Around the world in MMA

Though North America and to a lesser extent Brazil remain by some distance the largest markets for mixed martial arts.

26 March 2013 Michael Barber

106 | 107 Though North America and to a lesser extent Brazil remain by some distance the largest markets
for mixed martial arts, the shockwaves from its explosion on to the professional sporting scene
roughly a decade ago have been felt around the world. In an international roundtable, SportsPro
caught up with the heads of three budding satellite promotions all aiming to capitalise on the
growing popularity of the sport in areas yet to have experienced the full force of the Ultimate
Fighting Championship’s now global reach.
Around the world
in MMA
By Tom Love
SportsPro: How did you come to found
the promotion?
VC: My role at ESPN was basically to
look at every possible sport business
model and identify where there were
growth opportunities for the company
– sports or television or where the
company could expand on and improve. I
looked at every sport from ballroom
dancing to baseball, poker to billiards, the
X Games to mixed martial arts. The crazy
thing was that I had never seen a sport
that was experiencing the same kind of
growth that MMA was doing. This is a
sport that a year and a half ago absolutely
exploded everywhere but in Asia so it
seemed like there was a gap and an
opportunity. Knowing that, I put together
a business plan and convinced a group of
foreign investors that this was an
opportunity to go after because Asia is the
home of martial arts.
DG: When I came back to England I
was making quite a few programmes for
Bravo and when they lost the Ultimate
Fighting Championship (UFC), fi rst of all
to Setanta and then latterly to ESPN, they
felt like they had a gap to fi ll. They actually
approached me to see what was out there in
the UK market because they felt like if they
had a strong domestic product then that
could work really well. The reality was that
when we looked there wasn’t anything
operating at the time that really lent itself to
a good TV production. So we made the
leap of faith and set up our own promotion;
that was just over three years ago now.
RK: India has a huge pool of untapped
talent and we have talented athletes in so
many combat sport disciplines who have
been waiting for MMA to come to India.
The timing was perfect and the SFL was
born. I partnered with my close friend, the
fi tness face of India and Bollywood
superstar Mr Sanjay Dutt, which has
helped get the right eyeballs and attention
required for SFL.
SportsPro: How has the promotion
grown since its inception?
DG: I think it has grown well, very
quickly, and we’re very happy with it. It’s
extremely diffi cult because you’re not just
producing a TV show, you’re producing an
event and everything else that goes with
that. As a company [Giant Film & TV]
we’re quite used to big event management
and production but there’s a whole new
skill set to learn – dealing with fi ghters
and agents and things like that. There was
quite a steep learning curve to begin with.
RK: The promotion has grown in
parallel to the sport’s growth in the
country. We have been successful in
educating India about MMA with SFL 1,
2, and 3 and reached out to millions via
the reality show SFL Challengers. We have
over four million YouTube views;
comparing that to any of the Asian
competition it really puts us as the number
one promotion in Asia.
VC: The growth has been
exponential. It’s been much, much faster
than I ever thought it was going to be, not
only from the television and broadcasting
nature but also in the media. One FC has
a ten-year television deal with ESPN;
that’s unprecedented. There’s no sport in
Asia that has a ten-year television deal
which is just a sign of how much of an
opportunity ESPN thinks this is and how
much confi dence they have in what we’re
doing with One FC. We’re doing great
strategic partnerships with global brands
and we’re seeing the sport expanding,
we’re selling out venues wherever we go.
In August we sold out the 16,500-seater
Smart Araneta Coliseum, where
Mohammed Ali fought the ‘Thrilla in
Manila’ against Joe Frazier. The growth
has been way faster and way more exciting
than I ever thought it would be.
“India has a huge pool of untapped talent
and we have talented athletes in so many
combat sport disciplines who have been
waiting for MMA to come to India.”
SportsPro Magazine | 1067
Meet the contenders:
Super Fight League founder
Raj Kundra
British-born entrepreneur Raj
Kundra is the founder of India’s
Super Fight League (SFL), a Mumbaiheadquartered
mixed martial arts
(MMA) promotion that held its
fi rst event in March 2012. A selfconfessed
sports enthusiast, Kundra,
together with his Bollywood actress
wife Shilpa Shetty, is a part-owner
of Indian Premier League cricket
franchise Rajasthan Royals.
Widely recognised as the face of
MMA in India, Kundra’s varied
business interests include real
estate, renewable energy and
mining and the 37-year-old spends
some of his spare time training in
kickboxing –as well, of course, as the
sport he promotes.
