LAS VEGAS -- Mixed martial arts entrepreneurs descended on Sin City in mid-December for a three-day conference and expo called the “Fight Summit.”
Fight Summit organizers billed the event as offering something different from other MMA conventions. According to the Web site www.fightsummit.com,“Fight Summit is the world’s first and only MMA business conference. Unlike other ‘MMA Expos’ that are really just big autograph sessions, Fight Summit is actually a business driven MMA conference that is 100 percent designed to help you succeed in the industry.”
Fight Summit’s creator, Mike Hauben, said the event drew approximately 500 participants from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, including paid registrants, workshop presenters and exhibitors.
Registrants paid between $299 and $399, depending upon date of registration, for entry to the event, held at The Flamingo on The Strip. That price tag included access to three full days of workshops and approximately 40 booths’ worth of exhibitors. Hauben said that, unlike fan-focused conventions, Fight Summit stresses “education, seminars and knowledge,” with an emphasis on learning about the industry through workshops. Hauben also emphasized the importance of networking at the event, coupled with the ability to engage in business transactions with other MMA-focused businesses right then and there.
Of course, networking and cultivating business are a natural byproduct of gathering a group of MMA-focused entrepreneurs. But at its core, Fight Summit offered education, with approximately 35 MMA business-focused workshops led by many well-known personalities within the industry -- Greg Jackson, Mark DelaGrotte, “Big” John McCarthy, and Randy Couture included -- as well as others with a wealth of MMA-related experience -- fighter agent Ken Pavia, agent and promoter Monte Cox, Triumph United’s Hans Molenkamp, Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer and Dale Kliparchuk, from the Association of Boxing Commissions. Among the topics covered were the MMA apparel industry, gym management, marketing, fighter management, product branding, media relations, issues surrounding intellectual property -- trademark, copyright and the right of publicity -- and MMA regulation.
Hauben said that, in putting together the program, he turned away a number of speakers because they lacked experience or name recognition.
“Not only were we trying to get big names,” he said, “but we picked people that were successful and had been successful for a long time.”
A crowd favorite was Jackson, who let in Fight Summit attendees on some of the prized tricks of his trade, from motivation and fight strategies to game plans. Other highlights included Brian Cain, sports psychologist to the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Rich Franklin; McCarthy, who gave a pithy, fast-paced and expletive-laced crash course in refereeing issues; and cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran, who demonstrated his artful hand-wrapping and taping techniques on a Summit attendee while others huddled around to watch. Couture closed out the Summit, lecturing on good nutrition, reminiscing on some of his best experiences and speculating about what the future holds for him as he rounds the corner into his late 40s and a embarks on a possible second career in acting.
One beneficiary of the expertise conveyed through the workshops and networking was industry newcomer WAR Wrap. According to WAR Wrap co-founder Ian Dixon, WAR entered the MMA market through its line of athletic tape and hand wraps, which are worn on MMA and boxing champions alike, but the company remains focused on brand development and market expansion. Dixon said he and co-founder Suneet Singal decided to attend the conference because they wanted to learn from the successes and failures of veterans within the industry.
Because Dixon and Singal also wanted to meet potential customers and distributors face-to-face, they manned a booth and promoted their tape, hand wraps and newest offerings: WAR Fuel, a supplement drink, and WAR TV, a video-on-demand application for use on Internet-ready TVs.
“Not only did we benefit from the presentations, but we formed invaluable business relationships with other leaders in the industry,” said Dixon. “We even received targeted advice from others who have already succeeded in marketing their product lines. While we’re going about most things the right way, there are some things that we’ll change going forward because of the advice.”
The sort informational and educational exchange experienced by Dixon is what Hauben says he envisioned during the year it took him to organize the event.
“Gyms, trainers, promoters, apparel companies, managers -- there’s never really been a platform where they could learn how to succeed in the business,” he said.
Based on his love for the sport, including 10 years of training, and his experience in organizing and producing trade shows, Hauben explained he noticed a void in gatherings attracting MMA business people and thought he could fill it.
Building upon the success of the inaugural Fight Summit, next year’s event is already taking shape. Hauben expects the event to draw a bigger crowd next year by scheduling it earlier in the fall -- October or November -- and lowering the cost of registration. Although no concrete plans have been made, Fight Summit is looking to book its second event at a casino in Las Vegas.
“J.R.” Riddell, an attorney at the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, is experienced in various matters related to the business of MMA. A more detailed background regarding his experience is available through his lawyer profile at www.orrick.com. This article does not provide legal advice, and any opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of his law firm. Riddell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tracey Lesetar (email@example.com) contributed to this article.