Damon Lau, President of Round 5, is living out his MMA dreams.
Round 5, a company based in Ontario, Canada, is the manufacturer of North America's first official MMA collectibles.
They recently announced that Gina Carano and Fedor Emelianenko have signed on to create their respective collectibles, following its next Series to be released in April, which includes Big John McCarthy, Andrei Arlovski, Frank Mir and Antonio Nogueira.
Round 5 also released its Series 2 line in late 2008, which includes Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Sean Sherk, and Wanderlei Silva figurines. The launch follows a successful first series, which included Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz and "Rampage" Jackson. It introduced last year and available in leading retail locations.
The company remains committed to developing intricately detailed figures and strives to remain true to the sport of MMA and its personalities.
I recently had the chance to speak with Damon Lau, who is an obsessive MMA fan in his own right. He created Round 5 with his brother Barron after the two worked with Randy Couture on a project for their advertising company last year.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.
Damon, give us some more background on how you got started with Round 5?
My primary background for the past seven years is in advertising & marketing. I own a mid sized advertising firm in Toronto, Canada. Through my business experience I had the opportunity to work with a couple of people within the sport of MMA.
I am a massive fan and one of the athletes I had the opportunity to work with was Randy Couture. When we first met, we really hit it off and become friends.
In the spring of 2007, Randy had to fly into town (Toronto) to do some promotional work for the Fight Network. He gave me a call and wanted to grab dinner.
We were talking about how much the sport has grown and was going mainstream and how it would be great if people started coming up with new business ideas surrounding the sport of MMA.
Randy mentioned how he thought it would be funny if someone came up with a plastic novelty cauliflower ear for fans. We both laughed and in response to that I thought about my love for the PRIDE organization. I recalled how in Japan they had these really super Japanese caricature style figurines of a lot of the guys in PRIDE.
I thought it would be a great idea if someone had brought that over state side. I said to Randy, wouldn’t it be a great if someone started doing action figures of MMA guys and the light bulbs went off above both of our heads. Randy ended up being the first license we ever signed.
Besides Randy Couture your first serious included” Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz and "Rampage" Jackson. How did those three other guys end up becoming part of Series One.
We literally just approached them and when we did, it was such a novel idea, they all thought it was a fantastic idea! It simply moved forward to where it’s at today which has been great.
What is your relationship at Dana White? Do the executives over at Zuffa see this as a positive thing that your company is doing?
You know, I hear a lot of things about how the UFC conducts business. From a fans point of view, I have always been a huge fan of how they run their organization.
People ask me, has the UFC been aggressive toward with what we have been doing in regards to the fighters and my answer is no, I have actually never met or spoken with Dana or Lorenzo. I would love to be able to work with them but our business model has never been set up to directly interact with them.
Now to clarify, there is an actual technical difference between action figures and figurines. Your product is technically a figurine. Can you tell us about that distinction?
Our focus is definitely to create a collectible item. Our core demographic is that same person who watches that PPV event themselves. We don’t gear toward children, so it's not a toys for kids.
The typical demographic is that male 16-40 year old who wants to put it in their cubicle or leave it in the collectors case beside the television or on the shelf.
The main difference is, an action figure is meant to be played with. Our product, as opposed to being played with, is for display. Our core demographic is geared toward the hardcore fan of the sport.
What is the company’s relationship like with the consumer/fan?
Our business is spawned of fans ideas and dreams. For us, when we are developing products, a lot of the direction we take is based from the fans, including what licenses we sign. We probably get 200-300 emails a day.
We get snail mail on a weekly basis which is fantastic. Our product development department reads every single email/letter.
If the fans want something overwhelmingly, it is obviously something we will pursue. So go to the website, send us an email. We have actually had fans send us drawings. Let your voice be heard because we are 100 percent consumer driven company.
How do the contracts work with each individual fighter?
Are contracts are standardized so we have had great luck with signing fighters. Fighters get a royalty per unit sold. Beyond that, we get the fighters actively involved in the specific design and development of their figurine.
We even let the fighters sell sponsorship spots on the shorts of their figurines. For example, Quinton Jackson is sponsored by Boost Mobile.
We want to go the harder route, to work with the fighters closely and have them happy with the product. We think that for a fan, knowing that Wanderlei Silva had direct input in every aspect of the creation of his figurine is pretty cool.
Also, for a fan to know that buying that figurine directly puts money into their favorite fighters pocket is also pretty cool. As a fan myself, to see the whole process come together is very rewarding.
For those more hardcore fringe fans that really keep up with Sengogku, Dream, K-1, and smaller organizations, is there any hope for those fans getting a Shinya Aoki figurine made, or some other popular international fighter?
Absolutely! The funny thing is, I consider myself one of those diehard fans. Years ago, I was that guy who was on Sherdog at 4 AM reading play-by-plays and hitting refresh to get the latest updates. I am 100 percent that guy.
Even though people want to call those guys hardcore fans, there are literally millions of guys like us out there. So, yes, we are definitely looking at product offerings in all those places. We already have guys signed who are under all those organizations.
What do you think the chances are of signing Dana White to a contract and do a six-inch figurine of the man himself?
To be honest, two and half years ago I would have said that was impossible. But with everything that has happened in the past year, and how the business has taken off more then I ever imagined, my answer now is...you never know.
That’s the funny thing about this sport in general, you just never know. The possibilities are endless and you never know what can happen. I am a fan of Dana, so I would love to see it happen.
Any plans to do a hall of fame series with guys like Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, or someone like Don Frye?
We are already three steps ahead of you! To really understood the mentality of our “hard core fan” staffed company, we are going to the places where the wildest of MMA fans imaginations can take us…including reenacting fight scenes, the sky is the limit when it comes to what we are looking to create for the MMA fan.
I know it’s usually reserved for fighters but, would you like to give any shout outs:
Were just that company up in Canada that’s looking to do really cool stuff!
Damon, it’s been an honor. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and best of luck in bringing the imagination of the MMA fan to life. It’s an inspiration to see guys like you living out your dreams.
Well thank you, I really appreciate that!
To check out pictures of the figurines: