In 1993, Campbell McLaren made significant history by launching the UFC.
Born out of controversy, and labeled "human cockfighting" by Senator John McCain, the promotion gained popularity without the help of the Internet, social media, or even a budget for marketing. McLaren, along with Rorion Gracie and Art Davie, were given their proper due in the recent documentary "Fighting for a Generation," on FOX Sports 1, which detailed all of the promotion's history and McLaren's early ideas and strategies.
"What I particularly liked was as gracious as Dana and Lorenzo have always been to me, this was a big step in them embracing and being gracious to their past," the always chatty McLaren explained to MMAmania.com recently. "Football has their leather-helmet days and it's not how it is now, but it's part of the history of football. Here they are saying look it didn't come out of thin air. Here is where it came from and here is what we did with it."
The original UFC co-founder has never strayed too far from the sport, even after the Fertittas and Dana White took the reigns back in 2001. His last attempt was the heavily panned Hip Hop meets MMA themed, The Iron Ring, on the BET network back in 2008.
"You learn from your mistakes more than you do from your successes, I think," he said on his experiences from ill-fated show. "That was four years ago. Really in the scope of a human lifetime four years isn't that long, but really what happens in MMA, four years is a long time. It's exciting to come back in now and I'm excited to be part of what's going on."
Now over 20 years later, with the sport more popular than ever, one of MMA's original minds is embarking on another MMA project, a new promotion based in Miami called Combate Americas. The promotion's reality series, also titled Combate Americas, will premiere tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Mun2, and replays on Wednesday in the same time slot.
Combate Americas is a reality show geared towards the Hispanic audience in America. It's not just for fight fans either, as there will be very prominent figures of Latin American pop culture featured within the show like Mexican SiriusXM broadcaster, Eddie "Piolin" Sotello, reggaeton singer Daddy Yankee, and Latin Grammy music artists, Chino Y Nacho to compliment the stories of the 10 fighters.
Andrea Calle, a Columbian model, Latin MMA correspondent and fitness competitor will be a mainstay in the show along with co-hosts Chino Y Nacho, and Royce Gracie and Eddie Alvarez will make guest appearances.
"I think what is different about Combate Americas is I've created something for a very passionate fight fan, Hispanic fight fans," McLaren said about his target audience. "There may be equals, but none on are greater fight fans than the Hispanic audience. I'm doing it for people that have maybe heard of MMA but aren't such hardcore fans yet. I think I'm bringing in a whole new group, but one that doesn't know how to get into the sport. Maybe they are more familiar with boxing, or lucha libre, or definitely a different sport than MMA, but it's one, which they want to know about."
Just where did the idea of targeting the Latin American audience come from? McLaren said the initial ideas started crossing his mind when he was hanging out with Joe Rogan at a UFC event a couple of years ago, but it wasn't the fights or the fighters that planted the seed, it was the "round-card girls" as he referred to them. Of course, in the UFC they are called the Octagon girls.
"Dana is always very gracious, and he said something like ‘why don't you go by the trailer where the round-card girls are,'" he explains. "I thought I'm married 28 years, happily married. I'm not looking for a round-card girl, but I did decide to go by the trailer -- full disclosure -- I could go by and take a look. So I went over and I thought, these are the prettiest girls."
"These girls are so pretty, but they're skinny. I was thinking, you know Latinas are famous for being curvy, so I started to think about what the cultural differences would be like. Not just the round-card girls. The music. The celebrities you get involved with. The style of fighting, which may be a little more boxing influenced, and the rivalries that would come up between Puerto Rico and Mexico."
"A food analogy: a pizza, and a cheese enchilada essentially have the same ingredients right? It's a tomato sauce, it's cheese, it's flour, but they're very different. That's how I thought about it. What the different parts would be. What the different and fun parts would be and how they would connect a new group."
Not wanting to have all the fighters in a house like The Ultimate Fighter, McLaren chose to have a house they hang at, and put the cast of fighters up in penthouse apartments with incredible views, saying he "wanted to show these guys what being at the top looks like." They also had a chef from the Telemundo version of The Top Shelf come in and cook for them.
