NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What to do when your brand gets kicked out of the Ultimate Fighting Championship? Start your own competitive fighting league, of course.That's what Affliction, the mixed martial arts (MMA) sport's top apparel line, will attempt this weekend with Affliction M-1 "Day Of Reckoning," an MMA fight card featuring 11 battles, including a headline matchup between UFC heavyweights Fedor "The Last Emperor" Emelianenko and Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski. The fights will air live Jan. 24, beginning at 9 p.m. ET and streaming from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The idea for a competitor to Spike TV's long-running coverage of the UFC was borne out of a public dispute between fighter Randy Couture and the UFC shortly after Mr. Couture's wife, Kim, issued a restraining order against Affliction co-founder James Beard for refusing to provide her with accounting statements for Xtreme Couture, Mr. Couture's clothing line with Affliction. In short order, the league banned all appearances of Xtreme Couture. Free to take its brand and its fighters elsewhere, Affliction turned to pay-per-view to plot its next move. "We still have a lot of fighters that fight for the UFC that wear our clothes. We're not looking to be the only game in town," said Tom Atencio, VP of Affliction. "It's very difficult to get a prime-time network involved with MMA. We weren't looking to reinvent the wheel, we were just looking for what's been proven." Trump on its side
Also in Affliction's corner is the Trump Organization, an early partner and fight promoter that will co-present Saturday's fight card. Donald Trump Jr., exec VP of the Trump Organization, said he had a fascination with the sport from an early age, having grown up with a "fairly unconventional father who didn't do the typical 'play, catch' with me at all," he said. "The sport has incredible growth and amazing potential. It's certainly growing in a manner that no other sport is growing at. It's very appealing to me -- coming in, creating some competition, not having there be only one option for MMA fighting was a very positive thing for the sport." After a trial fight with Affliction yielded high attendance and respectable pay-per-view numbers, Mr. Trump is cautiously optimistic about the company's planned four quarterly matches in 2009. "We have to recognize the world is not what it was a year and a half ago," he said. "It probably doesn't make sense to put on a show every three weeks, and it's going to be difficult to get people to pay $45 for pay-per-view, so we want to look at it intelligently. We want to put on good shows when it makes sense but not over-saturate the marketplace." Sponsors may eventually be recruited to help offset the price tag for future pay-per-view matches, similar to the approach HBO took with its high-profile Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao bout in December. Bruce Binkow, chief marketing officer for Golden Boy Entertainment, a boxing-based sports promotion company that represents Mr. De La Hoya as well as Affliction M-1, said "Day of Reckoning" will be sponsored by national clothing retailer The Buckle, which will feature an in-store rebate program. Recruiting other sports fans
Although 100,000 pay-per-view subscriptions would be a small victory for a sport viewed by an average 2 million viewers a week for free on Spike, Mr. Binkow is confident "Day of Reckoning" will tap the core fan bases of other sports too. "In individual sports like boxing and MMA, what fans want is the best fights, and they'll vote with their wallets either through ticket sales or pay-per-view. They want to see the two best guys in the ring against each other." Added Affliction's Mr. Atencio, "If we can unite and show the world there's other combat sports out there other than just wrestling and boxing, we'll have done our job."