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On short notice, the established UFC has put together a card to fight back against Affliction, an upstart group in mixed martial arts that has Donald Trump on its side

July 18, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Pay your dues or learn the hard way.

That's a mantra Dana White believes in, whether it's a young fighter starting out in mixed martial arts, or a start-up business.

White is president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the top MMA organization in the world, and spent years working to make the UFC profitable. Now, at last, he is reaping the benefits, so it's understandable that White gets defensive when another organization tries to take a piece of the pie.

The latest being Affliction.

"Nobody knows this sport or business of mixed martial arts better than I do," White said. "I can sit right back and watch everything that everybody does and tell you exactly what's going to happen."

Come Saturday night, the two go head to head, though White already predicts doom for Affliction. In fact, he refuses to call them competition.

"The guy who owns this company sells T-shirts for a living," White said. "They've never even put on a show."

Affliction, an apparel company based in Signal Hill that has grown popular in MMA circles, is venturing into the show business side of the sport with its production of Banned, a pay-per-view event scheduled for Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Tom Atencio, vice president of Affliction, is aware he's been referred to as the "T-shirt guy" by White. He said it's just another sign that White feels backed into a corner.

"When somebody's threatened, they fight back," he said. "They tend to get their feathers ruffled."

Affliction's card has gained attention because it's scheduled to feature some of the sport's top heavyweights, including Fedor Emelianenko, considered No. 1 in his weight class. The heavyweight division is considered one of the weakest in the UFC.

"Every single one of our fights could be a main event," Atencio said.

Affliction is going big in other areas as well, partnering with real estate tycoon Donald Trump in raising capital, bringing in former UFC referee "Big" John McCarthy to serve as television analyst and securing heavy metal band Megadeth to perform during intermission.

Despite these signs of being a first-rate operation, White said Affliction is setting itself up for a first-round knockout.

"I see them as a smaller league that's trying to get up off the ground," White said. "They're going to blow way too much money doing it, and they won't be around much longer."

White hasn't made it any easier for Affliction. On five weeks' notice, he patched together a six-fight card that will run simultaneously with Affliction's show; only the UFC will broadcast its event from the Palms in Las Vegas on the basic cable channel Spike TV.

Headlining the card is one of the UFC's best fighters, middleweight champion Anderson Silva (24-4), who will move up to the light-heavyweight division for a one-time non-title bout against James Irvin (14-4).

For the money-conscious cable-ready consumer, the difference between watching a free UFC show and paying $39.95 to watch Affliction might be a no-contest.

Affliction appeared to land one last counterpunch, however, making a deal to broadcast its card on closed-circuit television at Gold Coast casino, which is directly across from the Palms on Flamingo Road.

"It's just another opportunity to watch our fight," Atencio said.

As for Trump's involvement, he simply wasn't impressed with UFC's business strategy and said the company's counter-programming is additional proof that it's peering over its shoulders.

"Obviously, they consider this a threat and they take it seriously," Trump said. "[We're] a group of people with a lot of money who like this particular sport, and I can see someone wanting to [counter us]."

The bad blood between the UFC and Affliction goes back a few years.

Affliction has promotional deals with a number of UFC fighters who wear the company's clothing during appearances. White then banned his fighters from wearing the Affliction logo during UFC events because Affliction, he said, "started competing."

"I don't like the way they do business," White said.

But White's action inspired Affliction executives to produce their own shows.

By not being allowed to wear the Affliction logo, the UFC fighters were the ones losing out on the additional income, Atencio said.

"[White] creates his own competition," he said. "By banning us, it just made sense for us to start our own organization. . . . We as a team wanted to give back to the fighters that helped us out."

But White gives no ground, though he does offer this advice to companies that want to venture into MMA productions: Start with small shows.

Shortly after he purchased the UFC with partners Lorenzo Fertitta and his older brother, Frank III, a UFC event was held in which they managed to sell 3,500 tickets and earned only $118,000 in gate receipts. That was in 2001, and they lost $2.4 million that night.

It took a few more years of frustration and near-bankruptcy before the UFC made it into the black.

"You want to learn how to do this business," he said. "Spend 44 [expletive] million dollars to figure it out like I did . . . maybe you'll make it, maybe you won't. Good luck."

Affliction will have an even more difficult time, White said, because the company is promoting fights on the side, not as its main source of revenue. In reality, putting together regular shows is more than a full-time job.

"For the last 10 years, all I've done, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is mixed martial arts," White said.

"I don't take my eye off the ball, I have the road map, I know exactly where we're going."

Where the fans end up this weekend is still to be determined. Atencio has one suggestion.

"Watch the pay-per-view and tape the UFC," he said. "I'm going to. I'd be a fool not to."




Anderson Silva vs. James Irvin

at the Palms, Las Vegas, Saturday, 6 p.m., Spike TV



Fedor Emelianenko vs Tim Sylvia

at the Honda Center, Saturday, 5 p.m., PPV

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