Friday 5ive: Five Fatal Mistakes That a New Fight Promotion Can Make

By: Albert Miller – In the day and age of Netflix and Fight Pass, I felt like a dinosaur digging through my collection of DVD’s trying to find my copy of the movie “Bloodsport.” In the rescue efforts for the DVD, I had to dig through my MMA DVD collection and I had something of a trip down memory lane.

When it comes to what MMA organization I’ll follow and support, I’ve always had the outsider mentality. The burning desire to know what prospects are coming to the main stage, to be the guy who has his finger on the pulse on the next big thing, is what really lead me to starting Cage Nation TV and building my own platform to be heard on. I had events on my hands from promotions long since gone; you can even go on Fight Pass and come across events that were doomed from early inception because they made small, yet critical, errors.

In honor of those events, those promotions gone too soon, this week’s Friday 5ive is dedicated to five fatal errors that new fight promotions can make. Here’s the 2017 being the year of small fight leagues making big impacts and having staying power

No. 5: Being too confident in Pay-Per-View buys – Pay Per View is so tricky, especially if you are firmly rooted in the stone age cable pay-per-views. With the advent of such streaming services as Tuff TV and GoFightLive, it’s a lot easier to watch a fight remotely, but those fight promotions are still cognizant that their bread and butter comes from ticket sales and not pay-per-view buys. The idea that you can survive solely on pay-per-view is really an antiquated view. Yamma (yes, I am going to talk about Yamma a lot today) tried to be a pay-per-view destination when the rest of the MMA impact players were getting TV deals. We are entering a time in history where we don’t rely on cable to consume all of the combat sports we need; we can go to and get news instead of having to buy a cable subscription to watch ESPN. As obsolete as cable is becoming, so is the idea that people are looking for one-off pay-per-view events. Think, long and hard, about the last pay-per-view that you purchased. Ask yourself: was it because it was a movie that you really wanted to watch and it wasn’t in theatres anymore, or perhaps it’s a sporting event that has been built up? Was it ever a spectacle that you saw an ad for and just had to throw money at it? In this era of combat sports, there has to be a pretty high profile reason to buy a pay-per-view; I’m talking Pacquiao-Mayweather, or McGregor-Diaz reason to buy pay-per-view. Most simply stated: new promotions haven’t built the kind of momentum to make pay-per-view worth it.

Worst Offenders:

  • Yamma Pit Fighting
  • Gracie Fighting Championship (Yes, it was a thing.)
  • Affliction

No. 4: Bad marketing tactics – This is a serious offense, but it’s not the most serious on the list. A paradox, if you will. Marketing is so critically important to the fight business because it is a business. What a lot of small businesses fail to realize is that marketing is much more than advertising; advertising is a crucial part of marketing, but there is a difference. For all intents and purposes, marketing is a calculated effort of identifying who you are trying to get your message to, how they receive those messages, and getting it to them. Like most people that you meet, first impressions are super important. To come out of the gate making comments like “The best evolution in combat” or “the best fights in the world” when you haven’t had a single event is just silly. As a fight fan myself, as being a member of the target market for those promotions, there is select information that I want to get me to buy a ticket. 1. Who is fighting? 2. What makes this fight relevant? (is it for a title? Have the fighters fought before? Did someone insult someone else’s sister?) 3. When is the fight? 4. Where can I buy tickets? If those four questions are answered, then you can best believe that I will do my damndest to attend a fight. To come out with blanket statements like “Don’t miss the pound for pound best fight league in the world” is just wasting your breath. I watch fights for fighters, not for the brand. If your brand consistently brings quality fights, then your brand has value, but not a moment before.Please be rest assured, this transgression also covers “gimmicks” as bad marketing as well. The Yamma Pit? Bareknuckle Boxing? The WFA, where fight club meets nightclub? All bad for a young promotion.

Worst Offenders:

  • Yamma Pit Fighting (for their “Yamma,” or pit)
  • World Fighting Alliance (for “Where Fight Club Meets Night Club”)
  • BKB (when BKB stood for “Bare Knuckle Boxing,” and the bare knuckle gloves)
  • BoDogFIGHT (For pretty much being an informercial for gambling with breaks for fights)

