correctly, even when they mean well and they're smart people.
MMA Sentinel: Next topic on deck is Bellator. They seem to be having some issues. We're not going to see a second season of Fight Master, they're going to try to put forth another PPV, and they've pissed of Patricio Friere. They just seem to be making all the wrong moves here in 2014, what do you think about Bellator?
Luke Thomas: People misunderstand my attitude about Bellator; they think that I love it or something. I certainly do like it for what it is, but I just think that I was shitty to Strikeforce and I don't want to make that mistake twice. The number two promotion catches so much shit for just being number two. Not that Bellator hasn't done things to earn the ire of observers, but at the same time I don't want them to get it simply because of their own position.
For me, the biggest problems Bellator has is they have no idea how to make things special, and they have no idea how to get out of their own way. Those are the two biggest issues. When you see what their product is, it's basically an assembly line of events. You've got workers who put the bolt on the screw over and over, it's a very rote kind of thing.
They obviously have some issues with fighter management and fighte relations, but I think that's largely over represented. Behind the scenes managers will tell you all kind of crazy things about the UFC, but there's a bit of fear about what might happen if they speak out. There's none of that with Bellator, so you get a lot of discontent. All that said, do I think Pitbull has a point? Yeah, of course he has a point. He has a huge point.
MMA Sentinel: Do you think that Bjorn is going to regret how much focus he put on Bellator being the ‘sporting' organization against the UFC being the ‘entertainment' organization, especially now that he's in this position where he has to get rating for Spike.
Luke Thomas: Certainly Spike TV and Bellator know how I feel about this, I've written about it extensively. I like tournaments; I think they're fun and special. I think when done in moderation they're excellent. I think the degree to which Bellator uses them makes them ordinary. That's the problem.
Here's a simple question, who's winning the debate over entertainment versus sport, in terms of which product people flock to? It's the UFC. Debate over. What are you fixing with the UFC's model? What was wrong with it? It's the number one organization in the sport! Was there some massive problem with it that needed correction?
I certainly understand product differentiation, ‘They do that over there, we do this over here.' But I've only been to one Bellator event, but I never got the sense that a single person in attendance had any clue they were watching tournament finals or semi-finals, or whatever the fuck it was. They wanted to see good fights. They wanted to see fights that matter.
I'll tell you what's so crazy about it; you've got this event coming up, I think it's Bellator 110, right? You've got Rampage vs. M'pumbu and you've got Lawal versus Zayats. Folks, Zayats was hurt in that Newton fight, and Newton barely got by. If you think Lawal is just going to run over Zayats, you've got another thing coming. Then you've got M'pumbu, who I expect Rampage can beat, but that's not a 100% lock either.
So you say, ‘Why would you set up a 4 man tournament?' Everyone is like, ‘Well they set up a 4 man tournament to get this main event of Rampage vs. Lawal that everyone expects they're going to put on Pay-Per-View.
If that's the fight you're going to put on Pay-Per-View, put it on fucking Pay-Per-View! That's what it's for! Just go ahead and fucking do it! What are you doing? What are you doing? It drives me insane. You have the roster! Use it! This loyalty to a system in this particular context... Who would give a fuck if they just put Rampage and Lawal on the Pay-Per-View? Yeah they're going to get ribbed for not putting them in a tournament, but if they put either guy in a tournament and they lose, they can't do the Pay-Per-View and they're going to take shit then anyway.
That's the problem here. It's fine to have product differentiation, Bellator were right to do that, and they were right when they created escape clauses for title fights, but they've gone too far with the tournament format, and they've created situations like this.
MMA Sentinel: Give us your thoughts on the UFC's Fight Pass service and the reception it got.
Luke Thomas: You know what was funny to me? When the Singapore card happened, everyone was like, ‘Oh man, the Fight Pass stream looks great. I'm testing it out. I'm really testing the shit out of Fight Pass.' You mean the same fucking thing that's been on Facebook since they were on Spike? What do you mean you're testing the shit out of it? This technology is not new. It's the same thing. It's literally the Exact. Same. Fucking. Thing. People were writing reviews of it like they'd never watched UFC fights on Facebook before. It's the same fucking technology! What are you talking about?
It's clearly a beta product. Dan White was in a scrum or something the other day, and he said something like, ‘Fight Pass is just going to get better and better.' Well I hope so [laughs]. It certainly can't get any worse. You've got existing technology with search functionality issues and security issues.
The problem with Fight Pass is that doesn't really exist yet. Until the search functionality matters, and all the content is up and folks are really using it, it's really just Facebook prelims behind a paywall. I'm sure they're going to work all these problems out and get everything fixed up, but right now, it's Nikita Krylov and Walt Harris behind a paywall in a month's time.
Luke Thomas rants like no one else in the sport. He was ranting so hard, even his beard got in on the action, scratching away at his mic in a barely contained rage. There's only so much justice the written word can do, and you should absolutely check out the audio here, both to hear Luke and his beard rage in all their glory, as well as to listen to him cover things in much more detail than transcribed above.
You can follow Luke via his Twitter account, @SBNLukeThomas