UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren talks Mexican McGregor, Combate’s immediate future

After starting off the year with their premiere in Mexico, Combate Americas has continued to put on monthly events in 2017 while expanding a…

By: Victor Rodriguez | 6 years ago
UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren talks Mexican McGregor, Combate’s immediate future
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

After starting off the year with their premiere in Mexico, Combate Americas has continued to put on monthly events in 2017 while expanding a television presence through Latin America and adding to their roster. This week they have staged a special Cinco de Mayo event live from Ventura, CA, and UFC co-creator and Combate Americas founder Campbell McLaren was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of the upcoming event.

This card is set to be headlined by former Bellator talent Emilio Chavez (12-9) taking on Combate Americas mainstay Jose “Froggy“ Estrada (3-0 pro, 4-0 amateur), who has been cranking out some big finishes in his brief professional career. Making things even more interesting, Estrada will be fighting in the main event in his hometown at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, and other Combate mainstays such as Benji Gomez, Alyssa Garcia, and Heinrich Wassmer will be on the card (complete card available here). The event will also feature John Castaneda taking on TUF alum and UFC veteran Chris Beal.

(Note: Interview was edited for brevity and clarity)

Victor Rodriguez: Well, it’s rather fortuitous that Cinco de Mayo fell around the time for you to make an event happen, and what better place to do so than Los Angeles? There’s a large Mexican/Mexican-American community, it’s more of an American holiday than a Mexican holiday, so do you plan on doing something similar for Mexican independence day?

Campbell McLaren: Yes, the answer is yes. That’s a good question, and sometimes I do think the universe is with Combate, in the opportunities it lays out for us. Not only Cinco de Mayo happening on a Friday night with Froggy available to fight, but also the situation on Azteca America (Combate’s broadcast partner) – the soccer game, the league that they have – the rights to the team they had ran out this Friday. So if we had done this the Friday before, it wouldn’t have worked out. So that was very fortuitous.

Of course, you’re 100% right – it’s really not a Mexican holiday. Sometimes I compare it to St Patrick’s Day, because on that day we’re all Irish. It really is an American holiday, it’s a great night to drink beer and watch fights, that’s a holiday.

VR: Well, you go from the smaller Mexican army beating back the French to an almost Mexico vs the world card. That’s an interesting setup here…

CM: Well, let’s go back to Mexico for a second, because we are going to do a card for Mexican independence day which is September 16th, and we are going to do it in Texas because that’s a great place to be. So you’re getting a scoop, amigo. Not announced, and I’m not gonna tell you what town (hurriedly) – San Antonio – but it’s gonna be great. And I think doing that within shouting distance of The Alamo would be very cool.

VR: Well, speaking of battling Mexicans, Froggy’s on deck in the main event. Not a very well-known fighter yet but still very, very impressive in his young career. He’s looked great as an amateur and a professional, and he’s looking more and more like a cornerstone for your organization. Something like a franchise player, maybe. He’s going to be taking on Chavez, who is a ten-year veteran whose fought in various organizations and has a lot of experience. So if Froggy were to win in his hometown in an event like this, where do you think that puts him?

CM: We have upped the ante on Froggy every time, right? And we’re very strategically bringing Froggy along but that doesn’t mean we’re giving him easy fights. We’re testing out the different parts of his game. I think this opponent is very cool and very collected. If you’ve seen Froggy’s style – he fights kind of like a Ford pickup truck. He just kind of smashes into you with his front bumper, runs you over. He may have to strategize a little bit in this fight, because this is a veteran as you said, and he’s not gonna freak out when Froggy comes across at him like he’s gonna tear his head off. This is one where Froggy may have to pace himself a little bit. Particularly in that first round, I want to see how that first round plays out. That’s going to be the interesting one, a lot of folks don’t get out of the first round with Froggy. Not sure that’s how it’s gonna go this time, but I think it’s going to be a great fight.

I have not, this is a quote – people are calling him the Mexican McGregor and I asked Froggy about that. I said, “do you like that?” And he goes “well, I’m more humble”. And that speaks a lot to the Hispanic pride and culture. It’s not a bigmouth culture. But I do think he brings that kind of intensity and excitement that McGregor does. So it’s early days for him, but he might be our McGregor.

VR: You recently signed a small group of female fighters and continue to expand the atomweight division. Is there any possibility of a tournament in the near future?

CM: Yes, there’s a possibility of a tournament, but I’m afraid the first one is going to be a men’s tournament at 135, and we’re going to do that in Acapulco in the fall. There’s another scoop!! Look, I think the tournament format built MMA. Tournaments built the UFC. Lemme ask you a question, turn the tables on you – do you think people would want to see an 8-woman tournament?

VR: That depends on the commission, whether or not they’d allow it. Whereas fans…

CM: We’re gonna work through whatever we need to, we don’t circumvent…

VR: Well in order to avoid a degree of tedium, some fans seem to prefer a four-person tournament as opposed to eight, but it can still be done. It can still be dynamic, especially with the lower weight classes. I can see it happen as something of an experiment because I don’t remember the last time a major promotion did a one-night tournament with women like this.

