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Former UFC head Campbell McLaren debuts new Hispanic themed MMA company

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Campbell McLaren, who was one of the key players in the introduction of MMA, long before it was ever called MMA, to the North American market, has announced that his Combate Americas reality show from last year will turn into a monthly live event promotion on NBC Universo, a Spanish language cable station.

Shows will air on Thursday at 11 p.m. Eastern and 8 p.m. Pacific time, with the first show on Sept. 17, in an outdoor venue from The D Casino in Las Vegas. The debut show main event will be Ramiro Hernandez (17-7) taking on Max Ceniceros (7-2) in a featherweight bout.

Currently, the promotion is looking for an English language broadcasting platform. NBC Universo is in just under 42 million U.S. homes, roughly the same as AXS (43 million), and more than HBO (36.5 million) or Showtime (28.7 million). Prelims will air in Spanish on Yaveo, DirecTV's over-the-top service, which will be the first live sports event the service will do.

"We've done a great first season (of the reality show), and one event in Miami," said McLaren, who ran the UFC for Semaphore Entertainment Group, a pay-per-view company in the '90s that was looking for different programming, and greenlit and ran the first UFC event in 1993. McLaren ran the UFC during its first few years, and helped create first generation stars like Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott and Dan Severn.

The reality show, which aired on the station that was formerly known as mun2, was the first fight-themed show to capture a major television award. The show was honored for Best Variety or Reality Series at the 2014 Imagen Awards.

McLaren said Combate Americas will be completely different from every other major MMA group, because it will focus on Hispanic fighters and aim directly at the Hispanic demographic. He's looking for fast-paced action fights, and using fighters who have never appeared on the major stage before.

Hernandez fought twice previously in UFC. There will also be two fighters off the reality show on the Sept. 17 event, J.C. Llamas (5-0) and Ricky Ricky Palacios (3-1). Llamas who placed second in the reality show, faces Ozzie Alvarez (6-2) in a welterweight fight. Palacios faces Benji Gomez (4-4) in a bantamweight fight.

They will also introduce former Invicta fighter Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc (8-8) in a women's strawweight fight against Katy Collins (2-1).

"I like World Series of Fighting, but in a way, World Series of Fighting and Bellator, and a bunch of others, they are doing a version of what UFC does," he said. "I'm not doing a Spanish version, I think I'm doing a different style of fighting, emphasizing different things, with a little more variety. We're using guys you won't see anywhere else because we're discovering these guys. Our weight classes are 125 to 170 pounds. Like in boxing, I'm taking speed over power in terms of exciting fights. That's where we focus, fights with a lot of action, a lot of stand-up, and a lot of heart."

McLaren noted that Jose Rodriguez, a huge pro wrestling star in Mexico who was a top name in the U.S. for years under the name Alberto Del Rio and Alberto El Patron, will be one of the show's announcers. Rodriguez used the name Dos Caras Jr. as a heavyweight MMA fighter mostly in Japan and Mexico. McLaren had been in talks of using Del Rio, who competed at the international level in Greco-Roman wrestling in the late '90s and comes from a legendary wrestling family that includes an uncle, Mexican cultural icon Mil Mascaras, as his biggest name star months ago.

Plans are for a second show in October from South Florida and a third show on Nov. 19 from Las Vegas.

The theme of the shows will be the "Road to the Championship," creating champions in different weight classes. It will not be a tournament format, but fighters will fight on a regular basis, and in late 2016, the fighters with the most wins in each weight class will battle for the title.

Most, but not all, of the fighters will be Hispanic.

"Predominately, but we're not excluding anyone," said McLaren. "It's probably not legal to do so anyway. But we do want the fighters to speak Spanish. You have to be bilingual. It's America. We do want non-Hispanic fighters as well. But we're looking for guys you haven't seen before.

"There's UFC, there's Bellator, which is the retirement home for UFC, and World Series, which is for the guys who get expelled from UFC for bad behavior, and us."

McLaren said that they are scouting for talent in different cities, like McAllen, Texas, and Hialeah, Fla.

"I'm giving people a chance to make a name and giving them the biggest shot of their lives in or out of the cage," he said. "The response is the guys go for it."

"NBC Universo's partnership with Combate Americas delivers on our promise to provide our Latino viewers rousing and edgy entertainment and the biggest events," said Ruben Mendiola, the President of NBC Universo.

"I'm opening up this sport to a huge group of people who have been overlooked," said McLaren. "Donald Trump has made them the bad guys. Nobody else has gone after this group in the MMA business.  But Bob Arum said this is the group that kept boxing alive in America."