Friday 5ive: Five Things King of the Cage Did Perfectly in the Mid 2000’s

KOTCLogoBy: Albert Cameron – It’s no secret that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in the Mid 2000’s was predominantly a West Coast fixture; those of us on the East had to rely on tape trading, the burgeoning internet video stream, and the occasional fight on Fox (and we’re talking Skinemax softcore porn hours). Right around 2005, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) knocked one out of the park with their reality series “The Ultimate Fighter.” In fact, had it not been for The Ultimate Fighter and the battle between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, there may not be a Cage Nation TV for me to write for. From 1993 to about 2005, we can just consider those the MMA dark ages.

What you might not know is that while the UFC is struggling to remain on Pay-Per-View, while they are fighting for a TV deal, and while those of us in the East are hoping for bans to get lifted (SIDE NOTE: Congratulations, New York!), there was a sleeper cell promotion that was building itself right under our noses. While most states had a ban on professional MMA, there was one promotion that figured out that the properties owned by the First Nations weren’t under State Athletic Commission jurisdiction. That promotion is known as King of the Cage.

On this week’s Friday 5ive, we’re going to count down five of the tasks that King of the Cage (KOTC) did flawlessly and has kept them pumping out great quality fights to this day.

NOTE: this list is not comprehensive and is not meant to ignore or demean other details of their business operations that may be important to other perspectives.

No. 5: Focused on “Up & Comers” – “The California Kid” Urijah Faber, Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez, Nam Phan, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, “Smoking” Joey Villasenor, and Mac Danzig all had some pretty high profile fights with KOTC before signing with the UFC and strapping on UFC gloves. King of the Cage did have legends like Dan “The Beast” Severn, “The Predator” Don Frye, and “The Boogeyman” Dean Lister on cards, but each of their events were focused on finding the best guys who would show up to the cage and fight. Not to sound like I’m comparing an ideal ex-girlfriend to the nasty wench that’s available now, but that really demonstrates my issue with Bellator and World Series of Fighting (WSOF). Both Bellator and WSOF have a platform to be farming the legend of tomorrow, but they focus on the water cooler stories of yesterday. KOTC had pretty much no platform outside of loyal fan-base, and did a lot to put these up and comers on the map. Later, we’re going to talk about KOTC’s fight library, but they’d essentially put themselves in a spot to be the go-to resource on pre-UFC fight footage for a lot of new guys in the Octagon. Someone compared it to “watching college football tapes.”

Some of the names that KOTC has been promoting that are relevant to you and I: newly signed UFC heavyweight Adam “The Prototype” Milstead, Ethan “The Wolverine” Goss, Melissa Gasdick, Brandon “B-Lux” Lux, Billy “The Psycho” Ward, and Francis Healy.

No. 4: Made their fight library extremely affordable – Suncoast Motion Picture Co. in the Logan Valley Mall, Altoona, PA had one copy of King of the Cage: Evolution of Combat. It was a 10 DVD set that boasted over 101 fights and 20 hours of action. The best part, it was only $20.00 (and that’s mall prices!) The adage of “you get what you pay for” often holds true, I was half expecting cell phone videos (Mid 2000’s, before smart phones) of bum fights. The production was very good, the fights were substantial and there were names that I’d recognized. On the last disc of the set, there was a great documentary about how West Coast fighters have trained to get to KOTC.

After “Evolution of Combat” was “Underground,” another 10 disc set (for $20.00), then “Underground Extreme,” and so on. These sets were affordable and had impact players fighting on them. Diego Sanchez would be fighting soon, and thanks to KOTC, I had actual fight footage to reference. Because of the KOTC fight library being attainable, even on a budget, I had something tangible to obsess over. Those boxed sets are where I developed my curiosity of “fighters before they were stars,” and to appreciate the fighters who fight, not knowing if they make it to the big stage or not. It’s those formative years that I’ve learned to appreciate and love my Pittsburgh fight scene.

