DARE Championship was founded last June and the inaugural show featured fighters from all over South East Asia. Brian Choi and Zorobabel Moreira both registered big wins while Arnaud Lepont triumphed in the main event.
It was a very bright start for the Thai promotion which likes to do things a little bit differently using lasers, lights and loud music to create an atmosphere which is somewhere between a rock concert and a serious sporting event. Three more show have been held since then as DARE has continued to showcase a mixture of Thai based fighters and mixed martial artists from all over South East Asia.
An unprecedented one million dollars in prize money was also secured to be distributed evenly between the winners of the eight ongoing tournaments. DARE appeared to be going from strength to strength as attendances and interest in this small scale show with big ambitions grew and grew.
This remarkable growth was to have negative repercussions last week when it was announced that the Sports Authority of Thailand believed that MMA was outside it's mandate (read an English language article on the subject here) and that the sport was effectively banned.
Many assumed that this would bring a premature end to DARE, an MMA promotion which is headquartered in Bangkok and has put on four events at the Insomnia Night Club there. However, in an exclusive interview with MMA Mania, founder Jussi Saloranta assures us that this is just the beginning and, regardless of whether it is in THailand or not, the show will go on.
Did the recent announcement that MMA was banned in Thailand come as a surprise to you and what are your thoughts in the ban?
I believe that the rapidly growing MMA community in Thailand was very surprised about the ban and whatever the reasons may be behind it we are still seeking a positive future for the sport of MMA in Thailand. We also need to check what is the actual meaning of the ban and what areas it actually effects. For example major TV channels in Thailand regularly show MMA content so apparently the ban will only concern live public events.
If this is the case it means that DARE needs to be open to other options and other opportunities to expand its operations. The great and highly positive thing about this whole ban is that it has opened up so many new opportunities for us. After the news about this went public we have received numerous offers, business proposals and invitations from various countries who would like to work with us and host DARE. To be honest, we think this has actually been the greatest expansion opportunity ever for DARE.
Are you still determined to use Thai fighters and to try and negotiate TV deals in Thailand even if you are not able to hold live events here?
The sport of MMA will grow in Thailand whether DARE holds events here or not. There is so much happening right now around Thailand that it is inevitable that the sport will grow to become a mainstream sport. We will definitely continue to use the same roster of fighters and to entertain our audiences, both live and online as well as through new TV co-operations expand our reach by providing new viewers the unique DARE experience.
Where the actual live events will be held does not, in my opinion, make a significant difference as long as we keep on delivering our product and improving it.
Can you give us any insight into the other locations and venues which you might be considering?
We have been receiving very kind invitations from several cities and neighbouring countries which have invited us to hold events in MMA friendly environments. We already have a plan in place as to how we want to proceed. Our next event will not be held in Thailand so we are definitely going outside Thailand into a new location. Where and how it's going to be executed we will announce soon.
We are still looking to hold our next event In June and once we have all details sorted out we will announce more information.
What were you hoping to achieve when you first founded DARE and were you aware that regulation could become an issue?
When we started DARE about nine months ago our only target was to become the biggest MMA organization in Thailand. That was the only real target we had and the planned "DARE 3/2012" event in June will be our first anniversary event. We feel that we have most definitely achieved our first year's target and now is time to move forward and expand our operation to cover more of the SE Asian market.
When we started, basically nothing had been done on Thailand regarding professional MMA events or their governing operations. We had our legal team do research and the first thing our lawyers did was research about the legality of MMA in the country. As there was no existing legislation or regulations we started the Mixed Martial Arts Association of Thailand in order to educate the officials and the audiences about the sport.
Our initial standpoint has been to help the government of Thailand to set up the sport in a a similar way that it is being regulated in America by the State Athletic Commissions. That has been the model that we copied to Thailand with a target to introduce this governing model and to prioritize in fighter safety.
How does this ban affect the long term future of DARE?
Our business plan is very different from most MMA organizations in the world. We have never planned on holding events for tens of thousands of people. That's not our business plan. Our target is to appeal to an online audience and therefore where the actual broadcasting is coming from doesn’t make a difference.
Our revenue has never also been dependent on ticket sales. Naturally we want to have a sold out event which has happened at the last three events but our business approach is not based on tickets sales.
Do you agree with the argument that MMA could somehow adversely affect the image of Muay Thai?
We respect whatever decisions are made by the officials, even if we don’t always agree with them and we respect the Muay Thai heritage in Thailand and agree that it needs to be protected. At the same time we also feel that MMA has done a lot of good things for Muay Thai, both internationally as well as In Thailand.
For example, many of our fighters in DARE don't have a Muay Thai background but are experts in Judo or Jiu Jitsu and now as they are becoming professional mixed marital artists they have started actively to training in Muay Thai. This is in our opinion a win win situation where both sports are supporting each other.
Are you surprised by how quickly DARE has grown?
DARE has received massive media attention and popularity during the nine nine months we have been in operations. What we are highly excited and happy about is the amount of hardcore fans we have been able to attract in this period. We love our fans and want to provide them with more DARE action long into the future.
I would like to quote a comment in a recent article which said that even if DARE is a small show it has already crated a cult like following and that’s what we want to do. We want to be different, we want to be original and we don’t want to copy anything anyone else is doing. We want to do our own thing and that's what we believe people also want to see.
There are too many MMA promotions that look all the same. That's not DARE.
You mentioned the possibility of putting on DARE events outside of Thailand, can you elaborate on that?
We have been invited to pretty much all the countries neighbouring Thailand and other countries around Asia as well as the US. Nevertheless what we want to do is to follow our original plan and focus on growing the sport of MMA here in Thailand which means staying as close to the Kingdom as possible.
We love Thailand, the Thai people and Bangkok. Whenever the officials in this country have this thing sorted out we definitely want to come back and put on another DARE event in Bangkok, the home of DARE. Whether or not this will happen any time soon we still know that the sport of MMA in general will definitely keep on growing in Thailand and so will the popularity of DARE.
For more information about DARE Championship and for further announcements visit: http://darefightsports.com.