Super Fight League: Where did it all go wrong?
When we turn back the pages, we come across multiple MMA promotions around the world that either gained notoriety and infamy for the wrong reasons, or have become a part of MMA folklore, providing a platform for future talents, and for promoting the sport of mixed martial arts. When we think about Japanese MMA, we fondly remember PRIDE FC, while promotions like Strikeforce evoke a similar reaction.
Indian MMA is still in its nascency, and it isn’t presumptuous to believe that it will still take a couple of years for the Indian MMA fighters to truly be able to compete at the highest level. Most of the Indian fighters today either go to Thailand, or head over to Singapore to find good MMA gyms, in order to train themselves. While there are a couple of decent MMA gyms in India, there is still a dearth of good trainers and coaches.
As such, when Super Fight League (SFL) was first launched in 2012, the personnel involved envisaged big things, and vowed to bring Indian MMA to prominence. While it was always going to be an uphill task, there was a sense of optimism, with the likes of Michael ‘Venom’ Page and Bobby Lashley competing for the promotion in its early days. However, within a couple of years, Super Fight League upped and left the country, and held a few events in the United States before shutting down.
In 2016, there was renewed optimism, with British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan announcing his share in the promotion. It was also announced that the promotion would be returning in a multi-team format, and roped in big names from the ever-so-popular Bollywood industry. Fast-forward to 2021, and there is little to no news about the company. While it isn’t accurate to assume that the promotion hasn’t done anything right, in the end, they serve as a good case study for any up-and-coming promotion, either in India or elsewhere.
We bring out our magnifying glass, and delve deep into the reasons why SFL, which returned with much pomp and circumstance, failed to strike the right tone with the MMA audience in the country.
1. Super Fight League and its inability to create multiple stars
The hallmark of a top promotion lies in its ability to create multiple stars. From the marketing team to the production crew, everyone has to work together to build ‘superstars’ — athletes that transcend the confines of the sport, and become inspirational figures. Unlike promotions in the West, where trash-talk and notoriety propel fighters to the upper echelons of the sport, fighters in Asian countries rely on courage, hard work and discipline to become role models.
Unfortunately, Super Fight League was unable to bring different elements together to create larger-than-life personalities. Fighters like Asha Roka, who many believed would be the poster child of SFL, left for greener pastures. SFL still produced moments of magic, which included highlight-reel knockouts, but in the end, there was no fighter that became a major star because of the promotion.
2. Too many distractions
There are certain realities that you have to accept, even if it goes against your purist ideologies. In India, the concept of entertainment is inextricably married to Bollywood. Even in its original avatar, SFL relied on Bollywood personalities to glam up the event. Rather than promoting it as a showdown between testosterone-fuelled, grizzled tough guys, the product was embellished with dance numbers, music, and of course, the A-list celebrities.
However, one could not help but feel that it hurt the fighters and the mood, rather than help their cause. There were too many distractions, and the focus inevitably shifted from the fighters to the B-Town stars.
3. Overdependence on international fighters
During the reboot, SFL vowed to provide a platform to the Indian fighters. The company held numerous tryouts across the length and breadth of the country. While it was inevitable that there would be some influx of foreign fighters, in the end, the company started relying heavily on international fighters.
While that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there were certain fights that highlighted the chasm between Indian fighters and international fighters, in terms of technical nous and skill levels.
4. Complicated format for the Indian audience
Professional Fighters League (PFL) has received plaudits for the ideation — and impeccable execution — of its seasonal events. That said, it was catering to an audience that was familiar with the sport. Super Fight League, during its second-coming, announced that it would follow a team-based model, with specific rules, number of points based on how the fight would finish, and elaborate terms that would dictate which team would advance to the next round.
It is important to remember that more than 90 percent of the audience watching these fights isn’t familiar with the fighters. Complicated rules and the league format was a hard-sell to begin with. While other sports can have league formats and succeed, MMA is still a very niche sport in India, and doesn’t enjoy that luxury.
5. Super Fight League – Too many, and then too few
Arguably the biggest reason for SFL’s lack-lustre performance lies in the company’s model, where you have 80-plus fights within a period of 6-7 weeks, and you probably wouldn’t hear about the company again throughout the year.
SFL’s last card happened in March 2018, and there are no signs — or exuberant declarations about the company putting on another fight card anytime soon.