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.