CM: If ever, right? I don’t think anyone’s done 8.

VR: Maybe HOOKnSHOOT, back in the aughts? (Note: HOOKnSHOOT did have 8-women tournaments)

CM: HOOKnSHOOT? HOOKnSHOOT? I forgot who I was f—king talking to. You know, I don’t want to say that’s an esoteric reference. (Jokingly) it’s a little obscure? HOOKnSHOOT, my god. Is this how it’s gonna go? I gotta pay more attention (laughs). The way to do it, a tournament is great as long as it’s great. And if it’s not great, what you’ve got is boring fights back to back and they get more boring if you don’t do it right. Remember, UFC 2? Here’s another question for you. How many men were in that tournament?

VR: Was that… that wasn’t the 16 man tournament, was it?

CM: Yeah, that was insane. So what you do, because you know, there’s only so much TV time – you can tape the first round, pre-tape those. Then you run into the next round immediately. The more interesting fights you can highlight or show in their entirety. Then the fans are still getting the full information but you get back to back action. When I was doing the UFC 23 years ago – before HOOKnSHOOT, by the way – we didn’t know how that was going to play out. Now there’s a history to this and there have been quite a few tournaments. You have an idea how stuff possibly could go. I think we’re going to put on a state of the art 8-man tournament.

I’m not trying to recreate the UFC, it’s already created and doing well as it is. What I think we’re gonna do is a World Cup flavor. We’re going to represent all of the countries of the Americas. I think that’s going to be awesome. For Cinco de Mayo we’ve put on the most exciting card to date, and in Miami we’re going to do an event that ties into the soccer week down there, the Barcelona/Real Madrid soccer match. The events are getting bigger and more exciting, and two years ago as a nascent organization… in the last year and a half we’ve proven ourselves to be among the best. And now I think we’re putting on events that are very unique and only could be Combate, you know?

There’s a lot of sh-t. There’s a lot of MMA sh-t. By sh-t I mean stuff. And there’s also a lot of sh-t, and in this instance I mean crap. Even the big boys can put on crap. What we try to do is every time put on something good and different and unique. I want us to be, whenever anyone watches Combate they say ‘I’m glad I invested those two hours’. People are busy, people have a lot of choices. If you’re gonna spend two hours or 90 minutes with me I want you to go ‘holy crap! that guy was right!’. We know what we’re up against, there’s a lot of competition. So we’ve really got to define ourselves.

VR: One question that’s popped up here and there as of late is regarding the status of Fight Pass. Is there an update on that?

CM: Oh, yeah. A big change. We didn’t announce this, but it’s not like we weren’t going to talk about this. We ended our relationship with them on the last show. This show will not be on Fight Pass, in fact we don’t have an English broadcast partner at this moment. Everybody knows there’s a lot of changes in the UFC. It’s just more business than creative, I think they’re more economics than sport. As everybody knows, they’ve got a big mortgage. Ari (Emanuel) borrowed, I dunno, $3 billion plus to buy a 4.4 billion dollar house, so they have a big mortgage. With a big mortgage comes a big vig, so they’ve got to cut back in a lot of ways.

They wanted… (laughs) they wanted me to take less money and I said no (laughs). It’s pretty much as simple as that. I like being on Fight Pass, I think it’s a pretty good platform. I like that hardcore fans have a place to watch us and I’m always glad to be associated with the UFC. But the truth of the matter is my franchise is growing in value. Not exponentially, but it’s going up a lot. We have a lot of offer from folks. I’m in L.A. all next week to really talk about where we’re going to go besides Fight Pass in English. It’s a little bittersweet, and I called Lawrence Epstein and his team over there and I said “look – no hard feelings, I don’t want to renegotiate. I love the UFC, but we’re gonna leave.“ All the rights and the library, everything, it all goes back to us.

The UFC tends to fight folks up, and they’re smart. So Combate is once again in control of its own destiny in terms of (broadcasting in) the English language. We’re trying to figure out, where’s a good place to go? Maybe we should go on Facebook Live, you know? Let everybody see it. I like our TV partners in Spanish, I think the commentary is great. It’s always fun to be on TV. We’ll figure out something. We’re in a really good position these days. Do I miss Fight Pass? Yeah. Do I enjoy being out and on my own? Yeah.

VR: One last question – If you had just one wish for Combate specifically for this year, what would it be?

CM: Wow. I’ve been getting a lot of my wishes. I think what I would like to do is live up to my name – Combate Americas, the fighting Americas. I would like us to be on broadcast (non-cable) television in every country in the Western Hemisphere. We’re getting close, and that would be a great way to end the year. Have more people in North and South America watch us.

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About the author
Victor Rodriguez
Victor Rodriguez

Victor Rodriguez has been a writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow since 2015. He started his way as a lowly commenter and moderator to become the miscreant he is now. He often does weekly bits on fringe martial arts items across the globe, oddball street combat pieces, previews, analysis, and some behind-the-scenes support. He has trained in wrestling, Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the occasional Muay Thai and Judo lesson here and there. Victor has also been involved with acting and audio editing projects. He lives in Pennsylvania where he plays way too many video games and is an S-rank dad.

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