The Black Eye on The Gold Rush II

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Five years ago, Robin Black all but walked away from a successful music and television career to pursue his real passion: Mixed Martial Arts.

A true MMA obsessive, Black is an Analyst and On Air personality for The Fight Network and The Score, a color commentator for English broadcasts of Sengoku and DEEP as well as Ringside, CFC, AFC, MFL, The Score Fighting Series and other shows. He has also ring announced and done post-fight interviews for WRECK, CFC and other shows, and is a writer for The National Post and Maxim Canada. In addition, Black manages a stable of 18 athletes (and growing) as managing partner of Black and associates Fighter management.

Black even stepped into the cage as a pro MMA Fighter fighting eight times and compiling a ‘not-quite-stellar’ (his words) professional MMA record of 3-5.

Here’s Robin:

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I recently sat down with a high end business mind and asked some questions about the business of, well, business.

I was discussing with him just how nonsensical the MMA business is in Ontario, and asking if every business he has done specialty consultation for has as much inexplicable stupidity. He said that, yes, all businesses fields have crazy people looking to somehow get rich quick at things they don’t understand. But he says, from his experience, that the Ontario MMA Gold Rush is showing more idiocy per capita than any other field he has ever done research in.

Well, I asked, in the dog show business (for example), are there people trying to put on $200 000 dog shows with no experience? Are there people saying “I like dogs, I’m gonna put on a dog show in the arena and get rich”?

No there aren’t, he says. That would be stupid.

But people do that in MMA.

So far, since MMA has become “legalized” in Ontario, there have been 6 shows attempted.

One was the UFC which, of course, was a massive success. The UFC not only has a global brand and billions of dollars, they have a staff of hundreds of the best fight and business minds on the planet. They had an immense, incredible show with 55, 000 fans and global media coverage, etc etc. They have a true love and passion for the show and the sport that runs from Dana White all the way down to the new staff, and shows in every aspect of the show.

It was predictably a massive success in every way. They raved about the city, raved about the great Office of the Athletics Commissioner, and raved about  Canadians. All good. Of course.

Another was the MFC. The MFC has been in business for 12 years, and is helmed by Mark, Manon, and Dave Pavelich. It is well documented that Mark Pavelich is an odd character, but it is perhaps less known that this man is truly one of the top minds in the business of Mixed Martial Arts.

Look, if someone wants to be in the MMA business, they have to realize RIGHT NOW that they will work 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, for 12 weeks before the event. Live, eat, breathe the show. MARK PAVELICH DOES THAT.

This guy may tell you that he has made every mistake there is, and seen every mistake there is, and survived because he is passionate about the sport and he is dedicated to it. And driven to constantly improve. He will tell you that you cannot survive in this sport unless you have 3 to 6 full time EXPERIENCED people who give up their lives to work night and day to make a single show happen. And he will be right.

Anyhoo, the MFC used their knowledge, experience, and work ethic to have a very successful show in Windson.  Full house, great excited crowd, happy fighters, great TV product. Congrats.

So, 2 experienced companies, 2 great shows.

The other 4 have not gone as well.

Here’s the deal. This is a complex business, and some people have popped up in this business who have no pertinent experience or special skills, and convinced others that they can build cards, run shows, and create a product that will excited fans when, in fact, they cannot. There are people with ZERO experience looking to get rich or be the man, and they are being preyed on by people with a tiny bit more than zero experience who are also looking to get rich or be the man. In the land of the blind the one-eye man is king. And there’s a lot of blind men in MMA putting their shows in the hands of these Cyclopses. And, if and when most fail, there is residual negative fallout on the business and every great fighter and good person in it.

Let’s have a look at how the Gold Rush is unfolding.

First we have to define what a successful show is.

A successful MMA show is a beautiful thing, an incredible entertainment event that changes people’s lives for a moment. It is watching greatness unfold in front of your very eyes. It is a beautiful opportunity for 20 young athletes to show an inspiring blend of skill and heart and passion in front of thousands of inspired fans. It is something put together with love and passion by fans, for fans, and done with a true love of the sport and the athletes.

It is something that is brilliant in the moment and memorable and meaningful after.

