By: Albert Cameron – I don’t think many of us have to argue about which Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion is the best, in fact, we find ourselves in disagreement about which promotions are number two and number three. With the recent financial troubles of World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and the recent promotion snafus of Bellator, we may be having a completely different discussion about who is number two or three in the next year.
With all of that considered, I wanted to dedicate this week’s Friday Five to the five worst MMA promotions in my opinion. I can’t say that strongly enough: in my opinion. I’ve seen some promising promotions that could have rivaled the UFC (Extreme Fighting) and I’ve also seen some promotions that didn’t have a prayer (I’m looking at you, IFC; I bought two events for two dollars at Wal-Mart). Let’s run down this week’s Friday Five:
- Elite Xtreme Combat (EliteXC) – This one barely made the list, and I do mean barely. When wrapping your head around “why are the other promotions on the list? What makes them so bad? You find yourself pointing a little accusation at EliteXC. Let’s give credit where credit is due; EliteXC put the first women’s fight on network television (Gina Carano vs. Julie Kedzie) and really gave a secondary platform for up-and-coming talent who weren’t quite ready for the UFC. Without EliteXC (and subsequently Strikeforce, who procured EliteXC’s assets), guys like “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler, Gilbert Melendez, and Josh Thompson may have drifted off into obscurity without a place to shine that was non-UFC.
What bought EliteXC a spot on this list was the fact that they bet the farm …they didn’t even bet the farm, they got two sub-prime mortgages on the farm and invested with Bernie Madoff with the closing costs, on Kimbo Slice. At that moment in combat history, Kimbo Slice had an exhibition fight with Ray Mercer, a pro fight against Tank Abbott, and a whole lot of videos on YouTube of street fights. The charm was clear: he wasn’t winning street fights, he was embarrassing local tough guys and taking their money.
There is no shame in doubling down on a franchise fighter, however, it is a good idea to have that franchise fighter be one who is a well-rounded martial artist. Kimbo Slice had a fight signed to battle “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock and when Shamrock couldn’t compete, Slice was knocked out by “The Silverback” Seth Petruzelli. That was the last fight that EliteXC ever promoted; their franchise fighter had been damaged, the mystique was gone, and they had no one else waiting in the wings. EliteXC made the list of 5 worst promotions for the sheer fact that they made rookie mistakes and had piss-poor planning for the future.
- BodogFIGHT – Picture this: you tune in every week to a half-hour gambling infomercial because you’re going to see fights. I’m not really exaggerating that either; half of the episode was mediocre fights and the other half was “Calvin Ayre is playing volleyball with chicks on a beach that he reached by yacht! You might be able to make money too if you gamble at Bodog.com!” Again, no exaggeration.
BodogFIGHT came about during the post-Ultimate Fighter Season One MMA Boom. Networks had seen the homerun that Spike had hit with the Ultimate Fighter and they were trying to get lightning to strike twice. Bodog did the same thing with BodogFIGHT; trying to use the hysteria of MMA to cash in, in their case, bring people to their online gambling outlets. The fights were okay, no one really stood out of the pack other that Rodrigo and Carinna Damm, and even they haven’t been able to scratch their way into the elite.
BodogFIGHT earned themselves a spot on this list because it wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a singular focus on the fights. I get offended easily by promotions who have a platform, and they could use that platform to discover the next great champion, but they waste it. Bodog had an opportunity and completely screwed the pooch on trying to get people to gamble.
- World Fighting Alliance (WFA) – “The World Fighting Alliance: Where Fight Club Meets Night Club.” When I first read that slugline, I laughed, thinking that someone couldn’t be serious. I bought the WFA three event set, still thinking that someone couldn’t be serious. Someone was very serious about that gimmick. If you’ve subscribed to UFC Fight Pass and you haven’t checked out the WFA, by all means, do so. There are some really good fights and some up and comers for the time. Kimo Leopoldo, “Razor” Rob McCullough, and Rich “Ace” Franklin all fought for the WFA.
