While MMA is often referred to as “human chess” due to the complexities of movements seen in the cage, at its core, the sport is unquestionably about the moments that bring fans to their feet.
Whether it’s the big knockout punch that even the most casual of fan can understand, or a slick submission hold that forces a fighter to choose between tap and snap, finishes are what makes fans happy to fork over their hard-earned cash to watch a night of competitive prizefighting.
So how can a promoter ensure he’s maximizing his chances of getting as many finishes as possible on any given night? Well, short of booking uncompetitive squash matches – which isn’t exactly a strong longterm plan – Victory FC owner Ryan Stoddard said he’s figured it out.
He’s forking over his hard-earned cash to reward fighters who put away their opponent inside the distance.
“For me, what I believe is going to give you the best entertainment, the best TV – and more importantly, prepare athletes in the best possible way for a future in the UFC – is you get them to understand and be motivated to go out and finish that fight, not necessarily just get the win,” Stoddard told MMAjunkie. “And nobody is more incentivized better than with money.”
Stoddard’s plan at Victory FC, a Nebraska-based promotion, is simple. Rather than the traditional “show” and “win” payouts available in most organizations, he makes a third, equal pay segment offer, as well: a finish bonus.
Stoddard said a typical fighter in the Midwest may make $1,000 to show and another $1,000 to win. In Victory FC, that same fighter might be offered $800 to show, $800 to win and another $800 if the fight results in a finish.
“There’s that opportunity to make a little bit more money than they would on another show and go out perform highly,” Stoddard said. “I liken it to me gambling with the fighters. I’m going to pay out a little bit more than I would per show, but in the long run, it’s going to be worth it. More importantly, they’re going to be happy because they’re getting the opportunity to make more money.”
Stoddard, who purchased Victory FC from its previous owners in 2010, said his plan is paying dividends. In 2016, the first year the promotion streamed its bouts live on UFC Fight Pass, Stoddard said the company enjoyed a 78 percent finish rate in its professional contests.
While it’s not exactly apples to apples, the UFC saw a 50 percent finish rate in that same period.
Stoddard, who also fought twice professionally following an amateur MMA career, knows it’s tougher to finish opponents the higher up the scale of competition you go. That said, he also believes his promotion’s slot on UFC Fight Pass has brought him better and better fighters with each event.
“These are guys out of MusclePharm, the Blackzilians, Elevation in Colorado, The MMA Lab down in Arizona,” Stoddard said. “These are some of the best of the best of the best, so when you’re able to put those kind of athletes together, they’re going to want to perform because they want to make a name for themselves.
“But they’re also going to want to go out there and make that money.”
Stoddard’s promotion returns to action on Friday at “Victory FC 56: Emerson vs. Stots,” which streams on UFC Fight Pass from Baxter Arena in Omaha, Neb. Seven-time UFC veteran and current two-division Victory FC champ Robert Emerson (18-11) puts his bantamweight belt on the line against undefeated prospect Raufeon Stots (7-0) in the main event.
Fans tuning in for the first time will quickly notice another detail Stoddard believes factors into his promotion’s penchant for finishes: a square cage.
Stoddard said the tradition of the square cage dates back to the promotion’s early days, when it launched in an Iowa skating rink. It’s developed into a bit of a calling card.
“To me, it was something that made Victory different than everybody else,” Stoddard said. “In a sport where everyone wants to essentially try to change the game, do something different or this, that and everything else, I think the subtle differences that set you apart from everything else while still promoting good, quality MMA at the same time is what is going to make you stand out from others, and the square cage does that. More importantly, I mean that’s what combat sports has been done in for however many years.
“The UFC came along, and they went with the octagon because at that time, it was the big, different thing. Well nowadays, a lot of people have circles. A lot of people have decagons or pentagons or whatever else. For us to be able to say we’re the only square in the world is kind of a unique feature, and more importantly, fighters love it. We have a lot of athletes that come in that are very striking-based that if you really watch, they understand how to cut the corners off and utilize the angles and force the fight. I believe that, mixed in with our pay structure, is the reason we have such a high rate of finishes.”
Victory FC joined the UFC Fight Pass lineup in 2016 and hosted nine events on the digital streaming service that year. It was the busiest year in Victory FC history, and Stoddard admitted he probably aged a bit along the way.
That said, he’s happy with the progress his promotion made in its first year on a such a broad platform and believes his company will soon hold a very important role in the sport, likening it to NXT, a professional wrestling organization that helps development talent for the industry leading WWE.
“Anybody can find a guy that’s 9-0 and get him a couple of fights and send him to the UFC – that’s an easy job,” Stoddard said. “I genuinely want to come in and be the NXT of the UFC. I want to really cultivate and develop talent from a very early perspective. You have an individual in Raufeon Stots who was 3-0 when we signed him. He made his debut at VFC 47 in our very first show on Fight Pass, and exactly 14 months later is now main eventing our show. He’s potentially one win away from being in the UFC. He’s been branded a Victory athlete. His last five professional fights have been with us. When he makes that transition to the UFC, the fans are going to know who he is.
“We’re not an NCAA. We’re not a Triple-A. We’re truly, 100 percent cultivating and developing our own talent, which essentially is going to help with the longterm growth of the sport. I believe that will be the difference of where we are versus where some of these organizations are.”
At the end of the day, it’s the fighters who must go in and perform. But Stoddard, who also serves as matchmaker for Victory FC, believes his unique pay structure, unique fighting surface and unique approach to fighter growth have his organization primed for success. And he believes the next step will be on display at Victory FC 56.
“We’re really trying to take everything to the next level,” Stoddard said. “I think a lot of people are really going to enjoy what they see out of us this year.
“I don’t want to be just another show on Fight Pass. I want to be the show on Fight Pass, and I definitely believe we’re headed in that direction.”
For more on Victory FC 56, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.