A mixed martial arts promotion needs a few things to succeed. It needs a roster of talented fighters. It needs a passionate, devoted fanbase. Perhaps most importantly, it needs to have a means to promote itself.
The Maryland-based MMA promotion Shogun Fights had those bases covered as it grew from its very first card in 2009. With a roster full of talented and hungry fighters from across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the promotion has grown to become one of the bigger regional MMA promotions on the East Coast.
But something was missing – title belts. Shogun Fights began introducing titles at its most recent card last year. Francisco Isata defeated James “Binky” Jones to win the first Shogun Fights featherweight title, while Micah Terrill overwhelmed Jeremy Carper in just 46 seconds to become only the second fighter to hold the promotion’s welterweight title.
The next Shogun Fights card, which takes place on April 16 at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Maryland, features two title fights. Terrill will defend his belt against Jon Delbrugge and Dan Root and Rob Watley square off for the inaugural Shogun Fights lightweight title.
Shogun Fights founder John Rallo knew he would eventually introduce titles to his organization; he just didn’t want to do it right away.
“How valid is a champion if you’ve only had one show?” Rallo said. Isata and Terrill captured their titles on Shogun Fights’ 13th card last year.
Rallo considers a few factors when determining which fighters receive a title fight, including their record, their rapport with the fans and if they boast experience fighting in other promotions. Fighters like Terrill, Delbrugge, Watley and Cole Presley compete in other organizations in addition to Shogun Fights, like Cage Fury Fighting Championships and Ring of Combat.
“I don’t want to be a selfish promoter and sign fighters to exclusive contracts,” Rallo said. “We only put on two cards a year and I can’t keep them busy, so I work with the other organizations. I’d rather work together to promote the sport – there’s enough talent for everyone.”
Right now, Shogun Fights only has titles for its featherweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions. The majority of the fighters in Shogun Fights compete in those classes, as well as at bantamweight.
“There aren’t enough heavy guys around to compete at heavyweight or at 205, and not enough guys around at 185,” Rallo said. “I don’t want to have belts just for the sake of having belts.”
While title fights typically serve as the main event on MMA cards and will be the main and co-main event for Shogun Fights 14 on April 16, Rallo believes that having a title doesn’t hold the same meaning that it used to.
“Fans are more fans of fighters, rather than specific champions,” Rallo said. “They’re smart enough to know that’s not what it’s about and they’re going to watch, regardless of the belt.”
The UFC recently announced that the main event of its biggest card to date, UFC 200, is a non-title rematch between featherweight champion Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz (and is being fought at welterweight), while an interim featherweight title fight (which usually only happens when a champion is injured; not so in McGregor’s case) between Aldo and Frankie Edgar and a women’s bantamweight title fight between champion Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes, are presumably the two co-main event fights.
Which seems to prove Rallo’s point about having title belts. While he understands it in some ways, it doesn’t necessarily mean Rallo is totally happy about it.
“I understand it as a business man, but I think it cheapens the sport a little,” he said. “Usually you’d like to have a champion like Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones or Jose Aldo, but that’s not the norm. The best fighting the best usually means everybody wins, but it also means everybody loses.”
Image Credit- Shogun Fights