"We treated these guys like they were stars."
Some of those guys include: Danny Morales, a former gang member who served time, but changed his life for the better, and Level Martinez, a YouTube backyard brawler, similar to Kimbo Slice.
You will learn a lot about them throughout the show, as the fights won't occur until the last two episodes. McLaren explains how the series will take shape.
"They have to go through a series of challenges, where there is a fight challenge and a physical challenge and that's often times endurance or having to do something," he explained. "Bunim and Murray -- very famous TV producers -- created The Real World, created all the Kardashian shows, created Bad Girls Club on Oxygen. They created a great format where you have to win the challenges, and that's how we get the match-ups. The fights are all in episodes nine and 10. We have great fights. The guys fight with all their heart and a lot of skill."
"The reason I did that there's a lot of fights on TV," he continued. "As a fan and a producer and someone that has done a fair amount of us, you care so much more about the outcome of the fight if you know the guy in the fight. To just put on fights with no-name fighters didn't interest me. I wanted the audience to actually get to know these guys and root for them and have a favorite and have a big mouth guy they want to get beat up. I wanted the audience, the viewer to really to really be invested in my guys, and then watch them fight."
The promotions first event will be in Chicago toward the end of May, with other cities to follow, including two shows in Combate America's home base, Miami.
"Miami is a sexy, world class, international city that, if you are doing a Hispanic show," McLaren said. "I think it is a really good place for us. We are going to do four events this year. Chicago, which is over a million Hispanic people. Chicago, back to Miami, will do the Miami event in December, back to Miami in June and then we we're going to do San Jose, and San Antonio, in the fall when it cools off a little bit."
The duties of getting the fighters for the show, future talent decisions and matchmaking will go to longtime MMA executive Mike Afromowitz, who has previously worked behind the scenes for Strikeforce, Lion Fights, Invicta and World Series of Fighting.
"He is a great guy, super knowledgeable and as much as I love the sport, he loves it more," McLaren said.
The show will be Spanish speaking, sometimes bilingual and in English subtitles. The witty producer has discovered something through the Spanish language translation that was gained rather than lost.
"You know the expression lost in translation?" McLaren asked rhetorically. "A lot of things are gained in translation. I gotta tell you the cage and we are using a circular cage. Cage in Spanish is ‘La Jaula.' To me, that just sounds more bad ass than ‘the cage.' I think when you do this and you put on another layer of other people looking at it and another culture looking at it, a lot of cool stuff happens."
"When you see the new Spanish fans and the Spanish celebrities watching this, it's like if you have kids and you see Christmas through your kid's eyes," he continued. "It's like a whole new group of people are saying ‘this is the coolest fucking thing I've ever seen!' It's great to get that energy. You and I we have seen a lot of stuff and we like it, but it's like any relationship, after a while you love it, but it's not what it was like when it was new. I think I am very lucky that I get to see this all over again as new. It's very cool."
McLaren thinks Combate Americas has a winning combination with the stories of the fighters combined with the presence of Latin American stars, that are promoting with their own brand and social media, and yet learning about the sport simultaneously.
"When you interview me again in a year we'll know if it's a winning one," McLaren said in a tone that let's you know he isn't afraid to fail. "But it makes a lot of sense based on what I've done. It's a different world than when I launched the UFC. It's a different world than when I launched the Iron Ring too."
A lot different since Senator McCain -- who once condemned the sport over 20 years ago -- now saying he would've participated.
"When he said that I said, ‘you live long enough to see everything," McLaren chuckled.
Even now the longtime producer is well versed with pushing the controversial angle from his past days with the UFC, that isn't something he will have to draw from this time around.
"That's not necessary anymore," he said before cracking one last joke. "I needed that because there was no Internet, there was no social media, there was no marketing budgets, we needed to get it out there in a really dramatic way. I don't have to do ‘Two hombres walk into la jaula and one leaves.' I don't have to do that."