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52 weeks and a few extra zeroes: The rise and fall of Affliction MMA

Tiffany Rose, WireImage

Some of MMA’s most seminal fights have taken place on Katella Avenue in Orange County. The Honda Center, which sits three miles from Disneyland, was the venue for the UFC’s foray onto national broadcast television, when Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds to win the heavyweight belt on FOX. At UFC 157, Ronda Rousey both debuted the women’s bantamweight belt and defended it against Liz Carmouche. Not only did Rousey begin to transcend the fight game in Anaheim, but Carmouche became the UFC’s first openly gay competitor. That was a night of many firsts.

The Honda Center was also the very same arena that the great Fedor Emelianenko -- the "Last Emperor," whom many believed to be the best mixed martial artist on the planet -- resurfaced in the States. Though the Russian heavyweight defeated Mark Coleman in Las Vegas two years earlier, Fedor’s career was built in Japan under the Pride banner, and in Rings long before that. He hadn’t been back. America, where the legend of Fedor had swelled to mythological proportions through each installment of his 25-fight unbeaten streak, had just that one glimpse.

Yet when Fedor did finally come back, in 2008, a year after the UFC bought Pride and integrated the pieces, it was during the MMA boom period. He would stand in against the former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, 6-foot-8 Tim Sylvia, in a main event of a rogue promotion started by the clothing brand, Affliction. He would be paid $300,000 for the fight, and more than three times that in additional fees per his contract. Sylvia, who was just let out of his contract with the UFC, got an unheard of $800,000. In the UFC, the most iconic stars -- people like Chuck Liddell -- were pulling from the shallow end of six figures in disclosed purse.

In Affliction, even Ben Rothwell, fresh off his stint with the recently defunct IFL, would make a quarter-of-a-million dollars just to show up.

This happened before Fedor, a monk-like figure from Stary Oskol who wore an expression of absolute zero, traveled with his priests. But he was as pious as he was strong, and the realm he embarked upon in California was like no other he, or MMA, had ever known. The thrash metal band Megadeth played a concert as part of the festivities. They raged through their amplifiers while the fighters were trotted out on the stage in ceremony before the actual laying on of hands. The place was buzzing with anticipation through this pageantry and soaked in red light. Later on, Michael Buffer, the famed boxing announcer and brother of the UFC’s Bruce Buffer, was cast ominously in that lighting as he tossed out his trademark, "Let’s get ready to rumble!"

The ring was a 30 x 30 simulacrum of the Pride ring, with a fighting surface of 28 x 28; most of the production was in homage to Pride Fighting Championships. M-1 Global and Vadim Finkelstein, who represented Fedor and his brother Alexander, co-promoted with Affliction. Donald Trump, the bangs-swept business magnate, was a stakeholder, too. His likeness was everywhere in the lead-up. Around the fascia ring at "The Pond" the words circled in bright electric blue….TrumpM-1 GlobalAfflictionTrumpM-1 GlobalAffliction.

If that unlikely cast coming together in the same room weren’t enough, the "Huntington Bad Boy" himself, Tito Ortiz, was in attendance. He, too, was given a swatch of that red carpet just a few days later.

Together this collective of movers, shakers and pariahs put together the first Affliction show on July 19, 2008, and it was a club that took its taboo-sounding theme -- "Banned" -- very literally. The UFC had shut out Affliction from sponsoring fighters in January after a contract dispute with its heavyweight champion, Randy Couture. That acrimony had extended to his associates. Affliction had launched the "Xtreme Couture" clothing line in 2006.

'Couture really couldn’t do anything for us, but he is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the reason we, No. 1, got banned from the UFC, and No. 2, that we put a fight on. So if you want to say he’s pivotal, yeah, Randy was absolutely pivotal.' - Tom Atencio

Couture, whom people fantasized would one day fight Fedor in the biggest MMA bout the galaxy had yet known, became the catalyst for a new promotion and a bunch of outsized paydays.

