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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Campbell Mclaren co-creater of the UFC talks to Kingdom MMA "I would have never sold the UFC"

by Chris Marzella @ChrisMarzella

Everything comes in cycles.

Dips in popularity, followed by meteoric rises.

Today UFC has taken the sport of mixed martial arts to a new stratosphere. The UFC itself is currently at the peak of its powers, a long way away from the tired product that the Fertitta brothers and Dana White when Zuffa purchased the organisation back in 2001.

The UFC wasn't always a stumbling company looking for the guile of the Fertitta's and Dana White to guide it in the right direction.

In its birth the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a smash hit, must see spectacle and it was partly the brainchild of a Scots-born TV producer.

Campbell McLaren was born in the sleepy Stirling village of Cowie.

Later in life he was one of the men to dream of the weird and whacky world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Speaking to, McLaren said: "In 1993 I was working at a PPV company owned by the music giant BMG. Every music PPV the company did was losing tons of money. I had a varied background as a TV producer, which included a lot of comedy, and I was hired to find alternatives to the music-losing PPV's.

"I was looking at car racing and demo derby, Lucha Libre from Mexico, horror, magic and comedy -  just about anything that would strike a chord with a young, male audience.

"Art Davie, Rorion Gracie's business partner, called me in April 1993 and gave me a pretty lame pitch, saying 'everybody has turned this down, HBO, Showtime, everybody, you are the only one left'.

"But when he described the Gracie Challenge/ War Of The Worlds idea I loved it. I thought it wasn't edgy or cool enough though. I saw a reality version of Mortal Kombat. I wanted every fighter in their fight style clothing and many different types of fighters; sumo, boxing, karate.

"I was totally intrigued by these Gracies that would fight anyone anywhere. As we developed the idea over the summer of '93 I began getting (VHS) tapes of fighters who wanted to enter. Everyone in the company would crowd into my office to watch - I knew I had a hit!"

The original idea behind the first UFC can only be answered by a select few. McLaren just so happens to be one of those few.

He said: "It was certainly going to be a spectacle. The Superbowl is a spectacle and so is The World Cup, The Indy 500 and so on. But I knew it would last and go beyond one event.

"In July of 1993 I presented my plans to do a minimum of three pay-per-views to a group of WOW investors at The Gracie Academy in Torrance, California.

"My presentation was videotaped and it appears in the Fox Sports documentary Fighting For A Generation. My job was to find pay-per-view's we could do as a series of events not one offs'. The 'one-off' rumour came much later after I had left The UFC."

Art Davie's foresight became a reality when the premiere UFC events broke all kinds of pay-per-view records. McLaren explained: "Everyone got it right away. It worked because it was so simple, brutal, elemental and visceral. But people do not realise the era I call the Original UFC, which covered UFC 1 -12, was amazingly successful.

"I consulted and Exec Produced through UFC 22 but the first 12 really reflected my vision.

"The pay-per-view buy rates were amazing, hitting 350,000 on several occasions. And that was with a PPV universe of 20 million homes; today it is 120 million homes. That is the equivalent of a 1,750,000 buys today. And with no social media, I only had controversy to work with!

"The Original UFC was a pop culture sensation too. By 1996 it had been a cover story in Mad magazine, featured as the ultimate scene in Paramount Picture's Denzel Washington thriller Virtousity, the finale episode of hit TV show Friends that year, and written about by nearly every paper and magazine in the US. It was a top video game, top selling VHS tape and became a huge hit in Japan.

"I launched stars in that era that are still prominent in MMA including; Royce Gracie, Ken and Frank Shamrock, Tank Abbot, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddel and Randy Couture. I also brought in my comedian friend Joe Rogan and matchmaker Joe Silva.

"The Joe Silva story deserves it's own article. I created the 'There Are No Rules' and 'Banned In 49 States' marketing because there was no marketing budget. I needed the controversy. But that ultimately led to the dark era that the Zuffa's bought in to. The UFC was huge but then declined until the Zuffa's 2005 hit TV series The Ulitimate Fighter re-invigorated it.

