Home > activity > [all fighting game]Combate Global aims to be MMA’s much-needed ‘salsa’
[all fighting game]Combate Global aims to be MMA’s much-needed ‘salsa’

  More On:

  “Personality is a big part of the fight game,” says Campbell McLaren. Trust him on this one; after all, he helped create the UFC nearly 30 years ago.

  The CEO of Combate Global packs plenty of personality in his own right, perfect for a promoter carving out a new niche in the mixed martial arts landscape. In speaking with The Post recently via Zoom, McLaren was quick to rattle off the names of some of the most noteworthy — and notorious — personalities in the modern fight game, including UFC president Dana White, boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr., and UFC crossover star Conor McGregor.

  “As you’ve seen our sport grow, it’s because people can lock into a personality,” McLaren said. “And I want people to be familiar with my personality.”

  To hear McLaren tell it, that’s not out of pure vanity. Recently after he founded Combate Americas eight years ago along with former Strikeforce director of communications Mike Afromowitz, the promotion caters first and foremost to the Spanish-speaking world. The fights can be found over the airwaves on Univision, among other outlets in both English and Spanish.

  McLaren, who was president of original programming with Ultimate Fighting Championship when it first began as a no-holds-barred tournament in 1993, isn’t shy about touting his new organization’s reach with Spanish speakers who are not typical MMA viewers. He cites Nielsen research, but acknowledges difficulties garnering attention in the English-speaking MMA landscape. In that way, an excess of personality isn’t such a bad thing.

  Axel Osuna kicks Edgar Chairez.Axel Osuna kicks Edgar Chairez.Scott Hirano/Combate Global

  And McLaren is betting big on what he referred to as “a sea change” in U.S. viewing demographics.

  “You’re looking at kind of the future of America, in terms of this multicultural, younger demo that’s gonna influence politics, business, sports, everything,” said McLaren, who immigrated with his family from Scotland at age 7. “And that’s [what] I’ve got in Combate now. And if people won’t cover it, then I will get in their face and make them pay attention.”

  Since the rebrand in the spring, Combate Global has held events almost weekly on late Friday nights from Univision Studios in Miami. That includes this Friday’s event, with the English-language broadcast on CBS Sports Network starting live at 11 p.m. Next week, the promotion shifts exclusively to Paramount+ streaming platform to commence a partnership announced last month, with a promised 30-plus events in both 2022 and 2023.

  “It’s been a hell of a ride with Combate,” Afromowitz recently told The Post over Zoom regarding the streaming deal. “… We’re en fuego, as [McLaren] says; we’re on fire.”

  The birth of Combate Global came out of McLaren and Afromowitz identifying an “underserved audience” in the MMA landscape that wasn’t directly being targeted in Latin America and among Spanish speakers in the United States, despite the demographics’ history as bastions of combat sports — particularly boxing. All of that was coupled with a great deal of athletic talent to mine for his eventual roster.

  “In business, you look for a need. You look for a hole to fill,” McLaren said. “And I knew the UFC was not approaching this audience, either in South America or in North America in Mexico or the U.S.”

  see also

  ESPN used to be the Steinbrenner Yankees when it came…

  With the idea formed, McLaren flew to Las Vegas to meet with Lorenzo Fertitta, at the time the UFC chairman and CEO, and White in August 2013 to run his brainchild by the two leading fight executives, with whom he characterizes their relationships as “friendly.”

  “I went out to tell them what I was thinking about because I didn’t want them as enemies; too powerful,” McLaren said. “And Lorenzo said, ’It’s a great idea. We have not been able to reach this audience. I’m not sure why.’ I did know why, but he didn’t know why.”

  The injection of personality into the promotion of Combate Global doesn’t stop with McLaren. Production at events, especially since settling into the Univision Studious set, has personality in spades. And that’s intentional, of course, particularly because of who the target demographic is for their events.

  “It’s a cultural decision,” McLaren, a longtime veteran of television production and entertainment, says of Combate Global’s production style. “I know I have overused this quote, but salsa outsells ketchup in the U.S. because everybody likes Spanish flavor. … We put a lot of flavor in.

