As Cage Contender Season 2 has drawn to an end we catch up with the man behind the brand John Ferguson and reflect with him on the ups and downs of the year gone by and get an insight into where the promotion goes for Season 3 in 2012.
Hi John, thanks for taking the time out to chat to us. To get things rolling how do you think 2011 went for Cage Contender overall?
Thanks for having me, it’s always a pleasure chatting here.
I have very mixed emotions about Season 2. While we maintained our market position in Ireland and maintained our broadcast footprint a large chunk of our plans had to be put on hold due to me being forced into taking time off for medical treatment.
The time off was a real eye opener for me. It’s only at time like that when you realise who your friends are and who can be trusted. The biggest shock is how so many people are so quick to go back on their word or deals and agreements that they have made, but hey such is life. I’m just happy to be here to moan about it.
The final two events of the year really showed why we are leading the pack in Ireland at the minute. Both events ended up sold out with close to 3500 people at each, we had to close the doors and turn people away at XI which was amazing for us.
3500 wow!! Figures like this seem to becoming the norm for Cage Contender now. On a quick count up that’s over 12,000 ticket sales this year. What’s the secret?
There are loads of factors involved. But I think it’s down to giving the fans what they want to watch. When you have the right fight card in place then it’s down to the marketing and how the event is promoted. Many people see a market and think they can join in and profit from it, but most of the time it’s more about the marketing and the marketer!
MMA in Ireland is still a long way from mainstream and that shows in the % of tickets sold to the public in relation to the % sold by fighters and clubs. It’s still very much a joint effort between us all at this stage.
As a televised promotion we provide the platform for fighters to get noticed, and in return fighters and clubs sell our tickets. It’s no different to boxing I suppose. Fighters are mainly there because they have a following that buy tickets, now because boxing is more mainstream not all of the boxers will be selling them directly to people but because of their profile and media that surrounds them people will buy tickets to watch them fight. I think MMA in Ireland is at least 3-4 years from this stage and until then we continue to work together and grow the sport.
There have been calls for events like Cage Contender to become Pro only shows. Is this your plan for 2012?
In a word, No!
The system we have works for us and at the minute I have no plans to change it. So long as my phone keeps ringing with coaches offering me Semi Pro fighters for the prelim cards I will still do them. It is a great learning curve for the fighter and some of the best fights we have had on the promotion have been on prelim bouts. I’m not going to deprive fans of fights like Decky Dalton v Rowan Prendiville or Peter Queally v Rob Byrne, it would be madness!
Of course I’ve seen some bitching on forums with people saying we are too big of a stage for semi pro fighters. That’s bull in my opinion. Any fight is down to the matchmaking, that’s the important thing, if you have two fighters of similar ability then the chances are you will have a good fight on your hands. Irish amateur boxers fight in front of large paying crowds all the time and there is never a peep about it so I don’t see the difference.
Recently in the MMA press you were described as a master of self-promotion for both the brand and yourself. Is this a reason why the brand has grown so much in 2 years and you and your brand have become so well known outside of Ireland?
LOL now that is all quite flattering!
I just do what is required to grow our brand, when CC started to televise our events there was only Cage Wars doing it in Ireland and that was only once a year or so. We are now doing 4 or 5 broadcasts per year so it’s important that we get the brand name out there.
But it’s not always just about the Cage Contender brand. We also try to build the MMA scene in Ireland too. One of our directors Tom Murphy who is the founder of boards.ie writes a weekly MMA blog on the Setanta Sports website every Tuesday and he is also involved in the very popular The Left Hook podcast. Both of these are general MMA/UFC and not tilted towards our own brands at all.
Already 2012 seems like a busy year for Irish MMA on top of all our established home events there are rumours that UFC and BAMMA might be hitting Dublin in addition to Cage Warriors who have already confirmed a show in May. Does this affect your plans?
No, I don’t see why it should. Promotions coming in and doing a show per year won’t have any bearing on what we do. I am not sure that UFC or BAMMA will come in 2012 and Cage Warriors have been in Ireland twice before. Anyone who comes and raises the MMA profile in Ireland in a positive way can only be a good thing.
Blood testing in Irish MMA will become mandatory from 2012, you were massively instrumental in getting the whole country on board. Why? Would it not have better served your publicity machine to just go it alone?
Sometimes things are more important than being about one promotion. The first Irish promotion to do it was Tribal Warfare a few years ago but the subject came up a couple of time this year. Then in the UK Cage Rage UK introduced it and CWFC announced they were doing it from 2012 so the timing seemed right.
The Irish MMA community are more often than not willing to work together to make our sport better as was the case last year with the new rules set and now with blood testing.
Within 4 days or so of me contacting people we had a more or less blanket agreement across every club, promoter and event official in the county. Good work all round!
Cage Contender introduced it’s first UFC veterans at CCXI, On that broadcast you announced that all your champions would be given a title defence with a UFC veteran. Is this the way the promotion will go for 2012?
First and foremost they must be meaningful fights. Meaningful for the fighters and the fans alike.
What we are planning is to catapult our champions to bigger things and this seems like a sensible way to do it.
The first fight of this new system will see our Welterweight Champion Cathal Pendred defend against Chris “The Westside Strangler” Brennan. Brennan is a UFC and Pride vet plus 3 time King of The Cage world champion.
It is exciting times for us and I am looking forward to announcing other things for 2012 soon that will keep Cage Contender right up there in the mix.
Thanks as always John, we look forward to chatting again soon.
Cheers guys. Can I just take a sec to thank everyone who have made Cage Contender possible this year. The fighters, coaches, official, fans and my own team thanks so much. And a very big thanks to those who have tried to shaft us this year, you drive me on to succeed even more!!