Even in a highly individual sport like mixed martial arts, where a fighter’s success depends almost entirely on his or her own performance, a fighter is still generally only as good as the team behind them. The same can also be true for an actual MMA promotion.
The Baltimore-based Shogun Fights has experienced steady growth under owner John Rallo since its launch in 2009. The company routinely sells thousands of tickets for its twice-a-year fight cards at Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore. Rallo and Shogun Fights has since joined up with Alliance MMA, a company that includes other regional MMA promotions in places like Washington, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana.
“One of the bosses at Alliance came up with the idea to put regional promotions together and unify in order to solicit bigger televisions deals and venues,” Rallo told Combat Press. “Shogun Fights is kind of an anomaly, in that we’re very fortunate to have support from the town and people of Baltimore. Our first year with Alliance was successful — we hit our earnings goals and we’re looking forward to future benefits.”
An example of those benefits includes when Shogun Fights holds its first card outside the state of Maryland. The promotion visited the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., in early April. The 11-fight card was headlined by former The Ultimate Fighter winner Colton Smith.
“It was originally branded as another show, but it was decided to rebrand it for Shogun Fights, and we had about three to four weeks to put it together with the local promoter,” Rallo said. “It was a total team effort. We had personnel from Georgia help out, and other people for marketing and for the matchmakers. We brought in around 2,300 people at a 2,800-seat arena.
“They want Shogun Fights to come back, and we’re discussing future events at other locations. [Former UFC event coordinator and current Alliance MMA Director of Fighter Relations] Burt Watson played an instrumental role also, and Hard Rock treated us very well. I hope we get to come back often.”
Rallo is now turning his attention to Shogun Fights’ 18th card in Baltimore on Saturday, April 14. The 11-fight card features three title bouts and a guest appearance by former UFC bantamweight Urijah Faber. In addition to featuring talent from other gyms and academies in Maryland, including Evolve Academy, Clinch Academy, Team Lloyd Irvin and Rallo’s own Team Ground Control, the organization is constantly on the lookout for new fighters to feature in one of the bigger regional promotions in the eastern United States.
“The fighters are your asset,” Rallo said. “They bring the fans, and they perform and they put asses in the seats. I know they come trained and can handle themselves. I’m looking at their style — if they’re entertaining for other guys to compete against — and if they can make weight and pass their medicals. I deal with reputable schools, and when I go to amateur shows to corner guys, I’m looking at other guys too and looking for the complete package.”
In addition to thorough scouting, Rallo is working on improving Shogun Fights’ social-media presence. He would like to see local media outlets increase their coverage of Shogun Fights and the local MMA scene, too.
“In order to get to the next level, we need to get the local media on board,” Rallo said. “We’re a homegrown, Maryland product. We use the same arena that the UFC has been on and popular acts play in all the time, but we get no local news stories on fighters. We’ve done most of what we can do organically, and we have great stories to tell with fighters like Rob Sullivan and ‘Binky’ Jones, who recently retired and works with troubled youth and kids. These are the type of stories people should know about, then they would buy a ticket and see a quality product.”
Although Rallo has plans to take Shogun Fights to other venues in the future, including the MGM National Harbor Casino in Maryland, the key to Rallo preventing complacency from setting in is to treat every Shogun Fights card like it’s his last one.
“I’m still waiting for the wheels to come off and God to say, ‘You’re done,’” Rallo admitted. “I’m fortunate to make a living with what I love to do, and I’m always hustling around to squeeze that last ticket.”