Affliction Entertainment, best known for their universal clothing apparel on the backs of the most popular mixed-martial-arts fighters from around the world, apparently seem poised to for one last ditch effort in promoting MMA fights and competing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship for MMA supremacy.
Despite surprisingly stellar profit margins yet meager pay-per-view buys from their last two fight cards, Affliction plans on counteracting the UFC's historic 100th multi-main-event mega-bash in Las Vegas on July 11 with one of their own dull, so-so main-event fight night either on free basic cable or network television, possibly even another costly PPV venture.
Considered in some circles to be the best mixed martial artist alive, Fedor Emelianenko expects to headline, what could possibly be the third and final fight act for the struggling T-shirt vendors-turn-fight-promoters, when he defends, for the second time, his World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA) heavyweight championship possibly against top contender Josh Barnett.
No other fights have yet been announced, but judging from their past two cards, fans can expect knockouts, blood, submissions, and more knockouts.
Affliction: Banned, the organization's very first foray into the MMA PPV world came back in July 2008 when "the last Russian emperor" submitted former UFC heavyweight champion Tim "Maine-iac" Sylvia with a rear-naked choke after only 36 seconds into the first round, thus securing the newly created WAMMA heavyweight title.
Other brand-name fighters on the main card that night included former UFC castaways, Josh Barnett, Andre Arlovski, and current Strikeforce light heavyweight Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
Both Barnett and Arlovski knocked out their opponents in the second and third round respectively. Sobral earned a unanimous decision.
The problem with Affliction PPVs, as has been proven in their previous two cards—whoever fights Fedor, loses and loses quickly.
That's not saying Barnett, who's beat top fighters during his days in the UFC, will not give the champion, Fedor, a run for his money. According to the WAMMA rankings, both fighters rank No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, yet who wants to actually watch Fedor fight Barnett in Affliction?
If Affliction, who has had Fedor fight on their only two cards, plans to stay buddy-buddy with WAMMA and help legitimize their belts and rankings, and keep the fans happy, they can't have both Barnett and Fedor fighting on the same card but against different opponents.
Sure, them in separate matches makes for a more star-studded fight card, but the chances of another early knockout from Fedor risks the entire card being a bust.
When it comes to selling a MMA PPV, Emelianenko has not been a money-making machine, which is another reason the upstart promotion may be heading toward the final days as a direct competitor for the UFC.
In addition to a possible Fedor vs. Barnett title bout, Affliction must schedule many, many other great fights on this card, which they have done to a certain extent with their other two PPVs, to have any chance of drawing fans away from the UFC's landmark occasion.
Even if Affliction opts to broadcast a jam-packed fight card on free network cable, similar to what UFC has done in the past, that still will not guarantee them much, if any, success.
Casual fight fans tune into a free MMA card, if the letters U—F—C precede the name. But Affliction just doesn't have that brand recognition and so they need well-known fighters like Tim Sylvia and Paul Buentello or even boxers to attract both die-hard and casual fight fans, or this will definitely be their third and final MMA card.
Maybe than Affliction's deal with Golden Boy Promotions to promote four hybrid boxing/mixed martial arts matches in 2009 will come to fruition. Perhaps a hybrid card similar to March Badness, which includes champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. and MMA wild card Bobby Lashley, may be a better way to go for Affliction.
However, with Ken Shamrock now off the card, it's unclear how many casual fans will even tune into that card anyways. The die-hard fight fans never miss a PPV.
No matter how many big name fights Affliction puts on a card, if they plan a straight up fight versus the best UFC offers, with their greatest PPV to date, they're only asking for a financial disaster and unlikely paving any inroads into the UFC's brand of mixed martial arts.
As the card stands now, UFC: 100 features a unification title bout between heavyweight champion and MMA sensation Brock Lesnar against interim champion Frank Mir. Originally the two were scheduled to fight at UFC 98, but a subsequent knee injury forced Mir to back out.
A welterweight championship title defense between Georges "Rush" St. Pierre and Thiago Alves, plus a middleweight bout between both coaches, Dan Henderson representing Team USA and Michael Bisping coaching Team UK, from season nine of The Ultimate Fighter, which debuts Apr. 1, also all set to get it on in the Octagon at UFC 100.
No question these fights are those the fans have wanted to see for quite some time, at least in the case of Lesnar vs. Mir II. No matter how much promotion the UFC does for this card, it won't matter because the card nearly sells itself.
Billed as the greatest MMA show of all time, Affliction: Banned went head-to-head with UFC Fight Night 14, which aired free on Spike TV and featured Anderson "The Spider" Silva in his return to the light heavyweight division against James "Sandman" Irvin. Silva KO'd Irvin a minute into the first round.
Although Dana White and company put UFC Fight Night 14 together on short notice, the card still became third most watched UFC program ever. As for Affliction: Banned, which took place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, the card toppled over two million at the gate, with nearly 15,000 in paid attendance.
When compared to UFC's three most recent events at the same venue, Affliction: Banned outsold UFC 76, UFC 63, and UFC 59 in terms of ticket sales, with UFC 59 earning slightly more at the gate.
Judging from those numbers alone, the now stale Affliction promotion appeared to be legit competition for the UFC.
Then came Affliction: Day of Reckoning in January 2009 that featured many of the same fighters as Affliction: Banned, including Emelianenko facing Arlovski for title. Barnett and Sobral also fought on the card against Gilbert Yvel and Sokoudjou respectively.
Emelianenko retained his title by countering an Arlovski flying knee attempt with one hell of a KO punch. Barnett bored fight fans for almost three rounds until strike-submitting Yvel while Sobral choked-out Sokooudjou in the second round, as expected from the Strikeforce champ.
The week before, UFC held its first MMA event in Ireland with UFC 93. The co-main event card, featuring Dan Henderson beating Rich "Ace" Franklin to a split decision win and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua TKO'ing Mark Coleman after nearly three rounds.
As much as White resists, he would love nothing more than to sign Fedor to an exclusive UFC contract and finally end all this Affliction nonsense. White's mild interest in Emelianenko sounds erroneous, given the potential for greater profits from such a smart business move, and the UFC worked hard to sign him when Pride folded.
UFC wields considerable control over where top fighters can showcase their talents in front of a hungry American public, and whoever fights on this upcoming Affliction III card runs the risk of UFC black-balling them from the organization.
Those same Affliction III fighters will likely determine whether the future of MMA is the UFC, or if new promotions like Strikeforce, and Affliction can ever survive as legit competition for Dana White and the UFC.