A successful MMA show, of course, will  hopefully end up making a profit. But it is important for people to understand that most shows will not make much. This business has to be done for love because, outside of the UFC and VERY few others, there is only a small potential profit margin.

I mean, has anyone broken down the costs vs potential profit? Small shows, of course, can only hope to make a small profit. And big shows RARELY work in the Canadian market. Only the most experienced people, with a love and passion for the game and an inexhaustible work ethic, have every made successful big shows in Canada. The market has shown that big shows are almost impossible to do.

Currently, there are 3 or 4 shows coming up that are booked in Ontario in big arenas. Despite the fact that no non-UFC show outside of Quebec has EVER sold 5000 tickets. Only a handful have ever even done 3000 paid tickets.

Don’t people research the business that they want to be in?

So, aside from the UFC and MFC, there have been 4 other shows attempted so far.

Two have been canceled.

One, a small show in Kingston, suffered from the fact that it is VERY hard to do shows in Ontario. It is a complex business, with complex rules and structure. And it is expensive.

It would have been cool to have a small show in Kingston, but the costs are so high small shows are going to be dicey. It’ll really take a small business specialist with huge MMA experience.

The other show that was cancelled was a show in Brampton, and it was cancelled under some pretty bizarre circumstances.

The promoter was a very cool likeable former boxer. Apparently he was convinced by some inexperienced people posing as MMA experts to hire them to build the show. It didn’t go well.

First off, the show started advertising fighters that were not on the card, including Antonio Carvalho, Tim Wadsworth and Brent Fryia. None of these guys were ever on the card. Using their names improperly like that damages the fighters and their future potential for opportunities and earnings. Not cool.

The promoters were told by their paid “expert” that those great names were confirmed (they were not), so they went ahead with advertising with Wadsworth as the main event and Fryia (who rejected the offer outright) on the promo materials.

The rest of the card contained a bunch of fighters who, combined, could sell about 8 tickets in Brampton. A tough Japanese fighter that almost no one in Canada has ever heard of in the main event. Three talented guys from Texas no one heard of yet. An unknown guy from Puerto Rico. Flights for all. Straight up, it was an insane card. In my educated opinion, they would have been lucky to sell 700 tickets with the card. And it was a card that 4 experienced matchmakers, Darren Owen, Harvey Panesar, Marc-Andre Drolet and Joey Benoit said should be a $20 000 card. Yet, inexplicably, the new “experts’ were charging the promoter $50 000 for this card. Self serving deal making? Dirty pool? Incompetence? All of the above?

Well, other nonsense went down, and ultimately the card was cancelled. The other 2 cards did happen, at CasinoRama and an arena in London, and they somehow only had 7 fights apiece. At the Casino they comped most of the tickets and in London, despite the overpriced card, there was in the range of 2500 paid fans desperate for some quality MMA. Strangely, in both cases the same persons who were hired for “expert” matchmaking on the Brampton card were inexplicably involved in these too.

Now, there are many reasons that this (working as a middleman on multiple shows) cannot work, the biggest being the many many conflicts of interest. How can one person/group matchmake for multiple shows happening only weeks apart? I mean, superstar Chris Horodecki, from London, appeared on the casino card, but no London fighters were on the London card? What does the London show think of their well-paid experts signing London fighters to competing shows, and having none themselves?

The same people attempting to match multiple unrelated cards has never been done and cannot be done by even the best matchmakers, never mind inexperienced ones. And it is damaging to the market. It is a play at a monopoly, as these people also wanted to manage the fighters that they use thus double dipping pay-wise, and are infiltrating at the government level as well. (More on the government stuff in a future blog.)

This monopoly play harms every fighter, and is an affront and a threat to the Canadian MMA business infrastructure and all the good people in it. It can give high potential monetary gain for the persons attempting it, but predictable monetary loss by everyone else related to the businesses. And the quality of EVERYTHING the monopoly attempts will suffer. Which makes the fighters and fans suffer. Which makes the business suffer.

It is a flawed concept that cannot work in this market, its of no benefit to anyone but the one attempting it, and as it fails it creates damage to the existing Canadian MMA world and all the fighters. And it is a dick-move.

