Near the end of Monday night’s M-1 Global press conference in New York on Monday evening, which was characterized by repeated promises to be “a global, open company”, a reporter asked whether there were any restrictions at all on Fedor Emelianenko’s contract with the company.
“No,” said Sibling Sports president and CEO Mitchell Maxwell. “That’s the short answer.”
I was sitting with fellow Five Ounces contributor Matt Kaplan in the crowd of MMA media members, and Matt summed up my thoughts exactly when he said quietly, “Yeah, but what’s the long answer?”
That moment captured the mood of the press conference. M-1 and Sibling Sports executives were heavy on broad claims about the openness of their organization, about making MMA more than just individual companies vying against one another, and expanding rosters to include more international fighters.
And that all sounds great, but when they were pressed for details about how they would make this happen the answers were non-committal.
“We’ve only been together for ten weeks,” said M-1’s new CEO, Monte Cox. “Most companies haven’t even met each other after ten weeks.”
And yet, both Cox and Mitchell indicated that they hoped to hold their first event on American soil in February. When asked where they were licensed to hold events, who might be fighting in them (aside from Fedor), and how fans would be able to watch them, no one had a firm answer.
“Anything you do in business involves risk,” said Maxwell. “A lot of people would say you have to be crazy to back something like this, but we have the best fighter in the world and everybody wants to be aligned with the best.”
I have to admit he’s right on all counts. This is a risk, a big one. And having Fedor does mean having the best fighter in the world. But what does it mean to have the best unless you have someone credible for him to fight? That question also goes beyond the heavyweight division. One man won’t make a company successful, even if that one man is Fedor.
I’m not trying to beat up on M-1. I like what I heard from them last night, and I admire what they’re trying to do. Cox put it best when he said that this philosophy of openness is “the direction MMA has to head.” But I also think there are a lot of questions M-1 needs to answer before it can jump right into changing the face of the sport.
For starters, I wonder about Monte Cox’s role. Certainly, there is no one who knows as much about the workings of this sport and or who has more experience on the business side of it than Cox. But how will he continue to handle representation for fighters in the UFC and other companies if he’s the CEO of a competing organization? Isn’t that an obvious conflict of interest?
“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” Cox said when I put this question to him. “I guess we’ll see how it goes. … I don’t have contracts with any of my fighters, so if they want to leave they’re always free to go.”
I don’t believe for a second that he hasn’t thought about it, but what I wonder is what his fighters think about it.
He did say that he would not negotiate contracts for fighters of his who deal with M-1, which makes sense, but what about fighters in the UFC? Can he keep negotiating their contracts for them if he has an interest in seeing a competitor succeed? Can they trust him to put their interests first, or to have the time to do it well if he’s simultaneously trying to run a “global” company?
I’m also curious as to how M-1 plans to go about implementing this strategy of openness. They said they would allow Fedor to fight the champions of other organizations, such as the UFC. But is the UFC going to want to take a chance at having their heavyweight belt whisked off to another organization? I can’t see what they’d have to gain when they’re already the top organization.
I think M-1’s best bet is to align themselves with other smaller organizations who are also trying to carve out a share of the UFC’s market. They seem to be hoping that discontent among UFC fighters, as well as “fan pressure”, will force the market open. But I can’t see too many UFC fighters jumping ship until they see if M-1 is for real.
I think a lot of MMA fans are waiting to see the same thing.