by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Affliction Entertainment, the fledgling fight promotion that first splashed onto the MMA scene with its ubiquitous t-shirts, has rejected a bid to partner with the industry-leading UFC.
MMAWeekly.com spoke to multiple industry sources that confirmed that the basics of a deal had been brokered to allow Affliction back into the organization as a major clothing sponsor, including the possibility of UFC/Affliction co-branded apparel.
The UFC banned the clothing company in January of 2008 when they learned of Affliction’s desire to promote MMA events.
In exchange for the formal partnership, Affliction would agree to cease operations as a fight promoter. Select fighter contracts from Affliction’s talent roster would presumably be bought out by the UFC.
A meeting took place between UFC and Affliction executives on Sept. 26, where the idea was first openly discussed. Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio was present, in addition to UFC president Dana White. According to a source, Randy Couture and his lawyers may have attended the meeting as well. Talks were cordial, and Affliction executives agreed to come up with a proposal of their own. All agreed the group would reconvene in a short time period to sort through the issues of a potential deal.
Communication began to deteriorate, though, with Affliction’s ad campaign for EliteXC’s “Heat,” on Oct. 4. The airing of several ads trumpeting Fedor Emelianenko’s return reportedly made UFC executives wary the deal was not being taken seriously.
The partnership was placed further in doubt by Affliction’s lucrative licensing deals with UFC champions Randy Couture and Georges St. Pierre. Couture’s clothing line, Xtreme Couture, is controlled by partners of Affliction, according to court filings from the now-dismissed legal action with the UFC concerning Couture’s employment agreement. Couture has a substantial, but minority interest in the popular clothing brand.
Affliction had also partnered with boxing promoter Golden Boy on Sept. 13, announcing a deal to co-promote four boxing/MMA hybrid cards in 2009.
Two weeks passed since the first meeting with no constructive communication between Affliction and the UFC. Both sides believed the deal was off the table, but on Monday, a conference call took place between, among others, Lorenzo Fertitta and Todd Beard, Affliction’s co-founder.
Though the deal was not formally rejected by Affliction, it was clear that the goodwill between the parties had disappeared. While it’s unclear how the conversation went south, it went south quickly, with both parties directing profanities at one another. Towards the end, Beard reportedly told Ferttita, “you’ve (expletive) with the wrong guy.”
Needless to say, Affliction’s window of opportunity with the UFC appears to be closed.
A resolution between the two companies may have been beneficial for both. The UFC could have counted one less competitor, and potentially picked up fighters like Emelianenko and Arlovski, ensuring a robust future for its heavyweight division. Affliction could have re-established a proven revenue stream and cemented itself with a company that’s rapidly approaching global proportions.
But ultimately for Affliction, the decision that got them kicked out of the organization has kept them from getting back in.
According to sources from within Affliction and CBS, there may be little time for the clothing company cum fight promoter to mourn the loss. Talks of a broadcast partnership that could place Affliction on primetime television are ongoing.
Few details have emerged on the shape of Affliction/Golden Boy’s first announced co-promotion in January, though Atencio confirmed that the card would showcase only mixed martial arts events. Emelianenko is still the headliner of the show, facing Andre Arlovski for the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight belt on Jan. 24 at The Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.