Naciones MMA hosted their first show in March of 2021. The Mexico-based combat sports promotion has hosted six events over the past year, with their latest card coming up this Friday in Monterrey. While the promotion has yet to operate outside its home country, the eventual goal is to expand to hosting shows throughout Latin America.
A longtime trainer and talent scout, Eduardo Vargas has been a fixture behind the scenes in the MMA world on the West Coast. Now, as part-owner of Naciones MMA he’s focused on bringing fans exciting new fight cards.
Vargas was kind enough to talk to Bloody Elbow about how exactly this new stage started for him, some of the challenges of running an organization in the region, and what the future might look like.
Victor Rodriguez: You’ve been in the MMA space for a long time, doing a little bit of everything. Now you’re with the team over at Naciones. I want to know how that got started, did they reach out to you? How did this whole relationship begin?
Eduardo Vargas: Believe it or not, I’m part-owner of Naciones. Myself and a friend of mine, Hector Molina, who was a longtime owner of Combate Extremo right here in Mexico. I’ve been around for about twenty years, and so has he. So we decided to put two heads together and launched this. There’s a lot of passion behind this and and we’re trying to grow this. That’s opposed to some other organizations I’ve worked for, which I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of. It opened a lot of doors for me—as well as being part of the sport, and working with the Skrap Pack and the Gracie Fighter team, and seeing what these promotions have done.
I’ve had a chance to bring that to Latin America, and now with Naciones we can use what we’ve learned in Latin America and continue to grow and focus more on developing new talent. That was the whole idea from day one, not to just be a feeder league but to have a platform where these guys can grow and stay and the sport stays here. That’s the whole goal of Naciones MMA.
VR: When you say “keeping the sport here,” I presume you mean in the Latin American space, fostering that talent. It’s gotta be a bit of a challenge to go scouting through so many places to find top-level fighters to represent you in the cage.
EV: Like I said, I did that, I did the scouting part for a long time when I was with Combate Americas (now Combate Global). I’m still the same person, I’m still scouting the same way, still looking new talent. I’m still for that young hungry kid that wants that opportunity. What I mean by “keeping it here,” what I mean is lots of organizations here [in Latin America]—sort of like in the U.S.—like to think of themselves as platforms.
It’s like “I’m the platform for you to get to the UFC/Bellator/PFL,” but the goal is that we’re gonna try not to do that as we continue to grow. We’re going to plant our flag and say that Naciones is the place, the destination in Latin America.
VR: In your time so far with Naciones MMA, what has been the most surprising development—the most pleasantly surprising thing you’ve had so far?
EV: Honestly, it’s been the response from the fighters. And that for me is super important. The fighters themselves have been super responsive with us, they’ve’ been great with us. Obviously, we don’t have the big budget that other organizations have, but we treat the fighters very well. We push the most we can to put on and guarantee good fights throughout the year. The roster that we have is, we’ve been basically rotating it and giving guys more opportunities to fight. Other organizations, they're sitting them out for a year. They’re sitting them out for 6-7 months out of the year. We’re not. The roster that we have, they're’ getting cycled in and getting the time in the cage and the experience.
It’s important that the fighters respect the organization and that means a lot. Especially as we’re growing, and that’s something we want to do. We want to continue to treat these fighters very well so they will want to stay with us.
VR: You’re facing more competition in terms of obtaining talent. You know, you’re seeing an organization like Lux, they put a more grandiose event. They’ve got the production shine, and you’re operating in a more frugal space and working to have the product in the cage speak for you. But what has that been like, scouting in that environment?
EV: That’s good. The more platforms the better. It’s good to have places for these guys to fight. One thing I say is, that I’m not signing ex-UFC fighters. I’m not. I’m, really proud of saying that. It pisses off a lot of people, but I’m not. I’m not here to be Bellator of Latin America, you can keep the ex-UFC fighters. What we’re trying to do is grow new fighters and new talent, and we’re giving that opportunity to these guys. We’re in show number seven, we did two in the pandemic. We’re going on our fifth show of the year. We’re doing ten this year, next year we’re hoping to expand to 12-15. We’re going to places where these guys haven’t gone before. We’re doing shows in Colombia, we’re doing shows in Ecuador that are already lined up. We’re not saying that we’re about Latin America and then just staying in Mexico. We really are going to Latin America, we really are representing Latin American fighters, and we really are showcasing these fighters that aren’t really known to you or I even though we are actually MMA fans.
We’re here to introduce new talent, not showcase a “Juan Gonzalez“ that got kicked out of the UFC and then goes on to kick everyone’s ass. That’s not the goal. The goal is to showcase new talent, bring this to people that have never seen it before, and just continue to grow. But the more the merrier, there’s plenty of leagues throughout Latin America, there’s been a lot of new leagues. It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about good fights, great matchmaking, and keeping the product as good as possible.
VR: Part of that was gonna be my next question: do you have any sort of distribution plan? How are audiences going to be able to keep up with your expansion plans as time goes on?
EV: We started the year with Estrella Television for the year. We also signed with DirecTV in Latin America, which is the home of the PFL. The sport is growing. In Mexico we haven’t signed anywhere, we’re just on Facebook. When I say “Just Facebook” it’s because it’s a bigger platform than any other network out there. And financially it just makes a lot of sense because MMA isn’t as big in some places. But also because it’s hard to be spending on apps all the time. It adds up...
VR: Or being on premium cable.
EV: Yeah! So it’s free (for the viewer). Could we be getting a little more money in our pocket? Sure. But we got more people to see our product and see what we do on social media, which is the biggest platform. Especially Facebook. Everybody and their mother and their aunt has Facebook. So Estrella TV in the US, Facebook in Mexico and DirecTV in the rest of Latin America.
VR: You’ve been all over Latin America, almost literally. Going to gyms, finding the next talent crops out there. What do you think the Latin American MMA scene is gonna look like in the next 2-3 years?
EV: It’s gonna be great. You’re seeing a lot of athletes that are going to these big supercamps in the U.S.—they’re going to Texas, they’re going to California, they’re going to Florida, then they go home and bring back what they learned. So you’re seeing the development of putting it all together. Before you were a striker or a wrestler, now you’re seeing the combination. I think in the next 2-3 years you’re gonna see a lot more fighters, a lot more well-developed guys. Back in the day I used to train with my cousin Gilbert [Melendez], used to train these kids, we used to call them hybrids. We saw teenagers that were jumping into the adult class with us and I thought, “Man, this new generation of hybrids.” And that’s what we’re seeing now, guys putting it together. I would expect we’re gonna see a lot more Latinos in the top 5 in all these top leagues.