“The question it all comes down to for me is, is there a market for MMA? Now coming from the boxing world, when I first saw MMA I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy watching it. I found it boring and when it wasn’t boring I found it grotesque. Now what I had to do was learn about it. I had to learn more. I had to learn the moves, the players, the disciplines and the different camps and what they meant. The more I learned about it the more I found I enjoyed it and the more I could appreciate the strategies and I have found that for the most part, the fan base out there doesn’t have a clue. Not a clue what they’re seeing, not a clue what they’re watching and therefore they’re almost uniformly attracted to the UFC light show. The dancing girls, the music, the UFC brand and the spectacular job the UFC’s done in creating that brand…
I sincerely question whether or not there is a market place for legitimate MMA outside of the UFC. Now if you look at the card we had at the IZOD center that was spectacular. That was as good as MMA fighting ever gets and it didn’t make a blip on the radar screen. It was difficult selling tickets, the Monday morning reviews of the event were the fights were spectacular but the place wasn’t very full. What does one do to grow the audience? What does one do to sell tickets besides putting on the best show you could possibly put on? And when you put that show on and you still can’t sell tickets well then you have to ask yourself does the public want this? Do they really want fights? Do they want mixed martial arts? Do they want competition at the highest level of the sport? Or do they want to run around wearing their Affliction t-shirts and swigging Xyience. What is this really about? Is there really a fan base for this or is it a cult? And I’ll tell you, as truthfully as I can, I don’t know the answer.”
— Jay Larkin, CEO of the International Fight League
Well, first off, contempt for the audience will get you nowhere — and I’m not sure that the IFL’s fanbase has a smaller percentage of Affliction-wearing, Xyience-swilling meatheads than the UFC’s. Larkin may eventually be proven correct that there’s no mainstream market for MMA outside of the UFC, but I don’t think the failure of the IFL should be held up as proof of his thesis. I can’t speak for the general public, but as an MMA fan, I’ve been excited about recent fights held in the WEC, Strikeforce, EliteXC, and DREAM in a way that I’ve never really felt for matches held in the IFL. I get the sense that a lot of other MMA fans feel the same way, and for me, the reason is because the IFL never succeeded in promoting and building individual stars. EliteXC is Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano. WEC is Urijah Faber. Strikeforce is Frank Shamrock and Cung Le. The IFL, on the other hand, is a questionable camp system where no single fighter is given more attention then his legendary coach. Larkin seems to think that solid matchups between up-and-comers should have been enough to make his league marketable. Am I a fake MMA fan for thinking that personalities create interest, not just talent?
— Ben Goldstein