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The Business of MMA: The Michael Bisping business is booming in retirement, plus PFL, ONE seek new TV deals and Triller flops

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UFC Fight Night: Quarantillo v Carlyle
Michael Bisping
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

When Michael Bisping suffered a detached retina following a fight against Vitor Belfort in 2013, he was forced to face the harsh reality that his career could be taken away from him at any moment.

Of course, Bisping always understood that he couldn’t fight forever but to have such a freak occurrence potentially force him into retirement while still in his prime made the future UFC champion start to think long term when it came to his goals and aspirations.

He also knew the sad financial reality that haunts so many combat sports athletes in retirement who just can’t seem to stay away even after their best days are clearly behind them.

“To be honest, we do know the horror stories and that was something that kept me up at night,” Bisping told MMA Fighting. “I did very well through the UFC but it’s not enough to sit on my ass for the rest of my life and to be frank, I don’t want to do that. I like to keep busy. I like to work.

“What happened with my eye was kind of a blessing in disguise. It made me realize at any moment, my career could be taken away from me. I’m already on borrowed time. So I started to diversify what I was doing.”

While Bisping’s primary focus remained training and preparing for upcoming fights, he started to think outside the box regarding the money he was earning during his UFC career.

As successful as he was financially through his fight purses as well as lucrative sponsorships and endorsement deals, Bisping knew that he had to start making his money work for him rather than the other way around.

“I was all in on mixed martial arts but as I said, I knew that could be taken away,” Bisping explained. “So that’s when I started doing the desk work, I started doing the podcast, I started focusing on the acting stuff as well.”

As an active fighter, Bisping was already doing analyst work for the UFC through the promotion’s broadcast deal with FOX Sports, which then led to him working with ESPN as well.

He launched his own podcast called “Believe You Me” alongside comedian Luis J. Gomez and then a couple of years ago he started calling fights as part of the UFC’s broadcast team after first debuting on color commentary for Dana White’s Contender Series.

Bisping did such a good job in the role that he just recently inked a new four-year deal to remain part of the UFC’s commentary team.

“I truly love this sport and being involved with it for another four years, I feel truly blessed,” Bisping said.

In a way, Bisping feels like his job calling fights for the UFC has been a major determining factor in the ability to stay retired because he’s still incredibly close to the sport but no longer taking the blows that come along with being a competitor.

“People always ask me do I want to fight again? Of course, the thought comes in here and there but the reality is, I don’t want to,” Bisping said. “That’s partly because I commentate the UFC. I’m involved with it. I still get that fix. I still get that adrenaline. I’m still ringside. I’m just amazed by what these people do. I sit there and think sometimes these guys are f*cking crazy but then I remember I used to do this!

“As I’ve got older and a little softer and finally matured a little bit, I think it’s wild that I even used to do that. Sitting there and being part of the show, it gives me that fix.”

When he finally did retire in 2018, Bisping also started to look at other avenues where he could invest his money, which would hopefully provide a new level of financial security for himself and his family even though his fighting days were finished.

First things first, Bisping partnered with his former promoters on a UFC Gym in Costa Mesa, Calif., which also counted current featherweight contender Cub Swanson as an owner as well. That partnership has now expanded after Bisping became a primary partner in the UFC Gym expansion across the United Kingdom and Ireland as well.

“We just launched UFC Gym U.K. — it’s U.K., England, Scotland and Wales and southern Ireland — so we actually have the rights to those territories,” Bisping revealed. “Our plans over the next 10 years is 120 gyms.

“Unfortunately, with what happened last year with COVID, that was maybe not the best time to launch but hopefully we’re coming out of that this year.”

Beyond his ownership with UFC Gyms, Bisping has made significant investments in numerous companies including one called TimiFit, which is now crossing over for a trial program in UFC Gyms.

“It’s called TimiFit and what it is basically, it’s a cryptocurrency reward system for working out,” Bisping revealed. “It was actually copied from a scheme the Singaporean government implemented because they were trying to lower heart disease and obesity and things like that and it was putting a tremendous strain on their healthcare system. That’s kind of what inspired this.

“All it is, you have a smart device, your phone can do it, too, but basically the more you work out, walk, the more steps, whatever, and this tracks it. So the more you work out, the more rewards you earn. The tokens you earn are linked to Ethereum, which is one of the main cryptocurrencies out there. Right now, there’s a lot of exciting partnerships in place. There’s some school districts in Texas, there’s the UFC gyms, which are going to be implementing it.”

