The UFC may be heading to the Middle East for only the second time in the promotion’s history this fall, but that doesn’t mean the region is lacking in MMA. Brave Combat Federation based out of Seef, Bahrain, has been making a name for itself ever since its inception in 2016, including working with parent company KHK MMA to host the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) World Championships for the past three years. While bigger promotions like the UFC are looking to break into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market, Brave CF is looking to do just the opposite, and according to the promotion’s president Mohammed “The Hawk” Shahid, they plan on expanding in a slightly different way.
“We do what no other promotion does, which is going into the country, develop the sport there, and change the image of the sport. We impact the sport and, essentially, make MMA wear a different suit. A suit with class and that’s the perspective we want the nations and continents to have for mixed martial arts, and that’s our goal,” Shahid said in an interview with The Body Lock’s Michael Fiedel.
“So when we go into each new territory, you see us having a close relationship with the national agendas of those countries. BRAVE CF focuses on supporting the Ministry of Tourism, the economic developments board of those countries, the trade relationships.”
The first market in the promotion’s expansion plans appears to be Europe. Heading to London for the first time on July 25, Brave CF 24 will be headlined by a featherweight title bout between current 145 pound champion Bubba Jenkins and UFC veteran Lucas “Mineiro” Martins. Although the card is sure to bring out the typical MMA fan, Shahid is focused on showcasing the organization to the city’s biggest businesses.
“In 2019, we’re coming to London, and that is to change how MMA is looked at by the top, top elites. Whether it’s the largest banks, the largest conglomerates… we want to make sure they understand that BRAVE CF and MMA as a whole can bring nations together,” Shaid said.
“We’ve seen a huge amount of talk about the event, we have a lot of very important people coming to the show, 250 to 300 elite personalities will attend. This is something MMA has never seen before, and the image of the sport will completely change.”
Partnering with governments and big-name conglomerates is a burgeoning practice in the world of MMA. Last year the UFC launched UFC Russia, a partnership with multiple investment firms that saw the creation of UFC TV in the country as well as collaboration with established Russian promotion M-1 Global. Bellator brokered a deal earlier this February with Sky Sports to showcase their events live in the UK and Ireland.
That being said, Brave CF wants to make those types of connections only when it can help elevate the sport. When Shahid was asked about the potential of hosting the first-ever sanctioned MMA event in France, which recently passed a law legalizing the sport starting in 2020, he had an interesting answer.
“Of course, that would be great. It always feels great to do something like that, as we have done a few times, bringing an international show in a country that hadn’t tasted that before.”
He said, “But it would be very small-thinking from us if we thought that we absolutely had to be the first ones to go there. Let the sport develop, let the local promotions rise and make events, scout talents, bombard France with MMA action. Show what people have been waiting for, let MMA be everywhere in France and then let the nation know that this the sport that its people had been waiting for. And make sure that people know that the hype about MMA was true.”
It’s not only city governments and corporate entities that Brave CF is interested in partnering with either. After seeing Bellator and Rizin’s recent cross-promotion, the organization is more than willing to co-promote with other entities. That is, of course, as long as the end goal is to make the sport more popular overall.
“Regarding our vision of developing MMA, we are willing to collaborate with everybody. We are not competing with anyone, though.” Shahid said, “People say we’re in a tug of war with Bellator or the UFC, or Rizin. But a tug of war only happens when everyone is pulling on the same rope, and we’re pulling a different rope. We are all about the development of the sport, we are not in the event business, we don’t care about being the biggest event or the one with more revenue.”
The strategy behind this type of approach is simple. Rather than trying to build one unique brand and raise its revenue level, Brave CF’s goal is to raise the revenue of the sport of MMA as a whole. This hopefully results in more promotion’s down the line receiving a UFC-type valuation instead of just one, and in Shahid’s mind, it’s the Bahraini promotion that will lead the charge on the issue if no one else does.
“Mixed martial arts doesn’t have a sports industry where we can say we have 10, 15 companies worth 4 billion. That’s because of the lack of cash flow, and we’re changing that…We need to have someone that will take the responsibility of pushing the sport to that level. If we don’t do that, the vast majority of people working in the industry won’t be successful. 80% of the people in MMA are not successful. The media doesn’t know how to make money, because there’s no cash flow, the managers, promotions, and athletes are all in the same boat. They’re all stuck in a bubble.”
With the Brave’s London card coming up fast, it will be interesting to see how much the promotion will be able to build a buzz around the event. If the organization is truly set on raising the level of the sport as a whole, it may take quite a bit of time and education to make that a reality. Despite that daunting task, Shahid believes that at the end of the day it is the best course of action, and is focused on making that happen.
“Someone has to develop the sport, someone has to put a new structure in place, to move this from the event business to the sport business.”