Titan FC CEO Jeff Aronson: “I’m Different From 99% of Other People in MMA”
Titan Fighting Championship CEO Jeff Aronson has worn many hats in his lifetime, however it can be argued with great corroborating evidence that his unique combination of business and combat sports know-how has never been put to use quite as well as it has since he acquired the organization back in December 2013.
Aronson purchased the buoying-but-not-thriving promotion—which had until then barely left its headquarters of Kansas since its inception under founder Joe Kelly in 2005—and immediately began landmark changes, first in securing a new broadcast partner and, shortly after, by snatching up some of the best talent he could find, both in front of and behind the cameras.
“Before I bought Titan, they were on AXS TV and it was a very different scenario,” Aronson said during a fifteen minute phone conversation this last Friday. “When I came in and bought the company out, I decided that the most important thing that I needed to do was establish an identity and a big part of that was getting a network TV deal, which we did when signed on with CBS Sports. Every show, if you look at it, the production value has gone up dramatically. I’ve brought in Eric Talent, who was one of the producers for UFC, and we brought in Rhett Butler, who used to be Burt Watson’s second at UFC and also ran the back of the house for Strikeforce and Golden Boy Promotions. We’ve brought in a team of people now that are super experienced in the industry, who really understand what it takes to put on a world-class show. That’s what we’ve been doing and the growth rate has really been monumental.”
He came by his fanfare for the sport honestly. Growing up in New York during his teenager years, Aronson first trained in Aikido, but after meeting Renzo Gracie he transitioned into Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“It’s been an evolution but it’s something that I’ve always loved, watched and been involved in,” he said. “To me, the most amazing part of mixed martial arts was taking all these different disciplines from 20 years ago, seeing which disciplines reigned supreme, and now seeing the evolution of martial arts in 20 years eclipse 1,000 years of martial arts in terms of bringing all of those different skill levels together into what works inside the cage. It used grappler vs. striker or striker vs. grappler but now those dudes are gone. You can’t rely on one discipline anymore and be successful on a high level.”
Ever heard of Cash4Gold.com? Perhaps you vaguely remember seeing their ad air during Superbowl XLIII. Well, that was one of Aronson’s enterprises, and when the company began sponsoring fighters, Aronson took note of some unscrupulous behavior going on regarding managers and their clients, and along with friends MC Hammer (yes, that MC Hammer), Lex McMahon and Ivy League-educated attorney Nima Safapour—all combat sports fans and part-time practitioners—he set out to rectify some of the poor practices going on behind the scenes. Alchemist Management was born, and soon after began representing some of the sport’s biggest stars, from Rory MacDonald and Brendan Schaub to Stefan Struve, Nate Marquardt and “Rowdy” Bec Hyatt, guiding them all to great success with the enlisted help of Fightnomics author and MMA statistician Reed Kuhn, who works as Alchemist’s strategic advisor.
Although Aronson has since stepped down as president of Alchemist to focus completely on Titan, he acknowledges that the many roles he’s played in the sport—fan, practitioner, sponsor and manager—have segued quite uniquely into his current role as Titan CEO.
“I think, from a business perspective, I have a very different feel than 99% of the other people involved in the sport,” he said. “I know what it takes to run a successful business and how to run it correctly. From a sponsorship aspect, what I saw happening in the MMA community—the way deals were going down—when I started Alchemist was really low-level. It was like boxing was 30 years ago. Managers having checks sent to them with fighters only getting a part of it. I think creating Alchemist and really defining MMA’s first superagency, if you want to call it that, with Lex McMahon, MC Hammer and Nina Safapour, signing some of the top artists and fighters in the world and dealing with this industry for so long has really given me a totally different insight and perspective to running an MMA promotion. I’ve been lucky enough to have those perspectives. I see where the fighters are coming from, I know what the fans want, what the business needs to succeed, and you have to have that.”
Taking a hint from maligned promoters such as Bellator MMA’s now-ousted former president Bjorn Rebney, Aronson has placed an enormous priority on fighter and fan happiness. Titan FC offers finish bonuses across the board and every single fighter has a “Zuffa out” clause in their contract, ensuring that, if the big show does come a-calling, fighters have the liberty to pursue their dreams at the next level. Verily, he is under no illusion that Titan is a competitor of the UFC’s. He instead refers to his organization as “a fan and fighter appreciation league” where he is “cultivating these guys who are vets and top prospects from around the world.”
So far, it’s working, as viewership continues to rise, and he expects it to continue doing so regardless of how many of his fighters are recruited by MMA’s proprietary eponym, the UFC.
“If I the UFC should come calling for a fighter—chances are it’s going to be after a few fights—if I have something to do with cultivating that talent and bringing them over, fans are going to be tuning in because they want to see that next athlete, that next Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey—whoever it may be,” he explained. “I think that’s something we’ve set ourselves up perfectly for. Both pro and college football are incredibly popular, there’s all different types of basketball leagues… there’s a ton of stuff, and I consider all of my top-level guys just as good as any UFC guys. Just because someone’s not in the UFC doesn’t mean they’re not UFC-caliber or top five in the world—or top three. It just means they haven’t had the opportunity to perform on that stage yet.”
Footnote: As MMA Owl is a South Florida-based MMA website, I was compelled to ask when Aronson—himself a Florida resident—planned on bringing Titan FC to the Sunshine State. As it turned out, the wait wouldn’t be long at all, as Titan FC 31: Mike Ricci vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida has officially been scheduled to take place in October in Tampa, FL.
“I’m sure you’re going to see a lot of Florida MMA talent on that card,” he said. “It’ll be loaded with it.”
Titan FC 30: Magalhaes vs. Brilz is set to take place on September 26 at the Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, Texas. It will air on CBS Sports Newtowrk at 10 p.m. ET, with the prelims streaming live on the CBS Sports website at 8:30 p.m. ET. Click HERE for more information.
- Alchemist Management
- AXS TV
- Bellator MMA
- Bjorn Rebney
- Brazilian jiu-jitsu
- Brendan Schaub
- CBS Sports
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- Jason Brilz
- Jeff Aronson
- Jesse Scheckner
- Jon Jones
- Mike Ricci
- Mixed Martial Arts
- MMA Owl
- Nate Marquardt
- Reed Kuhn
- Renzo Gracie
- Ronda Rousey
- Stefan Struve
- Titan FC
- Titan Fighting Championship
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- Vinny Magalhaes
- Yoshiyuki Yoshida