"Couture really couldn’t do anything for us," Affliction’s then vice president Tom Atencio says. "But he is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the reason we, No. 1, got banned from the UFC, and No. 2, that we put a fight on. So if you want to say he’s pivotal, yeah, Randy was absolutely pivotal."

A mega-card was concocted out of spite, in other words.

At a time of recession and cutbacks, Affliction was flying high with its upscale graphic t-shirts, breaking the $100 million revenue mark in 2008. These shirts featured winged, buxom nymphs and skulls in various states of hallucination and griffins -- wearable dystopia for $40 and up a pop -- and somehow epitomized the anti-PC aura of the sport. Affliction had money to burn. It had the executives, headed by volatile owner Todd Beard, who didn’t mind a spree.

"This is like having Ali, Frazier, Tyson, Holyfield and other top heavyweights all on the same boxing card," Michael Cohen, the Chief Operating Officer of Affliction Entertainment -- and the Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Donald Trump -- said at a press conference in New York. "It’s unprecedented, and will revolutionize the way MMA fans view this sport."

It was indeed unprecedented. How deep was the card? Vitor Belfort fought on the prelims against Terry Martin, and just about took his head off for a king’s ransom. He earned $140,000 -- $70,000 to show, $70,000 for the win -- and wasn’t even part of the pay-per-view portion of the show.

The total payroll was nearly $3.5 million.

"You take a mortal man, and put him in control," belted Megadeth’s curly-haired singer Dave Mustaine. "Watch him become a god, watch people’s heads a’roll. A’roll. A'rooo-ooll..."

It was, in every sense of the phrase, a "Symphony of Destruction."

The fighters made their way onto the extended catwalk as the group performed the song. Mike Whitehead and Renato Sobral came out. Then Rothwell politely bumped fists with Andrei Arlovski, and took his spot on the runway. Pedro Rizzo did the same with Josh Barnett, while Barnett flexed. And finally Sylvia and Fedor came out, the latter whom looked as if he’s alighted on a scene completely foreign to his place of cathedral calm, just as Mustaine got high up on the neck into the solo. Two million dollars worth of prizefighters stood idle as Megadeth bounced riffage off their backs.

These days the whole thing can be relived on the UFC’s Fight Pass.

But back then it was all one big screw you to the UFC, who returned the middle finger in kind by counter-programming Affliction: Banned with an impromptu non-title fight between Anderson Silva against James Irvin on free TV. The juggernaut twitched its muscles at the new kid.

Gamesmanship aside, July 19, 2008 became an orgy of MMA for people who liked some fights.

But the idea of Affliction getting into fight promotion originated well before the ban from the UFC. The ban was merely a catalyst to hasten the action along, and to ramp things up. Beard and Affliction president Tom Atencio, a California dude who became the face of the promotional aspect of the brand, had been talking about putting on shows for a long time. And the person they began conferring with -- and who was the chief architect in getting it off the ground -- was none other than Josh Barnett, the man accused a year later of killing it.

Atencio and Beard consulted with Barnett in Hawaii and in California to get the ball rolling. The idea originally was to do a sort of chandelier show through rings of good cigar smoke, a gentleman’s fight club for VIPs.

"The whole concept of Affliction MMA fighting came from myself and Todd and Tom," Barnett says. "My original idea was -- because they have this big warehouse space, use the warehouse space to hold a black-tie event. We’ll run somebody else to come by, use their promoter’s license.

"We would have someone promote five fights that were well picked. And then with Affliction’s influence in promotion and the general environment, they could get alcohol sponsors, cigars, what have you. Just have some pretty girls walking around selling stuff to people. Just make a real nice event, expensive, $1,000 bucks apiece, have it be a real limited engagement. Then take some of the money and give it away to charity."

Barnett was another among the UFC’s blacklisted. He’d won the UFC’s heavyweight title at UFC 36 against Couture, but was stripped of the belt when it was discovered he’d tested positive for banned substances (anabolic steroids). At the time he began talking about Affliction MMA with Atencio he was fighting with Sengoku in Japan, and he wasn’t necessarily offering his services to compete. He wanted to pluck relatively anonymous fighters, and make the event more about charity and exclusivity.

