September 25, 2007

by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com

What to do with an empire

What to do with an empire? This is
the question that faces Gary Shaw following Cage Rage 23: Unbelievable. He is
in a position of having acquired the venerable British MMA promotion along with
a variety of other key acquisitions across the globe. The thing being, the
British have our own sense of identity and we like to stand out in the world as
being individual.

Cage Rage has built the largest and
most successful of the home-grown MMA shows on the scene here, in part through
the matchmaking and in part due to their image. Argue what you will about the
personas that Dave O’Donnell and Andy Geer portray, but you can’t deny that to
a majority facet of their target market, it works. You can’t help but be drawn
into what they do.

So, how will this fit into the
EliteXC way of promoting shows? Interesting question. For all intents and
purposes, MMA in America is generally perceived as a promotion first, dominated
by a monolith player and sure, there are others in the overall game, but
ultimately you think of them in promotion terms first. And that is the
difference here: people know this is Dave and Andy’s baby.

If Cage Rage becomes swallowed up
and integrated, rebranded and presented as EliteXC, the British fans will feel
as though they have lost something. That said; there are definitely
improvements to be made in the presentation of the product and the new owners
can build upon the momentum already generated.

Gary Shaw’s briefing at the Cage
Rage 23 weigh-in event was inspiring. He promised that things will remain
inherently British and that the contributions ProElite Inc. makes will be on
the production side as well as financial backing to help the promotion grow
– encouraging words to say the least!

Talent sharing is the obvious way
forward here. If Cage Rage has access to the ProElite backed talent pool and
there is a progression avenue for the best of British up to international
level, then it’s a win-win situation in the making.

Logistically, I think Cage Rage have
a lot of talent involved in the promotion outside of the fighters, but up until
now things have been spread very thin with a handful of key people taking the
brunt of the workload. A new influx of resources should mean a better
distribution of workload and thus an improved, smoother running product to
deliver to the audience.

In my opinion, O’Donnell is one of
the best matchmakers in the UK. Sometimes we may question the fights on paper,
but invariably they produce something special we didn’t see, case in point being
Neil Grove vs. James Thompson or maybe even Damien Riccio vs. Marius Zaromskis.
If he gets access to a purse that is able to secure quality international
opponents for the best of the British talent, we should be seeing some solid
matchups come December and beyond.

For his part, Geer is an organized
businessman and his management of operations has also been solid. He is
production minded, so it will be good to see how things operate with ProElite
staff and resources.

I know from my experience on the ground
at Cage Rage 23 that there was drafted staff shadowing existing staff. You
could feel the whole operation was tighter than ever before, even down to the
flow of the fights and breaks leading up to the live broadcast. The running
team in itself should be commended on a job well done.

One person I am looking forward to
seeing more of is Ian Freeman. In my opinion, Freeman is ideally placed to do
all the link material between fights. His stance as an experienced vet is
unquestioned and his insight is always invaluable. The segment he has been
working on with backstage pre-fight material has been good, but I think he
could add an additional dimension to the live show between fights and
effectively helming the broadcast.

Think of it this way, Randy Couture
has been an excellent addition to the broadcast team as a color commentator and
his experience as a fighter has really lifted the UFC’s insight. He rarely
misses the smaller details. Freeman is the man for the job.

In closing, all eyes are on ProElite
at the moment and the U.K. is a market that is very nationalistic and proud. I
think there are exciting times ahead and I believe that we have been knocking
on world class for a while, but we need to be elevated there with our own
identity, and fingers crossed, that promise will be fulfilled.

As always, agree or disagree, I
would love to hear your views, so email me at