British Association of Mixed
Martial Arts chief executive
David Green
With comprehensive experience in
television as a presenter, interviewer
and latterly – through the creation
of his own company Giant Film &
TV – as a producer, David Green
is the media-savvy chief executive
of the British Association of Mixed
Martial Arts (BAMMA). A long-time
fan of the sport, Green fi rst became
involved with MMA through the debut
broadcast of The Ultimate Fighter
season one on Spike TV, a US channel
that at the time also served as home to
his road-rally reality TV series Bullrun.
A former model, the Englishman’s
diverse professional background
has also seen him pursue a semiprofessional
racing career.
One Fighting Championship
chief executive Victor Cui
According to Victor Cui, the chief
executive of Asia’s One Fighting
Championship (One FC), the
MMA promotion he owns
encompasses a blend of styles
from both the east and the west,
a characteristic he himself embodies.
Born in Canada of Chinese Filipino
descent, Cui’s 16-year career in
the sports media industry has seen
him work on “everything from the
Olympics to the Commonwealth
Games to the X Games.” Prior to
founding One FC in 2001, Cui held
roles with the PGA Tour for fi ve
years and ESPN for six and a half.
Cui has been living in Asia with
his wife and family for the last
seven years.
SportsPro: There is already a history
of boom and bust in MMA; what sets
your promotion apart from the rest?
RK: Our business model is totally
separate from other organisations’. Our
biggest setback is we don’t have a PPV
[pay-per-view] model in India; however,
our biggest advantage is we have good
paying sponsors and the population and
reach in India is so huge that sponsors
pay good money to organisations that
provide them this reach. With the
mixture of celebrities from Bollywood
and hardcore, homegrown MMA action,
we are in a league of our own.
VC: The majority of the fi ghters on
our cards are Asian champions and
people from the local region because
that’s where our fans are from and
108 | that’s who they want to see. I’m not
spending ridiculous amounts of money
on one big name or trying to make a
one-off fi ght card. We’re purposely
building our fi ght cards around fi ghters
that are Asian-based so already our
profi tability is very different. The other
big thing is timing. Had we done this
sport fi ve years ago it would’ve been too
early – fi ve years from now, too late. It’s
not a coincidence that, it doesn’t matter
what industry you’re in, everybody is
trying to work out how to bring their
business to Asia. All those people are
trying to work out how to get into the
region. Well, we’re already here.
DG: You see new promotions spring
up and collapse very quickly in MMA. I
think that’s just a result of it being Wild
West a bit in that it’s a new frontier. It’s
not often that a new sport comes along
that hasn’t existed in the past. It’s just so
unusual for a complete sport to come up
that just hasn’t been covered before.
SportsPro: How different is the
perception of MMA in the US
compared to your own territory?
DG: Anybody who knows anything
about MMA knows that it’s not the
“human cockfi ghting” that it was made
out to be back in the day. In the US it’s
unbelievable. I think it’s the fourth-biggest
sport in America now and it’s a completely
legitimate sport in the sense that you see
MMA stars turning up on Dancing with
the Stars. The athletes are seen in the
same light as any other sportsperson, and
so they should because these guys are of
Olympic-standard fi tness and level of skill.
It’s a shame in the UK that we’ve inherited
a bit of a reputation with MMA that it’s
some sort of rough, violent brawl and it’s
been really hard to get away from that.
RK: It’s totally different. In India
MMA is still in its infancy and people are
still learning and understanding the sport.
In the US there is an existing fanbase and
market for MMA. We have pumped in
millions of dollars into the sport to
develop it on all frontiers. We have created
opportunities for talented fi ghters to get a
career in MMA, we have helped support
the federation for MMA in our country
and we have made sports history with our
MMA TV deal. Many people in India still
do perceive MMA as a new promotion for
pro wrestling but once they attend their
fi rst SFL show or watch it on TV, all their
doubts are cleared.
VC: It’s defi nitely in its infancy but the
essence of martial arts is defi nitely present
in every Asian country. When you’re
talking about martial arts, Asia is the
home of it. Think of the all the martial
arts that have their roots in Asia – muay
thai, kung-fu, judo, etc. Turn on the
television at any time here in Asia and
you’re going to see martial arts. It’s part of
the everyday culture here, so seeing two
champions fi ght and compete in martial
arts is not a foreign concept. It’s very easy
and very strongly rooted in Asian culture
versus trying to teach Asians how to
“Had we done this sport  ve years ago it
would’ve been too early –  ve years from
now, too late.”
Referee Marc Goddard (second right) con rms Jimi Manuwa’s (second left) win over Anthony Rea (right) at BAMMA 8 at Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena
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110 | 111 play cricket. They’ve never picked up a
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SportsPro: How would you assess the
overall health of MMA in your territory
from a commercial standpoint?
