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Sunday, Mar 11, 2001

The Time Has Comethe New Face Of The Ufc



Originally published in the February 2001 issue of FCF

THE TIME HAS COME
THE NEW FACE OF THE UFC

by Joel Gold

Frank Fertitta, Dana White, Jens Pulver and Lorenzo Fertitta
Frank Fertitta, Dana White, Jens Pulver & Lorenzo Fertitta


For years you have heard me rant about what needs to be done with this sport to take it to the top where it belongs. I have preached to all that would listen. To build a sport you need to build a foundation, that being the fighters. It is a pretty simple concept called promotion. Of course that is not the only thing that needs to be done to improve the sport, but for years my cries fell on deaf ears all the while trying to convince the biggest fight promotion in the U.S. to listen, with limited success. Well, my prayers have been answered by way of "ZUFFA!" No, it is not a new vitamin or a new concept car or even an Italian zoo, but the name of a bright future for fight fans around the world. ZUFFA is made up of 2 parts Fertitta and one part Sortini, in a fine mix of proven success. ZUFFA-Italian: to fight or scrap. English: UFC HAS BEEN SOLD! Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother Frank along with brother-in-law Blake Sortini have formed the company [ZUFFA] that has purchased Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] from the former owners, SEG. What to expect? "Growth and a commitment to the fighters," states Dana White, the new President who will run the day-to-day operations of the UFC.

The Fertitta brothers along with brother-in-law Blake Sortini are no strangers to big business, as each are among the most successful businessmen in Las Vegas. With casinos and breweries as some of the successful businesses they own, these men are winners at what they do. Clearly it is Lorenzo Fertitta who is the brains behind the move into the world of Mixed Martial Arts…and why not? If ever there was a man who would get the Nevada State Athletic Commission to look favorably on the sport, it is Lorenzo, who sat on the Commission for 4 years and the last year served as vice chairman. Lorenzo is quick to point out the Commission will render no decision without doing their homework on the matter.

I sat down with Loenzo Fertitta at his office in Las Vegas and talked about the future of the UFC and about the sport in general. It was clear that the man is a big fan and understands what needs to be done as owner of the future of Mixed Martial Arts.

FCF:   Lorenzo, what is your relationship with the UFC at this time?
LF:     Currently I am the managing member of Zuffa, LLC. Which is a partnership that was put together by myself, my brother Frank Fertitta and Blake Sortini, my brother-in-law. We purchased the assets of the UFC.

FCF:   How does someone like yourself get interested in buying the UFC. You currently own casinos here in Las Vegas [amongst many other holdings]; please give us a little background. How does it start?
LF:     Previously to getting involved in the Mixed Martial Arts world, I served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission for four years. During that time when I was on the Commission, Mixed Martial Arts was brought to us and introduced to the Commission a couple of different times. When it was brought forward to us, I started doing a lot of research on the sport. I literally rented every videotape and bought every videotape that I could possibly find. Watched all of them and during that time of investigation I went to a UFC fight in Iowa. At that fight, I met a gentleman named John Lewis, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter who has fought in the UFC and Extreme [Battlecade] and happens to live in Las Vegas; I started sharing some thoughts with him. He gave me the invitation to actually get on the mat and roll with him to learn more about what was happening in the Octagon. I came back to Las Vegas and took him up on that, and I would have to say that John Lewis opened my eyes to the world of Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC. I became avid about it, started rolling with him 3 times a week, doing private lessons, trying to learn as much as I possibly can and through that I became a fan. Watched every UFC, traveled to most of the UFCs, was introduced to a lot of the fighters in the UFC…kind of a whole Mixed Martial Arts community and I became enthralled with it. During that time, I met Bob Meyrowitz. I had been introduced to him numerous times and had built a relationship with him. It was brought to my attention that he had an interest in selling the UFC and I called him. I guess the rest is history. We put together a deal very rapidly and I think it worked out very well.

FCF:   When you were a member on the Nevada State Athletic Commission, I came out to Vegas along with the UFC and their lawyer. As it was told to me, there was to be a vote on whether the Nevada State Athletic Commission was going to approve the UFC. But a vote never did take place; can you tell me why a vote never happened and what was your feeling about the UFC at that time?
LF:     I think there lies miscommunication. As far as the Commission was concerned, there never was supposed to be a vote; it was only an agenda item for discussion. We had never even discussed Mixed Martial Arts. We had never talked about it. We knew nothing about it. All of a sudden, it showed up on our agenda and, for whatever reason, people were expecting a vote and that is just not how the process works. What you have to understand is the reason that Nevada is looked at as one of the premier regulatory bodies throughout the world is because they do the homework. And that was not necessarily a time for a vote, but the time that got the ball rolling to start doing the homework. What that means is myself and a fellow Commissioner and the head of the medical advisory board flew out to a UFC fight in Iowa and we started collecting data relative to Mixed Martial Arts, watching videos, reading publications and just trying to learn as much as we could about it, but I think that is where there was a little bit of miscommunication. There was never supposed to be a vote regarding Mixed Martial Arts.