"It was almost going to be like an underground, invite-only, really high-end total experience," Atencio says. "We were actually going to build an arena in one of our buildings in Seal Beach, that was the goal. We had all kinds of pretty sick plans."

With Affliction’s deep pockets and influence, and Barnett’s star power from Pride, the idea of putting on fights began to germinate slowly.

"They all dug it, but Todd would always go, ‘But you have to fight,’" Barnett says. "I’d go, ‘Man, I’m talking about a fight where you’re paying guys $1,500 bucks, low-level pros, but interesting to watch, not myself and Pride-caliber dudes. This went on and on. Then all of a sudden they started bringing me and my manager in at the time to sit down and talk with them. I’m like, ‘Are we really going to go forward on fighting on this platform?’"

The original meetings to structure Affliction MMA, as well as the talent they were going to pursue, picked up steam. Affliction sponsored fighters, and Atencio was enamored with the Pride shows, from the production on down to the fighters themselves. Barnett had a Rolodex. Beard had a wild hair and good reach. Atencio had the aesthetic in mind. 

'The original idea was I was going to fight whomever -- originally Arlovski was brought up, then somebody else. They’d throw names and I’d be like, 'I’ll fight them, I’ll fight them.’ The idea was we were going to build up a challenger and then myself, and I would fight Fedor. That was going to be the whole point of Affliction MMA.' - Josh Barnett

As things evolved, Barnett knew he would be taking off his shoes and competing on the inaugural show, and the thing was growing in scope. Barnett introduced Atencio and Beard to Matt Lindland, who came aboard. He became the promotion’s initial matchmaker. He brought in Babalu Sobral. And it was Barnett that connected Atencio with the white whale, Fedor Emelianenko.

"The original idea was I was going to fight whomever -- originally Arlovski was brought up, then somebody else," he says. "They’d throw names and I’d be like, 'I’ll fight them, I’ll fight them.’ The idea was we were going to build up a challenger and then myself, and I would fight Fedor. That was going to be the whole point of Affliction MMA."

At the same time, Couture’s battle with the UFC was getting contentious. Zuffa filed suit for breach of contract. The ban on Affliction came down. And if Affliction couldn’t be involved with the UFC, Beard and Atencio would go ahead with their own fights. The coalition with Adrenaline -- the North American arm of M-1, run by Monte Cox -- and Trump got involved.

"At some point, they brought Randy in," Barnett says. "They thought that was going to be the next big thing. I started getting pushed out of the equation a bit more. I kept thinking, I don’t know what they’re going to do with Randy because it’s going to be so litigious with his relationship with the UFC but this was something they thought was really going to be the deal.

"Of course, we know how that ended up between them, but that wasn’t my idea. I would’ve told them don’t even bother. As we got close to the first fight card, I started to get pushed out more and more by the people. I’m not sure exactly who, but I could tell that really poor decisions were starting to be made."

The Honda Center was booked. The date was set.

"What it came down to is Randy Couture honestly put us in a spot where he had his issues with the UFC, and because we supported him, we ended up getting banned," Atencio says. "When we got banned it put a bad taste in our mouths and we were like, let’s just put our own fights on, since we were so involved in the fight game anyway. It kind of made sense. What it came down to is it ended up being a giant commercial."

An expensive one. Barnett wanted Ozzy Osbourne to perform on that first show. He was unavailable, so it became Megadeth. Barnett also wanted Paul Buentello to fight Alexander Emelianenko, Fedor’s brother. Alexander never made it past the medicals. He tested positive for Hepatitis C. Pride veteran Gary Goodridge was summonsed on 24-hour notice, and got paid $25,000 to stand in and take some licks. Buentello was paid $80,000 to deliver them.