VC: It’s very attractive for sponsors,
we’re getting big companies that are
coming on board and the momentum is
very strong. Some of our sponsors are
Sony, Carl’s Jr which is like Burger
King, Energizer, Schick razors. These
are all global brands. At our last event
[One FC: Pride of a Nation on 31st
August] we partnered with the launch of
the movie Marvel’s The Avengers by
Walt Disney Pictures.
DG: The violence aspect will limit its
growth into certain areas and obviously
some sponsors wouldn’t go near it
because of that but I think the UFC in
America has been paving the way in
making MMA much more acceptable.
The level of interest in the sport [in the
UK] is fantastic. I think we need to work
on perceptions outside of the MMA
community and I think everyone could
probably be a little more collaborative in
the MMA world and push in the right
direction, because ultimately it would
benefi t everybody.
RK: Our business model is based on
TV deals, merchandise deals and
sponsorships. These three combined
make the business very viable for us and
we are already recouping our initial
investment. We are here for the long run
and being the only MMA organisation in
the world to go weekly we have topquality
content to offer sports channels
all over the world.
SportsPro: How rigidly do you follow
the business model used by the UFC
considering that it has proven to be
so successful?
DG: I think it’s like any business,
they’re the market leader and you can
look at them for examples of things
they’ve done right and things they’ve
done wrong. I think we’re very lucky
to have the UFC – they’ve been a
great ambassador for the sport
worldwide. They’ve done a lot to
promote the sport around the world
and basically make people aware of
the sport. They’ve been instrumental
in doing that for everybody. I think
they run an incredibly tight ship; it’s
a very polished product and I think
they still are the benchmark in a lot
of ways for how MMA should be run
and produced.
VC: We like to think One FC is
trailblazing its own path. We have our
own set of rules which is a combination
of the best practices of the east and the
west and the company is a refl ection of
that philosophy. It’s a combination of the
best of the east or west practices. Our
sponsors and our commercial partners
are also of that mix. One FC is an
Super Fight League founder Raj Khundra with actress Shilpa Shetty, Olympic medal-winning boxer Mary Kom and chief operating o cer Daniel Isaac
“You see new promotions spring up and
collapse very quickly in MMA. I think
that’s just a result of it being Wild West
a bit in that it’s a new frontier.”
SporrttssPrro Magaziine || 1101
Asian-based organisation looking to be
the largest and best organisation in Asia,
that’s our focus right now.
RK: We don’t. Their model would not
work a single day in India.
SportsPro: In other MMA
organisations the president acts as
the outspoken face of the promotion.
How does your own leadership style
match up with that image?
DG: Well that’s maybe one thing we
haven’t borrowed off the UFC. We’ve
talked about it a lot. A lot of other
promotions feel like they have to do that
basically because of Dana White. I think
you have to have a presence and a position
but I think you have to earn it as well and
I don’t think you should be out there
posturing if you haven’t earned your place
in the market yet.
RK: I have become the face for
MMA in India but I am not very
outspoken at all. The sport should be
bigger than the promoter. I always
believe and we are putting our money
and hard work behind making MMA a
well recognised sport in India, an
alternative to its only sport of cricket.
VC: Well, I’m sure you’ll fi nd a lot of
people who fi nd me an asshole to deal
with. For me though, the reason that
fi ghters and sponsors want to be part of
One FC is because that they can see that
what I’m building and what we have is a
world-class organisation. When people
come to our events they’re seeing
something they’ve never seen before –
we’re bringing Las Vegas to their cities.
That’s why people are falling in love with
One FC, not just because I talk in the
media in a certain way.
SportsPro: Where would the promotion
like to be in fi ve years’ time?
DG: We’d like to be more of a
household name. We’d like to be doing
more shows to bigger audiences and just
have an established presence as a sports
TV platform in the UK.
RK: Five years is too far ahead.
Within the next 12 months SFL and our
fi ghters will rival the best MMA fi ghters
in the world. We see ourselves becoming
one of the largest pools of talent in the
sport within the next few years and
having fi ghters from all over the world
choosing SFL as an organisation they
would love to be in to showcase their
talent to the billions of people we have
access to.
VC: I would like to see fans of One
FC in every single country in Asia. In
fi ve years’ time, I think this could be the
biggest sport in Asia. The kind of
growth that we’re doing now, the
excitement we have from sponsors and
fans and just the growth that we’re
experiencing makes me feel really
confi dent about how we’ll be doing in
fi ve years’ time. We’ll be holding events
in every major city across Asia and if
you turn on the television at any time,
you’re going to see One FC.
Fighters assemble before the crowd ahead of a One Fighting Championship promotion at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 31st March 2012
“When people come to our events they’re
seeing something they’ve never seen before –
we’re bringing Las Vegas to their cities. ”

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