FCF:   I would like to clarify; going back to the time when this matter came before the Commission, what were your feelings about the sport at the time? Did you even think it was a sport? Did you have a problem with the sport? There is some confusion on the matter.
LF:     One thing that I think I need to clarify is that there was never a problem. I never had a problem with the sport; it was…I don’t think anyone necessarily had a problem with it. As I said before, it was just digesting it, trying to understand it better. The Commission is put in a position where, you have to make a decision and you are talking about something that the Commission holds very dear-which is safety-and it takes time to understand the safety aspects, of any sport. Boxing has evolved decade after decade and safety is something that I think has gotten better over time. Under this scenario, I think the Commission just wanted to understand it as best as possible. At the time, I had an open mind; I had seen most of the UFC fights when they were on cable. So I had been introduced to it through that. I think I had also seen a few of the Extreme Fighting [Battlecade] shows as well. Those shows, if you go back and look at them today relative to what we have now-which is a full fledged sport, worked totally different and I think that’s what we need to do to educate people. When it was originally put on, there were a lot of things that were not in place. You did not have a full spectrum of rules and regulations that had been adopted by a state regulatory body. There were athletes that were certainly world class, but not every one on the card was world class and there were a few mismatches in there and I think that is what I remembered about the sport at the time. When I started to do more investigation and study it more, I was blown away at how much the sport had actually progressed and become a full fledged sport and how much the fighters had progressed and their level of athleticism, professionalism and I just developed a tremendous amount of respect for the guys who were getting in the ring and doing what they are doing. There is so much strategy involved. They are so much more evolved. It is not about guys getting in an octagon trying to hurt each other; it has nothing to do with that. I learned that it is about world-class athletes fighting with strategies that they had in mind, it is very technical. It is a beautiful sport and afterwards everyone shows great sportsmanship, everybody is well educated and all those things coming together really opened my eyes.

FCF:   How do we [meaning ZUFFA] take the sport to the next level? How do we turn that corner and educate new fans, not the fans we already have [the ones that keep this sport alive], but bringing in new fans, that is essential to the growth of this sport. How do you reach those fans and what is the next step of the UFC in doing so?
LF:     First of all, what I think everyone needs to understand is that we’ve got a great long-term vision for where we would like to take the sport, but it is going to take time. You can’t change perceptions over night. Everybody needs to be very patient; I think, over time, if we all work together, people within the sport today in that community we can get to where we want to be. First and foremost, we need to try to erase from people’s memories what they remember from those early shows because the population-I am not talking about people like me or the real fans out there that watch the UFC on a religious basis, I am talking about the general population-the last thing they remember about the UFC is the show they saw on cable in 1993 or ’94. If we can try to erase some of the mis-preconceptions about that-because what you also have to understand is that there was a lot of noise out there with people mischaracterizing what it really was and what it was really about. So we need to try and erase that and we need to go through a whole process and a campaign of reintroducing people to the sport-I say that and use the term "sport" a lot because I think it is important, because this is a sport. This is not a spectacle; this is a sport. Now what that means is that we need to focus on the fighters. As much as I love the UFC-and essentially that is what I bought was those three letters and that logo-I understand that it’s not necessarily just about the UFC but about the athletes. To make this sport bigger and more well accepted, we need to elevate it to the next level. The way that I believe that we elevate it to the next level is to create superstars. The way you create superstars is by creating super fights, so we are going to do everything we can to try to hold true to that promise as I mentioned, it can’t happen overnight, but it is a process that we are putting in place now to focus on the athletes, focus on the fighters. The other aspect of that is we need to focus on the safety issues. I am very close to it because I spent so much time in boxing and seeing the safety issues in boxing and trying to help increase the level of safety in boxing. When I first saw Mixed Martial Arts, I didn’t understand, because I wasn’t educated. But I can say today as an ex-regulator and now an owner of the UFC, I fully believe that Mixed Martial Arts is a much safer sport than boxing. What people don’t realize, I am not talking about the true Mixed Martial Arts fan, I am talking about the general public, everybody says; "Well they don’t wear gloves like boxing." What the general public doesn’t realize is that gloves weren’t created to protect someone’s head; they were created to protect someone’s hands, so that you can hit someone harder and more often-that does more damage to someone. In Mixed Martial Arts, you cannot hit someone with the veracity that you can hit someone in boxing, thus creating brain damage and major, major injuries. I think what we need to do is get people educated to that and make them understand that this is a true sport that is safe and does have rules and regulations that are carried out by whatever state commission may be presiding over the fight just as boxing does.

