OKTAGON MMA Will Need More Than Money to Break Through
Mixed martial arts has always faced an uphill battle for acceptance worldwide. France didn’t legalize the sport until January 2020. During the early days of the UFC in the mid-1990s, the future Republican presidential candidate John McCain referred to mixed martial arts as “human cockfighting.” Even as the sport was legitimized by forming a commission and developing rules, the sport remains too brutal for some.
For those who do love the sport, there have been many brands that have come and gone over the years. The UFC is the gold standard, but PRIDE, ONE, and others have had their day in the sun. Oktagon MMA is holding the tournament semifinals on Sept. 16 in Frankfurt, Germany. Oktagon MMA is making big proclamations, but can it compete in a crowded MMA space?
There have been other worldwide organizations that have offered up large prizes for winning a tournament. Still, those tournaments being successful in building a brand behind the prize money has been decidedly mixed.
What is Oktagon MMA?
Oktagon MMA is a fight promotion based out of the Czech Republic. Oktagon held its first event in 2016. The promotion has now held 46 numbered events, including the ongoing “gamechanger” welterweight tournament. Oktagon has promised this will be the richest tournament in the history of European MMA, with the winner earning €1 million.
The two fights in the semifinals feature a battle between former champion David Kozma fighting with Bojan Veličković. Louis Glismann will battle Andreas Michailidis in the other semifinal. Each semifinalist will make at least €80,000 of the prize money, while finalists will earn at least €130,000.
Can This Help in Europe?
Any sort of influx of money into European fighting will be a boost for Oktagon. Cage Warriors is regarded as one of the top promotions in Europe, but it recently hosted an event where many fighters were paid less than 2,000 to fight. The top fighter in the main event got €10,000.
With the lack of pay from top promotions, Oktagon’s pay scale may lure some fighters looking for a big break to come aboard. The question for many of these fighters will be, is it feasible to make more money to compete for a low-tier organization?
Oktagon MMA isn’t seen as one of the top promotions in Europe right now. It lags behind KSW, M-1 Global, and Absolutely Championship Akhmat. Oktagon has one big event a month scheduled through the rest of 2023. Putting on some events that get some attention beyond its borders may help improve exposure.
PFL Format Does This Stateside
The U.S.-based promotion Professional Fighters League has sold itself on how it pays its fighters. The PFL has a season-based format where competitors have to fight four times, barring an injury or replacement, to win the $1 million prize. While the fighter pay is a good drawing card, the PFL has had many difficulties with this business model.
Injuries are frequent in MMA. and it is difficult to guarantee that fighters can keep up such a grueling schedule. The PFL had several fighters get busted for drug tests and a fight-fixing controversy after two friends who were forced to fight took it easy on one another.
Television numbers show the PFL was the 17th-ranked show broadcast on ESPN according to its August 2023 ratings. There has been talk of the PFL buying Bellator, but there are a lot of decisions that need to be made before such a deal would close.
UFC Hasn’t Budged on Pay
The UFC, regarded as the most high-profile MMA organization in the world, hasn’t made many changes to its fighter pay since PFL has emerged as a challenger. From the UFC’s view, it is the preeminent MMA organization, and fighters need to compete there if they want to be legitimate. There is a court battle right now trying to force the UFC’s hand.
A group of fighters who competed from Dec. 16, 2010, to June 30, 2017, sued the organization in a class-action lawsuit alleging unfair business practices. The fighters believe the UFC doesn’t pay fairly for their work. Many fighters are paid $12,000 to show and $12,000 to win for their first bout.
Fighters can earn performance bonuses at each event up to $50,000. While the fighters in the UFC are viewed as independent contractors, they cannot compete for other MMA promotions according to their UFC contracts. The UFC also has a sponsored deal for the fighters’ gear in the octagon. While MMA fighters are supposed to get a portion of the revenue, many fighters say it’s not nearly what they used to be able to get when they had their own sponsors.
Oktagon MMA Needs to be Consistent with Policy
Fighters in MMA will always be struggling to make a living at the bottom end of the ladder. The costs of trainers, coaches, and nutrition can be challenging for anyone not making a solid living. Having an opportunity like the one Oktagon provides can be life-changing.
Many low-end MMA fighters still have to work second jobs to stay afloat. Oktagon MMA must consistently offer these purses to lure top fighters away from other organizations. If they could sell enough tickets and get support from sponsors, this could be a sustainable business model in the future.
Personalities Sell Fights
While sports fans always appreciate greatness, combat sports need colorful personalities to help draw people in. Irish superstar Conor McGregor blessed up his incredible gift for conversations with results in the cage. Oktagon’s chances of being successful by increasing fighter pay also require scouting the right fighters.
Finding fighters who are capable of both selling fights and being excellent in the cage isn’t always an easy task. The more comfortable someone is at selling their story and relating to the fans, the greater the chance for success.