No. 3: Trying to recapture the magic of yesterday – The Ultimate Fighter 1 finale was the first live event I ever watched on basic cable, and I can remember sitting on the edge of my mom’s couch as Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar were slugging it out. There is a reason that fight is touted as the most important fight in Mixed Martial Arts history; because of the heart and determination of those two men, MMA didn’t just earn mainstream attention, it took it by force. Do you remember that there was a rematch between Griffin and Bonnar? Do you remember watching the fight? It was an okay fight, but nowhere near the magic that the first one was. For that reason, there was no Griffin vs. Bonnar 3. If we can learn anything from the UFC’s example of Griffin and Bonnar, it’s that highlight reel moments are special for a reason, that they can’t be recreated on a whim. What makes this flaw so egregious is how much money a new fight promotion will sink into trying to get the stars of yesterday to make their comeback for their fight. For example, “The Polar Bear” Paul Varleans had the potential to be a contender in the early UFC’s, and while it would be impressive to have “Former UFC Legend” on your fight poster, would you do the kind of business that would keep repeat customers coming back? We talk a lot about business, but that’s because combat sports are a business. Promoters are selling tickets on a platform of pugilism; any business needs calculated efforts to make money, and there is no more valuable asset than to have customers ready to buy their next ticket. Counting on former contenders in hopes to get that one-off ticket is not the most effective use of marketing. What’s worse than trying to find that one guy who fought in the UFC fifteen years ago? The rematch that no one was asking for. In most recent memory, there is one fight that sticks out as being exceptionally unwarranted: “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie. I firmly believe that Bellator could have made a much more effective use of those promotional dollars, for fights that would have extended the potency of their brand. What it boils down to is that fight promotions are better off developing their own stars and unique brand of action instead of trying to franchise someone else’s.

Worst Offenders:

  • Bellator MMA
  • International Fight League
  • Rizin Fighting Federation

No. 2: Changing the ring/cage to make the fights better – Without fail, every time I see a fight promotion come to the table with “The fighting surface has evolved,” I begin a countdown to promotional failure, and I’m usually right. There is a reason that the boxing ring’s design hasn’t changed in a few hundred years: because it works! In fact, the boxing ring design is so good that MMA (sometimes known as “cage” fighting) will employ a boxing ring. If the last ten years has taught us anything, especially with the way people are trying to reinvent the ring, it’s that if a fighter wants to stall, he’s going to stall; if someone wants to take someone down and hold him up against the cage or ropes, he’ll find a way to do it. Without a doubt, the engineers paid to redesign these rings and cages are happy to take someone’s money, but they all keep forgetting something very important: the human element. The difference between a lead ball and the human form is that the human form has the spacial awareness and free will to navigate the laws of physics. According to the laws of physics, a lead ball will just roll up one side of the Big Knockout Boxing (BKB) pit and down the other. According to the laws of man, if I am not going to receive a penalty for little stalls that will afford me the chance to catch my breath, I’m going to do it. Perhaps the idea of the Octagon being revealed for the first time has romanticized the idea of new fighting surfaces being discovered; but new fight promoters would be well advised to keep in mind that the Octagon was built because there was no alternative to the boxing ring. Before the Octagon, men and women had resolved to do battle in the boxing ring for hundreds of years. At the end of the day, only one person will ever get to say that they’d discovered the element of iron.

Worst Offenders:

  • Yamma Pit Fighting (The Yamma Pit)
  • Big Knockout Boxing (The BKB Pit)
  • International Fight League (The Hex)

No. 1: Trying to spend too much too soon to compete with the Market Kings – Money talks and bullshit walks. When new promotions hit the scene, there is an idea that you can spend your way to getting into the upper echelon with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC); I don’t know where that thought came from, but if someone thought that they too could throw money and guarantee success, we’d have a lot more competition with the UFC. What it boils down to is that the UFC has one thing that money cannot buy: legacy. I heard a quote once that said “rock bottom has produced more champions than privilege.” What that means in this instance is that you cannot buy the trials and tribulations that has forged the UFC into the powerhouse that it is. If Warren Buffett started Buffet Fighting Championships today, that promotion couldn’t say that it had been through the regulatory ringer that the UFC had, that it had experienced the hardships that the UFC had. The sport is young enough that we remember UFC 12 getting moved on very short notice, we remember what it was like when MMA wasn’t allowed in most states; and perhaps we still have a healthy fear that it can go back to that. When a new MMA promotion shows up and starts throwing around the dollars, it’s efforts almost appear transparent. Here’s the real kicker, if we ignore the UFC’s history and get down to the brass tacks of what’s really important (the fights and fighters), these new promotions are trying so hard to compete with the UFC in terms of production values that they miss the opportunity to invest those funds in high profile fights and fighters. I find it very comforting that the new regional promotions coming up have learned those lessons, and that is why we follow them. If I were given the choice, I’d watch a dozen great fights in a warehouse with no production value than watch a dozen lousy fights with a multi-million dollar production budget. If you’re thinking about starting a promotion, understand this: fans show up and will show up again if the focus is on good fights.

Worst Offenders:

  • EliteXC / ProElite
  • International Fight League
  • BoDogFIGHT
  • Affliction

Thank you for joining us for this week’s Friday 5ive! It is our sincere hope that 2017 brings you more joy and success than you are prepared to receive.

Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!