Strikeforce Q&A with Mike Afromowitz
There have been a number of organizations that have tried to compete with the UFC and they all have failed miserably. One MMA organization that has done well for itself and is poised for a bright future is Strikeforce. For those who aren’t familiar with the promotion, I caught up with Strikeforce official Mike Afromowitz to give you some background.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What are the basics people need to know about Strikeforce?
Mike Afromowitz: We started in 1994 as a kickboxing series. We were on ESPN or ESPN2 as the exclusive provider of martial arts footage to ESPN and we presided over K1 back in 1999. We produced the first K1 U.S. event in Las Vegas in 2000 and our last event was last year. We launched Strikeforce MMA series in 2006 and crossed over from kickboxing to MMA. With our first MMA event we broke the North American attendance record for MMA with a sellout crowd of 18,265 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. They actually had to turn people away and this is back in 2006 when the sport was first heating up.
Then again, northern California has always been a hotbed for martial arts. There are so many great schools, tons of students. It was a great fit and the time was right.
MMA Stomping Grounds: A lot of promotions come and go. What makes Strikeforce different?
Mike Afromowitz: Our core competence is strong production and experience. You can’t underestimate experience and that’s where we have a strong advantage over the next guy. The short timeline I walked you through, that demonstrates our experience in production of martial arts shows. It’s about experience in martial arts business. We respect anyone who gets involved in the business, but to succeed at a high level doing arena shows, you need a lot of experience and we have that.
At the same time, our longevity in the business has allowed us to attract and retain top talent. We have, I think, a very strong roster of world-class fighters and our existence for awhile in business has allowed us to attract that type of talent.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Who are some of the top stars in Strikeforce?
Mike Afromowitz: We have Cung Le, someone people are familiar with. You may have seen him in the kickboxing series on ESPN and ESPN2. He has entertained a lot of fans over the years. We have Frank Shamrock, who people should know as the first UFC middleweight champion. He’s a legend in the sport and the father of modern MMA. Josh 'The Punk' Thomson, our lightweight champion, and he’s won his last eight or nine fights. And we’ve got Renato 'Babalu' Sobral, Kazuo Misaki, Joe Riggs, Gilbert Melendez. I think we have a healthy stable of world-class fighters [ed note: and now they have former UFC lightweight Jorge Gurgel]. There’s definitely a place for women’s fighting as well. That’s something we’re exploring. We’ve had a few women’s fights and it’s something we’d like to continue. It’s something we definitely want to host on our cards. Fans appreciate it and that’s what it’s about; putting on fights fans want to see. At end of the day, that’s a business we’d like to be in.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Is Strikeforce a competitor with the UFC?
Mike Afromowitz: Really, the UFC is No. 1 far and away. The job they have done under Zuffa and Dana White is remarkable. Right now they are No. 1 and really I don’t look at it that way. They are the kings. We are in business and want to be profitable and that’s our goal; to build a successful business really.
These guys (the UFC) have put their heart and souls in the sport for years and they put the amount of time and energy into it. New organizations can’t match that off the bat. You can’t go to Atlantic City and say you’re going to compete with Donald Trump right off the bat. It’s hard. You can throw all the money you want at it, hire 100 people to work for you and throw all the money in the world at the project, but it’s not going to match the UFC’s experience and their brand. The UFC brand is so strong. That’s like taking on an 800-pound gorilla and that’s not realistic.
MMA Stomping Grounds: Where can people find Strikeforce?
Mike Afromowitz: We’re on every Saturday night on NBC after Poker After Dark. We have live events on HDNet and a few events on Showtime, so hopefully fans will see even more of us in 2009.
MMA Stomping Grounds: What excites you the most about the sport’s future?
Mike Afromowitz: I think there’s more than one aspect, really. I’ve been in the business for a long time now so just to see the mainstream acceptance of the sport in the media and with the public. It’s an exciting time right now. The fact that the fighters keep progressing and getting better, I can’t imagine what the next generation of fighters will look like. Fighters today keep evolving into better hybrid competitors and it’s amazing to see the sport grow all around in its continuing evolution.