New Pro Elite's Best Bet is on the Local Stage
Yesterday, Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting broke the news that the new iteration of MMA promotion company Pro Elite will be holding a show in New Jersey this November. Further, there are plans for the November show to include the start of its own Pro Elite Heavyweight Grand Prix, a tournament modeled after the recent Strikeforce Grand Prix, which in turn heralded back to the Pride era. Given that the former Pro Elite management, and their MMA product Elite XC, failed so spectacularly on the public stage in 2008, analysts and fans have been highly skeptical of the defunct company's reappearance.
Even former Pro Elite money man and boxing staple Garry Shaw has had some unkind words for the reborn promotion and its chances on the national stage. At the Hopkins vs. Dawson press conference in New York, yesterday, The Fight Nerd.com held an interview with Shaw where he referred to Pro Elite as "laughable."
"I think it's laughable," Shaw told Fight Nerd correspondents. "People who are running it are jokes. It's not real and the only game in town is the UFC."
While Shaw's intuition on the changing tides of MMA have not always been spot on, he may have a point about the shambling corpse of his former promotion company.
Pro Elite's first show under new management will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii, followed by the show in New Jersey. The geographically disparate events indicate that the new Pro Elite is making the same mistake as its predecessors in not trying to establish a grass roots fan base. Even tournament style MMA promotion Bellator, whose first two season's were characterized by a "have show- will travel" attitude, established specific locations within regions that became Bellator towns, complete with local fighters rounding out undercards.
The timing of Pro Elite's comeback does have some positives. The recent rash of cuts from both the UFC and Strikeforce has left more well-known free agents on the field than there have been in the last year. Pro Elite Vice President of Fight Operations T.Jay Thompson has also publicly mentioned that some of these fighters are outside of the company's price range, which is actually a comforting show of restraint from a brand previously known for holding bonfires with Gary Shaw's money and calling them MMA cards.
But, even if the new Pro Elite signs some solid talent and proves well run, there simply isn't much room on the national stage for a new MMA promotion. The UFC has held the lion's share of top-level MMA for at least the last four years. The recent purchase of Strikeforce by UFC parent company Zuffa Entertainment illustrates that any attempt at direct competition will only result in being purchased once a company gains enough notoriety to feasibly turn a profit.
The only existing Zuffa alternative on national television right now is Bellator, which exists comfortably mainly because of its differing format and avoidance of any attempt to steal the lime light from the big show. Pro Elite is a standard MMA promotion company, refusing to start in a specific region, opening with events that emulate much more established companies.
Barring a miraculous change in the landscape of mixed martial arts, the new Pro Elite's best course of action, besides making sure never to be seen with original company front man Jarred Shaw, is to pick a region and stick to it. The organization could set itself up as a regional-level promotion in the Mid-Atlantic, or another circuit where there is plenty of room for growth, and combine local fighters with main events that take advantage of the current free agency. This course could effectively repair the brand reputation.