I was at the arena that night, and I remember writing down that MMA was the new rock & roll. Megadeth had nothing on Fedor and the confetti shower he received after choking out Sylvia. That fight lasted 36 seconds. Sylvia was paid a little over $22,222 per second. The ring was such a frat party scene afterwards that Ray Lizama and Justin Levens were unable to close the show, as they were scheduled. Fedor was awarded something called the WAMMA belt (World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts), a concept that never caught on.

Belfort beat Martin. Sobral beat Whitehead. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira took out Edwin Dewees with punches. Mike Pyle choked out J.J. Ambrose. Arlovski destroyed Rothwell, and Barnett defeated Pedro Rizzo without much exertion. Affliction sold thousands and thousands of its designer shirts. People were still singing "Symphony of Destruction" on the way out.

"The live show was really pretty cool," Atencio says. "It was awesome, but on television, unless you’re a really hardcore concertgoer and really into music, it didn’t translate well on television. I think that was the mistake. The live show was unbelievable, crazy and cool. We thought we were putting on a great show.

"I guess in some aspects we did, but ultimately it just didn’t pan out as we’d hoped, especially when you’re looking at dollars and cents, you’re looking at a new show. We just wanted to put something big on, and we did."


Big in feel, but even with a stacked card, a rock show and a two million dollar gate, it didn’t generate a profit. An exact number of how much was lost on the first show was never divulged; Atencio to this day says he has no idea. The pay-per-view was reported to have done over 100,000 buys, and it was all encouraging enough for the executives to move forward with a second event.

"Affliction: Day of Reckoning" was a PPV originally scheduled for Oct. 11, this time to be held at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. Affliction began its promotional campaign, booking the venue, advertising in print, online and in Times Square. The original card was going to feature a heavyweight clash between Barnett against Arlovski in the main event. But Vegas was Zuffa territory. With ticket sales minimal in the first week, Atencio and Beard opted to postpone and move the event back to Anaheim. The new date would be Jan. 24, 2009, more than six months after the first card.

Dana White said at the time, "I would be horrified if Affliction’s still in business in January." To make matters worse, Couture, who was the galvanizing force behind Affliction MMA’s inception, reconciled with the UFC and signed on to fight Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 in what White called, "the biggest fight in UFC history." That bout happened in November of 2008.

Undeterred, Affliction made new alliances. It partnered with HDNet to air the prelims, leading up to the PPV. Tito Ortiz, another blackguard from the UFC, signed a "ground-breaking" contract. He was linked to a fight with Babalu in Las Vegas. With the venue and date switch, though -- and having recently come off of back surgery -- Ortiz ended up becoming part of the commentating team for the broadcast.

Oscar de la Hoya, fresh off his loss to Manny Pacquiao, brought Golden Boy Promotions into orbit of the endorsement hydra. De La Hoya was ringside the night of the second event, despite Golden Boy promoting a massive welterweight bout between Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles just 30 miles away. HBO analyst Larry Merchant remarked on-air that night that De La Hoya had been paid $5 million by a "t-shirt company" to attend the MMA event. At the time, it didn’t seem all that out of the question given the profligacy of the spending going on.

"He was not paid, we had a deal with him," Atencio says today. "The ultimate goal was for [Golden Boy] to get into the MMA arena."

With M-1 and Golden Boy co-promoting with Affliction and Trump, it was a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Not everybody got along. Beard, who was said to be a hard drinker with a hot temper, was butting heads with many of them, including Courtney Dubar, one of Affliction’s founders. Right before Couture fought Lesnar, he and his then-wife Kim took out a restraining order against Beard, barring him from "contacting, intimidating, threatening or otherwise interfering" after an altercation with her. There were many stories about him getting into fights with other executives, usually while drinking or on other substances. The things going on behind the scenes were becoming unstable.

Even still, the fighters themselves were thrilled, because they were still making exorbitant sums of money. This time, with the idea that Barnett-Fedor were building towards a collision on the third card in the series, Fedor would fight Arlovski in the main event, while Barnett would square off with Gilbert Yvel in the co-main. 

