New Feeder Leagues Jockey to Be the UFC's NCAA

The days of emerging MMA promotions actively trying to compete with the UFC are long gone.

by Jake Hughes
Oct 11 2016, 6:01pm

Photo by Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

In a matter of weeks, two, separate, regional MMA promotions have formed to act as UFC feeder leagues having incorporated other promotions on the local circuit.

The first big move was announced on Ariel Helwani's show, The MMA Hour, with long-time MMA manager Ed Soares, who also served as the president of Resurrection Fighting Alliance (otherwise known as RFA), revealing both RFA and Legacy Fighting Championships had merged to form Legacy Fighting Alliance—a designated feeder league to the UFC along with the other top MMA promotions such as Bellator, Rizin and World Series of Fighting.

With LFA hoping to promote 30 events in 2017 and a broadcasting deal with AXS TV already tied up, the minds behind the California-based RFA and Texas-based Legacy FC—two of the USA's most prominent regional leagues—have merged: a move rumoured to have been influenced by Legacy FC's chief Mick Maynard moving to the UFC as Joe Silva's replacement as one half of the promotion's matchmaker team.

Before assuming his role with the UFC, Maynard said: "We believe the merger of Legacy Fighting Championship and Resurrection Fighting Alliance is an exciting and logical progression of the sport. As AAA baseball is to MLB, we will continue to develop the best prospects by providing a proving ground and a stage for the fighters to grow that is unrivalled in the sport. In addition, this merger brings together some of the best minds in the business. It truly is an MMA dream team, and it will continue to build our Legacy in the world of MMA.

"We believe the merger of Legacy Fighting Championship and Resurrection Fighting Alliance is an exciting and logical progression of the sport. In addition, this merger brings together some of the best minds in the business. It truly is an MMA dream team, and it will continue to build our Legacy in the world of MMA."

Soares very much echoed the sentiments that of Maynard's. "This is an exciting day for everyone involved," Soares said. What our two companies have accomplished individually is remarkable, but the sky is truly the limit when you consider what will come next.

"Our athletes will have an unrivalled platform to compete in front of a nationally televised audience—not to mention in more than 40 countries around the world—and prove they are worthy of a spot at the sport's highest level. Our existing companies have placed more than 100 fighters in just the UFC and Bellator alone. Quite simply, for the fighters on our roster, the future is now."

This was a big step in promoting the health of regional MMA in the USA, given the success of both RFA and Legacy FC. However, another move to solidify this positive trend in the country was revealed in early October.

Alliance MMA Inc. (AMMA) was formed in 2015 and acquired five different MMA promotions—Cage Fury Fighting Championship, Combat Games MMA, Hoosier Fight Club, V3 Fights and Shogun Fights—fight leagues which have produced the likes of Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling, Paul Felder, Jim Hettes and one Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. While LFA has established markets in California and Texas, AMMA is based in New York and is hoping to utilise the different fan bases accrued by those promotions in their different locations across the United States.

In early October, AMMA published a press release that announced its plans as a combined feeder league to the bigger MMA promotions, as well confirming its place on the stock market—becoming the first ever publicly traded MMA promotion. AMMA had completed its initial public offering and now trades on the NASDAQ Capital Market. In addition, AMMA purchased digital media platform GoFightLive! and e-ticket company CageTix to complement their operations.

It's perhaps a more cynical, money-driven alternative to LFA, but it's a smart idea which will, in turn, allow local MMA to flourish financially. AMMA's CEO Paul Danner compared his organization to the UFC as the NCAA is to the NFL, while president Robert Haydak is much more interested in the business side to things judging by his excerpt in the official press release: "By joining the Alliance, smaller promotions become partners in a much larger organization that intends to enhance collective market share and profitability of the businesses through increased ticket sales, incremental events, centralization of certain common business functions, and the application of best business practices across the enterprise."

Both LFA and AMMA have some big aims with the former looking to put on 70 shows in 2017, while the latter is aiming for 100 events across the country. But, unlike before, these are attainable ambitions for fight promotions which complement the sport's present state without taking the UFC, Bellator and WSOF head-on.

The introduction of these two revamped promotions signals a shift in the MMA landscape and perhaps proves the true extent of power the UFC holds over the sport, with Bellator and WSOF up there to a lesser degree. Plenty of competitors have formed to try battle the UFC for its position as the top dog of the sport—and they have ultimately failed.

Affliction MMA—financially backed by US Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had a significant equity stake in the promotion and often sported Affliction clothing at their events—promised plenty and lasted only two pay-per-views. Vocal president Tom Atencio signed the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Vitor Belfort and Josh Barnett to fight under the Affliction banner. But, ultimately, the promotion spent well beyond its means and their third slated event, which was to showcase a long-awaited bout between Fedor and Barnett, was cancelled altogether after the California State Athletic Commission announced they would not license Barnett following a positive test for anabolic steroids. The PPV was cancelled and the promotion folded after just a year in business.

Similarly, EliteXC tried to compete with the UFC with the backing of Showtime and had three shows aired on broadcasting giant CBS. Led by controversial president Gary Shaw, EliteXC earned some impressive viewing figures thanks to the late Kimbo Slice, while their events also featured big names in former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Jake Shields, Paul Daley, Roy Nelson and KSW stalwart Mamed Khalidov. However, once the Kimbo allure had been lost at the jab of Seth Petruzelli within 14 seconds of their fight, EliteXC was no longer a going concern and closed business less than two years in.

Meanwhile, Strikeforce were long successful and managed well by now-Bellator president Scott Coker. But, eventually, the power enjoyed by the Zuffa-backed UFC became too much for the San Jose-based Strikeforce to co-exist, before having its roster amalgamated with the UFC's following a buy-out worth a reported $40million.

This latest trend of MMA feeder leagues is new to the USA. But, European promotions have been ahead of the curve in this sense and see it as a badge of honour if one of their fighters is called up to the big leagues as previously reported. Almost every fighter out there wants to compete in the world's most prestigious MMA promotions and it's a big selling point if you're seen as the regional banner which serves as the ideal stepping stone to achieving that goal.

Cage Warriors (CWFC) is a European MMA promotion which outwardly celebrates the success of its fighters to have gone on to great things in the UFC—and there's no shortage in prosperous MMA talent to have made the transition from CWFC to top American promotions with names like Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping, Paul Daley, Dan Hardy and Gegard Mousasi among those to have made a name for themselves at Cage Warriors before flourishing under the bright lights of the international stage.

An established feeder league to the UFC, Cage Warriors embraces its role within the MMA scene—a position both LFA and AMMA are looking to be in the near future. CWFC even scrapped the main event of their upcoming October 15th show to allow its middleweight champion Jack Marshman achieve his dream of competing in the famed UFC Octagon—less than two weeks ahead of Cage Warriors 79, potentially leaving the event in total disarray.

You would have to absolve yourself of all internal cynicism to not think the rise in feeder leagues will only make those at the top of the pile—the UFC, Bellator, WSOF and Rizin—even stronger, making it more difficult for any competitors to emerge at the highest level of the sport. But, for fighters, the presence of both LFA and AMMA will boost the hopes and the likelihood to make it to the big leagues for those carving out names for themselves in the fledgling stages of their professional MMA careers in the doldrums of the regional circuit.

MMA wouldn't be the sport it is today if it weren't for the characters and breathtaking skills of those who compete in the sport—not the promotions they fight for. But, if the well-intentioned, US-based, designated feeder leagues in LFA and AMMA help provide bigger and better opportunities for these up-and-coming fighters, then you'd be hard-pressed to not be excited at the improved prospects of these hard-working men and women.