Mixed martial arts and events promoter Fight League Atlantic is finding success in an increasingly popular podcast while pandemic restrictions have the sport in a choke hold.
Derek Clarke, who together with business partner Jon Foster runs FLA, said they had previously run wrestling and jiu jitsu events across Canada under another business but their first big MMA event was a sold-out show at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre in Truro in February.
Industry heavyweight UFC had contacted them to have bouts included on its UFC Fight Pass streaming service. They had plans for follow-up features and branching out to New Brunswick and Newfoundland, but then the world changed. COVID-19 took the entire sporting world down and they found themselves grappling for some way to get through.
“We had a lot of steam coming behind us,” Clarke said in a telephone interview on Friday. “And then like everything else, it just kinda (went) kaput.”
And the concert promotion side of FLA is also on the mat.
“We were thinking about possibly putting on a concert in the fall, like a festival-type thing, and moving forward in the next couple of years with that, and who knows if that's even going to be allowed any more.”
Clarke and Foster are both experienced Brazilian jiu jistu brown belts. Clarke also works in the travel industry and Foster owns two gyms in the Annapolis Valley, all of which had to shut down, too.
Which led them to the podcast.
“It's kind of something, again, we'd always wanted to do and just kind of didn't really have time with putting together all these events and working full time,” Clarke said. “All of a sudden this came, and people were asking 'you should be interviewing people,' there's lots of connections there in the industry. And from there we started reaching out to our contacts, (former Bellator MMA champion) Ben Askren and Kelly Hrudey from Hockey Night in Canada. There's lots of heavy MMA names we've had on and other people coming up like some musicians.”
Other fighters they've had or are planning to have on the show include Frank Trigg, Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Rory MacDonald and Matt Hughes.
“So the idea is to start bringing fighters on that have fought and kind of go through the fights a little bit. But not only that, musicians, like Wintersleep's going to come on and do a concert, or Lowell Campbell's going to come on. Just things like that.”
Thousands of followers
The goal is to kind of follow American comedian and MMA celebrity Joe Rogan's model of podcast success.
“And it's really taken off so far, and people seem to really enjoy it,” Clarke said.
“I guess when you're involved in the game and everybody's sitting at home doing the same thing, so everybody's interested. And it's really nice because people are talking again, face-to-face it seems, so it's good in some ways, I guess.”
Clarke said they're at about 10,000 followers on Facebook and 3,000 on Instagram and growing. But the videos are hitting about 100,000 views, with offers of sponsorships and product placements.
He said he'd like to expand into round-table discussions of a wide variety of topics and guests.
He stressed he wants to share a message of supporting locals and “kind of being there for one another in this hard time.
“Obviously our province has had a horrible, horrible last few weeks, so just be there for one another and talk to one another, I guess, and that's the whole idea of this.”
Clarke said he's been in discussions with the Nova Scotia Combat Sports Authority to possibly do events without fans in the stands when the government allows it.
“Same as concerts, we'd love to do virtual concerts, because I don't know if people are going to be interested in going,” he said.
“It's hard times. Fighting kind of gets lumped into it. We'll be last but hockey will be first. That's the frustrating part. And hockey's just as bad or worse. So who knows what'll happen.”