EJ CALVO talks titles, the formula for PXC success, and future expansion

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Pacific Xtreme Combat is holding their 41st event in Manila, Philippines on November 9, 2013 (full details here). It will be the Guam-based MMA promotion’s final event of 2013. The year has seen PXC steadily rise on the Asian and international scene by increasing its presence in the Philippines and by adding more talent from Japan and Korea. Some of the talent PXC has fostered has gained international recognition, such as Jon Tuck and Lim HyunGyu, the most recent PXC vets who have signed to the UFC. PXC has a plan and a purpose to grow the sport and the brand, spearheaded by a very hands-on CEO, Edward J. Calvo.

Calvo is a man with a well-rounded sense of MMA, broadcast, and business with which he is leading the PXC charge. He is moderate in his speaking tone and demeanor, yet passionate about his PXC product and driven to continue its success. While far from being a cookie-cutter model – given the mainstream exposure of MMA and the relative newness of the sport to much of the Asian world – Calvo’s plan for PXC is remarkably succinct and well-formulated. In this very in-depth interview, Calvo spoke to MMA-in-ASIA and outlined some of what PXC has in store for 2014.

On upcoming title contentions:

We have two title fights that we’re just looking for dates for. The first is our 155 Lightweight title; Harris Sarmiento is the defending Champion. We signed Keita “K-Taro” Nakamura who has an outstanding resume to join PXC. It’s a little bit uncharacteristic of us, but we felt it was fitting that he gets the shot right off the bat. Our lightweight division has a lot of contenders, but a few of them need another win, and we weren’t sure who to match up with Keita for that kind of a contender bout. This just felt right. We talked to his management and told him that as soon as Harris is ready to defend his belt, we’re going to sign him there. That will happen early next year.

Jang Yong Kim, our newly crowned Featherweight Champ, will have his first defense early next year as well. Right now the top contender is out of Hilo, Hawaii, Toby Misech, a BJ Penn Academy fighter with a decent pro record. With his two KOs at PXC, the last one being the Shooto Champ Yusuke Yachi, we just got blown away by him and we felt that rather than look at a featherweight rematch with Mark Striegl, we’re going to look at Toby fighting Kim for his belt early next year. Obviously Mark’s going to be looking to make a comeback sometime. There are a few other contenders who are one or two fights away from being at the top of the division as well. Rolando Dy did a great job at the last event in the Philippines so his name is now in the mix. Shane Nelson may also drop down to 145. Will Chope now fights for us, and beating Takumi Nakayama was a huge win for him. We’re pretty excited about our featherweight and lightweight divisions.

Michinori Tanaka probably would be the next up. It wouldn’t surprise me if the stars align and we have two title fights on a card early next year. Contenders at 135 are fighting it right now. We’re going to see how Crisanto Pitpitunge does – he really impressed when he lost his belt, he was very tough against Michinori. That was a close fight.

We will have a new 170 champ next year, we’ve got to get that belt back out. We’ve got a lot of good prospects. Josh Calvo, a Guamanian who lives on the west coast of the US. Sebastien Kadestan. Another Korean, and a couple of Hawaiians who are putting their names in the mix. Zane Kamaka, another TUF contestant who shows a lot of promise, signed with us. We haven’t seen him yet because he had an injury when we first tried to get him out.

On new fighters:

Takumi was a big one, and he says even though his first fight was a loss, he really enjoys leaving Japan and fighting for us, and fighting international fighters. We’re seeing a lot of high level Japanese fighters reaching out to us who want to fight outside of Japan. They’re asking for a lot of the top American fighters on our roster. I think they really just want to test themselves and gain international exposure.

I look forward to seeing Yachi again. He’s a great young fighter, that’s why we didn’t just get him for a one fight deal.

Seung Hwan Bang was a big one for us. There’s another 170 pound welterweight Korean they call “Baby Lim”. It makes me really excited that they are training for us. I’m just waiting for Coach Ha to give us the thumbs up that he’s ready to go.

Something’s going on in Thailand now. There’s a surge of interest in PXC from top fighters all of a sudden. We’re extremely pleased – not complaining at all – it’s just all at once so we have to sort through and be selective because we don’t like sitting guys. Good friends from Phuket Top Team, Tiger Muay Thai and AKA are all sending us their top prospects and asking us to start giving them some action. I just have to make sure we are going to be able to accommodate their schedules and keep them busy, especially the high level guys.

