The writing is officially on the wall. Then again, we’ve all said this before. Still, the writing is on the wall. Whether it’s in permanent ink this time is another question.
Yes, the UFC has yet another up-start competitor. After the IFL (International Fight League) secured millions in investments and unleashed a unique fighting platform, they have essentially gone by the wayside in the mixed martial arts forefront. Elite-XC, the company that made big headlines by securing a deal with CBS, has lost some steam since the announcement and has failed to procure top-name fighters to garner the interest of true MMA fans.
But now, with one of the community’s largest clothing and merchandise companies getting into the mix, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Zuffa, its parent company, are on their toes, reeling.
You may recognize the name Affliction. Obviously, it’s a clothing company prominently featured on mixed martial artists the world over, sponsoring fighters and cut men alike. It’s also a popular brand among trainees, fans, and pseudo-bodybuilders. Now, though, Affliction is moving even further into the mixed martial arts world.
Backed financially by Donald Trump and partnered with Adrenaline MMA, Affliction Entertainment is set to launch on Saturday, July 19 with a mega-card on pay per view. The event, to air from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, features several big name fighters and carries a UFC-like purchase price of $39.95 USD. The card is headlined by #1 ranked Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who you may remember as the cited reason for Randy Couture ending his UFC run (Couture wanted to fight Fedor, but the UFC couldn’t work out a deal). Fedor will square off with former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia, he of the flabby gut, weird tattoos, and unrivaled lack of popularity. While Sylvia may not be the most exciting fighter, it is truly a battle of two of the top Heavyweight giants of the past few years.
Also on the card, titled “Banned,” is #4 ranked Heavyweight Josh Barnett, who will face Pedro Rizzo. Keeping with the Heavyweight theme, #6 ranked Heavyweight Andrei ‘Pitbull’ Arlovski is also on the card, slated to fight Ben Rothwell. Getting excited yet? Well, there are more fighters to get excited about still. UFC-banished Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral faces Mike Whitehead while Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland takes on Fabio Negao.
On the pre-show, you’ll recognize names like Vitor Belfort (former UFC star and steroid abuser) and Terry Martin (former UFC fighter and Mike Tyson look-alike), who will square off. On the preliminary card, airing on Fox Sports Net, will be #8 ranked Light-Heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (not to be confused with UFC fighter and twin brother Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira) and #10 ranked Heavyweight Aleksander Emelianenko (Fedor’s brother).
To put the icing on the proverbial cake, they even have Michael Buffer (boxing legend, not UFC’s Bruce Buffer) doing the ring announcing. Oh yeah, and Megadeath is performing live, if you’re into that kind of thing, as I assume many are.
So just how worried is the UFC about this well-financed, well-promoted supercard? Well, they have made several moves to combat the potential impact of this card.
The most pressing is probably that co-owner Lorenzo Fertita stepped down as one of the top casino head-honchos in the world to pursue a more active role with the UFC. It is said to not be an insult to Dana White, but rather the company feels the need to drive international expansion at a more rapid pace. Still, the timing is interesting.
Additionally, with pay per view cards already set for July 5 and August 9, the UFC really didn’t have the option to pull the trigger on yet another pay per view event to combat Affliction: Banned. Instead, they used their partnership with SpikeTV, which reaches 96.1 million homes for free, to create an Ultimate Fight Night to ensure their viewers remain exclusively their viewers.
Putting a card together on short notice is no easy task, and the quality of the card will probably reflect that. Most big-name fighters are slated to fight on one of the next few pay per view cards already, and so the card may feature one-sided bouts or less highly profiled stars. Still, the offering should attract many fans looking for a free night of action instead of a $40 one.
So what has the UFC been able to table for this card so far? Well, coming off a controversial loss last month to Fabricio Werdum, Brandon ‘the Truth’ Vera is ready to step into the Octagon just 40 days later to take on Reese Andy, a long-time veteran at Heavyweight making his return to MMA after a one year absence. This match is still in the ‘rumored’ stage, though Andy has confirmed it. The UFC also bumped the lightweight battle between Frankie Edgar and the returning Hermes Franca to this show, instead of the August 9 event. Two other fights, a bout between Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson and Kevin Burns and a fight between Nate Loughran and Johnny Rees are also expected.
Oh, and one more thing for the night of July 19. UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson ‘Spider’ Silva will make the jump to the 205-pound Light Heavyweight division. Almost forgot to mention that. Yes, the much-anticipated jump of The Spider will go down in a few weeks time as he takes on UFC-veteran James Irvin. While certainly not a huge name, Irvin is 5-2 in the UFC and is coming off a big win over Houston Alexander. This is likely a bout for Silva to test the 205-pound waters before making a decision on whether to challenge further up the ladder. It is, after all, a rare and counter-intuitive move for a fighter to go up in weight.
So the UFC is clearly feeling the effects of this new brand on the MMA scene. The UFC, though, has lasted through many upstart promotions. The big questions with Affliction Entertainment likely resound a little louder with the UFC, I’m sure:
How much money is Trump willing to pour in?
Can they continue to market UFC-made stars and offer the contractual flexibility the UFC won’t?
Will they be able to leverage their wide-spread clothing sponsorships to promote their MMA brand?
Well, we’ll know a little bit more come July 19.