The King of King of Kombat
What Ron Hernandez has learned about being an MMA promoter
By Richard Whittaker,
3:50PM, Fri. Apr. 4, 2008
It seems like it's a good time to be Ron Hernandez, the mastermind behind rising Austin-based MMA fighting league King of Kombat. Saturday night, April 5, sees the third KoK event, World War III, at the Crockett Center, and there couldn't be a better time to be in the fight game.
"Did you hear about Strikeforce getting a TV deal?" he said, as the eight-sided ring was being constructed behind him. The California-based promotion now has a late-night slot with NBC, and that's got to be good for the whole industry. With this being KoK's third event, there's been a momentum shift, because now Hernandez and his fighters are a proven force. But he's not resting on his laurels, and Hernandez says he's learning from experience. "For the last fights, I had some partners helping me out that I don't think lead me in the right direction. This time, it's all me," he explained.
The first big difference will be how the card is structured: last time around, it was clashing styles, which lead to some very brief bouts. Not this time. "I go with my heart, and I go with the better fighters. I have six undefeated fighters on this card, and I'm matching up striker to striker, wrestler to wrestler, not striker and wrestler. You get an opportunity for these fighters to excel in their arts."
The learning curve goes out beyond the ring. Being 2-0 on events, Hernandez has attracted more sponsors, (going from two in November to 15 now), has a better grasp of running a promotion, and has the equipment to do it. "I own the ring, I own the linens, I own the lights," he said.
The biggest change isn't what he owns, but the relationship with the fighters. "I'm getting my Austin league guys signed on a four-fight contract. They'll fight for me for the rest of the year," he explained. "That helps build up the fighters. The crowd knows who they're going to see and they get to follow their careers, and not see different guys every time." According to Hernandez, this means not only does he gain, but the benefits of having sponsors can be passed on, like having a chiropracter around. "My goal is not just to sponsor the fights, but to get these fighters supplements on their expenses so they don't have to worry about their high income."
Being a bit more established means it's easier to get international talent (this card sees fighters from Brazil, Mexico, the UK and Africa), but Hernandez is formalizing that with some interleague deals and talent exchanges ("We'll rotate, east, south, west and Japan.") Getting the KoK name out there will be easier with new national DVD distribution deals and, before the end of the year, the big game plan – pay-per-view.
As far as the event itself, Hernandez is a fan as much as he is a professional, and is marking out for some expected high-points. "I'm excited about the welterweight championship, Kamal (Shalrous) against Jeff Davis. Those guys are neck-and-neck as far as skills, their records are very similar, and I think it's going to be a great bang-out." The other big match-up brings 16-time Muy Thai champ Chidi Njoku to the ring: after a victorious MMA debut, he faces 3-0 Conan Cano, who comes with a remarkable reputation that belies those stats. "Conan? In his last fight, we had five fighters who didn''t want to fight him. He's a monster, but we've got two monsters in the ring that aren't scared of each other."