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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Affliction still going strong ! & Sign Tito Ortiz !

By D Doyle

LOS ANGELES – Challenging the mixed martial arts industry-leading Ultimate Fighting Championship has proven a Herculean task. Several would-be promoters have found that the organizational muscle required to carve out a niche in a market dominated by the leading brand has been too much to bear.
But the biggest remaining aspirant to the UFC’s throne prefers to use a different character in Greek mythology to describe his situation.
“I’ve kind of seen myself as Sisyphus these past few months,” said Affliction vice president Tom Atencio. “Roll the boulder up the hill, get it to the top, then have it fall down and have it start over again. That’s sort of how it’s been.”
Right now, the boulder is back at the top of the hill. Atencio hosted a news conference Wednesday at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for Affliction’s second card, to be held Jan. 24 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

“In and of itself, just getting back to the point that we’re here, and we’re putting on a press conference and have another show lined up, is an accomplishment,” Atencio said. “There were a lot of twists and turns getting here.”
The show, which features the No. 2 ranked fighter in the , Fedor Emelianenko, against former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, is the long-awaited follow up to the company’s debut on July 19. On that critically acclaimed card, Emelianenko destroyed two-time former UFC champ Tim Sylvia and Arlovski beat Ben Rothwell in a thrilling brawl.
Affliction was the buzz of the MMA world coming out of that night. But the MMA business for those who would challenge the UFC cratered between then and now. The International Fight League went out with a whimper after millions of dollars in losses; Elite XC’s death was a spectacular, nationally televised fiasco.
Affliction itself had to pull the plug on a planned October card in Las Vegas, as tickets went on sale right when the economy started going south.
But Atencio was determined to keep going, even after others had thrown in the towel. “We have a different business model than they do,” he said. “We’re about a brand and a lifestyle. I don’t spend time worrying about what other people are doing.”
The contraction of the non-UFC mixed martial arts industry makes for a ripple effect from promoters down to fighters, including former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.
Ortiz, who had his final fight with the UFC in May, has yet to sign with another group. His side of the story is that his UFC contract gave his former employer the option to match any other offers he might get for a year, and he doesn’t want to go back and work for UFC. But he acknowledged times have gotten tough.
“A lot of companies have gone through a lot of money and went out of business,” said Ortiz, who was announced as the color commentator for the pay-per-view portion of the Jan. 24 card. “A lot of people didn’t know what they were doing, and that made it tough for everyone. But there’s a reason why Affliction is still standing. They understand business and understand how to treat the fighters.”
Next month’s card is Affliction’s first since announcing a promotional partnership with Golden Boy Promotions. The first idea for the show was a combined MMA and boxing card. But, in a curious move for a newly announced team, Golden Boy is instead promoting head-to-head in the market on Jan. 24, as WBA welterweight champ Antonio Margarito defends his title against Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Atencio says he’s not bothered by the perception of competition from a new promotional partner. “We will have boxing and MMA combined cards in the future,” he said. “It’s still on the table. Right now boxing and MMA have two separate audiences, but I think as time goes on you are going to see more crossover.”
That said, Atencio points to the depth of his card, from the Emelianenko-Arlovski main event down to the appealing show-opening lightweight showdown between Chris Horodecki and Dan Lauzon, as the reason why he feels fans will choose his product.
“All I’ll say is, look at the choices that weekend, and I think fans will come to the conclusion we’ve got the deepest card. The other guys have a strong main event, we’ve got a strong main event, but I think if you look at our top five pay-per-view matches, or even our whole card of 11 matches for the fans going to the show, they’re going to conclude they’ll get the most bang for their buck by getting Affliction.”
So Atencio watched as the news conference unfolded according to form. The fighters streamed to the mic one by one and thanked anyone who would listen for the opportunity to fight on a major card.
Vitor Belfort inexplicably told the throng at Cinegrill about his fear of flying, to which his opponent, Matt Lindland, said, “Tell you what, if you’re afraid to fly, you’ve picked the wrong guy to fight.”
Josh Barnett’s most noteworthy talent these days – putting on interviews so entertaining that the bulk of the MMA media ignores the fact he keeps getting massive paychecks for one-sided fights while avoiding the Fedors of the world – was on display as he dazzled the assembled with quips about his match with journeyman Gilbert Yvel.
And so on.
The ordinary news conference provided a moment for the self-proclaimed Sisyphus to stop and take a deep breath. But Atencio knows he has to guard against the rock rolling down the hill again.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” he said. “We’ve gotten this far and we’re not planning on giving up any time soon.”

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