FCF:   You are a big boxing fan, what got you interested in boxing?
LF:     I was born and raised in Las Vegas. Growing up, the thing that was different about Las Vegas relative to other major cities in the United States is that we have never had a professional sport franchised in the city, so my father couldn’t take me to the Yankees’ games when I grew up, or take me to see the Knicks; because of that, he took me to fights. It was about going to the fights in one of the small venues in Las Vegas or going to Caesar’s Palace to see a fight or the Hilton to see a fight, so I became a very, very big boxing fan, studied a lot about boxing history. I followed the sport very closely and that is the sport that I have always loved my whole life.

My father started in the casino business early on, in the 1960s, and he worked his way up through the casino business. In 1977, he saw an opportunity to open a small facility, 5,000 sq ft and the thing that was different about that was, it was positioned to cater to the locals, which had never been done before in Las Vegas-everything was either downtown or on the strip and in Las Vegas it catered to tourists. A lot of people thought it was crazy at the time because it had never been done, but looking back now he essentially created a whole new market which is the locals market Las Vegas which is a thriving market in Las Vegas. In 1993, we took the company public, my father retired and my brother Frank Ferrite III, Blake Sortini and myself carried the company forward. We were the majority shareholders. It is a New York Stock Exchange company and we’ve grown rapidly and been very successful over a number of years. In addition to that, we also have holdings in various other investments. In areas, one being the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, which I bought an interest in 1995, and we grew that company rapidly.

FCF:   Is Gordon Biersch a franchise?
LF:     It is not a franchise. I originally started with 5 restaurants that I bought and we expanded that to 12 restaurants all located on the West Coast and we built a retail brewery, or commercial brewery where we sell our beer in retail stores around the West Coast. We recently sold the restaurants, but kept the ownership in the commercial brewery, so we still have that. And now, we own the UFC, so we are also in the fight promoting business.

FCF:   I read you also acquired new casinos recently.
LF:     Recently, we went through a big growth spurt, we acquired 3 casinos this year, all in the locals market in Las Vegas.

FCF:   Getting back to the boxing…how do you become a member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission?
LF:     As I mentioned before, growing up, I was a huge boxing fan and being on the Nevada State Athletic Commission is a very sought out position, being named one of the five members. Governor Bob Miller who I’ve known over a number of years, asked me to sit on the board. I had known him for a long time. He knew growing up I was a huge boxing fan and he felt I would do a good job, so he appointed me there.

FCF:   How long did you sit on the board?
LF:     I sat on the board for 4 years and the last year, I sat on the board as the vice chairman.

FCF:   Why are you no longer on the board?
LF:     I stepped down. The reason I stepped down was I took on a full time position with Station Casinos. Previous to being full time, I was on the Board of Directors and I ran Fertitta Enterprises. Fertitta Enterprises is a family office that runs other business interests outside of Station Casinos-there is no affiliation there. In August of the year 2000, I was asked to come aboard at Station Casinos and run the company as President and I felt that the time constraints that were going to be put on me were not going to allow me to do the job that I needed to do on the Athletic Commission. The Athletic Commission took some weeks literally 40-plus hours a week to do the job in the right fashion, and I just didn’t feel that I could do both.

Pictured: Lorenzo Fertitta talking with NJ State Athletic Control Board Chairman Larry Hazzard

Lorenzo Fertitta and Larry Hazzard
FCF:   While being a member of the NSAC you were well respected, could you tell me some of the major cases that were bought before the Commission?
LF:     Certainly the ear-biting incident from Mike Tyson was the biggest that gained the most notoriety where we revoked his license and fined him a significant amount of money for that act. I also sat on the board when we voted to allow him to fight again a year later-I voted in favor of that. I also was involved again with Tyson after the Orlin Norris Fight. We held his purse up for hitting after the bell and I think everyone knows what happened there.

FCF:   Okay, the question that needs to be asked…what is the likelihood of the UFC coming to Vegas and getting approved by the Commission?
LF:     The true answer is, I really have no idea. Whether it will ever be passed, or what the timing will be if it will get passed. What I can tell you is that the Commission is made up of 5 very smart individuals who I know and whom I have served with. I can tell you they will do the homework, they have open minds and they will work on their own time frame and we will do whatever we can to try to help educate them, to try and answer any questions they may have, but as far as when, and if, Mixed Martial Arts will ever be in Nevada, I have no idea.

