The name Lion Fight has become synonymous with Muay Thai in America over the last several years. With Lion Fight 37 coming up on July 28th, we got a chance to speak with the man behind the brand, CEO and promoter Scott Kent.
Michael Moore Jr.: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I greatly appreciate it.
Scott Kent: Well I appreciate the support, man, we are certainly trying to do everything we can to get the word out about this show, it’s a huge show for Muay Thai in the U.S, for sure.
MM: Most definitely. So Lion Fight 37 coming up Friday, July 28th. In the main event we have Jo Nattawut vs Petchtanong Banchamek, what do you think about when it comes to that fight?
Kent: Well, I think the feedback that we’ve got is kind of what we had hoped for. Here’s a guy with 400 fights, and people in the U.S just kind of shudder to think about that, you just don’t see it, but obviously in Thailand these kids start at a very young age, they compile a lot of fights and are the consummate professional. So, to bring Petch in, with his name and his reputation – multi-time world champion, to have him come in and fight for the Lion Fight world title against Jo Nattawut is, it’s a great commercial for Lion Fight, it really shows how far Muay Thai has come, especially in the U.S, to be able to host these kinds of world class fights and fighters, I think this is one that’s kind of got the attention and the imagination of really an international crowd.
MM: Yeah, most definitely. I think that’s one of the things that’s really great about Lion Fight, is that you guys do have your in house stars that are getting title shots, but you also bring in these big international, classic Thai fighter names in to fight – do you think that’s one of the things that makes Lion Fight unique as far as being a North American Muay Thai promotion?
Kent: Yeah, I think what we saw when we first started Lion Fight – Christine Toledo and I, 7 years ago when we started this – one of the things we talked about was being able to bring in this major international talent. We felt that it was important to kind of legitimize what we were doing so that we were bringing in the Yodsanklai Fairtexes, we were bringing in the top Muay Thai fighters on the planet. And obviously our long-term growth was built on and predicated on our ability to develop our American stars and you know, Americans want to see American fighters and really providing a venue or a theater for these people to develop and really be able to compete with the top international fighters out there. You know, Jo’s from Thailand but he lives in the U.S, he’s a very exciting Thai fighter, both he and his manager will fight anybody anytime, and they were really excited about being able to put this fight together.
MM: How happy are you with the growth you all have seen as a promotion over the last 7 years?
Kent: You know, we’ve been really – when you’re in the middle of this, you don’t really realize how big the brand has got. And I kind of look at our partners — we’ve got a partner in London and we’ve got a partner in Australia, and one of the things that I think really hit home for me was when Mark Castagnini who owns Warriors Way in Australia, he said, ‘you know, 5, 10, 15 years ago everybody wanted to go fight in Lumpinee Stadium or Rajadamnern Stadium in Thailand,’ that was kind of the Mecca for Muay Thai, and it still is, but he said all these fighters in Australia and New Zealand, they want to fight in Lion Fight in the U.S, and I just think that it shows that the U.S with its media capacity and its reputation – we’ve got the fight capital of the world, we’re based out of Vegas, I just think it really lends itself to us being able to showcase this amazing sport. I used to train at the Sasiprapa gym in Bangkok, and when I hear that they’ve got some sort of pirated version of Lion Fight and they’re watching it there in the gym, those are the kinds of things that really strike me as how big the brand has grown internationally – and in the U.S, I mean between Scott Zerr and myself we probably get 10 to 15 fighters a day, from points unknown that want to fight for Lion Fight, so it’s certainly gratifying and I think it validates what we originally set out to do.
Kent: Yeah, Joe’s been a big supporter and here’s a guy that’s very well-respected, very knowledgeable, guy’s like – we’ve had Michael Schiavello commentating all of our fights up to this point, Pat Miletich, a UFC Hall of Famer, coming out and saying he’d rather watch Lion Fight than the UFC. And I think with the success of the UFC, they’ve got their fan base and it’s great and we’re trying to focus from maybe a specialization standpoint, if you maybe like standup fighting and maybe you’re not a jiu-jitsu aficionado or a wrestler, and you love the standup fighting with the elbows, then you’re really not going to get a more exciting standup fighting style than Muay Thai, and I think that’s another reason. That’s certainly a lot of the feedback we get from first timers, people that come to Lion Fight at Fox Woods or here in Vegas and they’ve never seen it before, and they’re just amazed – first of all by the technical level of the fighters but also how exciting standup fighting is.
