Attempting to fuse generations
Boxing and mixed martial arts attract different audiences. In coming together Saturday, Golden Boy Promotions and Affliction Entertainment hope to fuse generations connected by little more than the love of a good fight.
The agreement, which calls for quarterly events in 2009 and a 50-50 split of pay-per-view profits, comes a year and a half after Golden Boy Promotions' CEO Richard Schaefer first considered moving one of boxing's leading promotional companies into MMA.
"It took us a while because we wanted to do it right," Schaefer told SI.com. "We're not people who like to jump. I like to educate myself a bit about it to understand the competition and I like to understand the whole space."
In mixed martial arts, Schaefer found a demographic, while largely ignoring boxing, that intensely watched the quick-paced combat sport popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With cards offering both sports, Schaefer envisions MMA's coveted younger male audience replenishing the ranks of boxing's aging fan base.
"We believe Affliction and the relationships they have with that demographic, the identification they have within that demographic group I think will help bring boxing to these people," said the Golden Boy CEO. "We think as well, many of the mixed martial arts fans are fans of combat sports, and what they've seen of boxing is a very exciting sport as well that maybe they will discover their love for the sport of boxing."
Affliction vice president Tom Atencio told SI.com he sees a similar scenario benefiting MMA.
"I think it brings a traditional sport together with a new sport," Atencio said. "And if we can bring that fan over, the hardcore boxing fan who is a little bit older, then I think it brings another demographic to MMA."
The risk exists that neither group, resistant to a card offering only half the product they're interested in, would purchase the event in force. Yet both sides feel the strategic partnership will work as long as fans are offered the chance to watch top fighters -- regardless of the rules.
Over its six years in the promotion business, Golden Boy, anchored by Oscar De La Hoya, accrued a deep stable of boxing stars. By any comparison, Affliction's history as an MMA promoter is limited. In July, the company debuted with a heavyweight-laden lineup featuring Fedor Emelianenko, the consensus top heavyweight in the world, and former UFC champion Tim Sylvia.
The mid-summer event garnered press thanks to a partnership with real estate icon Donald Trump and the harsh attention paid by UFC promoter Zuffa LLC, which countered the pay-per-view by scheduling a competing live event on Spike TV featuring Anderson Silva. Engrossing himself in the business of MMA, Schaefer volunteered unprompted that he recognized the "UFC is the 8,000-pound gorilla. I'm sure they will continue to be that. I have the highest regard and respect for Dana White and his team. I think they have done a tremendous job and will continue to do a tremendous job, so it's really not in any way or shape to try to compete with UFC.
"It's really to build up an alternative opportunity for fighters -- young or experienced -- to display their talent."
The opportunity to work with Golden Boy, said Atencio, was something Affliction "couldn't pass up. They have been in the boxing industry a long time. I think on the backend it'll make things a lot more seamless for us production-wise."
Details over the makeup of the cards, the size of the ring (Affliction uses a 24-by-24 ring, which is probably too big even for heavyweight boxers), and whether boxers or mixed martial artists will earn headline status will be discussed in coming weeks. So will television distribution. Though Golden Boy enjoys a strong relationship with HBO, the premium cable network has resisted the idea of broadcasting MMA. According to ESPN.com, HBO and Top Rank turned down a request by Golden Boy to place the cancelled Oct. 11 Affliction main event between heavyweights Josh Barnett and Andrei Arlovski on the following week's Kelly Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins HBO pay-per-view card.
Schaefer said he was open to working with HBO or Showtime, but if the premium cable networks weren't interested, Golden Boy and Affliction would independently produce the PPV.
A location has not been determined, though Affliction officials were working on a January date in Southern California after notifying the Nevada State Athletic Commission of the Oct. 11 Thomas & Mack Center cancellation. Reportedly weak ticket sales prompted the postponement, but Atencio suggested that the date was called off due to the Golden Boy deal.
The Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns or operates major sporting venues including Staples Center, Home Depot Center and O2 Arena in London, is also part of the venture, said Schaefer.
Affliction and Golden Boy began talking eight months ago as the clothing apparel company prepared for its incursion into fight promotion. Moving faster than Schaefer was comfortable with, Affliction executives couldn't close with the meticulous Golden Boy CEO before its July event.
"It just didn't work out in the timely manner that we wanted," Atencio said. "So that doesn't mean we didn't continue that relationship. Now we did finalize everything."
In addition to the co-promoted cards, Affliction was announced as the official licensee for Ring Magazine apparel; Golden Boy Enterprises purchased the classic boxing publication to some controversy in 2007. Rounding out the three-part deal, a signature Affliction shirt, sold on-site as well as inside the 20,000 retail store network that features the gothic-infused brand, will be manufactured in conjunction with major Golden Boy Promotions fights.
If nothing else, the company knows how to put on major events. A bout between De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year sold 2.5 million pay-per-view subscriptions, an all-time pay-per-view record. According to Atencio, Affliction's July 19 debut brought in "well over" 100,000 buys, though reported estimates indicate that number could be high. Choosing to give up a 50 percent pay-per-view stake is the correct long-term business decision, said Atencio, because boxing's biggest events dwarf MMA in terms of revenue, and these cards have the potential to do very well.
"This all makes sense because we want to be here five, 10, 15 years from now," he said. "We don't want to be here in the short term like everyone is saying we're going to be."