Folded Shirts: Looking At The Legacy of Affliction MMA, Josh Barnett
It began when it was revealed earlier this week that Josh Barnett tested positive for anabolic steroids and would not be licensed by the California State Athletic Commission to fight Fedor Emelianenko a week from Saturday to headline Affliction's third MMA event.
But in listening to Affliction MMA head honcho Tom Atencio speak during a conference call to discuss the situation and who Fedor's new opponent could be, you could hear the resignation in his voice as he admirably attempted to stay positive amidst the chaos with his main event.
For Atencio and everyone involved, this story and bumps in the road he spoke of didn't just start this week, but have been ongoing for quite some time.
The road came to a dead end Friday, as the organization officially canceled the 8/1 show and announced the promotion is finished, ending its foray into promoting MMA and raising the likelihood that Fedor and the UFC will finally come to terms on a long-discussed contract.
Dragged through the MMA ringer, Atencio and his crew were up against it from the start for everything to fall in their favor. Despite being the preeminent name in fight and celebrity tough-guy high fashion, they couldn't overcome the brand loyalty fans have for the UFC, and the opinion shared by some that they were in the fight game for the wrong reasons.
The company's MMA product struggled to get the respect among fans and failed to grasp the mainstream attention their superior opponent had a stranglehold on. In a business that they helped establish culture in, they were seen as outsiders—bizarre if you think about the brand's standing just a few years ago.
There were plenty of P.R. miscues, including the very public gaffe and subsequent resignation by Tom Beard following his comments toward Randy Couture and then-wife Kim after a dispute regarding their business arrangement. It was embarrassing and not something the company needed at the time, especially with a beloved figure such as Couture.
Despite all of this drama, the company put on just two events, both in Anaheim, Calif., at the Honda Center. The first—Affliction: Banned—took place in July 2008 and featured Fedor vs. Tim Sylvia in front of 14,832 (11,242 paid) for a gate of just over $2 million with a disclosed payroll of just over $3.3 million.
Company estimates were in the 100,000 range for pay-per-view buys.
Six months later, they returned with Affliction: Day of Reckoning, with Fedor vs. Andrei Arlovski in front of 13,255, a total gate of just over $1.5 million, and a disclosed payroll of $3.3 million.
Estimated PPV buys were between 150k-200k, according to reports.
But the third event will never happen, and there are 23 fighters now wondering why they wasted their time and where their next check will come from. Depending on their contract status, a company like Strikeforce could bolster their roster quite a bit with some of these talents and deals that make sense from both sides.
Strikeforce needs their talent pool deepened, and they have a great opportunity to help out their own cause again thanks to the demise of another organization. Scott Coker is a very smart guy and will know exactly what to do with this new wave of MMA refugees looking for a shore to fight on.
On a sad side note, Barnett now finds himself painted as "the Seth Petruzelli of Affliction," as his positive test for steroids is widely being spun as the reason for final nail in the coffin for the organization.
Fair or not, the timing is quite telling and the lack of being able to find a suitable opponent for Fedor was enough to call it a promoting day. Affliction MMA was probably going to done after this event anyway, but this certainly puts a face on it.
With a media that is now more entrenched in the current than understanding this past, Barnett's legacy will likely be seen as a two-time drug offender (the first steroid suspension came after his UFC 36 win over Randy Couture), with his brief reign as UFC Heavyweight Champion cast off as pre-boom period and therefore irrelevant to some.
And somewhere in Las Vegas, a bald man who is about to recieve ESPN 1100's Sportsman of the Year award is smiling, now knowing that a fly previously in his soup is going to help pad his paycheck.
It's today's MMA landscape. Promote if you can, survive if they let you.
Josh Nason - josh [at] ropesringandcage [dot com] - has published MMA, wrestling and boxing blog Ropes, Ring and Cage.com since 2007. He has been a contributor to Fight Magazine since January 2009 and Bleacher Report since 2008.
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