The Weekly Wrap: May 16 - May 22

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By Jack Encarnacao May 23, 2009
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week's top story, important news and notable quotes.

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s marketing train was in full effect this past week, as the company launched its go-home hype for UFC 98 this Saturday at the same time it released its first video game in five years.

Spike TV premiered "Countdown to UFC 98" on Thursday, spotlighting Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida and Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra. The piece looked most closely at Lyoto Machida, as most of Evans' comments were oriented toward his being the underdog in the fight and having to solve the problems Machida presents. The special noted the Evans-Machida fight will be the first light heavyweight title match in UFC history between two undefeated fighters. It actually holds that distinction for any UFC weight class.

The “Countdown” piece explored the Shotokan karate teachings of Machida's Japanese father Yoshizo. The show went back to Machida's first fight against Kengo Watanabe in 2003, on a New Japan Pro Wrestling card that had legitimate fights on it. After the fight, Machida was slapped by Antonio Inoki, the Japanese wrestling impresario, who once fought Muhammad Ali. Inoki had taken an interest in Machida because they shared Japanese-Brazilian heritage. In Japanese wrestling lore, the slap is supposed to symbolize the transfer of fighting spirit.

Machida has been training in Brazil with a camp that included 2008 Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii. UFC President Dana White said in a press conference that statistics indicate Machida is the least-hit fighter in UFC history.

The Serra-Hughes saga was told well, as producers dug up footage of confrontations the two have had dating back to season four of “The Ultimate Fighter,” when Hughes did a guest coaching stint during the season Serra won. Hughes said fighters are either good at trash talking or fighting, and it's clear which one Serra excels at. Serra, who got 10 picks to 8 to win by fighters polled by Sherdog.com, called Hughes everything from a "tool" to a "simpleton" to a "cornball." The possibility that the bout may be Hughes' last was only alluded to, though Stephan Bonnar on ESPN's "MMA Live" said Hughes, 35, had told him he would retire after the long-awaited grudge match.

A television rating was not available for the Countdown special. Last month's UFC 97 Countdown did 774,000 viewers, one of the higher marks the specials have garnered. The show it hyped, built largely around Chuck Liddell's potential last stand against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, is estimated at doing 625,000 buys, according to The Wrestling Observer. Unlike the UFC 97 countdown, the UFC 98 special did not air on a Monday night immediately following WWE wrestling, which typically boosts the rating.

UFC 98 had some 7,000 tickets sold for a $2 million take as of last week, not including tickets that are purchased by the MGM Grand, according to The Wrestling Observer. The UFC attracted 9,701 paying customers to its last event in the arena, UFC 92 in December, which also featured Rashad Evans in the main event, and there were 14,166 total in the building. On Saturday, the UFC will be offering for the first time a two-hour, four-camera backstage stream at ufc.com/bk before the pay-per-view kicks off. The special will follow Evans, Machida and White as they prepare.

On Friday, nearly all of UFC 98’s roster weighed in without incident. Mike Pyle was green-lit Friday morning by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to replace Chris Wilson, after the welterweight did not submit completed medical paperwork in time. Pyle weighed in later at 173 pounds. Opponent Brock Larson agreed to the weight allowance and Pyle’s purse won’t be penalized, said Pyle’s manager Ken Pavia.

UFC 98 received an extra layer of publicity this week, as Dana White hit the media circuit to pump the card alongside the company's new video game, "UFC Undisputed 2009." Released Tuesday, the game represents a key opportunity for the UFC to bolster its perception as a hot entity among young people. Game developer THQ has the highest expectations for the game. The company recently reported that it lost $431.1 million last year and laid off 24 percent of its work force, according to The Wrestling Observer, and is hoping sales of the UFC title will help right the ship.

The UFC organized several autograph sessions at GameStop locations across the country to coincide with the game's release. White appeared at a GameStop in New York City, outside of which someone had written "FEDOR" in chalk on the sidewalk. White mused about the marking on his video blog. White also rang the bell at the NASDAQ Stock Market and held a heavy bag for NBC late night host Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on his show. He also discussed the game on CNBC, during which White said UFC business is up 20 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008. The hyper-real game title is the company's first since 2004, when it released "Sudden Impact" for the Playstation, featuring yesteryear characters like Gary Goodridge, Eugene Jackson and Ricco Rodriguez.
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