And also, to be blunt, on what planet does someone who’s never been involved in an MMA show before think they are not only going to dive into a complex business, but “take over”? No one would mind if they simply tried and failed and hurt themselves but, by people who don’t know the business and culture attempting to “run MMA in Ontario” (their words), they damage so many people. Fighters. Fans. Good people.

So, great. MMA in Ontario just starts and we have inexperienced people with selfish and unrealistic goals who crawled out of the woodwork and tried to “conquer” it with no knowledge of the business or a care-in-the-world of who they harm. Then they dive right in, and do harm right out of the gate. Great.

Well, predictably, some sketchy stuff happened on both of these shows as well. Again, multiple fighters’ names were misused in advertising these cards too. The good names of Adrian Wooley, Antonio Carvalho, Nick Denis, John Fraser, Mitch Gagnon and many others were used in various marketing tools for these shows, despite the facts that they were not on the cards. Both cards had only 3 or 4 approved fights even 10 days out (the Mississauga show for example, matched by an experienced matchmaker, had 11 confirmed fights 5 weeks out), and there were mad scrambles to complete the cards. All kinds of crazy stuff happened behind the scenes. Stuff that experienced MMA guys would have been prepared for. Stuff quality matchmakers deal with in advance. Stuff that hurts the business.

In the end, both came together at the last minute, but each only contained 7 fights and the cards did not overwhelm, although the main events on both were kick-ass. And, despite all the nonsense business-wise, the fighters did what these great athletes do, and performed their hearts out. The fighters, as always, did their jobs and more. The people behind them did not.

Also, both shows felt kinda….. weird. There was a cage, there were brilliant athletes performing their hearts out, but something was missing. Genuine love for the sport and the athletes, maybe? They felt like a business man’s interpretation of what an MMA show is.

The fans never left their seats. The crowd seemed underwhelmed. The passion of a beautiful MMA show, which has to start at the top and trickle down to everyone in the building, wasn’t in the air.

Feedback from fans was lukewarm at best, and angry at cost-vs-card at worst. Which is damaging to the market.

Imagine London Ontario, a market that has had Tompkins, Stout, Hominick, Horodecki etc in the papers and on TV selling the love of MMA to the people for a decade. That market is ready and pumped for some MMA.

If you put a couple thousand people in an arena, charge them up to $160, and give them a 5 fight undercard and a 2 fight main card, devoid of local heroes, devoid of passion, devoid in its presentation of that palatable love for the sport and the athletes that makes this sport so great, what effect do you think this has on MMA?

I’ll tell you. At least a third (probably more) of the people at that show will not pay to go to another MMA show. And that hurts the fighters. That hurts the business. It hurts everyone.

Incidentally, the blame for this goes to the matchmaking and the same “expert” consultants. The promoter in London, an entertainment promoter with a lifetime of experience and a sterling reputation, did a great job of promoting. They did everything they could and more with what they were given by their matchmaker. I hope they stay in the business, only with more experienced real MMA people. They could really make a positive contribution.

There are more cards popping up every day, including 2 cards in Hamilton in the coming months, a card in Windsor, a card in Oshawa, and a card in Mississauga. Mississauga is being helmed by a national TV network and has Alex Caporicci, one of the most experienced MMA guys out there, putting it together. And a sports TV network behind it. And a passionate staff with a combined 70 MMA shows experience between them. It should do ok.

Windsor is being helmed by new people, but those people are very passionate about the sport and have some relevant experience and knowledge in MMA and are prepared to work hard. They have a good shot. In Hamilton, one show has Jeff Joslin involved, a UFC vet that has been involved in various areas of the fight game for his whole life. They can’t go wrong with Jeff.

The other Hamilton show has a new head who is smart, excited, and truth-seeking. He also has the luxury of seeing 6 shows already done, some well and some poorly, and is learning from them. He is also going in the right direction.

It is shocking to look at the size of many of the venues tho, as so many impending shows are in big arenas. Like I said, almost never in English Canadian history has a non UFC show sold enough tickets to fill HALF an arena. How on Earth do new promoters hope to sell 5000 tickets when even the best and most experienced promoters never do? And I guess that just brings me back to my first point. Don’t people research the business that they want to be in?