I don’t want to sound like a trash talker, but for instance take the whole “90% thing” [having 90% of all the fighters in the market, reference to another promoter’s statement]. We’re not going to try and sign everyone and their brother because it’s just stupid to do that. It’s bad for the fighters and it’s bad for the promotion. All these gyms are reaching out to us and we have to be careful. To the gyms, we say, “We like your guy,” or, “we like your five guys, we know you want all of them signed tomorrow. We will sign this one, because we can see him fighting two or three times next year. At least twice. If not, good luck to you.” That’s the thing, even though you want to sign everybody, you can’t, it’s just not fair to everyone involved.

I think that is a big reason fight clubs, gyms and managers are saying, “I trust you guys, I want my top guys to work their way up PXC.”

 

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On sharing talent:

We don’t mind having fighters come over like from Pancrase. We keep our markets and we want to build our fighters up. We are concerned of course about key losses that will interrupt, and they are taking those risks if they are going to fight elsewhere. We are going to look at how their careers are going and how that’s going to affect them in PXC. Still, it’s only 7 or 8 fights a year and we want these guys to stay active and grow their careers. It only helps us. Where we look down upon it is if they are taking dangerous fights against guys that are not going to help their careers at all, so we tell them to stay out of the nightclub circuits, look for good opportunities. We’ve had good relationships with Legend FC and now the Rebel guys. And Coach Ha of KTT started Top FC. We’re trying to work with them and send them some of our guys as well. We want to keep everyone busy but at the same time grow ourselves.

We are not shy about saying we look at the UFC and we are not trying to trump them. The UFC is like the NBA in basketball. The PBA wants to be the biggest Filipino league in basketball, and in every country there is pro basketball, but the dream in every country is to be in the NBA. We see the UFC in the same way. We are proud to see our guys get in that mix and fight on that world stage, which is something you don’t hear a lot from other groups. Some of them are actually mad when their guys go. The UFC is the top level, the cream of the crop and they cut guys all the time. It’s no problem – now guys can go back and try again. Look at K-Taro, he told us “I want to be a 155 stud and then make another run at it.” I said, “We’ll line them up for you, man. And we have other guys who want to use you as a springboard for themselves.” Keita is a target, but he also sees that beating these tough Hawaiians and our other top kids is going to put his name back up on the cycle.

And every contract says that if the UFC sends you a contract, we will give you a release letter – no problem, no questions asked. And we’ve done it. That’s a big one I think.

On matchmaking:

We do have a formula for matchmaking but it’s not very scientific. We do a lot of round table discussions, spreadsheets that we update after every event to see what happened to these guys in their last couple of fights. We go division by division, track career paths, and we look at keeping them active. That’s why we have such good relations with the fight clubs we work with. It’s a sporting model, not an entertainment model.

On expansion:

We’re not going to have any more events in 2013, what we’re going to do is a lot of planning. We’re going to have at least the same amount of events – almost one a month – and to get there, it will probably have to be in another market. That’s why our discussions in Hawaii have been continuing. It’s just a matter of me getting there on the ground like I did here in the Philippines 3-4 years ago. I have to spend time there and really understand the market. Our style is the slow burn – we’re in the market for the long run. When we do it, we want to do it right, not just spend a lot of money to get there. Money doesn’t grow on trees and we don’t have to move fast to get there. When we get to a new market, we want to make sure we have the right organization in place. Hawaii’s a no-brainer for us, it allows us to use many more of our US mainland fighters and it will give our Asian fighters more of chance at fighting closer to the US. We’re talking to a couple of potential partners over there. When we go into a new market we look to have a broadcast partner, sponsors, and a good relationship with the commission, much like we did it here in the Philippines.

We are looking now at provincial shows in the Philippines. There’s no amateur here and the commission has asked for semi-pro from us. We’ll be able to channel talent and market PXC in those markets for the bigger shows in Manila. We might even switch one big show – instead of doing four, we might do three and three, go and hit a province, probably in a decent-sized venue but a different purse. It will give the young up-and-comers a chance to showcase what they’ve got, and we will stream those fights online.

