It’s not easy launching a new combat sport organization in a town that’s already home to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the king of all mixed martial arts promotion companies.
But Las Vegas-based Lion Fight Promotions is hoping to emerge from UFC’s massive shadow. Lion Fight’s counting on increased fan interest in the sport of Muay Thai to generate enough revenues by year’s end to let the company break even.
Scott Kent, a former casino risk management executive, launched Lion Fight Promotions about 2½ years ago to put on Muay Thai fights. Muay Thai fighting is similar to UFC battles, but without UFC’s ground fighting, wrestling and grappling.
Muay Thai, Thailand’s national sport, focuses on punching, kicking and elbow and knee blows and is known for its toe-to-toe stand-up fighting. Lion Fight Promotions’ next event is set for July 26 at the Hard Rock Hotel. It will be its 10th fight.
“If you love stand-up fighting, it’s the most exciting stand-up sport in the world,” said Kent, a Montana native who moved to Las Vegas from Phoenix in 1989.
Kent bought into the sport by investing about $500,000 to start Lion Fight Promotions, signing a sports marketing specialist to find sponsors and joining forces with Mark Cuban’s AXS TV network to broadcast his Muay Thai bouts.
Kent said his company is poised to draw more attention, and revenue, because his last two fights were broadcast by AXS TV, an entertainment network owned by Cuban, the billionaire owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks.
AXS TV has broadcast mixed martial arts events since 2004 and plans to cover about 40 combat fights this year.
Kent is “a special breed. He’s introducing a new sport to the American fan,” said Andrew Simon, chief executive of AXS TV Fights.
Simon said his TV network has 41 million subscribers. Kent noted AXS will cover the costs of broadcasting the Lion Fight Promotions events.
Kent’s investors include Don Andress, president of Las Vegas Harley-Davidson, which will sponsor fight events. Kent said he also enlisted a high-profile investor, Wes Edens, founder of Fortress Investment Group, a New York-based investment management firm. Another investor is Ken Gardner, a former Las Vegas air conditioning company owner.
Kent is especially excited about the July 26 event, to be broadcast by AXS TV, because it will feature one of the sport’s superstars, Muay Thai legend Yodsanklai Fairtex.
Lion Fight Promotions held its first four events in Primm before moving the last five to the Hard Rock Hotel. Kent said two of the last three fight events were sold out as 2,000 to 2,500 tickets were sold. The cost is $45 to $95 per seat, with standing-room-only tickets selling for $25 each.
Kent has hired Gemini Sports Management to find sponsors. He envisions beer, energy drink and water companies signing on, along with sports-themed restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings and fast-food eateries like Subway.
Gemini Sports Management President Rob Yowell said he has been working with Kent since March.
“What he’s selling is Muay Thai at the highest level,” Yowell said. “They’re not trying to take space from the UFC and they’re trying to carve their own niche.”
Yowell said he is pursuing consumer product, nutrition, clothing, automotive, outdoor extreme companies as Lion Fight sponsors, with the core audience being males 21 to 40 years old.
“We’ve has some pretty good dialogue since working with Scott,” Yowell said.
He said companies that can’t afford UFC sponsorships could find a marketing alternative at the Muay Thai fights.
“It’s a ground-floor opportunity with Scott’s promotion company,” Yowell said. “The goal and the hope is to have partners grow with us. The goal is for Scott to grow this brand on a national scale.”
Kent launched Lion Fight Promotions with Christine Toledo, the company’s vice president and a former Muay Thai champion. He also hired a new chief financial officer, Matt Knipp of Las Vegas. Mike Ran of San Francisco is handling the website and social media.
Lion Fight Promotions plans to stage five or six fights in Las Vegas in 2013 and is looking to expand in Native American casinos in California and venues in Phoenix and Denver, Kent said. Los Angeles and San Francisco are also potential markets because of the Thai populations in those two cities, he said.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273.