The other side of MMA: An MMAmania interview exclusive with Matt Lindland (Part one)

Photo via Strikeforce

At 41 years old, Matt Lindland may not be fighting, but he's sure keeping busy.

The 2000 Olympic silver medal winner in Greco Roman wrestling was at one time standing at or near the top of the MMA middleweight division but has since entered a state of semi-retirement after a rough stretch of fights that included the likes of Vitor Belfort, "Jacare" Souza and Robbie Lawler.

Lindland is still the head of Team Quest, a wrestler's paradise up in Portland, Oregon that has been home to fighters like Randy Couture, Chael Sonnen, Chris Leben and Yushin Okami over the years and he's also been in charge of his own promotion, Sportfight, which holds events regularly in the Pacific northwest.

"The Law" has experience fighting, coaching, managing and he even took a stab at politics in his native Oregon. His experience has given him the opportunity to advise up-and-coming MMA businesses. Look no further than his recent role he's taken with the upstart Takedown Fight Media, who will be filming his event Sportfight 30 and trying to turn it into a pilot series for future MMA endeavors.

Sportfight 30, which will be headlined by a lightweight bout between Ryan Healy and Paul Kelly, will be taking place tomorrow night (October 22, 2011) and Lindland took the time to speak with MMAmania.com about his upcoming show, his new advising role with Takedown Fight Media and how Takedown can change the way people view regional MMA events.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is your 30th event with Sportfight, but is it different now that your priorities have shifted a bit in your career?

Matt Lindland: I don't know about that. I've always taken this pretty serious as far as the way I put on shows and I represent it and the quality of fights I put on, the quality of production. I don't do all the work, I'm an organizer. I'm a manager. I do a lot of work especially when you're just starting out and you don't have the finances and the resources to go out and hire to get the stuff done so you're doing a lot of the labor-intensive stuff. The longer you've been doing it, I've been doing over 40 shows now. The longer you've been doing it, the more organized it gets, the simpler it gets. There's no less work to do, you're just more organized now. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like this event in particular, Sportfight 30 has gotten more attention. How big do you want this to get? Do you want to remain on the regional scene and help fighters develop or do you want to be a bigger player?

Matt Lindland: My goal is to be the leader in the northwest, the premier fighting organization for all the guys in the northwest. I consider the northwest the entire territory from northern California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, even up into Canada as far a British Columbia. That's really where we draw most of our talent from. From Vancouver all the way over to northern California and over to Idaho. We have a pretty big region and a lot of talent up and down this corner of the continent. There's so many great fighters that have come out of the northwest.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd like to talk about this Takedown Fight Media deal. I know you advise for them but what does it mean for you that they chose your show to film their pilot episode?

Matt Lindland: Yeah, I think they're doing important things and going to continue to do important things for promotions around North America. They're giving a voice to a lot of the MMA that's going on out there. It's an honor that they decided to use Sportfight to film that pilot. They understand the level of fighters we use, the type of show we put on and we're honored to be that show that they use as the pilot

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So are you going to advise for them for just the Sportfight shows that they film or for everything as they go around the country?

Matt Lindland: I'm an adviser for them for everything and I've been an adviser for a lot of promotions. The difference between Takedown and what you've seen in the past is we've only ever really seen one business model in MMA where the promoter goes out and puts on fights and he goes and takes the product to broadcasters and the broadcasters deliver that product. The thing for promotions though is you get caught up with everything. You're matchmaking, you're promoting, you're taking care of every single detail and filming.

You're marketing that to broadcasters, you're delivering that content. The UFC does a fantastic job of doing that but look at the size of their staff, what it takes to do that. The difference with Takedown is they film it for you, they help put the venue together, they produce and they make a television show out your event. Takedown is basically a TV company. We're putting together TV shows. We're working together with fight promoters hand in hand and after a live product, we take that live product and we show it to networks.

What no promoter in the country is capable of doing is putting on consistent programming 40+ weeks a year. Nobody can do that. The size of your staff you'd have to have to do that kind of show, film that and deliver it to a broadcaster would be enormous but what Takedown can do is they have their own staff that comes in and films, shoots this product and you've got another small staff that's out marketing and developing and selling it to broadcasters and we let the fight promoters do what they do best, which is put on live events. We just turn it into a TV show.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you planning on moving directly from your show to another event or are you going to wait to move on to a network before you begin going to these shows ever week?

Matt Lindland: We're gonna sell our product first. We're gonna sell this pilot. Things change, keep that in mind. Things change and we're not gonna stop moving forward but what we are gonna do, the plan right now is to take this pilot and go out and sell it to broadcasters and get a broadcast partner with it as well. Takedown is not a network. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is the plan to pretty much go to a new event around the country every week if and when you do get picked up by a network?

Matt Lindland: Absolutely. We're gonna sell them North America which is a terrific MMA market and the biggest audience that we have. We're gonna stick with North America right away. Of course we've got plans for global expansion with Europe and Asia and of course South America but you've got to start somewhere. The first year in 2012, it's gonna be North America. We're gonna pick up the cream of the crop, the best shows.

We've signed over 50 organizations to letters of intent. Unfortunately not all of those shows will be a broadcast partner with Takedown. We're gonna have to pick and choose. There's gonna be opportunities to use some of that content in other formats though, maybe streaming internet, other plans of delivery besides broadcast on networks but our main priority will be getting a network, something like a weekly show, like an American Idol of fighting. At the end of this series, whether the fans want to see a particular fighter, there's a lot of those details to be worked out. But really, every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. You can't just keep showing fights, fights, fights with no end. The season will end after 40 weeks and we'll start over next year.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I think a lot of people will also appreciate giving a voice to the shows that people normally wouldn't get a chance to see on television on the national scale.

Matt Lindland: You know, we've done some broadcast deals with HDNet in the past. They were a great partner. They put out a great television show and they own the network themselves. This is a different model though. They were trying to film the content, edit the content and deliver it on their own network. In this business model, everybody does what they do best. Promoters promote fights, broadcasters broadcast fights and networks distribute fights. This is the way that business is done. You let everybody get a piece of the pie and everybody wins. The promoter wins, Takedown wins and the networks win. Guess who else starts winning? The fans. They want to see the fights, they win. Sponsors win, advertisers. If you build a relationship where everybody wins then we're all in a team together. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And the fighters should win too, right?

Matt Lindland: Absolutely. more opportunities to fight, bigger purses, bigger sponsorship opportunities for the fighters, for the athletes. Absolutely.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has working with Takedown allowed you to increase the fighter purses of your own show, if I may ask?

Matt Lindland: Yeah because there's a licensing fee for the content. If you look at some of our recent shows, we were only able to do 4-5 professional fights and fill the undercard with some of the up-and-coming amateur guys or lower level professionals. This card, I believe we've got I know for sure seven and we might have added and eighth professional fight and purses are going to go up. When we sign the broadcast partner there will be more money and with sponsorship dollars rolling in, those purses will continue to climb. An organization like Sportfight can start doing longer term contracts too.

I've never done long term contracts with my fighters because frankly, I don't want to keep them from making a good living. If they can showcase their skills in Sportfight, give us a great fight for our fans and then move on to a bigger show, I want that. I've been an athlete, I understand that. You want to get paid for your efforts. You want to get promoted on a bigger stage so I've never tried to tie anybody up with long-term contracts but with this deal, we might be able to do some multi-fight contracts with athletes if we're able to pay them bigger purses. 

Join us for part two tomorrow where we talk about coaching, Yushin Okami, the deal with Anderson Silva and of course, Chael Sonnen.

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