Posted by Alan Conceicao on May 9th, 2009
MMA, I’m told, is in better shape than boxing because it doesn’t have as many alphabet soup organizations. I suppose there is truth to that. Instead, MMA has alphabet soup organizations and Shine, DREAM, World Victory Road, It’s Showtime, Kingdom, and lots of other events and promotions that go by full names. Inventive!
Seriously though, its interesting to see that there’s been a push on the internet to say that “regional MMA” is a strong point right now while alternately claiming that no one is willing to try and create new national MMA franchises. To that end, I must ask: What is a “regional MMA” promotion? After all, some of the ones I link to here are open about running new markets (Shine’s second card is slated for Florida, not Ohio) and have national TV (MFC runs on HDNet, not a local canadian network).
-NOT THE TERRITORIES-
The main, chief reason you see this talking point of “regional” MMA come up is because many of the people saying it are pro wrestling fans. They look at the proliferation of smaller promoters and think back to the supposed glory days when instead of one or two nationally televised carnies, a cabal of locally controlling carnies ran their faux-sport. The “territories” were considered a better period by workrate types because wrestlers that were known on the national level could go from town to town before wearing out their time, create new characters from place to place, wrestle “different styles” and so on. Plus, it made the collector types more valuable and they’re the ones that hype it up in the modern day (in between cursing about the lack of Hawaii and Portland footage).
The problem is that “regional MMA” is generally not actually regional. King of The Cage is a small feeder show and accepts that, but it is not regional. Its been franchised out to a number of promoters all across the world who’ve put on events everywhere from Wisconsin to Singapore. There are no touring fighters that go from place to place for 6 months, challenge for titles, lose by DQ, and go to the next territory. Bellator and SHINE may be guppies, but they certainly aren’t regional, and they definitely aspire for more. MFC is among the many organizations that has been open about expanding their operations to new locales with aspirations of joining the big dogs of the sport.
-WHEN WILL PEOPLE STOP SPENDING MONEY?-
Another odd bit about the expansion of second tier promotions is that it comes contrary to the idea that new promoters will not want to join the fray as clearly they are, not just with small amateur shows. The failures of every UFC competitor since Extreme Fighting has done nothing to dampen many of their spirits, and some of these promoters are actually making money. MMA is not fully developed. This is not the final form. In fact, we as fans may not see that form for upwards of 20-30 years. In an age of instant gratification, that may come as a bit of a surprise.
-WHERE IS THIS TREND GOING?-
As long as MMA equals money to someone, even if its just Dana White, people will enter the sport and try and make money. Hell, people were throwing money at the sport back when the UFC was bleeding dollars, why wouldn’t they now? People far more educated than your general MMA talking head have made predictions over the years that were way off base. Jeff Osborne, founder of Hook’n'Shoot, made a prediction back in 2004 that can be found on a Bad Breed TV DVD (remember those?) that the UFC would never grow past its current size and be scuttled, PRIDE was on a long decline, and he and some other cockroaches would be the only people left promoting the sport in 10 years. Last I checked, he was a successful regional promoter long before Scott Coker even put together his first card.
What I’m saying here is that what you see now will probably look nothing like it will be in 5 years. The lower tiers will and must end up working within some sort of framework for the sport to grow. Period. There must be someone bigger than them to sanction fights, to rank, and to get developmental talent moving. Fail to do that and the expansion of promoters on the second level will eventually drown more than it creates and lead to a void of paying opportunities for third/fourth tier talent that the UFC is clearly less than enthused about filling. You need not look further than the absurd fears of those in and outside the company regarding weekly MMA shows to know that.
So what happens? Well, isn’t that the fun of prognosticating! My guess is the UFC goes and actually does free weekly shows in the end and you start seeing someone like Strikeforce start up co-promotion en masse (without buying people out) to get younger elite talent contracted before it can end up in the UFC/WEC system. As long as it makes for more and better events, more fights, and gets more people into the gym, we’re better off.