MM: I think we’re going to see more and more of that too. Speaking of which, Chip Moraza-Pollard in the co-main is a classic example of that. Would you like to see more people switch over to Muay Thai if they are more striking based? And how cool has it been to see Chip make that transition so successfully?
Kent: Yeah, it’s something we didn’t see 5 or 6 years ago, before there was a stage everybody just kind of assumed they were going to have to learn to fight on the ground, MMA was really taking over, it was the top combat sport and to see guys like Chip and Anthony Njokuani is another guy, that had formal Muay Thai training before he got involved in MMA, I think we’re starting to see a lot of traditional MMA fighters that say ‘you know, I can’t compete with a guy who wrestles in college or the black belt in jiu-jitsu and I’d much rather stand up and fight’ and now there’s a stage in Lion Fight for them to be able to do that. You know, Cris Cyborg, she had had a lot of Muay Thai fights before she became the MMA superstar, so when we had her on the card it really got a lot of people’s attention, because it showed that here’s another person who had a Muay Thai background and, as you know all of your MMA and UFC fighters have to train in Muay Thai, so there’s a logical marriage there that people seem to understand if you are in the combat sports industry. Having guys kind of bring it full circle, having guys like Joe Rogan be as outspoken as they have been about their support for Lion Fight, it certainly helps us outside of that traditional Muay Thai community.
Kent: Boy, this is really a stacked card. We’ve been really lucky, especially at Fox Woods, we’ve got a lot of people out there and a lot of the gyms involved. I like the co-main event, I think Chip Pollard looked so good in his last fight, Paul Banasiak looked really good, both these guys are stoked about being able to fight for the inaugural Lion Fight title, I think that’s going to be a huge fight and I think that Jo’s fight is going to be another one that really gets people’s attention internationally. You know, we’re trying to run this on two different rails and the rest of the card itself, it’s just stacked. We’ve got so many people that want to be on Lion Fight, it really comes down to a matchmaking standpoint, what are the best, most competitive fights? What are going to be the most exciting fights for the fan base? And I think that’s what this card is really going to show.
MM: Now you talk about running it from both the international and the western perspective, how challenging is it to appeal to western fan bases but still be validated in the Thai and international combat sports community?
Kent: I think there’s a balance. I think everybody really understands what we’re trying to do now. What we’re seeing, and I think it’s really a positive step for Muay Thai and the growth of Lion Fight here in the U.S, is we’re seeing a lot more gyms pop up, a lot more local and regional shows which will be a feeder market into Lion Fight for the sustained growth of – whatever your business is, you’ve got to look to the future, have your 5 year plan, and picture how you see this grow. And I think an integral part of that, aside from social media, aside from television exposure, is getting people to first of all understand what Muay Thai is, and it’s an amazing sport. Even if you don’t want to fight and you just want to go train and you’re a guy or a female in your 30’s or 40’s and you want to get in shape, here’s a way to do that. So I think that it’s all about branding. We talked about the Lion Fight brand, I remember we used to do work with the WBC and the WMC and a lot of these boxing organizations and I was having lunch with Dana White and he said ‘look at what we did, we branded our own belt, we built our own ranking system so that people want to fight for a UFC belt. Why pay a sanctioning body to come in and use their belt and promote their brand?’ It doesn’t make any sense. So what we’ve tried to do is having the Lion Fight brand, getting that out there, having all of the logo stuff and making sure that everything is branded appropriately.
Kent: It’s really satisfying to see Yodsanklai Fairtex at his gym in Thailand and he’s got the Lion Fight belt displayed prominently in his trophy case. That tells you how far – again, the legitimacy is an extremely important part of it. And I think you saw with the alphabet soup of boxing, no one can name who the WBC or WBC title holder is unless you’re probably related to that individual. So, you know, from a branding standpoint, there’s nothing more legitimate than what we’re trying to do and it really comes down to credibility and what people can identify with.
MM: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a promoter?
