Affliction MMA Update
“We’ll Be The Q-Tip Of MMA.”
Dennis Bernstein, MBA
During today’s Affliction M-1 "Day of Reckoning" conference call featuring Josh Barnett and Matt Lindblad the fighters went through the usual pre-fight clichés. The more quotable character was one of the senior executives of the Affliction team, who predicted that his organization would become “the Q-Tip of MMA.” Michael Cohen, Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump made the claim after Tom Atencio, the Vice President of the Affliction Entertainment Group spoke on the call about his organization’s challenge to differentiate their brand from the all-powerful Ultimate Fighting Championship. “It’s like talking about cotton swabs and Q-Tips. One of the challenges we have is that the casual fans of the sport refers to fighters as ‘UFC fighters.’ This will be our second show and we’re looking to make our brand the leading one in the sport.” At that point Mr. Cohen added, “we’ve now added Donald Trump, Jr. to the executive team. I want to stress that we have a team here; Donald Trump, Don, Jr., myself and Tom Atencio will build the Affliction brand to become the Q-Tip of mixed martial arts.”
Hmm. There had to be a better metaphor to use in context to the blood sport that is mixed martial arts than a Q-Tip, don’t you think?
So while momentum gathers for the January 24 card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, one gets the impression it will not be the spectacular witnessed this past summer that featured Fedor Emelianenko dominating Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds. It’s been well documented that this card is a re-scheduled one; it was originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas this summer. Paltry ticket sales scuttled that event and while this card is solid top to bottom, the presentation will be toned down. The show will be devoid of any musical performances, a good move in our opinion. Atencio admitted that as a fledgling organization they need to control costs while Cohen conveyed that a poll of fans in attendance at the July show showed that while the Megadeth performance wasn’t an annoyance, it wasn’t a pull for fans to attend. The first card drew a legitimate full house to the Honda Center and this card will be a true test of Fedor’s ability to sell tickets as the first one was a novelty at that point; rest assured UFC President Dana White will be keeping a watchful eye on the live gate.
Both Atencio and Cohen were sensitive about talking about ticket sales about this event given the earlier cancellation. “Ticket sales are going well but I’m not going to give any specifics,” Atencio commented while Cohen was aggravated when a question came up about the previously scuttled card. “We’ve answered this question a couple of dozen times. The Las Vegas event would have been fine but it would not have been great. It was our belief that it would not been up to the standards of our first show,” he explained. Cohen also mentioned the addition of Golden Boy Promotions to the promotional mix (although if Oscar’s not fighting, they don’t know how to sell seats), while Atencio confirmed that with its other co-promotional partner M-1, Affliction will stage fourteen (4 in the US, the balance overseas) events in 2009. The organization has also picked up Showtime as a television distribution partner, which can only help to extend its PPV footprint and it will be interesting to see if UFC counter programs a card that is slotted in the weekend before its George St. Pierre-B.J. Penn PPV on the last day of the month.
The sport of MMA has stagnated over the last 18 months primarily due to the fact that with no competitor to UFC, the unquestioned industry leader is more risk adverse, sticks to its winning formula and hasn’t gone outside the box for a long time. At least one of their championship belts change hands at each event, its heavyweight champion has had all of three professional fights and its best fighter still can’t speak English. So while UFC is far from ripe for the taking, their product frankly has become stale. How many more version of the Ultimate Fighter can you produce anyway? If Affliction can navigate the perilous route to profitability in this sport, there’s more than enough room for a strong second fiddle to the undisputed champion.