The disclosed purse between those four fighters was $2,330,000. Add in Belfort ($200,000) and Lindland ($250,000) and it was nearly three million between six fighters. The second Affliction show on whole -- even without a rock band in the backdrop -- was stacked. And once again, the atmosphere at the Honda Center was pretty electric. Once again, the Honda Center turned into a gigantic Affliction commercial.

"Looking back at the ‘Day of Reckoning’ card, you had [Vladimir] Matyushenko, you had [Jay] Hieron, Lil Nog, Babalu Sobral, Josh Barnett, Matt Lindland, Vitor Belfort, and then of course the main event was Fedor and Arlovski," Cohen says. "As a fan of the sport, that was not a fight card...this a dream come true."

Backstage, even old warhorses like Buentello was looking around at the assemblage in a state of awe.

"I get goosebumps thinking about this, but if you added all those guys experience as individuals, you probably would have had 100 years of experience in that locker room," he says. "Having Fedor around was pretty cool, though I didn’t see much of him. There was Alexander Emelianenko, Matt Lindland, Sokoudjou, Babalu, Barnett, all these guys that had been around the fight game for a long time were in the locker room, and it was just a bunch of guys hanging out.

"I think because they brought in all that talent on their first two shows, all these veterans, that’s why the show went so smooth. And there are a lot of highlights from those first two shows floating around."

'I thought that was the coolest part, them watching me fight. Before weigh-ins I met Donald Trump and Oscar. I walked up to Oscar and I said, ‘hey man, my name is Paul,’ and he said, ‘man, I know who you are.’ That was cool..' - Paul Buentello

One of the highlights was when Belfort clocked Lindland with a left hand and followed him down to the canvas. Once there, Belfort’s violent follow-up shots sent Lindland into the twitches as he lay unconscious.

"He was convulsing," Atencio says, remembering, too, that the ambulances had been late to the Honda Center on the first card. "It was concern. I felt bad for him. When it first happened, I was like, wow, what a knockout, but then when [Lindland] started convulsing I was really concerned for him. You don't want to see anything like that happen. Do you want to see a big knockout? Yeah, absolutely. Do you want to see a guy fighting for his life? No, you absolutely don’t. There was nothing I could do about it, but just concern."

Lindland was ultimately okay.

The show-stopper, though, was Emelianenko’s knockout of Arlovski. Arlovski had been training with Freddie Roach, and felt like a genuine threat to end Emelianenko’s streak. Yet as he closed in on the Russian in the corner midway through the first round, launching himself forward with a flying knee, Fedor crashed home a right hand. That punch caught Arlovski in midair and, as one person aptly described it, sent him into a "Nestea Plunge."

That knockout was one of the more memorable in Fedor’s storied career. His path was now clear to Barnett, who had smashed Yvel with a third-round finish (submission by punches).

If there was a lowlight from that night, it came in the form of Ortiz, who didn’t handle the live microphone all that well when interviewing fighters. He talked with Babalu after the Brazilian choked out Sokoudjou with a brabo choke, opening the sequence by referring to him as "Seraldo Babalu." It turned into comedy after that. "I want to tell me what you see, let’s go ahead and see by the fight, what you saw in the ring," he said. After Sobral spoke, Ortiz’s follow-up was, "What do you think about the future of future opponents?"

Even still, the star-studded cast surrounding the ring loved the action.

"When I fought Gary Goodridge in the first Affliction, it was pretty cool, but the highlight for me was when I fought ‘Baby Fedor’ [Kirill Sidelnikov] and I could see Donald Trump and Oscar de la Hoya, and see their expressions with every punch, just getting into it," Buentello says. "I thought that was the coolest part, them watching me fight. Before weigh-ins I met Donald Trump and Oscar. I walked up to Oscar and I said, ‘hey man, my name is Paul,’ and he said, ‘man, I know who you are.’ That was cool."

