I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Cohen, Executive Vice President of The Trump Organization and Special Counsel to Donald Trump, about his boss' efforts to get involved with Affliction and into the mixed martial arts business.
Mr. Cohen stated Mr. Trump and Affliction plan to go head to head with the UFC, that former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski's compensation from Affliction "far exceeds" what the UFC was paying him, the role Tito Ortiz played in getting Trump involved and more.
Luke Thomas: Why is Donald Trump getting involved with mixed martial arts?
Michael Cohen: Well, as it states in the press release, Mr. Trump has been a fan of combat sports – boxing, football – his entire life. It’s not uncommon to see Mr. Trump at a boxing match, at a championship match.
He also became interested in mixed martial arts as a direct result. You may be aware that Tito Ortiz was a contestant on "The Apprentice". So while he has been following the sport as its progressed over the last X number of years, in reality he became very interested in the sport after spending quite a bit of time with Tito Ortiz. And one of the issues that came up, of course, is, "how much do you fighters actually make?" In conjunction with Affliction, which is a company where there’s mutual friends, they approached [Trump] with the prospect of becoming an equity partner in Affliction Entertainment. And after approximately a month of talks and negotiations, a deal was inked this past Monday. The press release went out and we have the press conference [today].Luke Thomas: The press conference, from what I understand, is going to be announcing the signing of Andre Arlovski. Michael Cohen: Well, that’s just one of many things that’s going to be discussed tomorrow. Luke Thomas: Can you tell me what else is going to be discussed? Michael Cohen: I cannot. Luke Thomas: Was [Trump] at all instrumental in the signing of Arlovski? Michael Cohen: The answer to that would be yes. The one thing that Donald Trump brings is a mark and himself as the persona. There is no greater promoter in the world than Donald Trump. Whether it’s real estate, whether it’s luxury items, whether it’s going to be mixed martial arts, there is no better promoter in the world than Donald Trump. And what he brings to the table are contracts that are fair to the fighters; he brings the ability in which to sell out events; and he brings a love for the sport. Luke Thomas: Obviously he’s had many seasons of "The Apprentice" on NBC, but they currently carry Strikeforce, a rival but different promotion. Does Mr. Trump plans to use his business leverage to get Affliction beyond the Pay-Per-View landscape? Michael Cohen: Certainly one of the benefits of having Donald Trump as your partner is all of the individuals he has access to via his rolodex, which is immense. So the answer is it’s something that’s being considered. We certainly do believe that mixed martial arts has a place on primetime television. As you know, he certainly has strong ties and connections to NBC. He was the number one show with "The Apprentice". It is something that is being considered.
Now here’s the interesting thing when it comes to primetime television: because he has the reputation of being able to get viewers and coupled with the fact that the Affliction family has the best talent in mixed martial arts that currently exists – guys like Fedor [Emelianenko], guys like [Tim] Sylvia, guys like Matt Lindland, guys like Babalu, [Andrei] Arlovski, potentially Tito Ortiz – the entire fight card for the July 19th event is without exaggeration the greatest fight card ever put together and that was done only by and through the power of the Trump mark.Luke Thomas: Let me follow up on that. It is true that the July Affliction card is stacked top to bottom, but what does Affliction plan to do from there on out? We haven’t heard about any signings beyond those [fighters] competing on that July 19th card. Michael Cohen: Wait and see. That’s the beauty and the power of the Trump mark. Mr. Trump has already received – and the announcement only went out yesterday - more than a dozen calls from mixed martial arts fighters – some who are fighting for the UFC, some who are no longer fighting for the UFC and some who are interested in getting into the sport. Luke Thomas: Speaking of the UFC, does Affliction vis a vis Donald Trump – these two together, this mixed martial arts effort with Affliction – do they plan to go head to head with the UFC? Michael Cohen: I think you have no choice but to go head to head with the UFC. I believe that the UFC right now is the only game in town. So the answer is any company that enters into the arena of mixed martial arts certainly is going up against the UFC. The UFC has the longest track record and they have certainly been the premier company. We anticipate that will change. And that it will change very quickly. Luke Thomas: I have one last question for you. Can you tell me the terms of the deal that Affliction signed with Arlovski. I’m not concerned with the money, but how many fights has Affliction signed with Arlovski? Michael Cohen: I don’t believe there’s a specific number onto it. Arlovski is now part of the Affliction family and you can rest assured that his compensation for this and other fights will far exceed what he was receiving from the UFC.