Second Thought: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Win-Loss Ratio

Lutter tries for another shot at the fight title.

By Dan McGraw

Fort Worth’s Travis Lutter is getting a rematch – with the scales. To be followed, he expects, by another shot at a national fight title.
Lutter is an ultimate fighter, one of those guys in the popular sports craze that combines boxing with jiu-jitsu and traditional wrestling. Two years ago, Lutter was moving up the ultimate fighting ladder. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) sponsors a reality show on Spike TV pitting fighter-housemates against each other in a tournament; the winner gets a championship bout, against another UFC champ, as his prize.
Lutter, 34, won the reality show tournament, and his reward was to face middleweight champion Anderson Silva of Brazil. Only one problem: Lutter was one pound over the 185-pound weight limit for that fight.
He still fought Silva, but it was an exhibition match. And though Lutter lost that match in Las Vegas, most of the UFC followers thought he gave Silva his toughest fight.
For the past two years, Lutter has been running his two gyms in Fort Worth and waiting for another chance. Last year he had to pull out of another UFC bout because of a neck injury. But this Saturday, Lutter returns to the octagon ring with a middleweight bout in Montreal against Rich Franklin. The fight will be available throughout the country on pay-per-view.
The sports-writers covering UFC fights are talking about “redemption” and a chance at a rebound. “When you get in the ring, you are only thinking about that fight,” Lutter said from his gym last week. “I missed the weight because I made a miscalculation, and I take responsibility for that. But I am confident in my ability in this sport, and the best thing for me right now is just to go win.”
When Fort Worth Weekly put Lutter on its cover two years ago (“Reality Fights,” Aug. 9, 2006), the UFC was starting a huge growth spurt. Last year, business analysts say, UFC fights generated nearly 5 million pay-per-view buys and $195 million in revenue — more than traditional boxing brought in. The Lutter/Franklin fight is the first in Canada, and the sport will be expanding to Europe next year. Local billionaire Mark Cuban has gotten into the act and is showing ultimate fights on his HDNet TV network.
Lutter understands the importance of this fight, as the winner will likely get a shot at Silva. “This sport is becoming very popular, and the payouts are increasing, so I know the timing of this fight is very important,” Lutter said. “Winning against Rich Franklin could mean a title fight for me. But that’s down the road. I am just thinking about Saturday night in Montreal right now.”
The established sports media have pooh-poohed the “mixed martial arts” fights, pointing to the fenced-in ring and the fingerless gloves that allow grabbing. Republican presidential candidate John McCain branded it “human cockfighting” and tried to get it banned.
But the sport is actually a combination of legitimate skills used, for instance, in the modern Olympic Games. Lutter’s background is typical of many UFC fighters: He was a star wrestler in high school and college, earned a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and added boxing to his regimen. Lutter also likes to point out that the ancient Greek Olympic games included competitions that mixed wrestling with boxing and other fighting skills.
The major criticism of the UFC is its payouts to fighters, which aren’t growing at the same rate as UFC’s audience and revenues. Lutter’s bout is on the Montreal fight card just before the main event, and he will get paid $20,000 for showing up and another $20,000 if he wins.
That’s certainly not chump change, but the Saturday fight card should draw about 400,000 TV viewers at about $40 a pop. Compared to the resulting $1.6 million or so in TV revenue, $20,000 seems awfully cheap.
Lutter, however, is more worried about weigh-in than payout right now. The extra-poundage problem won’t happen this time, he said. “Ultimate fight fans will see a really good fight from me, and I hope it leads to me bringing home a championship to Fort Worth.”

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