  “If you’ve ever listened to Spanish-language commentators doing soccer, it’s over the top,” he continued, pausing to shout an animated “Goal!” call. “It’s great, and we want to recreate that.”

  see also

  Picture the World Cup’s knockout rounds. Now picture one man…

  The “salsa” manifests in roster makeup as well. Combate Global is not a UFC rival at this point and doesn’t enter bidding wars for the top-shelf fighters. Instead, it aims to create faster fights with plenty of finishes, especially involving “younger fighters that don’t want to win on points” who will fight in the long-revered “Mexican style of fighting,” McLaren said. Per both McLaren and Afromowitz, signees often come from striking-based martial arts such as tae kwon do, karate, Muay Thai and boxing and are actively rounding out their skills in the grappling department; the idea being to create striking-based battles that lead to crushing knockouts.

  And personality — again — comes into play. Are they telegenic? Can they resonate with fans? These are all factors, which McLaren points out are no different than considerations the UFC makes as well when promoting its athletes.

  “Everything we do, we want to add the entertainment value,” McLaren said. “We want it to look different than everything else that’s out there, and we want it to be fast and furious.”

  The duty of identifying viable athletes who, in some cases, have just one professional fight falls upon the talent scouting team headed by Afromowitz, who grew up in both Long Island and in the city and was a key figure as Strikeforce rose from a regional MMA promotion to, at its peak a decade ago, a viable player alongside the UFC — until it was purchased by its chief rival and later folded into the top promotion.

  Campbell McLaren, at left, and Mike AfromowitzCampbell McLaren (left) and Mike AfromowitzScott Hirano/Combate Global

  Afromowitz, who says he was raised in a sort of “martial arts house” as the son of a karate and judo player, says he “wore many hats” during his time with Strikeforce. That included talent identification before the promotion partnered with Showtime for broadcasts. He’s still contributing in multiple roles now with Combate Global, but he estimates the scouting department is about half of his responsibilities, in addition to public relations. He was quick to praise his scouting team, including “phenomenal matchmaker” Tony Padilla.

  “I am always looking in all directions for new talent and looking to bring the best new talent into Combate,” Afromowitz said.

  McLaren highlighted Claudia Diaz of Spain as the type of young fighter he’s looking for to make a splash among the Spanish-speaking audience, referring to the 26-year-old flyweight as both “model beautiful” and “like an assassin” in the cage. Although just 1-2 as a pro, she’s coming off a TKO win over Dulce Garcia in April. She was set to compete again last week but, according to McLaren, was scratched due to a bad case of COVID-19.

  Mexico’s David Martinez, who moved to 6-1 in winning Combate Global’s one-night bantamweight tournament in May, is a deeply committed martial artist on the rise, says McLaren. In the tournament final, when he scored a KO of former UFC veteran Francisco Rivera, “he was kicking like most folks punch,” the promoter said. Afromowitz said the 23-year-old is on his way to becoming a doctor as well, and his sister Melissa competes for the promotion as a strawweight, with their parents both working their corners.

  see also

  Scott Coker gets to do what they always say you…

  By his own admission, Afromowitz had to adopt McLaren’s way of thinking when it comes to finding athletes who also are “right for TV.” Coming from Strikeforce, he and former CEO Scott Coker — now the president of Bellator MMA — leaned more toward the pure martial arts side. But even as the more reserved of the Combate Global power duo, he says his appreciation for professional wrestling and comic books gave him needed insight into understanding the importance of characters to connect with an audience.

  “I understood where [McLaren] was coming from, and I was able to adopt that mindset,” Afromowitz said. “… I love bringing in characters that can actually fight, have some fighting skill or that have some foundation for fighting and are entertaining.”

  Both are confident in the long-term outlook of Combate Global. McLaren is particularly bullish on the quality of his young roster, adding a proclamation that one would expect from a fight promoter:

  “[The UFC presents] the best fighters in the world, 25 to 35 years old. They do. That’s the truth,” McLaren says. “… We are the best fighters in the world, 20 to 25 years old.”

  That remains to be seen, but with its broadcast home secure in the age of streaming, Combate Global will have plenty more time to make good on McLaren and Afromowitz’s vision.

Copyright © http://www.sfspirits.com 2000-2020 All Rights Reserved
all rights reserved:SFS Games