The inherent problem is that the night club gimmick was so distracting that you often forget about all the good fighters and the good fights that happened in the WFA cage. Let me paint a picture for you: a fight promotion, like any other, but they have girls dancing on tables, terrible music, and party lights that are shining every which way. It sounds great in theory, but is terrible in execution. Everything that makes a fight worth going to has completely been abandoned.
The WFA’s “Fight Club Meets Night Club” banter only lasted three events. After a hiatus, WFA tried to come back as a legitimate fight organization with their “King of the Streets” event, but it had been too little, too late.
- RioHeroes – On a completely editorial note, I have a very hard time masking my disgust for RioHeroes, so I don’t even try. RioHeroes was a South American promotion that may have well been fought in some guy’s basement, they kind of had a cage (three cage panels and a wall), and they kind of had a referee (some guy had a whistle). RioHeroes was trying to recapture the essence of No Holds Barred (NHB), but during a time when NHB was irrelevant. A lot of states were holding firm to their ban on MMA and RioHeroes was just the ammunition of irresponsible prizefighting that legislators and athletic commissions needed to be justified.
You know that puzzle piece play matting that most infants have in their play rooms? That is the same type of matting that RioHeroes had in their cage. My singular issue with RioHeroes has always been the irresponsibility, trying to bring back NHB when NHB no longer has a place in the world. There is a reason why MMA is regulated; because it is a sport and its competitors need to be safe in competition.
RioHeroes was bad, but it wasn’t the worst…
- Yamma Pit Fighting – Bob Meyrowitz was a certifiable pay-per-view expert. He was the guiding influence that made UFC 1 the pay-per-view event that it was, it’s why he was the center of Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG), the UFC’s first owner. Meyrowitz and SEG sold the UFC to Zuffa because they didn’t know how to make the UFC profitable anymore, they couldn’t see what the next evolution was to be coming down the line. In hindsight, I don’t see a lot of that being a flaw with SEG. In fact, it took some pretty ballsy maneuvers and a lot of money (which SEG had been hemorrhaging) to get the UFC to evolve.
Just imagine being Meyrowitz; sitting on your couch, eating your hot pockets, and you see a commercial for the Ultimate Fighter and you see SportsCenter reporting on record setting gates. That must have been finding out that your ex-wife is now riding the hobby horse with a millionaire who drives a few Lamborghini’s. Meyrowitz must have thought that now was the right time to get back into the fight game, that the conditions were just right for him to make an impact.
I guess, in theory, it was a good of time as any for Meyrowitz to try and make a move. His problem was timing and platform; he was trying to promote an event at the very tail end of the first MMA boom (on the decline, really) and that he insisted on pay-per-view. What the IFL, WSOF, and Bellator did right was pursue television outlets for their initial introduction to the public. At the time, MMA fans were not going to pay pay-per-view prices for a promotion that they had no experience or guarantee with.
All of that badness aside, the fundamental flaw was the product itself. Yamma tried to capitalize on the fond memory of single night tournaments, hoping that would draw us all in. New Jersey was the only athletic commission that would sanction the tournament, under the premise that bouts were single round, which lead to some pretty lackluster fights. The cage itself was part of the problem; “the Yamma Pit” was supposed to be an evolution in the fighting surface, it was a bowl. NASA didn’t lend any of their engineers to Yamma, Eintein’s papers weren’t consulted, and lost chapters of DaVinci’s notebook weren’t found; the Yamma Pit was a bowl.
The reason that Yamma is number one instead of RioHeroes is because Yamma was only able to promote one event. I can’t imagine why it didn’t take off, but it didn’t, and now it’s a joke amongst more nostalgic MMA fans.
There you have it, five promotions that had their shot and completely dropped the ball. The opportunity was there and they insisted on making a grilled crap salad sandwich anyways.
Thank you for reading and be looking forward to next week’s Friday Five!