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Different Approaches to the Business of MMA

Today's Yahoo! column from Dave Meltzer draws an implicit contrast between the major competitors who've made a run at MMA gold in the last couple of years:

Last year brought three major players, the IFL, Elite XC and Bodog Fight, all of whom burned through tens of millions of dollars. IFL had a weekly Monday night television show in prime time nationwide on Mynetworktv, but didn't have or make the right stars, nor did they seem to have long-term planning. IFL no longer has that TV outlet and they have completely revamped their presentation.

Elite XC had a deal with Showtime, bought smaller promotions all over the world, and with a CBS prime time television deal have a shot at making a great impact this year. Bodog had a television show on Ion that nobody watched, spent millions in advertising, failed on pay-per-view, lost their TV and are no longer even running shows.

This year's key new players include Mark Cuban's HDNet Fights, looking to become a major player by using MMA as a key sport in building a new television station and seemingly having the best chance of promoting the elusive Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture fight. Affliction, the makers of the T-shirts that are a fixture in the world of MMA, is starting a company tentatively scheduled to debut in June, and is making a big play for a number of free agents, reportedly making big offers to the likes of Matt Lindland (who has signed with them), Josh Barnett and Ben Rothwell among others, for non-exclusive contracts and numbers far beyond what they would be earning in UFC.

Cuban has stated many times he's not interested in getting into a bidding war over the top talent. UFC has not talked publicly, but privately, their philosophy based on recent negotiations is to also not get caught up in bidding wars for talent.

From the above, there are two paths to MMA profit -- slow and steady (as exemplified by the UFC and Mark Cuban) and big and bold (IFL, Bodog, Affiction/Golden Boy, EliteXC). So far, slow and steady has won the race but EliteXC's CBS gambit has certainly made things interesting.

And as Sam Caplan's fantasy card for the EliteXC CBS debut shows, things could get very interesting indeed:

  • Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson vs. Sean Gannon
  • Since they've botched the Kimbo/Ken Shamrock matchup by exposing Ken to actual competition, this is the next best thing: a storyline fight for Kimbo, the revenge match against the MMA-trained police officer who beat him in a controversial street fight.

  • Frank Shamrock vs. Renzo Gracie
  • Meeting of MMA legends. Casual fans might not know Frank and Renzo, but they'll know Shamrock and Gracie. Rematch of the fight that headlined EliteXC's Showtime debut.

  • K.J. Noons vs. Yves Edwards
  • The 3rd fight on the bill will be counted on to display real skill and heart from top competitors. Plus its a title fight.

  • Gina Carano vs. Shayna Baszler
  • Sam argues, and I agree, that in our upside down world, a chic-fight will lend the proceedings an air of respectability.

  • Eddie Alvarez vs. Paul Daley
  • Another good throw down between rising stars to deliver some MMA at its best to the rubes tuning in at random.
I gotta say, Caplan paints a pretty picture of possibilities that make me feel more comfortable about EliteXC becoming the flagship for MMA in the mainstream. That being said, there are a lot of variables here -- Renzo has turned down the Shamrock rematch before; Gannon wants a ton of cash (but maybe the expanded sponsorship opportunities from being on CBS will help); Gina Carano is too big for MMA now; Paul Daley claims to be retired. I guess we'll see.

But if you want to get sick to your stomach read this business analyst's case for WWE to "make an MMA play."

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