Partnering with TimiFit was something Bisping was already interested in doing but then the opportunity to roll out the application through UFC Gyms, which is a big part of his business portfolio, just made too much sense to him.

“It’s a really good, solid business idea,” Bisping said. “We’re going to be rolling this out across UFC gyms soon. We’re excited about that. There’s a few other exciting partnerships coming up as well.”

TimiFit is also working with several UFC athletes as brand ambassadors including Gilbert Burns, Thiago Santos and Yana Kunitskaya.

Then there’s a company called PlayLine where Bisping is a co-founder, which is a growing fantasy sports company that offers cash prizes to its users.

According to the former UFC middleweight champion, the company has already seen immense success since first launching with additional partnerships expected to be announced over the year that could serve as a huge boost to the overall revenue generated and profits earned.

“PlayLine is doing phenomenal,” Bisping said. “We’re doing big things. We’ve got a lot of essential partnerships. That started off as daily fantasy sports but what it’s evolved into is a sports lottery.

“We’ve got a lot of good partners. Roy Hibbert, two-time NBA All-Star, he’s one of our investors among many other people. We partnered with Mark Cuban as well. We’ve got a subsidiary called Leverage Game Media, and Mark Cuban is actually is our 50 percent partner in that. We own the NFT page on Instagram. So we’re doing a lot of business in the NFT world as well.”

If that wasn’t enough, Bisping decided to launch his own YouTube channel, which has already been blowing up with views in recent months.

Then starting in October, Bisping will be traveling around England and Ireland for a series of one-man live shows where he will tell stories from throughout his career. Former boxing champion Mike Tyson did something similar in recent years and he received rave reviews for the candid and intimate nature of his show, not to mention some of the truly hilarious moments he shared while on stage.

Bisping’s involvement with the one-man show really came about by accident after one of his partners in PlayLine mentioned the possibility of doing a speaking engagement in Canada, which then led to interest from a company that wanted to put him out on the road telling stories from his past.

“That kind of came out of nowhere,” Bisping explained. “A friend of a friend came to me with an offer ‘why don’t you do a live show here in Canada?’ so I said why not. We did this event in the Great Hall in Toronto and about 300, 400 people showed up. Myself and Luis J. Gomez, who does my podcast with me, he did an opening set to warm up the crowd and then I went out and told stories from my fight career. People really, really enjoyed.

“Out here during the pandemic, a company came to me and they actually had an opportunity to do some virtual seminars and things like that. It just didn’t feel right, didn’t feel like me. But in the course of our discussions, I did mention that one man show. He came back to me with an offer that he got from a promoter to do the shows in the U.K. and I always wanted to do it in England but my organization with things like that isn’t very good. They had this tremendous offer, these great venues.”

Bisping started putting together plans for these one-man speaking engagements but even he didn’t expect the overwhelming interest that has been shown after his Dublin, Ireland date already sold out with numerous other outlets across the United Kingdom also on the verge of selling out.

“Ticket sales have been absolutely incredible,” Bisping said. “Now I’m absolutely terrified. Cause now I’ve got to go and do it. Oct. 4 is the first show. It’s going to be great. I’ve got a lot of surprises planned.”

Beyond his investments and other business ventures, Bisping has also continued to dabble in acting after he previously made appearances on TV series such as “MacGyver,” “Twin Peaks: The Revival” and “Warrior” as well as film roles such as a part in the heist film “Den of Thieves,” which will also produce a sequel in the near future.

Bisping then landed the lead role in the film “The Journeyman” and he’s now even managed to add producer to the growing list of credits that will be added to his IMDB page.

“We’ve got a TV show, which I can’t go into too many details about yet, but we’ve got a very strong inclination [that it will be sold],” Bisping said. “We’ve got Brad Peyton (“San Andreas,” “Rampage”) on board to direct. We’ve got a great production team.

“That’s a TV show, we’ve got a couple of movies, working on ‘The Journeyman’ movie and then a biography of my own life, believe it or not. A big time producer got involved there as well. There was another one I was in a pitch for just yesterday. So a lot of stuff happening.”

All of that adds up to Bisping being rather busy these days but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

As much as Bisping never expected retirement to be quite so exhausting, he couldn’t ask for a better second act after he called it a career three years ago.

“Things are going terrifically well and I never thought it would be,” Bisping said. “It’s crazy where this thing has taken me. Things are going fantastic. I’m a very, very happy man.”

PFL and ONE Championship Prepare for Pivotal Broadcast Deals in 2022

It’s possible that the PFL and ONE Championship will have new broadcast homes in the United States when the new year starts in January.

