Today in sports: Venezuela promises "quick resolution" to the Wilson Ramos kidnapping, the UFC's rapid rise, and North Carolina and Michigan State open their seasons at sea.

  • Venezuelan Deputy Justice Minister Edwin Rojas told state TV his investigators are making progress in the search for kidnapped Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, even as authorities issued a press release denying a local rumor that Ramos had been found dead. "We have faith in the quick resolution of this case," Rojas declared. Yesterday investigators found the kidnappers' abandoned car and today they have physical descriptions of the gunmen who grabbed Ramos off his own front doorstep. As of this afternoon, Ramos' family still hasn't received a ransom demand or had any contact with the kidnappers. [The Washington Post]
  • Simon & Schuster is pressing ahead with the Joe Paterno biography it commissioned from Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski earlier this year, even though the Penn State child sex abuse scandal has "torpedoed" the book's premise, according to the New York Post's Keith Kelly. Posnanski, who reportedly received a $750,000 advance for the book, addressed the scandal in a blog post Thursday evening, after initially saying he wouldn't write about it until he had more time to process the charges. Posnanski, who moved to State College this fall for the football season, makes two points clear at the outset:

1. I think Joe Paterno had the responsibility as a leader and a man to stop the horrific rapes allegedly committed by Jerry Sandusky, and I believe he will have regrets about this for the rest of his life.

2. Because of this, Joe Paterno could no longer coach at Penn State University.

But he thinks the coach is getting a raw deal. "I don’t know anything about Paterno’s role in this except for what little was said about that in the horrifying and stomach-turning grand jury findings,"admits Posnanski But he does know something about the man from the time he's spent writing his biography. Says Posnanski:

I have thought about Joe Paterno, his strengths, his flaws, his triumphs, his failures, his core, pretty much nonstop for months now. I have talked to hundreds of people about him in all walks of life. I have read 25 or 30 books about him, countless articles. I’m not saying I know Joe Paterno. I’m saying I know a whole lot about him.

And what I know is complicated. But, beyond complications — and I really believe this with all my heart — there’s this, and this is exclusively my opinion: Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life.

Nobody has really wanted to say this lately, and I grasp that. The last week has obviously shed a new light on him and his program — a horrible new light — and if you have any questions about how I feel about all that, please scroll back up to my two points at the top.

Posnanski is upset that almost none of the people "fundamentally inspired and galvanized by Joe Paterno have not stepped forward to stand up for him" this week, though he understands why. "A kind word for Joe Paterno in this storm is taken by many as a pro vote for a child molester," writes Posnanski. "A quick, 'Wait a minute, Joe Paterno is a good man. Let’s see what happened here' is translated as an attempt to minimize the horror of what Jerry Sandusky is charged with doing."  If it turns out Paterno did knowingly cover up sexual abuse, Posnanski vows he'll write about it with "all the power and fury I have in me." But not until all the facts are in about what Paterno knew, when he knew it, and what exactly he did or didn't do. [New York Post and SI]

  • In 1996, John McCain called the Ultimate Fighting Championship "human cockfighting" and sent letters to all 50 governors asking them to ban the mixed martial arts organization. They didn't, and tomorrow night the sport will make its network television debut on Fox, which is airing the heavyweight championship fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. The New York Times traces how a sport that began its existence looking like a "brawl at a carnival" became the world's fastest growing sport. It took $2 million for Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the "megarich owners of a string of Las Vegas casinos" to buy Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2001. Now the promotion company is worth more than $1 billion, a number that's only going to increase as more and more countries begin airing pay-per-view events. How to explain the swift rise of the brutal fight game? The decline of boxing and natural human bloodlust are popular explanation, but the UFC also realized the marketing potential of social media sites eons before other sports. They don't just get likes and retweets -- they get fans' money with a variation of the traditional pay-per-view model. For a recent UFC event in Houston, "the first fights were watchable for free on Facebook, then the next ones free on cable's Spike TV. But "the final fights, the best ones, would only be shown to those fans who spent the $50" to buy it on pay-per-view. That's a brainy strategy, but there are also more obvious advantages: bouts have low overhead. It's just two guys in a cage, neither one of whom is pocketing $20 million just for showing up like in boxing. Salaries are confidential, and president Dana White estimates UFC has turned "something like 40 fighters into millionaires, 20 multimillionaires, and, you know, guys making hundreds of thousands of dollars." Which really isn't that much when you look at the yearly payroll of a 53-man NFL team. And in non-championship bouts the fighters "often earn only $6,000 a bout — double that if they win." With plans to expand to 150 countries, it almost doesn't matter that pay-per-view sales for 2011 are  "sizably down" after rising every year for a decade. It doesn't bother chairman Lorenzo Fertitta. "I'm pretty comfortable saying we’re the most valuable sports franchise on the planet," he says when asked to put a hypothetical pricetag on the UFC. "[M]ore than Manchester United, more than the New York Yankees, more than the Dallas Cowboys.” So at least $2 billion. [The New York Times]
  • The North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans open their seasons tonight. Unlike other men's basketball season openers, this will be played on the USS Carl Vinson, which is currently docked in San Diego. That's the aircraft carrier that took Osama bin Laden's body to sea for burial. Also: it's an aircraft carrier! 7,000 fans will come aboard for the game tonight, including President Obama. The court took days to set up, but it happens much faster in the AP's time lapse video. [AP]