Passion is something that gets lost in many endeavors. Too often, passion gives way to greed in business. That’s how companies like Wells Fargo end up with such a broken subculture. Fortunately, in the fight world, when passion is not the “why?” factor, and greed is, those promotions don’t usually have much longevity.
Lion Fight CEO Scott Kent is sitting on the right side of the fence between passion and greed. Kent, a former casino executive, is, first and foremost, very passionate about his craft. We’re not talking about his craft as a promoter, but his craft as a Muay Thai practitioner.
“I started in taekwondo, started in kickboxing, and then fell in love with Muay Thai,” Kent told Combat Press. “I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Thailand to train and kind of immersed myself in the sport and the culture. I had one of those Jerry Maguire moments when I said I love the sport so much, and it’s not being promoted properly, I felt, in the U.S., and I was able to sit down with Christine Toledo, and we put together a game plan. We brought in some investors, and we started in Primm, Nevada. Now, we’re all over the U.S. and we’re cross-promoting internationally. We felt it was our calling. It’s certainly challenging, and anything with a small business like that, you have a lot of ups and downs, but we’re thrilled to be where we’re at.”
Lion Fight is currently the top Muay Thai promotion in North America. Its international exposure is growing rapidly. While mixed martial arts currently has a foothold in some of the major international markets, there are Muay Thai fighters and promotions all over the world that have gained much more than a cult following. While MMA is becoming more and more about money and fame, Muay Thai is all about passion.
Kent’s job is not an easy one. Even though Lion Fight is a fairly small organization from a corporate perspective, there are fighters and camps all over the world vying for a chance to fight on one for the company’s many cards. It makes Kent’s job a nearly 24-hour-a-day endeavor. A day in the life of Kent is not a typical one.
“I wake up to fighters and camps all over the world in different time zones, so that’s how I start my day,” Kent explained. “So, I grab a Starbucks, and I tear into it. I start reviewing videos of different fighters, different match-ups. As we come into 2017, we are looking at renewing our television contracts. We’re looking at our contracted fighters — looking for good match-ups for them and exciting fights for our fan base.
“Beyond that, we’re dealing with people on sponsors. We’re dealing with the different commissions and satisfying their requirements. So, it’s a full-time gig for me, and I absolutely love it. It’s so rewarding, and you never feel better than after a fight. You’re just exhausted. It’s just great at this stage in my life to be a part of this. It really transcends a job. It’s a passion for me.”
How many people can look themselves in the mirror and honestly say that their career transcends a job? Not very many. Kent is certainly one of the lucky ones.
Entering its sixth year, Lion Fight has put on 31 events. The 32nd show is slated for tonight, live on AXS TV from the Tropicana Las Vegas Casino Hotel Resort. The top Muay Thai promotion is finally back where it all began.
“We’re coming home,” Kent said. “We’re actually coming back to our home turf, back to Las Vegas, after about a year. We worked out a deal with the Tropicana on the Las Vegas Strip, and we’ve been getting a lot of requests to bring Lion Fight back to Vegas, the fight capital of the world. We’re thrilled to have our October 21 show, Lion Fight 32, at the Tropicana. We’re thrilled to be there, and we’re thrilled to be with AXS, our television partner. We’re ready to show Las Vegas, again, what world-class Muay Thai and striking really is.”
Las Vegas has always been a home to fighting, and, more recently, AXS TV has become the primary outlet for many fighting organizations to showcase their products. The partnership between AXS and Lion Fight has proved to be a mutually beneficial relationship. Passion breeds passion, and this is very evident between these two organizations.
“We’ve been on AXS TV now for three years, and that’s helped us exponentially — not only here in the U.S., but as an international brand,” Kent said. “We’ve always focused on having the best international talent on the Lion Fight cards. We think that’s borne out by the fact that Muay Thai Grand Prix in the U.K. and Warrior’s Way in Australia have requested to team up with us to kind of co-promote all of our events and create this environment where I can send some of my fighters to England or Australia and vice versa. It gives our young fighters an opportunity to fight internationally and really grow the brand.
“The fact that we’re the biggest thing in the U.S. in Muay Thai carries a lot of weight internationally. I think that’s something we really focused on in the last year, and I can see us growing exponentially with the partnership of AXS TV and the Fight Network, which gets us out to another 30 countries. The future looks very good for Lion Fight.”
The near future of Lion Fight starts tonight. The Lion Fight 32 headliner is a much different main event than originally expected. Malaipet Sasiprapa was set to face Ky Hollenbeck for the middleweight title, but Hollenbeck suffered a knee injury earlier this week. So, super welterweight champ, and one of the top Muay Thai fighters in the world, “Smokin’” Jo Nattawut stepped in on three days’ notice to take on what could easily be billed as a short-notice superfight.
Tonight’s event is not one to be missed, but Lion Fight has a big November card on the docket as well.
“After the Tropicana, we’re back out at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino on November 18th,” Kent said. “We’re going to have Regian Eersel, who is going to be fighting for a belt, and Antonina Shevchenko, who has been a social-media phenomenon. We’ve gotten a very positive response to her after her Lion Fight debut on the last card.”
Shevchenko is not only the older sister of rising UFC star Valentina Shevchenko, but she is also one of the best female strikers in the world. Antonina is a multiple-time world champion who was supposed to make her Lion Fight debut in July, but the fight was scrapped after her opponent had to pull out. She was able to come back at Lion Fight 31 in September and secure the lightweight strap. She is a huge hit for the promotion.
“We had to get her on that last card,” Kent said. “We felt it was an obligation to make sure we had her featured, and she put on a dominant performance. She’s very professional, and we love dealing with her and her team. And, her sister’s doing so well that there’s a great synergy there that Lion Fight is able to be involved with, which I think raises our visibility even beyond the traditional Muay Thai options.”
While U.S.-based MMA promotions have gradually become less and less about American fighters only, Lion Fight has done it right from the beginning. The talent pool is chock full of international fighters, and this is helping the promotion with rapid global reach.
“I think you’re going to see the Lion Fight brand expanding,” Kent said. “I think we’re going to be looking at — whether it’s acquisitions or whether it’s licensing — some way to tap into the momentum that Lion Fight has internationally. We want it to be with people who have a similar mindset on how to grow the sport [and] have the business and the financial acumen to commit to the long-term growth of the sport. That’s what you’re going to see over the next 12-24 months.”
Some promoters are greedy, some are lazy, and some are just plain egotistical. The best thing Lion Fight has going for it is that the captain is none of the above. Kent is a regular guy and an astute businessman. At the end of the day, he is quite possibly the most passionate promoter in the fight business. He doesn’t do this because he has to. He does it because he wants to, and he still makes time to get himself in the gym.
“I train a couple times a week,” said Kent. “It really depends on my schedule. Lion Fight is my first priority, and we do a lot of promotional stuff, a lot of interviews, and we’re doing three fights in three months, so you don’t get a lot of off-time. Because of the time differences with the fighters, I’m up at two in the morning, talking to camps, talking to fighters, and reviewing tape. That’s what I choose to do, and I absolutely love it.”