Kent: Well, I think the biggest challenge is always going to be the financial side of it, the business side of it. The UFC spends some 37 million dollars to build a sport, essentially, to create The Ultimate Fighter, to really educate people as to what it is, to make their combat sport a legitimate sport. I think the challenge for us, and maybe the advantage we have compared to the UFC, is that we’ve got a sport that is already established internationally, but it was never really promoted in the US to the point that it was ever going to reach critical mass or was ever going to reach a national audience. It was never on national tv. One of the things that we felt was really important for us was to get that national audience through AXS TV. And then the challenge, obviously, is once you get that you’ve got to keep to keep the train rolling. Because you’ve got to pay the fighters, you’ve got to pay the travel, you’ve got to pay the meds, you’ve got to pay the hotel. You’ve got to do all these different things, so it’s got to be a viable financial model. That’s the biggest challenge. People always ask me ‘what’s the advice you would give a new promoter?’ And it would be have a lot of money. And be prepared to lose it, because you’re going to lose money the first couple years. I don’t care how efficient you are or how good you are, because there’s a learning curve there, there’s a branding curve that you’re going to have to go through. What we’ve seen with a lot of the promotions that have failed is they think they’re going to promote a fight, and then we’re going to take the money from that and be able to profit, and on and on and you’re just not going to be able to do that. I think that’s what history has told us.
MM: Out of all the combat sports out there, what drew you specifically to Muay Thai? What’s so special about this sport?
Kent: Well, I started training in Tae Kwon Do and then got involved with kickboxing through a friend of mine named Ray Casal, who owns Casal kickboxing in Niagra Falls, NY. He was living in Vegas, so he kind of got me involved with kickboxing and then I started training Muay Thai and trained oversees with Nick Blomgren in Thailand. Being able to be around the sport and to be around the people and the cultural aspects and nuances of what Muay Thai was, it really resonated with me and so it was through my training. And I was a former casino executive and I would always train in the evening — when an opportunity came up for me to put together my own company, this was something that I felt was a void out there, and I figured we could do this, we get a lot of support from the traditional Muay Thai community because of my contacts, with the casino industry, with my business background, here’s a chance for Muay Thai to actually break out into the national narrative of combat sports and kind of coming on the heels of what the UFC had done, I think the timing was absolutely perfect. It’s not that we planned it, it just kind of worked out that way.
MM: Yodsanklai announced that he is retiring. Can I get your reaction to that and what he means to the sport?
Kent: Well, he suffered an injury a while ago and he had to address that. He is getting older, but he’s one of the handful of fighters that anybody in the Muay Thai community knows when you hear his name. I was sad to hear he retired but you never know. You never know if he’s going to stay retired. If he does, he’s been a tremendous ambassador for his sport. Buakaw, Petch, both train at the same gym. He’s another guy that’s just in that handful of names, whether it’s Petch, Buakaw, Yodsanklai, to have those elite kind of fighters – having Yodsanklai be one of our world title holders at Lion Fight was probably our first step in gaining international legitimacy. We wish him nothing but the best.
MM: You guys are responsible for introducing Yodsanklai to a lot of the western audience that maybe didn’t follow Muay Thai, so I just want to thank you for that and wish him the best.
Kent: Yeah, he’s certainly earned it. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. It’s one of the reasons I love Muay Thai so much, these guys are absolute beasts in the ring but they are the nicest, most polite people you are ever going to meet outside the ring and that’s one of the things that a lot of people, when they come to the Lion Fight shows and see the tremendous respect among the fighters. Again, we’ve got a martial art that’s got a cultural background that’s about respect and respecting your sport and your opponents and I think that’s something that seems to sit very well with an American audience.
MM: Why should people tune in on July 28th to watch Lion Fight 37?
Kent: Well, it’s going to be a showcase of the top Muay Thai fighters on the planet. I think our history has shown that we put together the best Muay Thai fights out there. The Lion Fight brand has become the premiere Muay Thai promotion out there. This card is stacked and it’s something that’s going to be a great international card and we’ve got something for all of our American fans. This one is focused out of Fox Woods so we’re going to have a lot of East Coast fighters out there, if you like standup fighting this is not one you’re going to want to miss.
MM: Couldn’t agree more. Well, Scott, anything we missed or anything you’d like to mention before we go?
Kent: Well, I appreciate your support. If you can’t make it to Fox Woods on July 28th then make sure you check it out on AXS TV. We appreciate all the support we get from everyone, it’s a key part of our growth to expand our fan base, so anything we can do to get the word out there. We’ve got a lot of viewing parties all across the United States that people will go to, at a Buffalo Wild Wings or what have you, a Dave & Busters, they’ll invite a bunch of their friends and watch Lion Fight. It’s a great social event even if you can’t make it to the show.
MM: Alright, well thank you, Scott, for taking the time to talk with me, I greatly appreciate it and hope the event is as much a success as we all think it will be.