Every time a promotion has an event going on, or a minor PR crisis, we hear the same rhetoric. We hear Bjorn Rebney talk about how fighters are family before firing them via email, or Dana White talk about how many millionaires the UFC makes before putting on a pay-per-view with a third of the card making the UFC's minimum disclosed salary. It gets old. It's promoter speak and it's hard to take any of it seriously.
I consider myself pretty jaded and cynical when it comes to that kind of thing. It takes something else to prick my ears up and make me pay attention. My interview with new Titan FC owner Jeff Aronson accomplished exactly that.
The first thing that strikes you about Jeff is his passion for this. Not a passion for being the biggest, baddest promotion on the block. Not a passion for beating the UFC. Not a passion for making a bunch of money from promoting fights. His passion is for making a platform for the best unsigned fighters to put on the best fights possible.
His vision is, at heart, a simple one; find the next Jon Jones, the next Cain Velasquez, the next Ronda Rousey. Put them in the ring with each other, and with established top level veterans who have hit a rough patch. Incentivize everyone involved with finish bonuses all round, and have clauses letting guys go to the UFC with no fuss if Zuffa come calling.
This melting pot will give fights to guys who find it difficult to find opponents, will let fighters build up highlight reels, and the fans will be getting great fights all the while. Forget about competing with other promotions, forget about contract shenanigans and forget about trying to beat the UFC. This is about making a platform for fighters to perform and get rewarded for it. I love it.
Some of you may already recognize Jeff's name as one of the founders of Alchemist, the MMA management firm. He has stepped down from his active role there to avoid any conflicts of interest. I asked him what made him decide to start promoting, since he has already experienced a lot of success in his other ventures.
When I started Alchemist in 2010 with Lex McMahon, MC Hammer and Nima Safapour, the goal was to create the best management company in all of MMA, to cultivate the top prospects and get them into the UFC, to find the best veterans and start running their careers professionally and get them involved with mainstream sponsors and things outside of the cage. We wanted to plant seeds today that will blossom into things for their retirement.
We have done exceptionally well with that, but the problem I started running into as I started signing more and more top young prospects, was I couldn't get them any fights. No one would fight these guys. So, you've got these incredible 2-0, 3-0 prospects, but you can't get them any fights! The problem is the UFC is typically not looking for a kid who is 2-0 or 3-0, so they have to fight. It has become an epidemic. I started talking to the other managers in the field and everybody has the same problems.
I decided about a year ago that I had had enough. I was looking around at different promotions and seeing what was going on in the business of MMA. I got myself familiar with some of the promoters out there, and then I started a new company called Titan FC and I brought over a bunch of guys that had run the shows for the old Titan, because there's so much that goes into putting on a good show.
A lot of successful businessmen think they're going to walk into the world of MMA, notice opportunities other promoters haven't, and make a bunch of money. Jeff is one of the most successful guys to ever contemplate getting into MMA promotion, and he has a very different view of the market.
I pride myself on my business acumen, and the one thing I really do is study what's going on in the industry and the field. History repeats itself, so look at everybody that's going up against the UFC; Bodog, Elite XC, Strikeforce... Everybody that has tried to challenge the UFC has wound up on their butt. Nobody has been able to do it.
No one is going to take on Zuffa and win at this point. It's just not going to happen.
No one is going to take on Zuffa and win at this point. It's just not going to happen, and I have no aspirations to do that. I am very happy to do that carving my place and my niche giving young fighters the best platform in the word to shine on, and giving vets the opportunity to come and shine.
I give every single fighter a ‘Zuffa Out' clause, and every fighter, every single fighter that finishes a fight, is going to get a bonus. I am doing everything to incentivize these guys to go out there, let it all hang out and put on the best shows. I don't want to be considered a feeder league, I want to provide the best platform for talent. So yes, all of my guys have the ability to leave for the UFC, because every kid training in MMA has the dream of being a UFC champion. I want to be part of the facilitation of helping these guys get the fights they need.
Jeff's passion really comes to the forefront when you get him talking about his goals and aims for Titan FC. When you ask him what he's trying to accomplish.
I want to let guys perform against other guys at the top level and find out how good they really are. Guys are training twice a day, five or six times a week, and they deserve to test themselves. I'm giving them that platform. Before Cain Velasquez was in the UFC, he was still Cain Velasquez. Before Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones were in the UFC, they were still Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones. The talent level out there is incredible. It could take a guy three years to get to the UFC, but for those three years he'll now be fighting for Titan and he'll get bonuses and he'll get treated great.
I came up with a motto for the company. It's ‘Fans, Fighters First.' That's the truth.
I came up with a motto for the company. It's ‘Fans, Fighters First.' That's the truth. Give the fans the best show and treat the fighters great, and we'll be first in the race. I want to be doing all the things that as a manager, I would have wanted for my fighters.
Without the fighters there is no show. I take time out of my day every day to talk to some of the fighters and talk to some of the managers. I want to make sure that everybody is doing OK and that they're in the right state of mind.
Some promoters will actively disparage fighters who have been cut from the UFC. It's not a great look, and it's one Jeff thinks is often hypocritical, and isn't a great business decision anyway. Titan will be actively pursuing the signing of established veterans.
No one is going to tell me that the best talent in the world is not at that UFC level. A guy might have a little bit of a rough patch in the UFC, but the year before he might have been ready to fight for the title. Look at somebody like George Sotiropolous who we just signed. He went through a tough patch, but a year before that he was one fight away from the lightweight title.
Organizations say things, then they go out and sign ex-UFC vets anyway. I put my money where my mouth is. I think veterans deserve a chance, I think prospects deserve a chance and I think if it's going to provide fireworks for the fans, that's all that matters.
One of the things that really caught my attention was the plan to use Stephan Bonnar in the booth for commentary. I love this idea, Stephan's commentary is always fun and he's criminally underrated.
First of all, Stephan Bonnar is awesome. How many people don't like Stephan Bonnar? As a commentator, he's fantastic. Remember the showtime kick with Anthony Pettis, when he called him a ninja flying off the wall? He's great.
I also have Firas Zahabi commentating as well, and he's like Yoda. He knows everything that's going on two moves before it happens. I'm so excited about the commentators. We're negotiating with the final commentator and that should be done soon. It's awesome. Who has a better commentating team that Firas and Stephan?
Titan FC also have an exclusive deal with CBS Sports Network, which should help to give fighters the exposure they need. It also immediately puts Titan FC into that upper echelon of promotions with a good, unique TV outlet.
To me it's a total differentiator. On some networks you may have three or four fighting organizations on the same network. Although it's great that they're putting MMA on TV, there's no independence there. Everybody looks the same. Every show is the same. I can't differentiate between them.
To me, it was incredibly important to have an identity, and I was able to negotiate and solidify an exclusive deal with CBS Sports Network, and I'm thrilled. Having somebody like CBS behind you is just awesome.
If you can, take a few minutes out of your day and listen to the audio of the interview here. There are some guys who just have such passion and belief in what they are saying, and it can be difficult to translate that onto the page. Jeff is one of those guys. He also goes into more detail on the upcoming fights and the procedures of Titan FC. It's worth a listen.
The inaugural event for the new and improved Titan FC takes place on February 28th at 11:30EST, and the prelims will air before then on cbssportsnetwork.com. It is headlined by Jorge Gurgel v. Mike Ricci, and the co-main event is Matt Riddle v. Michael Kuiper.