Guy Mezger Interview
Insightful Commentary On Difficult Issues Facing MMA: Steroids, Demise of Affliction, & Fedor’s Future
In the wake of a calamitous week for Affliction, MMA fans are left with more questions than answers as they sort through the rumors and try to make sense of the inexplicable series of events that have rocked the MMA world. Are you asking yourself: “what’s Guy Mezger going to say that I don’t already know about this situation?” Well, there’s a reason he is the mind behind HDNET Fights. Guy Mezger, president of HDNET Fights, has agreed to help shed some light on what has been a tumultuous and potentially historic week for MMA.
Guy, it’s been a crazy week in MMA that has taken the fans on a roller coaster ride, let’s cut right to the chase, what impact will the collapse of Affliction as a fight promoter have on MMA?
There is no question that it is another setback for MMA. It is important that there are multiple organizations that are successful. The more successful organizations that there are, the greater the viewing opportunities for the fans and the more opportunities for fighters to break into the game and showcase their skills. So, it’s a shame that the number of opportunities for quality fights for both fans and fighters have been reduced.
Yesterday I read one of your Twitter posts where you indicated that they had too much, too soon. Can you expand on this?
Sure, simply stated, they bit off too much, too soon. Affliction is great at their core business of making t-shirts. However, this did not translate to their business of promoting MMA events. They were not organized enough. They did not have the financial resources in place for the long term. They needed a five-year plan. I don’t think they had the long-term vision required to be successful as an MMA promoter. They should have built a foundation and grown the business over time.
Does the demise of Affliction as a promoter of fights open the door for HDNET Fights to promote fights or will you steer your organization away from the graveyard that is filled with the UFC’s competitors?
There is always a possibility that we will do shows, but for now it is much easier for us to help other organizations do shows. We have the T.V. element. We do T.V. very well. We have a great team of producers, film crew, and on-air personalities. However, down the road you never know what Mark (Cuban) may want to do, he might want to do some shows. But for the time being we have no plans of doing any shows.
What lessons can other MMA promotions take from the failures of the IFL, Elite XC and Affliction?
Scott Coker and Strikeforce are the best example of how to promote shows and grow a business the right way. Scott was smart; he started as a regional promotion first. He focused on developing athletes and their brand such as Frank Shamrock who is still very popular with MMA fans. It was not until the foundation was in place that Scott even thought about national expansion.
Also, a key lesson is to build and cultivate a rapport with MMA fans. One of the things that killed the IFL was that their shows were not suited for the live audience. The shows were painfully long and lacked entertainment value. One of the things that the Japanese fight organizations such as DREAM and K-1 do very well is they entertain from start to finish. The Japanese have great productions. I’d like to see some of the American organizations pick up on this a bit. Affliction tried, but there needs to be more. Of course it will need to be geared to the American audience. It will need to be shorter, but I really think improving the entertainment of the overall fight experience is important.
What impact does the shrinking competitive landscape have on fighter paydays?
It’s not good. As it stands now most guys are fighting as part time work, because they just aren’t making the money yet. It’s no different than boxing where 99% of the fighters make very little money and 1% makes almost all of the money. I tell guys all the time to fight because they love to fight, not because they want to get rich. If they go in with that mindset then they will be successful and the money will come. In the early days I did not make a lot of money, I fought because I loved getting in the ring and testing myself. It was not until later with organizations like PRIDE that I started making good money.
Also, in fairness to the UFC, I think they pay pretty well. The UFC takes all the financial risk; they are running a business and need to make a profit. I think this is one of the reasons Affliction failed, they paid too much money to too many fighters, and their business did not support that type of payroll.
There is a lot of speculation that Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko has either signed with the UFC or will do so in the coming days. What would Fedor fighting for the UFC mean to MMA?
I just spoke with the folks at M-1, and they told me that Fedor has not signed with the UFC yet. However, if Fedor does sign with the UFC it will answer a lot of questions about how good he really is. Fedor will face stiff competition right off the bat. I’m sure he’ll face Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture. Both of these fights would be huge events and are clearly what the fans want to see. From the business perspective, it will make it more difficult to grow because all the top talent will be in one organization. But for the fans, it would be a great thing!
