Las Vegas’ emergence as the nation’s MMA fight capital has created a cottage industry of mixed martial arts-related businesses that is trying to bank on fight event promotion organizations sprouting in Sin City.
Ultimate Fighting Championship is the headliner brand name for professional combat sports in Las Vegas. But UFC, which generates more than $500 million in annual revenue and is valued at $2 billion, is joined by a small band of upstart MMA fight show companies that support a growing number of gyms, T-shirt companies and media workers covering the combat sport.
In just the past few years, Las Vegas has solidified its Fight City USA reputation with the proliferation of new Las Vegas-based combat sport promotion companies. They include World Series of Fighting, Lion Fight Promotions, Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Tuff-N-Uff, which are staging events and luring dozens of fighters from across the U.S. and around the world to train here.
Venues such as The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, Orleans Arena and South Point Arena are cashing in on the fight show growth with bookings, while nightclubs including Tryst at Wynn, and XS and Surrender at Encore benefit by hosting fighters’ parties after the combat sport events.
Sports lounges at the Hard Rock score big after Lion Fight’s Muay Thai fights, said Scott Kent, Lion Fight founder and CEO.
“It’s a mousetrap and we’re the cheese,” Kent said of his fight events luring customers to the Hard Rock.
With more fighters coming to Las Vegas to train and chase their dreams, more gyms are opening.
In fact, Ray Sefo, president of World Series of Fighting, said a friend is scouting the city to open a gym.
Jeff Stern, manager of the Fight Shop in Miracle Mile Shops, said that he meets 25 to 30 people in his store every week who say they are interested in the fights. His 5,000-square-foot store at Planet Hollywood Resort sells MMA equipment, including gloves, shorts, shin guards and headgear.
“They feel Las Vegas is the only place to train,” Stern said. “They want to train here.”
Stern said the tough economy after 2008 claimed several MMA retail businesses.
On the gym front, established name martial arts gyms such as Xtreme Couture have been joined by new ones such as House of RYU, which opened about a year and a half ago.
About a year ago, a new partial owner, Jason Hallikianen, invested in a training center that went through several names before unveiling its latest, The Syndicate Mixed Martial Arts, in the southwest valley.
Hallikianen co-owns the business with John Wood, who remained an owner of the Syndicate. Separate from the gym, Wood also started selling a line of shirts under the Syndicate Worldwide brand several years ago.
A different John Wood is a partner in the House of RYU gym and also oversees Tryst, XS and Surrender nightclubs.
Casey Milliken, Syndicate manager, said, “Las Vegas has always been the fight mecca. A lot of the big-time fights have been in Las Vegas, and it’s only natural that some of the major academies would establish in the same city.”
Gyms can use fight events that include their fighters for advertising and marketing purposes, said Jeff Meyer, vice president of Tuff-N-Uff, an organization that specializes in amateur MMA events
“They have an avenue to bring their fighters through the ranks, and it’s a natural advertisement for their gym,” Meyer said. “The gyms benefit from being able to advertise through the events.”
The MMA industry also has triggered several micro-niche enterprises.
Consider Las Vegas fight dentist Adam Persky, who makes custom mouthguards for the competitors on The Ultimate Fighter TV show. After Persky said he was introduced to UFC President Dana White, he made the mouthguards for the TV show in Season Four and “we’ve been riding the coattails ever since.”
There’s Jen Wenk, the former UFC public relations director who has carved out a specialty business catering exclusively to MMA clients.
Oliver Cabande, owner of at OCC Ink, a T-shirt business, said his company’s revenue shot up 80 percent thanks to MMA- and Lion Fight-related shirts.
“For a small business like mine, it definitely helps me,” Cabande said.
The MMA fights in Las Vegas offer content for TV broadcasts. Bear witness to AXS-TV Fights CEO Andrew Simon, a Henderson resident, who oversees Lion Fight broadcasts. The next Lion Fight event is set for the Fremont Street Experience on Sept. 20 next to the D — and the broadcast will be the first live sports event televised from the downtown attraction.
Simon said the MMA events and the casinos form a good business marriage in Las Vegas.
“The casinos are a big part of why the MMA promotions are so successful here. The sponsorship dollars and arena deals make it possible to put these MMA events on air,” Simon said.
“Casinos purchase tickets for their biggest customers, which provides guaranteed revenues to fight promoters. Casino nightclubs offer fighters additional money making opportunities via appearances and post-fight parties,” he said.
There are even mini-niche categories under the MMA gym banner. For example, The Pit gym in Henderson taps into the MMA scene by not training fighters but instead targets casual enthusiasts who want to get into shape and also families with kids, said Eric Umali, The Pit general manager and head instructor.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @bicyclemansnel on Twitter.