FCF:   As a smart businessman, you know for this to be a profitable company, you have to get back on mainstream cable again. What is the likelihood of this happening?
LF:     I really don’t know when or if that will happen either. I can tell you that I am very hopeful, certainly with the fact that the State of New Jersey has approved Mixed Martial Arts. They regulate it no different than boxing. It is my belief that just the fact that the State of New Jersey has come forward and has embraced the sport the way that they have lends a tremendous amount of creditability to the sport and hopefully the world of cable will see that and understand that and make the sport available to everyone around the country.

FCF:   Are any talks underway? Have you made any communication letting the cable companies know there is a new owner in town?
LF:     There have been no meetings or communication with cable.

FCF:   With such a busy day, what kind of role will you play in day-to-day operations of the UFC?
LF:     I am going to have oversight role, giving direction as far as where we want the company to go, how we want the promotion to go. From a day-to-day standpoint, Dana White will be heading up the operation and executing the business, day-to-day. [We will have more information on Dana White in the coming months and the progress makes with the UFC]

FCF:   Why the name ZUFFA? What does it stand for?
LF:     The name of the company is ZUFFA. We came up with that name because my family has an Italian heritage and we wanted to have a name that related to what we were doing and the name ZUFFA means "to fight" or "scrap" in Italian.

Leaving the interview, I had a good feeling about the future of the UFC. This company has the money to make things happen. Better pay to attract better fighters and a promotion campaign that needs to go along with it for essential growth. They seemed to be big fans of the sport as well as having great energy heading towards accomplishing their goals. It is too early to tell if all that is said will be done, but I witnessed the ball already beginning to roll in the right direction. My concern for the UFC as I see it now, is listing to bad advice as the previous owner did. Looking within the company for previous mistakes and bad advice and having the courage fix the problem will help with the growth of this sleeping giant.


Originally published in the February 2001 issue of FCF


"NO HOLDS BARRED" ON EYADA SPORTS,
THE WEEK OF MARCH 12-16:

by Eddie Goldman


Eddie
Great fights, great fighters, terrible tragedies, and nagging scandals — these are some of the component parts of the world of combat sports, and once again we will cover each and every one of these aspects this week. From Renzo Gracie and Mark Kerr to Marc Ratner to a live report from the 2001 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships to much, much more, we’ve got it all on “No Holds Barred” this week.

"No Holds Barred" can be heard every Monday through Friday, 3 to 5 PM New York time (Eastern Time – U.S.), only on eYada.com (http://www.eyada.com).

Now there is an even easier way to listen to all the news and interviews we provide on "No Holds Barred" about mixed martial arts, grappling, boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling. We have a new, direct link that lets you play the show when it is on live, or play the archive after the live show. It is:

http://www.eyada.com/redirect/redirect.cfm?id=20

Monday, March 12 — We open today’s busy show with a report from Japanese NHB journalist Tadashi Tanaka about another scandal in Japan possibly involving the mixed martial arts. Renzo Gracie joins us to talk about his fight in Pride 13 on March 25 with Dan Henderson. And Doug Fischer, editor of Houseofboxing.com, also joins us with his regular weekly analysis of the latest in the world of the "Sweet Science," including a ringside review of last Saturday’s Shane Mosley-Shannan Taylor fight, as well as a discussion of a potential Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight, and the recent tragic situation involving veteran boxer Greg Page.

Tuesday, March 13 — Mark Kerr has been on top of three worlds — mixed martial arts, wrestling, and grappling. Today he joins us to talk about his upcoming Superfight grappling match against Mario Sperry at the 2001 Submission Wrestling World Championships, to be held April 11-13 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Also, fighter Brian Gassaway will be returning to Pancrase in Japan on March 31, facing two-time former King of Pancrase Yuki Kondo. Today Brian joins us.

Wednesday, March 14 — Shonie Carter wants to fight — in a ring or a cage, that is. Today he joins us to talk about his upcoming plans. Also, Matt Hughes is coming off two disappointing losses, in UFC and Warrior’s War, and will try to return to the win column at this coming Saturday’s Rings USA show. Today Matt joins us.