Buentello pocketed $90,000 overall at "Day of Reckoning." If the promotion was started because of a fallout with the UFC, it ended by making those who weren’t in the UFC wealthier than they were before. In the aftermath of the IFL and Pride FC closing up their shops, Affliction threw a bone to the high-profile fighters who needed work.

"Here’s the difference between Affliction and the UFC," Cohen says. "Affliction was really a clothing company that made a tremendous amount of money. You had a horizontal and vertical integration of business. All the fighters were sponsored by Affliction. So, if you didn’t make the money from the event, you made the money through online and location sales of merchandise.

"Affliction booths were set up at every corridor at the Honda Center. These T-shirts did not carry the typical $10 price tag. In most cases, they were almost as expensive as the ticket price. At the end of the event, I inquired as to how many T-shirts were sold. Their response was, ‘very close to a total sellout.’ This is a brilliant case of horizontal and vertical integration of business. Along with the influence of Donald Trump into the promotion and the operation of the business, Affliction quickly became the No. 2 MMA promotion in the world."

And it all led to the "Trilogy" card, the one in which Fedor and Barnett would finally square off. Even if Dana White had laughed about them jumping in the fight game and squandering "shitloads of money," Affliction intended to keep it rolling. The next one would be pivotal. The idea was that if the "Trilogy" show turned a profit, or simply broke even, Affliction would keep going.

Atencio, who had a professional MMA bout in 2005, began training for his second one in-between cards. He was to face Randy Hedderick in Mississippi, and had heard Dana White talk about his desire to box Tito Ortiz.

"I’d love to fight Dana," Atencio told Yahoo Sports. "I’m not a former world champion with a huge record like Tito. I’m a guy who is on par with him. I like to fight, and he says he does, so I’d love to fight him."

White laughed it off when presented with the notion while in Miami.

"If I were him, I’d want to fight me, too," White said. "I’m the guy who is killing all of his hopes and dreams."

Atencio won his fight with Hedderick, while "Affliction: Trilogy" slowly came together.

Aug. 1, 2009, was to be the date.

The "Trilogy" card would return to the Honda Center. The familiar names were shaken up, with a few new ones added in. Tim Sylvia was slated to fight Buentello, and when that didn’t work, then Buentello was to fight Yvel. Rothwell was going to fight Chase Gormley. Gegard Mousasi was going to debut with Affliction against Sobral. Paul Daley was going to fight Jay Hieron, and Belfort would take on Jorge Santiago, who would later become one of his coaches at the Blackzilians.

The big one, though, was the clash between Emelianenko and Barnett. This was the fight that everything had been moving towards since the promotion was dreamed up.

But it was never to be. A month before the fight card was to happen, Barnett was issued a drug test by the state of California, unbeknownst to Atencio, Beard or any of the partners involved. He tested positive for drostanolone, an anabolic steroid. His B sample came back positive, as well. Barnett, a repeat PED offender, would not be permitted to fight.

The news came down on July 21, just 11 days before the event was to happen. For a promotion that spent extravagantly, that had kept things going despite turmoil within its ranks, that had been building towards this fight particularly through every kind of complication, it was the death knell.

Barnett, who’d been instrumental in helping Affliction MMA get off the ground, was now considered the one who singlehandedly brought it down. The day of the million-dollar purse outside the UFC was over.

"The truth of the matter is, Josh was a very big, integral part of the whole beginning of the fight side of it," Atencio says. "We consulted him a lot, and he was helping us. And that’s what bothers me so much, that he didn’t have the respect, to just give me a call and say, hey, they tested me last month. When you trust somebody, that’s the part that hurts."

Atencio and Beard scrambled for solutions at the eleventh hour, inquiring about the availability of Strikeforce’s Brett Rogers, Alistair Overeem, Roy Nelson and even tried to negotiate a deal with Belfort to take the Fedor fight on short notice, but it was ultimately too late. Nothing could be worked out, and nothing was big enough to salvage the card.

"I was throwing my name in the hat," Buentello says. "I kept saying, ‘I’ll fight Fedor, I don’t even need anything extra to fight him!’ But they couldn’t put it together in time."

