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WSOF 11: Jon Fitch talks about sponsor landscape, UFC greed and oversaturation

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Jon Fitch talks about why he wouldn't be surprised to see the UFC fixing fights, his unique cryptocurrency sponsorship and his take on oversaturation in MMA.

Jon Fitch is fighting in the co-main event of this weekend's World Series of Fighting 11 card, which is airing for the first time on NBC, live on July 5th at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT. Our own Steph Daniels got an exclusive interview with him for Bloody Elbow covering everything from his crowd funded sponsorship by a cryptocurrency to his thoughts about the UFC potentially putting on fixed fights in the future.

Most fans know Jon Fitch as the guy who went 8-0 in a hyper competitive welterweight decision en route to a title shot against GSP, and stayed as the consensus number 2 170lbs fighter in the world for years. What you may not know is that Jon has his finger on the pulse of disruptive technologies and is legitimately one of the most intelligent and well informed fighters in MMA. From his thoughts on fighter pay, to his trailblazing approach to sponsorship and crowdfunding, Fitch is a man it pays to listen to.

This weekend's event is the first WSOF event to air on NBC and we got Jon's feelings on his return to MMA and the chance to fight on network TV.

I'm just super excited to be fighting again. I fought last in October and I've been away from the limelight of the sport. I didn't really go to fights or get to hang out with the fans and stuff like that, so it's really nice to be back where I belong and getting to hang out with the fans, to perform and to train hard. I love what I do and I'm glad I'm going to get the opportunity to fight on such a large stage

Fitch was originally scheduled to fight Rousimar Palhares this weekend for Toquinho's title. Rousimar withdrew from the bout 8 weeks out, citing his mother having surgery for ‘extreme thrombosis in her legs' as the reason why. Fitch has made it clear in interviews that he's unhappy with Palhares for the decision, pointing out that his own father was scheduled for a heart procedure in the week before the fight, and feels that the withdrawal was unprofessional.

That situation [bothered me] for more reasons than just my title shot. It's money out of the pockets of the WSOF and it's money out of the pocket of everybody in the organization. Having two title fights on the card would have been so much bigger than just one.

WSOF replaced Palhares with Dennis Hallman, he of Speedos in the cage infamy, Fitch isn't treating Hallman like a punchline, though.

Hopefully he'll be wearing a little bit more than Speedos this time. But he's a dangerous opponent and a tough fighter. He's got like 50 wins and he's been around the block; he's not somebody I can play around with, and he's definitely someone I can't make a mistake against. If I leave my head and neck out there like I did with Burkman he'll put me to sleep just as fast. If I leave my arm dangling out there, he'll snap it off. I've got to get in his face, be tight with my defence and be brutal with my offence.

Jon has a trailblazing crowd-funded cryptocurrency sponsorship for this weekend's event and is a man with his finger on the pulse of the sponsor landscape. We asked him about the differences between sponsorship in the UFC vs. WSOF.

The UFC actually killed the sponsorship market. - Jon Fitch

The World Series of Fighting and even Bellator aren't taking money from the sponsors for the privilege of sponsoring fighters, so that money is going straight to the fighters. That makes the biggest difference, because the UFC actually killed the sponsorship market. There are only a handful of sponsors you can actually get paid for these days; a lot of them have basically been bankrupted, so they can't afford $100,000-$150,000 a year in fees to sponsor fighters. You don't get that with the WSOF or Bellator; they let the sponsors come in and just sponsor the fighters, so the money goes a lot further.

Jon will be sponsored by rising cryptocurrency ‘Nautiluscoin' in his upcoming fight. The sponsorship fee of $10,000 was raised through crowdfunding by Nautiluscoin users, combining two innovative new ‘disruptive technologies' - cryptocurrency and crowdfunding - for the first time in MMA.

The concept is pretty fascinating. Fans bought Nautiluscoin, and used it to bump up the different sponsorship ‘tiers', each one getting the cryptocurrency more visibility during Fitch's fight. The more visible the sponsorship, the more people are likely to be interested in - and buy - Nautiluscoin. The more people who buy, the more the currency is worth. Fans could essentially invest in a commodity, contribute to a marketing opportunity, and then see the value of the commodity hopefully rise.

Innovative steps come with inherent risks, and while Nautiluscoin is designed to be inherently more stable than Bitcoin, the nature of mined cryptocurrencies carries a unique set of risks. Here's what Jon had to say about the situation.

For all the problems Bitcoin has had, it is making a strong comeback, and more and more companies are accepting it now. The thing with Nautiluscoin is that it's designed to be more user-friendly for merchants than Bitcoin. Bitcoin transactions will take about 10 minutes to process, but Nautiluscoin only takes 60 seconds. It's better than using a credit card because it's person to person, so you don't have to worry about it being fraudulent or pay the extra credit card fees.

There is that risk that it will tank and you'll be left with nothing, but I'm willing to put a gamble on it that it's going to pay off big. It has already shot up a bit from those who have bought into the sponsorship. I call it an investment opportunity for the fans; If you bought in a week ago you would have almost doubled your money. It was at 11,000 or 12,000 Satoshi (A Satoshi is a measurement of cryptocurrency value related to the value of Bitcoin. One Satoshi is equivalent to the smaller amount of Bitcoin that can be sent: 0.00000001 Bitcoin) and now it's worth about 22,000 Satoshi (as of July 4th some exchanges are valuing Nautiluscoin as high as 30,000 Satoshi), so it has almost doubled in that time.

They're also doing something called POS, proof-of-stake, which they're trying to implement before the fight, which makes the currency more rare and more valuable. So it's a one-two combination of that and my sponsorship, so the price should shoot up again. In the short time people who invest in that sponsorship opportunity should make some decent money off of it.