Thursday, March 15 — There has been much talk about the possibility of mixed martial arts being sanctioned in the state of Nevada, whose athletic commission is considered the most influential and most meticulous in all its work. Today we speak with Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, about this, as well as about the state of boxing and the recent tragic situation involving veteran boxer Greg Page. Also, it’s do-or-die time in college wrestling, and veteran wrestling journalist and photographer Bob Mayeri is in Iowa City for the 2001 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which open today. Bob brings us a live report, as well as possibly some interviews with some of wrestling’s notables.

Friday, March 16 — Joel Gold, publisher of "Full Contact Fighter," joins us today to share his unique perspective on mixed martial arts. We also continue our reports from veteran wrestling journalist and photographer Bob Mayeri, who is in Iowa City for the 2001 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, which is in its second day.


From the event’s promoter:


MASS DESTRUCTION – VALE TUDO

WHEN: Saturday, April 14th, 2001

WHERE: South End Community Center, Springfield, Massachusetts
CONTACT: Joe Cuff (860) 376-3563, jcuff@nagafighter.com
WEBSITE: www.nagafighter.com
TIME: Doors open at 6:30PM, 1st Match Starts 7:30 PM Sharp
TICKETS: $25 General Admission, Limited Tickets we will sell out! Buy them ahead-a-time from Joe!
The MASS DESTRUCTION- VALE TUDO HAS AN UNBELIEVABLE CARD. Over 15 incredible matches with many of the Northeast’s top instructors competing. Here are just a few of the fighters:
Kirik Jenness vs. Chris Roberts

Founder of mixedmartialarts.com, MMA Debut Veteran of Dangerzone

Lightweight Title Fight
John Weidler vs. Mike Willus
4-0 in MMA, 2000 NAGA Champion 3-1 in MMA, Hook n’ Shoot Veteran

Single Fights
Jeremy Libiszewski vs. Daniel Lima
NAGA Veteran, Springfield Native Purple belt in BJJ under Edson Carvalho

Gunnar Olsen vs. Jeff Williamson

2-0 in MMA, Div 3 wrestler 4-0 in MMA, former NAGA MW Champ

Ken Kronenberg vs. TBA
NAGA Superfight Champion
Mike Brown vs. Steve Bowers
Div 3 Wrestler, NAGA Veteran NAGA Veteran

Nuri Shakir vs. Dawson Walton
NAGA and Dangerzone Veteran 1-1 in MMA

Ray Duval vs. Ed Carr
NAGA Veteran 1-0 in MMA

Justin Torrey vs. TBA
1-0 in MMA, 18 years old

CHAMPIONSHIP BELTS FOR ALL WINNERS!

Call Joe if you would like to get on the card! We only have 4 spots left.


RITC press release from John Petrilli:


RITC Back to SATURDAY Nights !!!

Rage in the Cage XXVI will be held on Saturday, March 24, 2001 at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. Fight time: 7:00 PM
Two Super Fights have been announced.

  • 2-Time UFC Veteran Christophe Leininger vs. RITC Champion Edwin "Babyface" Dewees
  • Allan "A-Dawg" Sullivan vs. Shane "Battlecat" Johnson

The rest of the card is being finalized. Here is a list of featured fighters expected to compete.

  • Todd Medina’s NHB Fighting Team
  • US Marine Combat Team
  • Homer Moore
  • Bill Cameron
  • Farrell Frisby
  • "Big Dawg"
  • Nathan Bulitta
  • Mike Berardi
  • Shawn Upshur
  • Kauai Kuphiea
  • "The Raging Rhino"
  • Ted Opaliniski
  • Marty Salamon
  • and more

Tickets are available at all Ticket Master locations (480-784-4444) or at the Celebrity Theatre Box Office.
For more information, please visit www.rageinthecage.com or call 480-446-8127.


From the event’s promoter:


CAPITOL CITY GRAPPLING III APRIL 21 SAT.

Who will take home the belts? (lightweight-heavyweight-absolute belts) and $1000 sponsorship money. There will be 4 divisions-beginner, novice,intermediate, and advanced. There will also be women’s and kid’s divisions. Last year Ralph Gracie’s team took home the team trophy with (WERNECKJJ) Brazilian JJ Training Center of Sacramento taking 2nd. There will be a $5 spectator fee. For info contact Carlos Garcia or Raven Seymon of the the BRAZILIAN JJ TRAINING CENTER of Sacto. ca. at 916-3942755 fax:916-394-2757 or Roseville JJ& WRESTLING 916-716-2080 E-MAIL:CCgrappling info.@aol.com Our website is under construction presently it will be up shortly so you can download entry forms. Address www.sacbjj.com :Location:Kennedy High School 6715 Gloria Drive Sacramento Ca.
posted by Full Contact Fighter @ 8:00 pm
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