Yet another MMA promotion launches
Yesterday, another MMA promotion was unveiled in New York City. The new promotion – M-1 Global – will be led by President/CEO Monte Cox and its first major signing – Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
Signing the man commonly known simply as Fedor was a great move but here’s why I’m skeptical about the latest promotion to throw its hat into the wildly popular MMA arena:
1) M-1 claims it will be different from UFC because it will be global – Well, for one thing the headquarters of M-1 Global are in New York City. Sounds pretty American to me. And, outside of Fedor’s signing, what other evidence is there that the promotion actually has global reach?
In almost every other major sport (outside soccer, rugby, and cricket, all three of which simply haven’t taken hold in this country), the world’s most dominant league is in America. If you are a basketball player growing up in Croatia and you want to be known as the best, you go to the NBA. If you are a baseball player growing up in Japan, you go to MLB. And, if you are a hockey player in Russia, then the NHL is your desired destination.
While these sports leagues may have global reach now, they first started by conquering one of the largest consumer markets in the world – America. So, for M-1 to become global, I’m afraid they are first going to have to gain market share in America, because MMA has gotten huge here which means there are a lot of business dollars available here that aren’t available elsewhere.
But, M-1 is late to the game, very late. UFC clearly is the brand to beat in the States. It’s not even close right now. I’ve been to a number of MMA events in the past year and none compares in feel to a UFC event. A UFC championship fight feels like a real championship fight, whether it represents a battle between the best fighters or not.
MMA nerds can argue the merits of each of UFC's weight classes (and I'm one who has in this very blog), but the casual fan in this country equates MMA with UFC. There’s plenty of football played everyday during the fall, but the only games that truly count are played in the NFL. In MMA, that’s UFC right now.
2) M-1’s execs claim they will bring new, refreshing ideas to the sport, and that will help them capitalize on the expanding market. This includes paying fighters more and joining in cooperative efforts with other leagues. Where have I heard that before?
That’s right. EliteXC said the same thing one year ago. Is there room for two such leagues? And are two such leagues necessary?
The main problem M-1 faces is that EliteXC launched with the necessary TV deal with Showtime and currently M-1 has no TV deal. This is a huge difference. Regular TV exposure goes a long way to furthering the brand.
Even fledgling HDNet Fights has a TV deal in place and Mark Cuban’s money to boot. So, I’m waiting for something truly refreshing to come out of one of these new leagues.
3) I’ve argued in the past that multiple major promotions are a good thing for MMA, specifically for fighters and fans. However, the explosion we have seen in the last year takes this thought beyond reason. I don’t believe all these leagues are sustainable.
Think of MMA like our two-party political system. Independents sound like a great idea but the reality is that it’s hard to displace the incumbents. Right now, UFC is an incumbent. PRIDE was an incumbent but since its demise I think EliteXC is in the best position to compete for that second spot. (Note that while I think IFL has a good product I consider them a force in the team MMA space, which I'm not discussing in this entry.)
So, all these other promotions such as BodogFight, Strikeforce, HDNet Fights, and M-1 really appear to be squeezed out by UFC and EliteXC. These other promotions are then fighting for the scraps and are looking like minor leagues right now. At best, I believe there may be room for a third major promotion, but even this I doubt.
I also don’t think money alone is going to make any one of these leagues successful. And, I’m not quite sure that UFC is paying that poorly either. Either way, Dana White seems to have been able to procure most of the best fighters in the world.
So, what we have then is a number of smaller promotions, each built around one or two good fighters. Each promotion comes up with its own belts and its own events and every once in a while, the promotions send their champions out to fight the champions of other promotions.
You know what that sounds like? It sounds a lot like the confusing mess that is the sport of boxing. And I reject it as a desirable option.
I’ll give M-1 and all these other leagues some time to prove themselves. But, right now – outside of a major fighter signing here and there – I haven’t seen anything that impresses me yet.