Thursday, April 26, 2007

MMA Market Analysis: New York & New Jersey

There was a time, not too long ago, when, if you wanted to see a local MMA show, you had to wait until Kipp Kollar’s Reality Fighting or Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat rolled around – or if you were really lucky, you were in the loop on Dan Miragliatta’s BAMA FightNight (an underground show of sorts). There were even some odds and ends events, like the IFC’s only two Garden State ventures, or Brian Cimin’s Sportfighting, or the “Battle on Broadway” in NYC, or the MegaFights in Atlantic City (which featured Ken Shamrock and his Lions Den taking on a bunch of over-matched fighters). But take it from someone who went to them all: for the hungry fan, pickings were slim.

Nowadays, thanks to Generation TUF and an exponential increase in both interest and capital, those promotions that survived through the lean years are now feeding fighters into the UFC, while new organizations have sprouted up to claim their share of the market (and consumer dollars). Here’s a brief look at the current MMA landscape in New York and New Jersey:

Ring of Combat (ROC) - when the State of New York clamped down on his Long Island “Vengeance at the Vanderbilt” events, Neglia began putting out ROC events, with the first one held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and all since in New Jersey. No other local promotion has seen more fighters get called up to the UFC – a testament both to its level of competition and the strength of its match-ups. With its ongoing grand prix-style Tournament of Champions, ROC is currently making the jump to pay-per-view.

Reality Fighting (RF) - Kollar’s situation among the MMA promoters is unique in that he also runs the successful NAGA grappling tournaments, and, having mined the New England market with his Mass Destruction events, has recently sought to expand the RF brand to New Hampshire. Consequently, his hold on the Garden State has loosened, which has translated into fewer shows in New Jersey and fewer top-level match-ups. However, RF is still considered to be a favorite amongst fans and fighters.

Extreme Challenge (EC) - In little more than a year, Ed Hsu (formerly the man behind Combat in the Cage) has gone from green newcomer to strong presence amongst those putting on shows – due in no small part to his absolute market dominance in the world of amateur mixed martial arts. No one even comes close to bringing in the same amount of fresh competitors (and fans), and this success has bled into his ever-improving pro shows. A recent partnership with Midwest promoting legend Monte Cox will no doubt provide an even bigger conduit between talent here and talent elsewhere.

Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) - There was no learning curve for promoter Felix Martinez; his first CFFC show last year was solid, and they’ve been solid every time since. These events feature a wealth of top fighters from Maryland to New England (and all points in between). With former boxing champ Ray Mercer taking on Internet legend Kimbo Slice at their upcoming show, CFFC is poised to take their brand to the national (and possibly international) level.

Underground Combat League (UCL) - the current climate in New York State is such that very few will risk putting on an MMA show for fear of incurring the athletic commission’s wrath. Enter: Peter Storm’s UCL, a promotion that exists under the radar (despite having managed to get an awful lot of mainstream press). Fans never know what they’ll get when they go to these events – maybe they’ll see two streetfighters brawling, an IFL veteran taking on some bouncer, or even a future UFC superstar – but the convenience of these events being in one of the Five Boroughs, as well as the NHB rules and the seediness of it being “underground”, have made the UCL into a strong brand.

Others - At this point, it’s unclear if Cimins’ Sportfighting events will return (Cimins has his hands full running the Grapplers Quest tournaments). The World’s Best Fighter show is another big question mark, although it proved once again that the “USA versus international team” concept (done successfully many times by the Mixed Fighting Championship) works and works well. As for the Mixed Fighting Championship (MFC), it was absorbed into BodogFight, and they haven’t officially announced when they’ll return to New Jersey (note: the inside rumblings indicate a mid-summer show). In the realm of amateurs, New Breed has some catching up to do, but they’re trying with an upcoming show in Atlantic City next on their agenda. There are also a few other would-be promoters who will likely be casting their hats into the ring sometime soon.

What does all this mean? Currently, the market greatly favors the fighter, as the fighter is the ultimate ingredient promoters use to attract fans. Meanwhile, the recipe of a successful MMA event has remained constant: local fighters sell far more tickets than bigger-named non-local ones, and no brand is strong enough to overcome that (except for the UFC, and soon the IFL – but that’s another article). It is a great time to be fan of MMA, a great time to be a fighter, and, once they nail down their business model and carve out their niche in the market, a great time for promoters.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

NY/NJ MMA rankings -April '07

Here are my latest NJ/NY MMA rankings, based on my observations of events from the last year. People who have fought in the UFC are ineligible to appear on this list (thereby excluding people like Matt Serra, Pete Sell, Luke Cummo, Frankie Edgar, Sherman Pendergarst, etc). Also, people under contract by the IFL are precluded (thereby excluding Dante Rivera, Andre Gusmao, Shane Ott, etc.). If I left someone out, forgive me. This area has traditionally been short on bigger guys, hence the few names in light-heavyweight and heavyweight classes.


