(As with the Mona Lisa’s eyes, Thompson’s ear seems to just follow you around the room, doesn’t it?)
Indian upstart promotion Super Fight League recently announced the pairing of James Thompson and former WWE star Bobby Lashley as the main event of its third card, which will also feature Trevor Prangley, Doug Marshall, and Zelg Galesic in action.
This is the point where we stop discussing the matchups at hand and get to the news you really need to know: Super Fight League is crashing and burning like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Josh Barnett couldn’t melt a plastic cup with his urine fast enough to destroy SFL, which is beginning to look like it will be but a distant memory by the end of the fiscal year. Despite the fact that viewership is free to anyone with a computer, internet access, and the ability to spell Youtube, SFL already seems to be on wobblier legs than River Phoenix outside The Viper Room (too soon?).
And it’s pretty clear why.
Heading into their first event, the India-based promotion showcased an emphasis on flare, throwing fancy promos and even their own theme song into the mix in an effort to spur interest in a sport that their country had yet to build the smallest of followings for. This was their first problem, a lack of awareness. Where Asian-based promotion OneFC has thrived thanks to both collaborative efforts with local promotions and a strong, preexisting fan base in the area they chose to promote within, Super Fight League’s co-chairmen, Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt, opted to rely on a combination of Bollywood celebrities and music industry execs to help promote a new sport that they themselves weren’t truly familiar with. In fact, many of the celebrities in attendance, and most of the 300,000 India-based Youtube viewers who managed to make the first card a slight success, where under the impression that MMA, and specifically SFL, consisted of over-the-top, WWE style antics and entertainment, largely due to how the promotion chose to well…promote themselves.
When treated to MMA on full display, many of those same celebrities have since declared that MMA should be banned in India, and you can’t blame them for being mislead by the bright lights and poor marketing. Take a look at SFL’s venue choices, for instance. The promotion’s first event was held at the Adheri Sports Complex in Mumbai, a massive indoor complex capable of holding up to 20,000 people. The costs to rent such a venue doesn’t offer a lot of wiggle room, financially speaking, especially for an upstart promotion in every sense of the word. But they sure do look cool, don’t they? According to Indian sources, SFL 1 only managed to pull in around 300 paying customers. Add to that the cost of the fighter’s salaries, and there is no way it didn’t end up in the red. But perhaps the most obvious argument that Super Fight League was truly a promotion favoring style over substance was the inclusion of Bob Sapp in it’s very first main event.
OneFC made the same mistake once, but you can be damn sure they won’t do it again. Sapp is a walking publicity stunt, a carnival act, and the easiest way to show the world that you haven’t the slightest clue what the sport you claim to be promoting is actually about, let alone who is watching it. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about Thompson. Though it is a given that a promotion can only acquire so many great fighters with their limited budgets, the money SFL spent on the aforementioned flash and flare could have easily been used to pull in guys like Hector Lombard, Mamed Khalidov, the recently UFC-released Jorge Santiago and other lesser known, but much more respected, mixed martial artists. The simple matter is, fans were outraged and angered by the obvious work that was Sapp/Thompson, and it showed with the second event’s complete failure to pull in viewers.
Just take a look at the fight videos of SFL 2. Sure, you will notice that the card is actually an improvement over its predecessor in terms of production and matchmaking, but you will also notice that there was no one in attendance. Reports have had claimed the number of attendees to be around 1/5th of the T-Box Mobile Arena’s 5000 seat capacity. Think that’s bad? It gets worse. Despite signing an exclusive deal with Youtube, SFL 2 only managed to scrounge up an abysmal 3,000 views. That’s a ninety-nine percent drop from their first event, folks. And who do they decide to let headline their third event? A couple more freak show fighters that are almost universally reviled by MMA fans. One can expect those paltry numbers to drop even further with marketing tactics like these.
At the end of the day, we could be wrong about the direction SFL heads, which we predict will be rapidly downward in a spiraling motion. In either case, it appears that SFL seems to be having the same problems that EliteXC had, forgoing an actual investment in the sport in favor of overblown production values, laughably commentary, and a lack of thrilling, or even remotely exciting matchups. And let’s not even get into the ridiculous size of that ring, which looks like they threw a tarp over a motocross track and said, “Fuck it.”
The way we see it, SFL has two options; continue doing what they’re doing and be left penniless, or start focusing on what really makes a MMA promotion, and the sport itself, successful. To quote August Burns Red:
Lucky for you rock bottom is in sight,
Your wake up call is set for now,
And the trail you have followed has come all the way to the end,
I hope you survive the crash