Saturday, 12 May 2018

UFC 224 Picks & assorted sports musings

There are some stories out there this week I'm curious to take a look at - but mostly just a look for now because they involve an element of wait and see. We'll wait and see if the rumors of Manchester United's Anthony Martial being traded to Dortmund in exchange for the |American forward Christian Pulisic are true. Pulisic is a gifted talent with a high ceiling. If he reaches his potential his nationality will grant him an easy path towards becoming a global superstar. He is already under a lot of pressure with the hopes of an embattled soccer federation on his shoulders and seems to handle it well. He was a United fan as a young boy and would be an ideal fit for the club in all facets. As good and beloved as Martial is, it's clear he is not in Jose Mourinho's plans or heart so I would do this deal. We'll see.

Meanwhile Petra Kvitova is one match away from back to back titles for the second time this year. Her opponent in the Madrid final is Kiki Bertens, very much a confidence player. She is very comfortable on clay and has been slowly building on her form year after year but when Petra, a momentum player, is on a roll she is incredibly difficult to stop and has an excellent record in finals. I would make her a slight favorite against Bertens who has been known to choke against mentally stronger players.

Yair Rodriguez has apparently been cut by the UFC due to inactivity after refusing a fight with Zabit Magomedsharipov. According to Dana White he had also previously turned down a fight with Ricardo Lamas. It's quite a dramatic fall from grace for Rodriguez. At the start of last year he was fed BJ Penn to put him over and then jumped the line to face Frankie Edgar which would have cemented him as a star in a key demographic.

We thought he would lose that fight but the way in which he got battered was eye opening. It's possible the beating he took broke his spirit a little. If he truly was dodging his obligations as a healthy, ranked fighter to perform then I can understand the move but the problem is not everyone who holds out waiting for the ideal opponent is held to the same standard. It's not just the Conor McGregors and Nate Diazs of the world picking their spots, we frequently hear stories and he said/she said of this fighter refused that fight and so on. Jimmie Rivera springs to mind in that regard. So whether this is a new UFC policy moving forward or just Dana being capricious once again we will have to wait and see. So far it is also not completely official so I'm also not certain that Dana's anger won't subside and he will reconsider dumping a very exciting guy to watch over a logistical squabble.

A $150m deal was announced for fifteen live UFC events to be streamed on
ESPN+, ESPN's new over the top service. I said before that ESPN and the UFC were not a brand fit and it would be a bad move but since then the President of the company got fired/resigned and there be an understanding developing at the executive level that they need to rein in some of their more obnoxious personalities.

What they definitely are is desperate for content to make yet another paid subscription service in the world viable. From the UFC perspective, it is unclear whether the Endeavor people know anything about sports whatsoever so they probably just looked at the documents and said "ESPN? They do sports, right?" and signed off. Dana for his part seems to perpetually think it's ten years in the past and it has always been his wet dream to be officially associated with ESPN so I am not surprised.

There is still no word on where the rest of the live shows will be broadcast meanwhile. The rumor previously was that rights would be split between ESPN and their existing home at FOX who I think the UFC has good synergy with. It may take some time for that situation to be figured out though as FOX is in flux with the Murdochs breaking up and selling off parts of that empire and FOX Sports also working on acquiring WWE rights.

I saw something grumbling about how hiding content behind an ESPN paywall would not help the sport grow. I actually think this kind of initiative, spreading out rights across multiple platforms is not a bad strategy in such a fragmented media environment. What this is though is a middle finger to existing die hard fans who will be expected to pay for every service and also have their fight pass subscription rendered effectively pointless. We'll have to wait and see where the rest of the rights migrate to assess and pass judgement on the UFC's broadcast future.

Picks after the jump.