No. 3: Excellent Branding – Let’s say you wear glasses like I do. At 100 yards, if you saw a family on TV that had bright yellow skin, blue hair, and a kid with a spike top, you’d know it was “the Simpsons” without wearing your glasses, right? If you saw black and yellow football jersey, you’d think The Pittsburgh Steelers; if you saw big, golden arches, you’d think McDonalds. I’m going to guess that if you see a big, bald guy crossing his arms and a lot of yellow, you’d think King of the Cage (assuming that you’re into MMA).

In the Mid-2000’s, KOTC had two options: 1). Be a UFC rip off, or 2). Develop their own style and appearance. Despite using a polygon cage, KOTC really tried to be their own brand; I can’t even really hold the polygon cage against them either, they did dabble in a square cage with beveled corners and a circular cage. The argument can be made that “the Icon” (KOTC’s bald guy) is a lift of the UFC’s “Ultiman” (the UFC’s Bald Guy), but that’s really about it.

To this day, KOTC gives their events exciting names like “Cage Wars,” “Nuclear Blast, “Extreme Edge” and so on, even in a day where the large promotions are naming their events after the main eventers. It’s all part of the branding strategy, my friends.

No. 2: Recovered from the ProElite disaster – Remember in January when I ranted about the Rizin Fighting Federation on the Prizefight Podcast? Well, despite all of the nut hugging, word is going around that Rizin FF is in financial trouble. That point is relevant because it’s not the first time that the smaller guys have tried to band together to take on the UFC. The first time was when EliteXC president Gary Shaw polished the brass on his cojones and thought that EliteXC had what it took to take down the biggest MMA promotion on the planet (and this is before PRIDE’s corpse was even cold). Shaw (and his EliteXC) banded with smaller promotions like Icon SPORT (formerly Superbrawl), Cage Rage, Rumble on the Rock, DREAM (Japan), Spirit MC (Korea), Strikeforce, and King of the Cage. POP QUIZ: out of all of those promotions mentioned, how many are still in operation today? Exactly.

EliteXC (and ProElite, really) fell apart when Kimbo Slice was separated from consciousness by “the Silverback” Seth Petruzelli. When it all came tumbling down, Terry Trebilcock (the previous owner of KOTC) was able to acquire 100% ownership of King of the Cage again. Not only that, but Trebilcock was able to take KOTC to greater heights by co-producing “Bully Beatdown” on MTV. Since Bully Beatdown’s cancellation, KOTC struck a deal with MavTV to air their episodes and a great presentation of King of the Cage is available on UFC Fight Pass.

No. 1: Global Expansion – Leaving the shores of the contiguous United States for an American fight promotion is a big deal and should be praised highly. Every time the UFC has gone to Brazil, to England, to Germany, to Japan, and so on, they need to be patted on the back. When PRIDE came from Japan to the United States, the global MMA audience applauded rightly so.

I don’t think a lot of MMA fans know that King of the Cage is also a global traveler, as far as promotions go. In front of me right now is “King of the Cage: Underground Worldwide” (a great boxed set, 10 DVD’s, for less than $20.00) and it has a copyright stamp of 2007. In that boxed set are some great domestic fights that highlight Mac Danzig, Dan Severn, and Joey Villasenor; but also on the set are events in Singapore, Austrailia, and Canada. The logistics of that are really starting to make my head hurt; the cage needs to be shipped, customs agents are involved, and you’re trying to introduce an American brand of combat sports (not every country adopts the unified rules or the American weight classes) with zero guarantee that those crowds will accept what they are seeing. For a promotion (that still had no major market viewing platform at that stage) to pull that off, there had to be some top-notch management in place.

It might be because the weather is getting nicer, that I associate summer time with watching King of the Cage during simpler times, but I felt that this week was a great week to be nostalgic. Thank you for joining us this week for the Friday 5ive; make sure you check out the Prizefight Podcast for the countdown to Pinnacle FC this weekend!

Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!