If a new show pops up and runs a great show, but doesn’t sell a lot of tickets, that’s ok. Obviously its bad for the promoter, but if a bunch of great fighters get great fights, get paid, and have fun, its all good. That’s a failure for the promoter but a win for fighters and fans. That sucks for the promoter, but he has done no harm to anyone but his accountant.

But, in so many of these shows, that’s not the case. There have been legitimate damage to fighters and fans and the business in Ontario due to a couple of these shows, and a couple of key people behind them. This is a brilliant sport. These are brilliant athletes. This is a cool community. MMA is a wonderful game.

I’m asking everyone in MMA in Canada to help me.

If some shows happen and fighters and fans are pleased but the shows fail a bit moneywise, no problem, lets all buy tickets and get people talking and try to help them grow.

But if people see people doing a shitty job, trying to create dangerous self-serving monopolies, hurting fighters or hurting markets or ripping off fans, please stand up and have your voices heard.

Please provide some consequences. Show these people this is not their playground. Their actions affect hundreds of good people. Hold them accountable.

These fighters dedicate their lives to this, for our entertainment. Let’s clean this business up. Let’s take care of these guys. Let’s leave this place better than we found it. Let’s all try.

These athletes deserve it. And so do fans of the greatest sport in the world.

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Robin Black loves to hear from you and gossip with other fight fans. Please always feel free to leave comments, good and bad, or email Robin anytime at Robin@TheFightNetwork.com.

Previous Black Eyes

The Black Eye – TUF Talent Level
The Black Eye – Robin Talks the Ontario MMA Gold Rush

8 Responses to “ The Black Eye on The Gold Rush II ”

  1. Jamie Locke says:

    Solid article! Well done Mr Black.

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  2. Long read but definitely worth it…

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  3. Dean Panas says:

    Incredible article Robin!! You are bang on with everything you say. I also have to agree with what you said about M.P., he does put more time into his promotion than any one else I know. It is his full time commitment and that puts him ahead of most others in the business.
    I am not sure how it is in Ontario, but in Edmonton I definitely do not see enough (barely any) main stream marketing. If it wasn’t for facebook, gyms, and websites most people wouldn’t know of any upcoming events. It is crazy how many times I get asked “when are the next fight”, more often than not my response is “this weekend”. I was impressed when I did see and MFC comercial being played during the Super Bowl, it would be nice to see more effort put into that approach by other promoters.

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  4. ccanadx says:

    good read

    how many shows are over even 2500 ? out in bc AFC is pretty well attended, has good management.

    The real bad deal was montreal, TO and vancouver only allowing UFC to come in and take all the cream. I smell corruption/payoffs.

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  5. justsayin says:

    Great read Robin. This should be in the Forums.
    Welcome to the real world of “Greed” and Business.

    Your analogy of a dog show made me chuckle, where did that come from?

    When I look at the MMA phenomenon it reminds me of the old Hall parties of days gone by. It was probably before your time. :)

    The local Head would gather as much cash as possible, buy a few kegs, hire a decent band, write up some tickets by hand and it was off to the races. He was now a Promoter! In actuality it was what sold behind the scenes that made up the profits, not the tickets!

    Soon these promoters were popping up all over and all hell broke loose. They had to bring in Bikers to control the happy patrons which took a toll on the bottom line and the competition was fierce.

    Profits were down, ticket sales dwindled, opposition from the local communities and law enforcement eventually put an end to it all.

    Thankfully our MMA world is not as unregulated as the good old day Hall Bash`s. It is however just as volatile.

    I would compare it more to the good old game of Hockey, The Sports Business.

    UFC being NHL, Strikeforce, the consumed WEC and such being the Farm Leagues, and the out of control Hall Bash`s, all necessary for the big wheel to keep on turning.

    If you want to know what’s next in this crazy Monopoly just keep your eye on the Big Guy, I think you will be in for a surprise!

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  6. BigBoi says:

    I remember driving 2 hours to a “Hall Bash” because we were told they weren’t ID’ing people. We got there right about the time the cops showed up and ended up wasting a perfectly good night.

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  7. Matt MacGrath says:

    Great Article Robin

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  8. Love the dog show analogy. Well done.

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