Both promotions are coming up to the end of their respective current network deals in the U.S. with PFL partnered with ESPN and ONE currently airing shows on TNT and the Bleacher Report app through a deal with Turner Sports.

Broadcast partnerships are so incredibly crucial to the financial health of a company, which is why PFL and ONE will each have some really important decisions to make over the next few months.

For ONE, the promotion’s next TV deal will play a crucial role in how the organization begins to fully expand into the United States. Initially, ONE hoped to hold a card in the U.S. at some point in 2021 but unfortunately the global pandemic stopped that from actually happening.

More recently, ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong has promised that the Asia based organization is still targeting a move to the U.S. in 2022 and securing a TV deal is a massive step in expanding their overall fanbase.

“We are in the middle of our U.S. media rights road show,” Sityodtong said recently when appearing on The MMA Hour. “It kicked off several weeks ago. CAA representing ONE and has been leading this stuff. We’ve been talking to all the major network broadcasters, all the digital players in the U.S. for our next deal and obviously talking to Turner as well. Our U.S. deal ends this year.”

Sityodtong mentioning CAA as the agency responsible for finding the promotion a new home in the U.S. is definitely an interesting twist, especially considering Endeavor — with the biggest talent agency in Hollywood — also serves as the owners to the UFC.

While ONE maintains a stronghold with broadcasters across Asia, the future of the PFL may very well be determined on the promotion’s next broadcast partner.

Currently on the ESPN family of networks, the PFL’s deal with the Disney-owned company comes to an end later this year. That said, the PFL has been happy with the working relationship built alongside ESPN but that still doesn’t guarantee the two sides will move forward into 2022 and beyond.

“Our relationship with ESPN is great,” PFL co-founder Donn Davis said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “This is the last year of our deal with ESPN. MMA is the growth sport of this decade. MMA has the youngest demo. MMA is the only growth sport in terms of audience, not only linear but also streaming. A lot of media companies would love to have MMA. The UFC is exclusive on ESPN through 2026.

“So will the PFL have a lot of options? Sure. Are we going to evaluate those options? Sure. But we love being on ESPN and we have a great relationship.”

With both promotions currently shopping for broadcast deals, expect announcements coming before the end of the year.

Triller Goes Chilly

Amanda Westcott, Triller Fight Club

One of the buzziest stories across combat sports in 2021 has been the rise of Triller Fight Club — an upstart promotion making waves primarily across boxing while featuring a mix of bouts that also feature a number of prominent stars from mixed martial arts.

Earlier this year, Triller was riding high following the success of the card headlined by YouTuber turned boxer Jake Paul when he demolished retired UFC welterweight Ben Askren inside the first round. The event was touted as a sideshow but the appeal on pay-per-view and across social media couldn’t be denied.

Then came Triller’s card in September that was supposed to feature the in-ring return of Oscar De La Hoya as he was scheduled to face former UFC champion Vitor Belfort.

Sadly, De La Hoya contracted COVID-19 and he was knocked off the card with just days remaining until the show was scheduled to take place. Rather than delay the event, Triller forged ahead by signing 58-year-old former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield to step into the fight against Belfort.

When the California State Athletic Commission refused to license Holyfield, Triller decided to move the entire show to Florida, which is where Holyfield got overwhelmed by Belfort in less than three minutes. It was a sad display for a once great champion and a spectacle that felt more like a public execution than an enjoyable night watching some fights.

It turns out, Triller may have been better served waiting for De La Hoya to return.

According to multiple reports, the Triller Fight Club card headlined by Belfort vs. Holyfield only produced pay-per-view sales between 100,000 to 150,000 buys.

It’s impossible to sugarcoat those numbers as anything but disaster for Triller after was likely a large payroll for the fights not to mention the company reportedly shelled out multi-millions to employ former President Donald Trump to do commentary for the event.

Those figures pale in comparison to the recent Showtime card featuring Jake Paul against ex-UFC champion Tyron Woodley, which reportedly pulled around 500,000 pay-per-view buys. That’s also a far cry from the typical UFC pay-per-view event, which can only be streamed through ESPN+.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean doomsday is around the corner for Triller, it’s hard to imagine the social media company turned promoter can afford many more shows like this in succession.

The next major card Triller will promote comes in October when lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez takes on George Kambosos Jr. at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. While it seems unlikely that event will break any records, Triller definitely needs to rebound after a lackluster showing for the card headlined by Belfort vs. Holyfield.