Tonight marks the beginning of the Bellator era on Spike TV. After the long waiting period, MMA fans looking for something extra will finally have regularly scheduled fights outside the UFC once again. The question is, just how lucrative will it be for the fighters? The actual purses might be competitive, but there aren't any discretionary bonuses, no PPV percentages, and most importantly, the lion's share of the big money sponsors are locked into iron-clad deals with the UFC. This presents a daunting challenge for athletes to make their bread and butter, and unless new life blood is transfused, doesn't look to get much better.
I spoke with one half of tonight's Bellator headliner, Rick Hawn, last week, and was was not surprised to find that he was also having a good degree of difficulty locating sponsors. The fine folks at FundAFighter have offered their services in helping him to locate extra money, but in this economic climate, a sponsor solution is really what's needed to offset the costs of following a dream. Here's what Rick had to say on the subject:
It's definitely been hard. I figured it would be pretty easy for this fight, to get sponsors, but I think most of the sponsors are locked up with the UFC and their contract thing, so a lot of the top paying guys are already spoken for by that organization. I've been trying to put stuff together, but it's been a little more difficult than I figured it would be, considering the magnitude of this fight and my background. It's been frustrating, but I have people that are taking care of that, and I'm trying not to think about it too much, so I can just go out there and win the belt.
Hopefully, in the future, more companies from outside the MMA world will come and get their hands in it. It's all about understanding and making relationships. I'm a huge underdog here, and people aren't really counting me in for this fight, so I think that's another reason why I'm kind of under the radar, in terms of being a face to represent someone.
Underdog or not, Hawn is fighting the Bellator lightweight champion tonight, and will be on national television. This should serve as a wake-up call for managers, promoters, and MMA as a whole to tighten up their game, in hopes of landing the big fish sponsors for these athletes, and pushing the sport further into the mainstream.
You can follow Rick via his Twitter account, @RickHawnMMA