Monday, November 02, 2009

Boxing promoter Don King and partners entering MMA; HBO deal on deck?

World-renowned boxing promoter Don King, the sometimes-controversial yet highly successful head of Don King Productions, is set to make his first venture into MMA.

King will partner with self-described "bad boy of Wall Street" Ross Mandell in the upstart RHM Productions.

MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) learned of King's hiring as a senior adviser for the new company from sources close to the Boca Raton, Fla.-based organization, and confirmed the news with King's news media advisor, Robert Weneck.

"[King] has been retained as a senior adviser to a Wall Street group that wanted to invest in mixed martial arts," Weneck said. "[Mandell] put together people from London, from New York, lots of major companies. It's a very credible list. They all wanted to invest in light of the growth of mixed martial arts.

"I said, 'Well, I've represented Don King for 15 years as his news media adviser. Let's get the pioneer of boxing, that understands how to do events, knows all the arenas, knows HBO, knows Showtime, knows all the sports people, and it will save you a lot of time and money.'"

While complete details of the new group's business plan were not immediately clear, the company's initial efforts are expected to begin with a reality show/documentary film series in the style of HBO's successful "24/7," which will use the program to build up the as-yet-unnamed promotion's fighters before the debut event.

"Don has always been tracking (MMA) and keeping up because it's part of what he does," Weneck said. "The thing is, it was just a nice opportunity. ... It would give people an opportunity to participate in a company that could have a potential phenomenal growth and get the proper people together to help these guys.

"I grew up with karate and judo and all that, but we never had stars. We never had events. Now, look at it. What was it, at the MGM (Grand Garden Arena) in January? [The UFC] grossed $110 million. I think 1.4 million people hit pay-per-view for $55 an event. It's huge."

Broadcast distribution for the new promotion's reality series and debut event is reportedly in negotiations. While the sources could not reveal what networks were involved in the bidding process, King's 30-plus-year relationship with the subscription-cable giant HBO would seem to provide a unique in-road to the channel's programming.

HBO had been close to a deal to air MMA in the past. One such potential came with the UFC in early 2007, but differences over creative control, including the selection of the production team and announcing crew for the event broadcasts, prevented an agreement from being finalized. The network's relationship with the sport has been hot and cold since the terminated deal. HBO's own lead boxing analysts, Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant, have made repeated derogatory statements on air regarding the lack of technical prowess in MMA.

Although King has been publicly critical of MMA in the past, Weneck said the long-term health of the sport was important to the members of the new partnership.

"It's got to be with the right people," Weneck said. "A lot of people went in and were just fast-buck artists. You've got to have the right people behind it [who] really are in for the long haul and will pay to get the right people and give these kids a chance. This is the opportunity."

The new promotion plans on promoting bouts in multiple weight classes with both male and female fighters.

RHM Productions plans to use Mandell's past success on Wall Street as a means to establish the new promotion as a publicly traded entity. Mandell is the founder and former CEO of Sky Capital Holdings, an international full-service merchant bank and brokerage firm that is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange.

(Pictured: Don King)

John Morgan is the lead staff reporter for MMAjunkie.com

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Thank you.

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