Diversification: Miletich Looking Beyond MMA

July 29, 2008

Greg Norman may have choked yet again at the British Open last week, but there is no denying his success as one of the great sports “brands” of all time. With a net worth reportedly near about $400 million, and numerous successful ventures including a clothing line, his career is a blueprint for any professional athlete looking to turn sports success into business success. It’s too early to say when MMA will produce its first Greg Norman but there is no shortage of aspirants.

Randy Couture, The Gracies, Wanderlei Silva and Matt Serra, to name a few, have established themselves as forces in the business of MMA through successful schools, fight promotions and endorsement deals. Another is Pat Miletich, who spoke with MMAPayout.com about his plans, in areas ranging from personal fitness to entertainment.

While the two-time UFC champ prides himself on not talking business with his fighters, “I don’t talk money with people, I talk training,” there’s no denying his ambition outside the ring. While Monte Cox remains his manager, Miletich recently signed with Arizona-based Gaylord Sports, whose client list includes Phil Mickelson, Bronson Arroyo, Jennie Finch and Mark Mulder. His hope is that Gaylord will give him access to the type of national endorsement deals typical of mainstream sports. Miletich has also signed on with World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts and has served as its VP of Fighter & Promoter Relations for the past six months.

WAMMA’s goal, among others, is to establish true “pound for pound” champions through independent rankings and by certifying fights between fighters from different organizations. Last week’s Affliction matchup was WAMMA’s inaugural event and Fedor Emelianenko is now its heavyweight champion. While WAMMA is still very much in “startup mode”, Miletich told us the company’s business model aims for revenues from sponsors as opposed to fight promoters. In theory at least, this will allow the organization to remain independent and objective. In addition to Affliction, Adrenaline, Pro Elite and Strikeforce have all signed on. WAMMA has also met with the UFC, which according to Miletich, “wants to sit back and watch how things develop,” but has not dismissed the idea.

On the training front, Miletich has also built an affiliate network of ten fighting schools, both in the U.S. and overseas. He conducts about 12 seminars a year, though by his own admission he’s “pulled back a bit” to focus on his other business ventures. He continues to be heavily involved in working with fighters at his 20,000 square foot training facility in Bettendorf, Iowa. Typically, 30-40 athletes are training there at any given time. Fighters can apply via his mfselite.com website, and are eligible based on a background check and blood tests. Fees are determined based on length of stay. He’s also developed a fitness program that combines his own Fighting System with the fitness training methods of the U.S. Special Forces. The program can be customized depending on sport and fitness level. So far, Miletich has trained athletes in sports ranging from wrestling to BMX. He envisions the program being offered through a national fitness chain and is currently in discussions with potential partners.

As if all of this weren’t enough, Miletich is branching out into entertainment and even the telecom business. He choreographed fight sequences in the Paul Walker straight-to-DVD movie “Bobby Z,” and is in discussions with a major network for a reality show for which he’d serve as executive producer. He also co-founded the text marketing company CellAsap (cellasap.com).

With this highly varied – some would say scattershot – approach, what does Miletich hope to accomplish at the end of the day besides profits? “I don’t need a 150 foot yacht with a butler,” he said. “I want to take care of my family, send my kids to school and make a positive impact on the sport. I want to make more of an impact as a person in the background than a person in the ring.” There’s no denying he’s been a success already on all of those fronts. Whether he becomes MMA’s first “Shark”, however, remains to be seen.

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Steve Curtis has been writing about the MMA industry in both the U.S. and Japan since 2004. A regular contributor to Sherdog.com, Curtis holds a BA (with honors) in Communications and Political Science from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA in Finance and Media Management from Fordham University. He works as a communications and marketing executive at a Fortune 500 company.

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