The event was cancelled on July 23. Because "Trilogy" was to be a do-or-die event to gauge its sustainability, Affliction MMA folded as well that day, while Emelianenko was on an airplane to Los Angeles. The next day, July 24, Affliction buried the hatchet with the UFC. Zuffa put out a press release welcoming the lifestyle brand back in the Octagon.

Barnett was the obvious fall guy, but many within the promotion doubted Affliction MMA would go on beyond the third event, anyway. Its demise felt less like a travesty as it did an inevitability. Just as the UFC ban hastened Affliction MMA into existence, Barnett’s drug test hastened it out. And he was among those who saw the writing on the wall well before he popped for the PEDs.

"It was convenient to pin it all on me," Barnett says. "But if you have half a brain, you know big deals between corporations don’t happen in a very small amount of time. With the amount of paperwork -- if anybody has seen a legitimate contract, even from any major business side of things, they’re huge. They take weeks to go through, there’s so much legalese.

"You’re telling me that a UFC-sized contract or corporate sponsorship and do’s and don’ts got sent to this company and they hashed it out that fast? I don't think so. No way. There was a lot of stuff -- I don’t know exactly what was going on behind the scenes, but I had enough ears to the ground that I was getting told what was happening before that fight was even coming up for us. While I’m training, I’m getting filled in on the demise of the show."

As for Atencio, he says there were a lot of things that could have gone differently, but ultimately, as so many others have found it, it’s not easy going up against the UFC.

"I actually pretty much lived a rock-star lifestyle," he says. "I was mostly just traveling and spending money and paying for my girlfriends to go with me. I've always had nothing but the upmost respect for Dana White and the Fertittas. But really, what it comes down to is they’re businessmen and look at who’s on top. Look at who’s failed, and look at who has just crushed the industry. That really speaks for itself.

"Whether I had my time or I didn’t, at least I tried something. I did something. At the end of the day, they won. That’s really what it comes down to. They won. They’ve beat everybody up."

Earlier this year, Todd Beard, a man who fed many fighters in his day, died suddenly at the age of 49. He went to sleep and never woke up. He lived his life tumultuously, but he died "peacefully," according to his obituary. Atencio now works for the European clothing company, Grips Athletics, which specializes in combat sports gear. He says he doubts that Dana White would recognize him even if they were sitting right next to each other in the room together. Emelianenko, who became increasingly more religious after his time with Affliction, began traveling with his priests as he made his way to Strikeforce. Many of the Affliction MMA roster ended up there, too.

Others, like Belfort and Nogueira, went to the UFC. When asked how he’ll remember the experience as a whole, Atencio shows his California side. "It was really rad," he says. "That’s the best way I can describe it. It was rad."

Even if they did dish out $1.5 million to Arlovski to last just 3:14 with the great Fedor Emelianenko. Or, $7,732 per second of fighting time.

"It was ridiculous," he says. "The payroll was way over the top. There was no excuse for it. I can say that I didn't have anything to do with that. I’ve always claimed that and said that from day one. Had it been up to me, fighters would’ve been paid but they wouldn’t have been paid stupidly. That’s what it really comes down to. It was stupid and it was ridiculous how much some of the guys were paid."

And then again, that overspending opened up a discussion about fighter pay. It increased the scrutiny about what fighters are worth, within the media, among fans and with fledgling promotions. It made for comparisons, fair or not, as the purse landscape changed. If nothing else, that’s the silver lining that Atencio says he and many of his colleagues take from the experience. There are worse things in the world to be than being overly generous, even as Affliction MMA goes down as a cautionary tale in history.

"I can honestly say I truly believe -- and not only me, I know a lot of people do -- that we changed the MMA industry," Atencio says. "We helped the fighters get an increase in pay, for one thing. And for another, I truly believe the UFC was not putting on the caliber of cards that they began doing after those Affliction shows, until after we became competition. We put on a stacked card, from top to bottom."

The whole thing lasted a year and four days.

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