*Jim Miller –the best lightweight in New Jersey right now. CFFC champ with nonstop and relentless grappling and ever-improving striking. He went the distance with Frankie Edgar before Edgar graduated to the UFC. He and Deividas Taurosevicius are without question the best two in this weight class.

*Deividas Taurosevicius –the second-best lightweight in New Jersey right now. Another fantastic grappler with strong striking, he recently subbed some dude in an IFL prelim. He and Jim Miller would have little problem beating the rest of the 155-pounders in the Garden State.

*Tim Troxell –he went from amateur to pro without a hitch, and has been dominating opponents with an aggressive and solid jiu-jitsu game. I think he’s moving down to 145, though.

*Kevin Roddy –smooth submission grappler who’s dangerous both on top and from the guard. Not the best striker, but that’s not his bread and butter.

*James “Binky” Jones –seasoned veteran and slick grappler, Binky has really stepped up his performance lately. He’ll be taking on Team Quest’s Ian Loveland at the next Ring of Combat, having made it to the final round of the Tournament of Champions.

*Honorable mention: a) Al Buck –great striker who recently lost his CFFC lightweight belt to Jim Miller (although there’s no shame in that). b) Brian McLaughlin –good jiu-jitsu fighter and Sportfighting champ; is fighting Carmine Zocchi at 170 at the upcoming ROC show.


*Tamdan McCrory –strong grappler and strong striker, who, despite not having a lot of experience, has been kicking more-experienced fighters’ asses. Currently a champ at CFFC.

*Chris Ligouri –even though he’s a UFC vet, that fight was years ago, so I’m throwing him back on the rankings. Chris is a great striker, but his wrestling and jiu-jitsu is even better. He’s been around a long, long time, and he’s definitely the best welterweight in New Jersey right now. He’s currently the Reality Fighting champ.

*Greg Soto –unstoppable takedowns mixed with ground-and-pounding fury. No one has been able to withstand Greg’s punishment so far. No one.

*Doug Gordon –athleticism plus an ever-improving sub-game. Gordon has fought at light-heavyweight and middleweight, and recently won at welterweight against a tough Tom Gallicchio.

*Phillipe Nover –well-rounded grappler and heavy-handed striker, he made it to the final round of the Ring of Combat Tournament of Champions by subbing Jay Coleman.

*Honorable mention: a) Tom Gallicchio –he’s coming off two sub losses, but Tom is a strong wrestler and ground-and-pounder. b) Jay Coleman –insanely heavy hands with a solid wrestling game; he has a knack for knocking out wrestlers. He’s taking the injured Nover’s place at the up-coming Ring of Combat show. c) Rich Ashkar –strong wrestler and submission fighter.


*Marc Stevens –great wrestler and ground-and-pounder. He defeated Landon Showalter by ref stoppage at the last Ring of Combat to advance to the final round of the tournament.

*Dan Miller –probably the best middleweight in New Jersey right now, he’s used flawless grappling to earn (and keep) the CFFC belt. If Dante Rivera wasn’t an IFL fighter right now, a match-up between the two of them would be a must in determining who was king.

*Alexis Aquino –good boxing and great grappling, Aquino has cut a swath through the 185-pounders. If anyone has earned at shot at Dan Miller, it’s him – although I don’t see him winning that match-up. Still, he’s proven to be game as hell.

*Mike Massenzio –another great wrestler who’s insanely athletic. This Reality Fighting champ ain’t a finisher, but few have been able to stop him from grinding out the win.

*Lyman Good –a dangerous striker who fights at 175 (I’m not sure he could cut that extra five pounds and make welterweight), Lyman is the best MMA fighter TSK has competing right now. He took out Renzo black belt Julio Cruz at the World’s Best Fighter show – mostly because Cruz was foolish enough to want to duke it out with him. Lyman’s facing Ring of Combat champ James Gabert at the up-coming ROC show.

*Honorable mention: a) Jose Rodriguez –the perennial slugger and submission fighter, Jose has been around a long time. He just lost to Dan Miller at the last CFFC show, but he’s still tough as hell. b) Nissim Levy –good grappler and good boxer; his fight was a loss to Alexis Aquino, but a well-conditioned Levy can beat most of the middleweight out there


*John Doyle –more heart than technique, John is a ground-and-pounder who simply outlasts everyone. He’s a Combat in the Cage/Extreme Challenge champ.

