by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Now affectionately known as “the t-shirt guys,” Affliction Entertainment burst onto the MMA scene in 2008 after the UFC banned them from sponsoring fighters with their flashy brand of attire. The clothing company soon took to a rash of major athlete signings and partnerships in its first few months of business, leading many to believe they were the UFC’s next serious competitor.
Just shy of a year from its inception, the jury is still out on whether the promotion will gain traction with the highly coveted casual fan, but for an MMA startup, their presence was just about as loud as, well, their clothing.
AFFLICTION NABS FREE AGENTS
After the debacle that was M-1 Global, the feeding frenzy surrounding free agent Fedor Emelianenko resumed. Talks between Emelianenko’s reps and the UFC broke down, and shortly after, Affliction drew headlines by scooping up the No. 1 ranked heavyweight. In June, more attention followed when UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski could not come to terms with his employer and shortly after signed with the upstart promotion. Along the way, Affliction picked up a laundry list of top-tier talent, including Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Matt Lindland, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ben Rothwell, and Vitor Belfort. Such a collection of talent was not cheap – the payroll for the promotion’s first event, “Banned,” was a reported $3.3 million, and it was widely expected that Emelianenko received a signing bonus north of a million dollars.
“BANNED” SELLS OUT AND GRABS A REPORTED 100,000 PAY PER VIEW BUYS
Named after their UFC treatment, Affliction’s first event was held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. on July 19. By most accounts, it was a mixed success. While many of the fights were entertaining, there were several hiccups on the production side of the show. With 14,832 in attendance, the event was a sellout, although it was later revealed Affliction purchased somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of those tickets to distribute among friends and family. Early speculation put pay per view buy rates at 80,000, but in an exclusive interview with MMAWeekly.com, Atencio said the number exceeded 100,000, giving the event a ballpark figure of $4 million in revenue. Atencio also claimed his company got a better deal than the standard 40 percent of revenue offered to most promoters, though he would not specify the amount. “Banned” also took the unusual step of melding different mediums, with metal band Megadeth playing between fights. It would not be the last time the company tried to mix audiences. While it is certain the event lost money, it was an impressive showing for a novice promoter.
“DAY OF RECKONING” STALLS
After “Banned” put Affliction on the map, speculation centered on how they would match the luster of the first event without going broke. Atencio quickly attempted to dispel the idea that its second show – and promotion – was a cash cow for unsigned fighters. The highly priced Emelianenko had destroyed former UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia, but had injured his right thumb in the process. Arlovski and Barnett had won in their respective fights, and with Emelianenko out until January of 2009, a contender fight was assembled for the promotion’s second event. Rumors circulated that fighters were asked to take pay cuts, though one fighter, Josh Barnett, disputed that claim. “Day of Reckoning” was scheduled for Oct. 11 at the Thomas and Mack center in Las Vegas, the stomping ground of the UFC. In the months prior to the event, Atencio said the industry leading promotion was interfering with his ability to put the event together, presumably by legal harassment. A month before it was to take place, “Day of Reckoning” was postponed to January of 2009. Ticket sales for the event were reportedly abysmal, with many estimates under 1,000. Following the gaffe, Affliction Entertainment’s COO (and Donald Trump underling) Michael Cohen promised an announcement that would “change the world of MMA.”
AFFLICTION PARTNERS WITH GOLDEN BOY
Boxing ringleaders Golden Boy Promotions was set to collaborate with Affliction on “Banned,” but reportedly got cold feet when the clothing company went public with the possible partnership. With “Banned” in the books as a sellout, talks between the companies resumed. Following the postponement of “Reckoning,” Atencio and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer used the press conference for an upcoming Ricky Hatton/Paulie Malignaggi boxing match to announce a formal partnership. The two companies would co-promote four hybrid boxing/MMA shows, beginning with Jan. 24’s “Reckoning.” The hybrid idea was later shot down, with the event being re-cast as an all-MMA event. Then, things got a little stranger, with Golden Boy reinstating a previously canceled boxing card between Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito for the same night as “Reckoning.” As of this writing, the event is a lock, with a now-healthy Fedor Emelianenko taking on Andrei Arlovski for the WAMMA heavyweight title, and Josh Barnett facing Dutch bad boy Gilbert Yvel.
AFFLICTION TURNS DOWN UFC BID
Hot on the heels of the postponement and partnership, Affliction met a crossroads in its short career in promoting. Through various intermediaries, the UFC requested a meeting with Affliction executives in Las Vegas. During the meeting, the UFC offered to allow the clothing company back into the fold with a more formalized partnership, in exchange for ceasing operations as a fight promoter. Affliction execs agreed to consider the deal and meet again. When they reconvened with UFC executives in early October via teleconference, a verbal slugfest ensued, and the relationship appeared to be over. For the conceivable future, Affliction would not be seen in the UFC, other than on the backs of the fashionably conscious fans. Affliction would later formalize its partnership with M-1 Global, the promotion headed by Fedor Emelianenko’s manager, Vadim Finkelstein, to co-promote MMA shows around the world. A rumored network TV deal with CBS would elude them, and they would go the pay per view route once again.