NEW YORK, Nov. 14 -- A group of business and fight-sport veterans launched a sanctioning body on Wednesday that will try to enable cross-promotional bouts between top mixed martial artists.
The World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts will use a committee, currently comprised mostly of journalists, to rank 10 fighters in each weight division, recognize unified champions in each division and suggest matches that should happen regardless of fighters' promotional affiliation.
In explaining the need for WAMMA, President and CEO Dave Szady pointed to the multitude of promotions and champions in mixed martial arts. WAMMA, said Szady, will attempt to bring more credibility to the sport through inter-league competition and undisputed titleholders.
"We view ourselves as a supplement, not a threat, to all the promotional organizations and individuals who have brought MMA to where it is today," said Szady, a retired FBI assistant director.
WAMMA will not promote fights. Rather, the sanctioning body hopes its rankings will be embraced by fans, fighters and media to the point that when WAMMA suggests a match, promoters will make it.
That is when WAMMA, a for-profit corporation, would make money through the sponsors it brings to the table. A promotion would still host the fight, Szady explained, but WAMMA, for instance, could have a sponsor advertised on the ring canvas.
Szady also plans on world championship belts with a sponsor's name on it for each division. He offered a few hypothetical examples, saying the top two fighters in a weight class could meet for the WAMMA-Budweiser title, the WAMMA-Toyota title or the WAMMA-Hooter's title.
"For the record," joked WAMMA founding partner Bill Goldberg, "I'm already the WAMMA-Hooter's world champion."
Szady believes this sanctioning process appeals to promotions because it can create mega-fights that will make mega-bucks for everyone involved.
The key question, of course, is whether promotions will play ball -- with WAMMA and with each other.
"We have made contact with just about all the major promoters in the sport," Szady said. "Their response has been cordial. We are continuing to have ongoing discussions with them, and conclusions will be reached as we move this forward."
But the question of how promoters have been reacting to WAMMA kept coming up Wednesday at a news conference. Szady emphasized that, for the most part, promotions had given "positive" responses.
"Most of them have a wait-and-see attitude," he said.
International Fight League executives attended the news conference and were openly supportive of WAMMA, but they were also honest about its chances of success.
"It's a big task, but I think it's worth exploring," said IFL Commissioner Kurt Otto.
Jay Larkin, IFL chief operating officer, praised WAMMA's reasoning and its intentions. "Having said that," Larkin continued, "I want to address the elephant in the room that's not in the room."
He was talking about the UFC. The leading promoter in mixed martial arts, the company with the majority of the top fighters in the world, is hosting an event on Saturday in Newark, N.J. -- about 15 miles from Wednesday's WAMMA news conference in Manhattan.
Yet, Larkin pointed out, no one from the UFC had attended the conference.
"I cannot imagine a scenario that would encourage the UFC to participate in this," Larkin said, adding that the UFC's lack of involvement appeared to be a "fatal flaw" in WAMMA's plan.
Michael B. Lynch, WAMMA's executive vice president, said that refusing top fighters the chance to fight each other would be a "tremendous disservice," but Szady interrupted him to say he had met with UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III.
"They didn't bring the guards down and throw us out the door," Szady said jokingly before describing Lorenzo Fertitta as receptive, appreciative and polite. "The door was left open."
The WAMMA president reiterated that the immediate participation of all promoters was not necessary. "We're in this for the long haul," Szady said, explaining that his sanctioning body had the financial backing to persist even if the UFC did not participate for a couple of years.
"We understand that this is a very huge undertaking," Goldberg added. "We understand that going up against an 800-pound elephant -- a la Dana White and the UFC -- is going to take a bit of time. There's no question about it. But we have no ulterior motive. We are in it for the fighter and we are in it for the fan."
Pat Miletich (Pictures), who is also representing WAMMA, has butted heads with UFC President Dana White before. However, Miletich said that the super-fights WAMMA wants to sanction would make promoters like White more money.
"Bob Arum and Don King are not buddies, but they work together because they know they're going to make money together," Miletich said. "That's what this is about."
WAMMA also plans on influencing standards for referees and judges as well as the safety standards for fighters, but perhaps most integral to its success will be its monthly rankings.
Sam Caplan, editor of ProElite.com and FiveOuncesOfPain.com, will chair the rankings committee. He is joined by Nelson Hamilton, Todd Martin, Mauro Ranallo, Michael Woods, Oliver Copp, Alex Marvez, Ann Marie Lynch and Jeroen Winters.
Asked if this committee will be compensated, Lynch, WAMMA's executive vice president, said that Caplan would be compensated for performing managerial duties as the chair.
"No one's getting paid for their opinion," Lynch said.
WAMMA acknowledged that rankings are somewhat subjective, but said an effort will be made to keep them as objective as possible. Additionally, Lynch said that WAMMA administers the rankings but will not influence them. He described the system as independent and transparent, though WAMMA does not plan on publishing each committee member's individual rankings.
The first rankings are expected Dec. 15. WAMMA hopes to sanction cross-promotional bouts by the first or second quarter of 2008 and eventually to sanction up to 25 world championship fights a year.
If successful, similar sanctioning bodies could proliferate. Szady said the UFC asked him about such a development.
"What we're hoping to do is get out there in front of this, as fast as we can, with the most reputable people in the world to rank the fighters and with a sanctioning body that's recognized by the promoters as the sanctioning body," Szady said.
Two WAMMA partners -- Fred Levin, an attorney who represented Roy Jones, Jr., and Kay Stephenson, a former NFL coach -- tried to create a similar umbrella organization for boxing several years ago.
"In the boxing world, things were so entrenched that it was very difficult to get this done," Miletich said, noting that mixed martial arts is also splintered, though perhaps the sport is not as deep-rooted in its ways as boxing. "Coming together with WAMMA -- that one sanctioning body that can help unify all of this -- makes perfect sense to me. To be honest with you, there's no need for another sanctioning body after this happens."