Other Asia countries for expansion are also there, but it’s going to require a lot of planning. Once we get one show a month going, it’s going to require a lot more resources. If we’re going to make a move to new markets in Asia, we’re absolutely open to expanding our company to take on new partners. We care about the quality of PXC and our product, be we know that in order to go to the next level we are going to have to look at bringing on investment.

I like Singapore. It’s going to be an MMA hub. I don’t think it was saturated before the Rebel FC guys showed up. The day I met those guys it was, “We want to get started and we want to help you come to Singapore and do shows too.” We’ll see how the UFC show does.

I like Hong Kong and Macau. Seoul, Korea is another exciting market. I visited it twice recently and we’re inching towards an opportunity there but we can’t bite off more than we can chew. Japan is not a place we’re looking at – talk about saturation – and it’s expensive. I think it would cause problems with our relationships with the Japanese organizations that have been good to this point. They like the Yachi’s and Takumi’s to say where they’ve come from when they are fighting abroad. Obviously they like them to represent and win, but they just have to go try.

The west coast of the US is also an option, so we can cover the entire Pacific Ocean. That would be a dream, right? Hong Kong to California – you skip over to Manila, Guam, and then Hawaii. That’s actually pretty close to the equator all the way across. There’s more than enough superstars in the region to keep us busy and happy with what we’re doing.

 

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On broadcast and internet:

We broadcast live in Guam on a television station we own – that’s our core business – so we shoot it ourselves. It’s on TV in Guam and on Saipan Islands. We also have a Philippines broadcast. We are looking at broadcast partners in Hawaii.

Our online success has been good. We’ve been doing the free streaming since last year and it’s been growing. The shows have been delayed because of logistics both in the Philippines and Guam, and we’re going to get over that because we intend on going completely live. It’s just that our TV partner set it up where their satellite truck wasn’t available, so we had actually have to moped it over to their office on a hard drive and upload it. PXC 41 will also be slightly delayed. The countdown on the page should be going already. One problem is that the company we are using is called “Livestream”, so everyone thinks “oh, it says live!” We’re looking at other online streaming as well, Google channels, other options and trying to improve before we ever ask someone to spend money on it. We want to make sure it’s working well and clean. That’s the future.

Our numbers are over 20,000. Our biggest audience is still the Philippines, outside of Manila. The younger generation doesn’t watch TV, they are on their phones. Korea and Japan have been the most exciting to see the growth. The US mainland and Hawaii are pretty good as well. Guam’s numbers are big for me per capita, but they are not impressive in terms of percentage.

But if there are a couple thousand in Guam, that’s a lot of MMA fans for an island that small.

On production:

We’ve got a pretty nice model in place. We like to think it’s conservative, where we know we can give the MMA fans a good experience and we focus on taking care of the fighters, making sure they are comfortable. That’s what people don’t see a lot of, but in the long run, it’s what means more to fans and fight camps than how big a press conference there is or how nice the walk in is. We try to keep it conservative and keep the entertainment of the fights as high quality as possible, not on the high cost production items.

At the end of the day, we have great action for the PXC fans, the sponsors get what they want, and the people who are passionate about MMA, which is our organization and the people around us, are having a blast.

On MMA in Asia:

Absolutely there’s a resurgence. We are in the right place at the right time. And we’ve been here – we’re one of the guys who can say we were here because of passion for the sport and wanting to cultivate it, as opposed to reacting to the market growth. The fans are more educated and the sponsors are more educated now. When I started coming to the Philippines we had to define what “MMA” meant versus “UFC”, “URCC”, “PXC”. Now they know exactly what we’re talking about, and that’s just been two and a half years, wow, what an evolution. Japan is a birthplace of combat sports, there are so many fighters and organizations. I am hearing from managers and fighters that they get in a cycle there where they have to change it up, and if not fight in the UFC, at least get out and find some other action. That’s going to help improve their quality.

It’s getting competitive, we keep an eye on other organizations to see what’s going on. We want to learn from them, good and bad, and to see how we position ourselves on the business side. We want to position ourselves to be unique and high quality. I think it’s been going really well.

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