"From 1993- 1996 it rivaled today's popularity and set the stage for the Zuffa era. But the relentless political pressure took it's toll and by UFC 22, when I left, the franchise was in a steep decline."

The creation of the first UFC event was a risk for all involved, despite how confident McLaren was of the smash hit he had on his hands. Now over 20 years later his idea has spawned into a sport of its own.

McLaren commented: "I didn't think I was creating a sport but I knew I was creating a hit. MMA was a phrase coined by UFC commentator Jeff Blatnick to get the word fighting out of the mix and take off some political pressure.

When the time ultimately came for the original owners to pass the product on to Zuffa they sold it for a hefty $2 million. McLaren said of the sale: "I was an employee not an owner. I was long gone by the sale and thankfully had nothing to do with that. I would have never sold the UFC. It's like my baby".

When asked his thoughts on what he believes the circumstances were behind the sale, McLaren said: "Greed and stupidity on the seller's part and genius on the buyer's part."

Despite having no part in what he describes as his 'baby' McLaren lives his life with no regrets. He said: "No what if's. I love the UFC then and now. Dana and Lorenzo have done an amazing job turning my spectacle into a world class, world wide sporting event. They are geniuses - literally. But from 1993 until 1996 I rocked the world too.

"I stay in close touch with Dana and Lorenzo; they are great guys. Remember I developed the Octagon, brought in Joe Rogan and Joe Silva, recruited the Olympic college wrestlers that are now part of the UFC's DNA, and hired or worked with many of the people still at the UFC so I do feel like it's mine...even if I never owned it."

Since parting ways with the UFC McLaren has not been a stranger on the MMA scene. Four years ago he created The Iron Ring for BET and Viacom. The show featured famous rappers Ludacris, Nelly, TI and Floyd Mayweather building teams of MMA fighters. He said: "It was a TV ratings success but was not well received by MMA fans. I learned a lot from the mistakes and applied that to Combate Americas."

Combate Americas is McLaren's newest venture into the MMA realm. He is fronting the organisation which is the first Hispanic MMA franchise which features on on NBCU's mun2 in the US and will be rolling out worldwide next year. The promotion begins its live events this fall and present their first pay-per-view next year.

McLaren explained: "It has been created specifically for the US Hispanic audience, who are huge fight fans, yet not well served by existing MMA franchises now.

"I think I am going to bring in a whole new group of fans to the sport. We have tremendous new and exciting fighters and have brought in great stars like Daddy Yankee to help promote it. Royce Gracie is a big part of the TV series and Bellator's Eddie Alvarez too.

"Everyone I talk to about this says it will be huge. Dana said it will be a big hit.

MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world; the Hispanic audience is the fastest growing demographic in the US; I'm combining the two."

With the UFC set for its first show in Mexico and an attempt to crack the Hispanic market it may appear to be on a collision course with Combate Americas. However, McLaren insists that the two organisations won't be in competition, saying: "I do not think the UFC is targeting US Hispanics. I think they are very focused on Latin America and the world. The US has 60 million Hispanics and many are huge boxing fans. Many cultures other than traditional US culture, have only two sports; soccer and boxing. I'm going after an entirely new audience that may know the UFC or MMA but has never gotten into it. I'm going to bring a whole new group to the sport."

With the current UFC franchise estimated at over $3 billion it is difficult to argue that McLaren, Art Davie and Rorion Gracie's vision wasn't successful, entertaining, intriguing to fans and fighters alike.

McLaren recalled one conversation with the original Ultimate Fighter about the impact the idea had on him. He said: "At the UFC twenty anniversary Forest Griffin told me he wished he had entered the Original UFC but he didn't want to wear those Speedos -he wanted to wear man shorts. I didn't have anything to do with the Speedos."


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