by Kevin Garvey
MMA has seen many new organizations try to go head to head with the UFC and fail. EliteXC, Affliction, Bodog and the IFL all tried to compete with the UFC, but soon realized why the UFC is the number 1 MMA organization in the world. It's nice to think big, but in MMA you have to be realistic. The UFC is number 1 for a reason. It has the best fighters on the planet and the best brand recognition. And when it comes to business, Dana White and the Ferttitta brothers take a no holds barred approach to beating the competition, which is why the UFC is still the undisputed champion of MMA promotions.
One organization, however, Lou Neglia's Ring of Combat, has managed to thrive where so many others have failed. The ROC is one of the longest running shows outside of the UFC, and the longest sanctioned promotion outside of the UFC. And there is good reason for this. Instead of trying to compete with the UFC, Lou Neglia sees his promotion as one where fighters can hone their skills to such a level that they can move on to the big show. Indeed, where other promoters try to lock up their fighters into contracts that forbid them from fighting in the UFC, Lou encourages his fighters to move upwards and onwards.
"The UFC deserves its place in history," Lou said. "They are the World Series of MMA. I have a great relationship with the UFC and even have their logo on one of my event posters. When a fighter tells me he has on offer from the UFC, I gladly rip up his contract."
As a former kickboxing world champion himself, Lou understands the ambitions of professional fighters, and has a keen insight into what it takes to be a high level professional athlete. He would never dream of trying to stifle their growth. Lou takes great pride in developing the talents of his fighters, to the extent that an astounding 44 fighters who have fought at the ROC have moved on to the UFC, including current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Many more if you count those who have moved on to Bellator, the WEC and Strikeforce.
Not only is Neglia the CEO of Ring of Combat, he is the matchmaker too. And he's a tough matchmaker–there are no "gimme" fights at the ROC. In this way, Lou prepares fighters for the adversity they will face in the Octagon. He does his best to give fighters the kinds of tough fights they need to take the ultimate step in their MMA career.
"If you give people easy fights, what happens when they get to the UFC?" Lou said. "The best fighters are in the UFC and you need to be prepared."
This mindset is why so many of his fighters have gone on to have great success in the Octagon. Chris Weidman is the latest example of a fighter who fought his entire pro career at the Ring of Combat and is now undefeated in three fights in the Octagon. His tough fights at the ROC have prepared him for the tough fights in the UFC.
But the ROC is about more than just finding and developing new talent. The shows always feature "superfights" which include some of the sport's biggest names from all around the world. At ROC XVIII, for example, the card featured fighters from Brazil, Canada and even the Republic of Georgia, making it a true international event.
This is all part of Lou's strategy to make the Ring of Combat the biggest show not competing with the UFC. And his formula is working. He is providing fighters with an opportunity of a lifetime, as well as giving MMA fans what they want most: the best fights you can find outside of the UFC.