Dana White has already stated that if Fedor signs with the UFC his first fight will be against Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight title. Who do you think wins that fight?
Brock Lesnar is a tough fighter. He is a really good wrestler with good boxing. Not to mention that come fight time he probably weighs 285 pounds. But, I think Fedor can win.
As you’ve already stated, Brock Lesnar is a formidable opponent, he certainly is no Hong Man Choi, but he also does not have the experience or skill of Fedor. If you where training Brock for his fight against Fedor what would your strategy be?
Brock Lesnar is a really good athlete, he is a decent boxer; he is a natural counter puncher with a really good chin. So I’d tell him to keep the fight standing up and against the cage where he can use his striking, size, and power to get in some dirty boxing and punish Fedor. Also, by keeping the fight standing up, Brock will mitigate his vulnerability to submissions. This last point is vital; Fedor can lock in a submission from virtually any position, his submissions are great.
With the collapse of Affliction and the imminent possibility of the UFC signing Fedor, what are the next milestones for the UFC?
First, if the UFC does in fact sign Fedor that would be big for them. But more important is maintaining interest in the growth of the sport. Despite popular perception, MMA is still not a mainstream sport. MMA will be mainstream when it has mainstream sponsors such as Nike, Addidas, Coke, etc.
The UFC is in the midst of a systematic campaign of global expansion. The crown jewel of international fight markets is Japan. What obstacles will the UFC face if they try to break into Japan?
They would need a Japanese partner in order to be successful. However, there are so many organizations in Japan already that are very successful with a loyal following of fans that it may not make sense for the UFC to go to Japan now. If I were advising the UFC I’d suggest they focus their energy on more fertile international markets such as Europe, Canada, and South America. The only reason to go into Japan at this time is for lack of a better term, ego, if they want to prove that they can promote shows wherever they want. But honestly, Japan may be more headache and energy than its worth.
Josh Barnett’s most recent positive test for steroids just days before Affliction: Trilogy was the final blow that brought tumbling down the house of cards that was Affliction’s efforts to promote fights. Do you think that another organization will take a chance on Barnett or do you think his MMA career is over?
It’s too bad that this occurred for many reasons. Josh is smart guy and a good guy, but he certainly has done some damage to his career. I’m sure he is kicking himself. As it stands now, he will not be able to fight in the U.S. for a year. However, Josh is very popular in Japan so he might be able to go back and fight there, but it will likely be for less money than he was making. Also, he may need to shift gears entirely; he has a good thing going in Japan as a pro wrestler. The bottom line is he needs to make some decisions about his life and career. Hopefully it works out for him, because he really is a good guy.
Josh Barnett’s positive test for steroids raises the ugly specter of the use of performance enhancing drugs in MMA. How widespread is the use of these substances in MMA and what should be done to address it?
It’s sad but true that most performance athletes use drugs of some sort to enhance their ability to compete and win. This is true of everything from Olympic sports to MMA. In a perfect world fighters would put it on the line with what they can do naturally, but it’s not a perfect world. If you want to get steroids and other performance enhancing drugs out of sports, the punishment needs to be very harsh. I think a year long suspension is harsh, but it might need to be harsher than that in order to get drugs out of sports.
However, in order for change to really occur, the attitude of instant gratification, excel at all costs, needs to be addressed. In many respects the use of performance enhancing drugs is a cultural issue. If society placed a greater emphasis on doing things the right way, even if it takes longer, then there would be less motivation for athletes to use these substances.
I know you are the defensive tactics instructor for the Dallas police Academy. Do you any other work with law enforcement or the military?
Yeah, I do. I got started by working with a friend who was a defensive tactics instructor for a police department in Florida; we totally revamped the rules of engagement for hand-to-hand combat in law enforcement in Florida. Also, I’ve worked with the Army, Marines, FBI, and Border Patrol in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Previously I’ve focused on working with the specialty units such as SWAT. However, now I’m working more the defensive tactics instructors of the various agencies.
Guy, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and helping to make sense out of all the craziness going on in the MMA world right now.
For more information on Guy Mezger please visit www.guymezger.com