*Tim Boetsch –high-level wrestling mixed with an unabashed willingness to strike, Tim is a Reality Fighting champ and USKBA champ. His only two MMA fights were against a very-skilled Hazem Ibrahim, but Tim has established himself as one of the best light-heavyweights with those performances.

*Hazem Ibrahim –still a tough positional grappler and brawler, despite losing twice in a row to Tim Boetsch.

*Josh Rhodes –the best light-heavyweight in New Jersey, Josh has got knockout-power in his hands and enough wrestling skill to stay on his feet and use them. Currently the CFFC champ, he’s probably the only 205-pounder around who could take on the rest of the top guys in his weight class and beat them all.

*Honorable mention: Lamont Lister –scrappy fighter who’s happy throwing down, but can grapple if he needs to. He’s lost to Josh Rhodes, and lost as a heavyweight, but he’s still a bad dude.


*Jon Murphy –the best of the heavyweights, Jon has subbed a Renzo brown belt (Carlos Cline) and knocked out a UFC vet (Sherman Pendergarst). He’s dangerous, and can end a fight at any time.

*Honorable mention: a) Glen Sandull –former Reality Fighting champ who used to have a fearsome wrestling game, but hasn’t had time to train properly last I heard. b) Carlos Cline –he’s been around a while, but has never really been able to dominate as much as he should have; he was kicking Jon Murphy’s ass for two rounds before Jon tapped him out with a kneebar

Fighter X

For those of you who guessed that Fighter X is Laura D'Auguste, you are correct. Please bring your ticket stubs to the second window to claim your prize.

Laura should be meeting with Renzo Gracie personally any day now, and the two will discuss whether or not she'll be a good fit for the Gracie team.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A World-Class Fighter Without a Home

I got the call on Tuesday. Fighter X had been abruptly kicked off their fight team and out of their school – could I help find them a place to train?

“Of course,” I said. After all, I’ve known Fighter X for years, have been ringside for almost all their fights, and even consider them a friend. And it’s not unheard of for a fighter to switch up where they train once in a while. However, a couple things made this situation unique: Fighter X is one of the top MMA competitors in their weight class, and Fighter X might be competing at the Abu Dhabi World Championships in a few weeks.

To draw a comparison, it would be akin to the Mets suddenly finding out they were no longer welcome at Shea Stadium a few weeks before they were to face the Yankees in the World Series.

How this fighter ended up “homeless” is really only a small part of this tale, involving unsigned management contracts and growing pains. Suffice to say, there are two sides to every story, and I’d prefer to remain as ignorant as possible.

In considering options, Fighter X had expressed a willingness to check out the Rhino Fight Team, as well as a few other places. But is Rhino really a good fit for one of the best grapplers in the country? Though Rhino is a phenomenal school for MMA (just ask anyone impressed by Frankie Edgar’s UFC debut), I suggested Renzo Gracie’s academy in Manhattan as the best possible option.

Call there,” I told Fighter X. Call and tell them who you are, and tell them you need a new place to train.”

Fighter X liked that idea. And if Renzo was unwilling to accept Fighter X because of the conflict of having his own representatives already slated to compete at Abu Dhabi, Fighter X promised to respectfully bow out of the world-class grappling tournament.

Fighter X phoned the Manhattan academy, and was soon listening to the sales pitch delivered by someone named “Max”. Max informed Fighter X that new students start out in the blue belt program, and train with the gi – which is the cornerstone of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – until they get their blue belt.

“What about no-gi training?” Fighter X asked, and explained that that’s where Fighter X’s interest resided. Fighter X was willing to learn gi grappling, but wanted to do both (the Abu Dhabi World Championship is a no-gi event).

“Do you have any experience with grappling without the gi?” Max asked.

“Well, I took second place at the Abu Dhabi US trials,” Fighter X replied.

I doubt Max understood (or believed) Fighter X. He scheduled a one-on-on assessment for Friday, though, when a black belt would roll with Fighter X to see what’s what.

I laughed when Fighter X relayed this to me. Could Fighter X submit a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt? Absolutely. Although I doubt Fighter X could take two steps into Renzo’s school without getting recognized. Still, the comedic value of an unwitting black belt being surprised at how skilled this jiu-jitsu newbie was… that would’ve been gold.

* * *

I called Nick Lembo of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and he was more than happy to help. Nick had actually arranged for Renzo to coach Fighter X at the US trials, when Fighter X’s own coach no-showed, so he would give the jiu-jitsu legend a call and a heads up.

As of this writing, that call hasn’t happened yet, and it’s up in the air if Fighter X is going to have to go to the Manhattan academy and get the kindergartner treatment – or even if Renzo’s will end up being Fighter X’s new home. But I’ll let you know how it all works out.