The deal is that I'd be sponsored for my sponsor minimum, which was covered by Brian Kelly who is on the show ‘Fast Money' on CNBC. He is the creator of this coin, and he covered the minimum, then we set up a tier system that lets fans buy Nautiluscoin and invest it in sponsoring me in order to get to the next tier, and more money meant a bigger sponsorship. The fans invested the money to get me up to tier 3, so I covered the rest and got it up to tier 4, which was the equivalent of a $10,000 sponsorship.

That gives Nautiluscoin prime real estate; they'll have a huge spot on the banner, a spot on the ass of my shorts and a t-shirt ad. People were able to invest in me and in the coin in the hopes that my sponsorship gets the attention of so many people that other people want to buy and accept the currency. If they would have bought it on that Friday when I first announced it, they would already have almost doubled their money.

The other reason I did this is that I've had such great support from my fans that I wanted to get my fans paid too; why should my sponsor and I be the only ones to make money out of it? Why shouldn't my fans make money?

I wouldn't be surprised if fake, worked fights like there were in Japan, start happening in the UFC.  - Jon Fitch

The UFC seems to be reluctant to sign high-level wrestlers, but the World Series of Fighting seems to be actively courting such fighters. Fitch had some thoughts about this.

It's basically that the WSOF is staying true to the sport. They're allowing it to be a sport. It's about who the best fighter is, whose game is the best and who has the best approach to winning the fight. The UFC is really going more towards entertainment; they're almost fully about entertainment now. It's almost to the point that I wouldn't be surprised if fake, worked fights like there were in Japan start happening.

They're so controlling of what they want for the product, because they went the route of marketing to professional wrestling fans, and that's just not the fanbase for MMA, it's not the same, but it's easy money if they provide the level of entertainment that those people are used to, which is fake.

There have been a few high profile cases recently of the UFC seeming to push fighters towards the World Series of Fighting as an alternative route into the UFC, most famously with Ben Askren. We asked Jon if he felt any pressure or encouragement from the UFC to sign with WSOF, or if they said or hinted that it would be the best way for him to get back into the UFC.

No, that was never something that came up. The UFC said that I was too expensive and then they cut me, that was the end of it.

Bloody Elbow recently published an article about the UFC potentially being a monopoly with a professor of economics and a former antitrust attorney, which you can read here. Jon Fitch has always been known as a very intelligent and well-informed fighter who is not afraid to speak about the financial side of the sport, so we got his opinion on whether or not a class action antitrust suit against the UFC is something he considers possible.

I don't know... that would cost a lot of money. If it did happen, somebody - I don't know who - would have to have the money for it. I certainly don't have the money, and they haven't paid us enough for us all to come together.

If you think about it, if all the fighters who ever fought for the UFC pooled their money together, and used all of their purses, that money is still a tiny fraction of the money that was made for the organization, so I think it's a logical conclusion that we wouldn't have the money to do it.

The UFC has been suffering from accusations of oversaturation recently, which seems to be at least partly to blame for the alleged lowest buyrate in modern history that UFC 174 pulled in. The World Series of Fighting holds significantly fewer events, about one every month and a half, and Jon feels that kind of schedule is better for everyone involved in the sport.

I think that one event per month for an organization is a good pace. If you have a few organizations doing that it makes it a lot better for both the fans and the fighters I think. You don't have the problem with oversaturation and you don't have the problem of trying to fill cards with less than marketable fighters, or a not as high standard of fighter. I don't want to rag on any fighters, but sometimes guys need more experience before they're ready to fight on a big card or a big show, and I think limiting the amount of shows you're doing is a better way to do things.

WSOF are giving me a push, and they're giving other guys a push, but most of all they're letting guys have kind of self-defined careers. They're letting guys fight and win on their own accord and letting them make a name for themselves through promoting and their fights and performances. I think the UFC kind of relies too heavily on the brand name to sell tickets, rather than letting stars be built and letting the stars carry the show and sell the tickets.

WSOF has a very progressive social media policy, it's common to see WSOF officials retweeting links to highlights and videos about WSOF fights and fighters. This is in stark contrast to the UFC's somewhat draconian view of the internet as nothing more than a haven for piracy. Everything from short gifs to highlight reels are frequently targeted for removal by Zuffa.

YouTube was historically a big driver of interest in the UFC during the ‘dark ages', and even beyond that. I know I personally would load up YouTube and show friends highlights of Anderson Silva, Sakuraba and the Gracies when trying to get them interested in the UFC, and I know that's how a lot of people got into the sport. Nowadays, a casual fan can't easily find amazing UFC moments on YouTube, and that hurts the sport in the long run.

These dinosaurs are trying to be greedy and keep everything to themselves.   - Jon Fitch

There's a lot of backwards thinking out there. Everything is being pushed towards open-source type things, but these dinosaurs are trying to be greedy and keep everything to themselves, but you end up shooting yourself in the foot, because that's not how people want to get their media or information these days. WSOF uses YouTube to build a fanbase. A fan may make a highlight reel and it'll be like ‘oh, that's cool.'

Something that wasn't covered in the interview was Jon Fitch and Ray Sefo taking the time to visit sick kids and other patients at the Halifax Health Medical Center on Thursday. From my own interactions with Jon in the past, I know he's a great guy, and this cemented that belief. A story like this might not be an attention grabber, but I think it's important that we recognize and applaud guys for going out of their way to do charitable and selfless things. It's clear from the pictures that Fitch enjoyed spending time with the patients as much as they enjoyed spending time with him. Here's a dose of good feelings to end your read on.



Credit to Matthew Agan / Matlock Media for the photographs.