Eric Rafiq’s first MMA show was held on Aug. 15 of this year but the promoter began building his company eight years ago.
Rafiq, who says he specializes in “taking businesses that are under stress and making them profitable,” first dreamt of starting an MMA promotion in 2001. “We wanted to get a proper business structure in place” before promoting fights, Rafiq says. His company, Xtreme Kombat League, established offices in Windsor and suburban Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Dubai before it held a single fight.
Rafiq’s global approach reflected three years of market analysis. “We looked at America, we looked at Europe, and we ended up in Dubai,” he says. Rafiq worked closely with the emirate, establishing an office in the prestigious Dubai Tower. The reward for his diligence is an exclusive license to promote mixed martial arts, kickboxing, and boxing in the emirate and a promotional relationship with the Dubai Shopping Festival, an annual gathering of the super wealthy.
On Aug. 15, Rafiq & Co. started traveling down “The Road to Dubai” at the Convocation Centre at Eastern Michigan University in Detroit. Qualifiers from that card were selected to join the cast of “Xtreme Fighter,” a reality competition that will start at the end of Sept. from Dubai.
Thirty-two fighters in all will travel to Dubai and train under Pat Miletich and Dan Severn. Each day’s activities will be streamed live on MMAActionLive.com, a property of the XKL, and viewers will have the opportunity to vote on which fighters are followed by camera crews as they train and explore the desert metropolis. Over the course of the show, the fighters will compete for the right to compete for championship belts in several divisions at the XKL show to coincide with the Shopping Festival in February.
According to Rafiq, those belts will be made of 22-carat gold and Swarovski crystal but the XKL’s generous plans don’t stop there. The promoter says that the XKL intends to solicit sponsorships for fighters but will not take a finders fee. He also says he intends to create a pension fund for XKL fighters.
The XKL’s promotional relationship with the Dubai Shopping Festival may help bring these pie-in-the-sky plans to fruition. A city of nearly two million, Dubai is largest of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, a cluster of small oil-rich kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula. Abu Dhabi, known to many MMA fans as the home of the Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission grappling tournament, is the capital of the UAE and its second most populous city. UAE royals have long been patrons of martial arts, particularly grappling arts, and XKL execs are confident that Dubai will be a solid base for expansion.
“We plan to hold five to seven shows per year starting with India, South Africa, Germany, Malaysia, and then back to Michigan,” Rafiq says.