By Josh Gross
July 06, 2009

Not everything related to UFC 100 is about big fights. Big business is also brewing under the surface, which, when it comes to mixed martial arts' most visible promoter, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

As the anticipated card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas becomes the focus of the MMA world, some fighters under contract to Zuffa -- and some who aren't -- are trying to determine how two recent announcements could impact their immediate fortunes.

The first, related to event sponsorship, will be felt as early as Saturday. The second, an edict from UFC president Dana White to mixed martial artists everywhere regarding the use of their image rights, remains a developing story.

After discussions intensified inside Zuffa regarding companies such as Full Tilt Poker gaining less-than-cost advertising access for live UFC productions -- thus becoming de facto event sponsors by splashing fighters from head to toe with their logo -- the decision came down less than a month ago that sponsors would be required to pay a $100,000 licensing fee directly to the UFC for the right to feature their brand on fighters.

For the UFC, according to sources familiar with the company's thinking, motivations are simple: the promoter wants its share, which it believes it earned by providing the platform for fighters to make significant sponsorship dollars; protection for official sponsors, such as Bud Light and Harley Davidson; additional control over brands gaining exposure to UFC audiences; and to further marginalize MMA agents and managers.

The new policy does nothing to restrict fighters from signing deals with sponsors that would put them in television, radio or print spots. But any deal involving an appearance during a UFC-produced event without the mandated licensing fee is verboten as of now.

That decision could cost fighters 35- to 40-percent of their sponsor-generated revenue, according to one veteran MMA agent, which is significant considering the UFC likes to sell the potential of increased sponsorship dollars as a way to augment fighter purses.

Several managers with track records of friendly relations with Zuffa said the potential loss of sponsorship dollars is nearly unjustifiable.

For instance, one top competitor on the card could miss out on as much as $300,000 in guaranteed funds after two deals fell through following word of the UFC licensing requirement, has learned. While a new sponsorship situation emerged that could be as lucrative, nothing is guaranteed.

As one manager put it, the UFC's latest move appears to be another test of the "conditions" athletes in the company are willing to work under. At this point, fighters continue to surrender, and haven't given Zuffa much reason to pause.

Causing a stir over the weekend were rumors -- now confirmed by -- of the UFC's attempt to make it difficult, if not impossible, for fighters to sign a licensing agreement that would put their likeness in the recently announced "EA Sports MMA" title, which is set for release next year.

Beginning the week before July 4, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, at the behest of Dana White, called managers with this message: If you've been in the UFC and think maybe you want to come back someday, or you haven't had the pleasure and plan on fighting in the Octagon, you better not sign that EA licensing agreement.

White is said to be adamant that aligning with EA is no different than declaring war on the UFC and its wildly successful THQ-produced UFC 2009 Undisputed, which sold more than a million copies in its first month. Fighters, from world-class to journeyman, were told the prudent choice was to decline money offers from EA -- deals with fighters on the level of Jason "Mayhem" Miller, NickDiaz, Mo Lawal and Jake Shields, range from $5,000 to $15,000 for a one-game, two-year nonexclusive deal, according to multiple sources.

In Miller's case, potential consequences weren't enough to prevent him from aligning with EA, the middleweight told However other fighters, such as Nathan Diaz -- who avoided signing UFC's exclusive licensing game agreement with THQ, which provides most fighters with zero compensation and was at the center of the controversy that saw Jon Fitchbanished from the UFC for 24 hours -- decided against participating in the EA sports title, according to his management.

Former five-time UFC champion Randy Couture is believed to be the only fighter currently under contract to Zuffa who will appear in the EA version. "The Natural" managed to ink an exclusive deal during his 11-month courtroom fight with the UFC. Couture, who is expected to appear on the game's cover, told he attempted to bring both sides together after falling back in favor with the UFC, but a compromise placing UFC fighters in the EA game never materialized.

For the UFC to stick to its guns, the company would effectively tell FedorEmelianenko, MMA's top-ranked heavyweight, Shields, a highly regarded welterweight, and other top-class competitors they aren't welcome. That seems like a steep and foolish price to pay, but the Zuffa-led UFC has a long history of winning trench-war like this.

The UFC is partial to signing fighters it sees as willing participants and partners. Why sign and market a mixed martial artist to the point that he's championship caliber in the UFC, while at the same time build that fighter's profile for a rival video game?

That hypothetical thinking, said one source, is what brought White to dispatch Silva.

• Training camps finished the heavy lifting last week and indications are fighters in UFC 100's big three fights are healthy and ready to go. In Las Vegas, MichaelBisping is said to have closed out training with several days of what his wrestling coach Zach Light called "unbelievable" sparring against TrevorPrangley, Phil Baroni and Josh Hall. Baroni has been raving how impressed he is with the Brit, who faces his stiffest test yet at middleweight in former Pride champion Dan Henderson.

Frank Mir, also in Vegas, faces a very large man in Brock Lesnar. Yet, a contingent of small, slick grapplers, including WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres and Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion Ricky Lundell, were brought in to help the challenger prepare. One man who couldn't show, thanks to the Department of Homeland Security, was unorthodox Japanese submission fighter Masakazu Imanari. After being denied entry into the country in 1997 and 1999, Imanari was again told he couldn't come to the U.S. on a tourist visa. Without a clear reason why he was denied a third time, Imanari enlisted the services of an immigration lawyer.

• Another note on Mir: Filming is set to begin Monday and continue throughout fight week on a pilot tentatively called Mir Manor. Seems like a strange time to introduce a gaggle of cameramen around a fighter near the biggest bout of his career, no?

• If it feels like Georges St. Pierre's fight against Thiago Alves has taken a backseat to the Mir-Lesnar heavyweight title clash, six magazine covers for the UFC welterweight champion this month and two to three interviews a day should put an end to that. "Frankly, after all the spotlight that was shone on Georges leading up to the B.J. Penn fight, I'm sure Georges is happy to let Brock and Frank have their turn," said his manager, Shari Spencer.

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