Affliction is promoting what will likely be the biggest non-UFC MMA fight card of the year Saturday-and almost no one is talking about it. Fans that are talking are discussing the finances above all else. How can Affliction afford to pay its undercard fighters in the mid six figures for fights that are unlikely to contribute to the precious PPV buyrate? How will the company make any money when it is paying more than a million dollars each for two untested (and Russian!) box office draws? Will this put the clothing company out of business?
As a fan, my answer to all of those questions is a resounding, “who cares?” The important thing is that someone is willing to pony up to bring two of the world’s best into the ring to test their skills. It’s not my job as a fan (or as a journalist) to make these shows profitable. That’s the promoter’s job. It is the job of the journalists to cover it, not promote the show for the “good of the sport.” And if you look back at the history of combat sports, much stranger ducks than Tom Atencio and Affliction have dropped millions of dollars to put on vanity shows for a number of reasons.
In 1974, Mobuto Sese Seko paid Don King millions to bring Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to Zaire for the now famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” Seko was a brutal dictator, a man who once had his political rivals rounded up and executed in front of 50,000 awestruck countrymen. He was so despised by many in his own country that he needed no less than three separate special forces squads acting as personal bodyguards. How was he going to make a profit herding his people into the Mai 20 Stadium to watch the fight for free? How will a bad turnout affect Seko’s future shows?
These are the questions today’s MMA fans would be asking if they were transported back 35 years. Again, who cares? Who remembers? The fight turned into a cultural landmark, with the unforgettable images of Africans shouting “Ali, bom-ba-ye!” and the shocking conclusion being replayed in print and in film countless times to this day. Does anyone remember how much money was lost? Imagine George Plimpton ignoring the bout itself to focus solely on how the papered crowd would react to future events.
In the long term, fans will remember the fights that made them feel. No one remembers the promoters, because they are interchangeable. Does it truly matter if it is Affliction, or the IFL, or Showtime, or Mark Cuban, or the Fertittas? It’s the fights that are important, that will stand the test of time. MMA fans and reporters would do well to focus on them and leave the promoters to get ulcers worrying about what will draw. That’s their job. Our job is to watch great fights. Enjoy the show.