On the eve of the promotion’s debut UK event at the AO Arena in Manchester, OKTAGON CEO Pavol Neruda is immensely excited about the MMA promotion’s expansion into the region.
Speaking to InsiderSport, Neruda praised the passion of UK MMA fans and revealed the fan engagement boost that OKTAGON has received through collaborations with Channel 4 and DAZN.
Insider Sport: Firstly, can you tell us about the event on Saturday evening and how has it been in your effort to break the UK market?
Pavol Neruda: We are incredibly excited to break into the UK market this Saturday with OKTAGON 48 at the AO Arena in Manchester – the stage is set for an incredible night.
It’s the first time we are bringing the show to the UK and we are going to showcase what we have already been doing across Europe. The show will feature a combination of super high-quality MMA, and amazing personal stories, including the fight between Jake Quickenden and Paul Smith. We also have the final of the reality TV show Octagon Challenge England versus Ireland that we have been broadcasting on Channel 4 and DAZN. All three of these elements that we’re bringing to Manchester provide a real taste of what we are doing. It will be an amazing night with a lot of great fights, a title fight as well as the main event.
Manchester is a great city, we feel very comfortable here – the fans are fantastic and we are very happy to be starting our journey at the AO Arena in Manchester.
Insider Sport: Are you able to give us more detail on your ambitions to be the Champions League of MMA and what this entails?
We just want to show that ‘we can be the best in the world like nobody else can be’. We strongly believe that we can conquer the European market and be absolutely the best entertainment for fans, not just in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Czechia and Poland, but all around Europe.
Our long-term goal is to create the type of big show that the whole of Europe will be watching and Saturday night is one huge step on the route to those plans. That’s very much why we said we want to be like the Champions League in the world of combat sports.
Insider Sport: Can you tell us more about the importance of the partnership with Channel 4 and how that can maximise fan engagement for Oktagon in the UK?
OKTAGON and Channel 4 have a great relationship. We are very happy that we have a big broadcaster on board for collaboration. We bring great numbers on their platform. They are very happy, especially on their YouTube – our projects on there have been very successful. It also makes me very happy to engage the MMA fans in the UK and Ireland, they are some of the best fans in the world and they are really hungry to consume the sport and the stories we are delivering and, in my opinion, Channel 4 is the perfect platform to deliver this.
We are also working with the DAZN globally and in the UK as well. So, with these platforms, we couldn’t ask for a better way to deliver what we do and engage MMA fans.
The relationship between OKTAGON and Channel 4 gives us pride and we are excited to see it continue to develop.
Insider Sport: The YouTube numbers you have mentioned, the narratives you have told on YouTube, can you talk more on this and how it can translate into filling arenas?
We are trying to spread these stories and this content as far as possible; we want people to watch at home on TV screens and cell phones. These fighters deserve to be watched by as many people as possible.
In Stage to the Cage, for example, Jake and Paul are just two regular people, they are not fighters. They lost 20 kilos in the last 10 months and are really preparing for this fight. It’s very different from other celebrity fights – both of these two have been on an amazing journey and that’s what people want to see.
Even the hardcore fans are into it, they respect both of them because they see them training hard and giving everything into this project.
Insider Sport: I did want to ask you about PFL’s looming acquisition of Bellator and what this means for competition in European MMA?
Any form of competition is always good. Whilst we are still very humble, I can tell that we understand the European mentality way more than them and that’s a real advantage.
Right now, we are the best-selling MMA promotion in Europe. Last year, we sold the most tickets by far, way more than UFC, Bellator or PFL in Europe. We also have a very big following on social media and it’s mostly people from Europe. So, we can work with this audience and build something that is for European fans.
With the likes of Bellator and PFL, you never know what they will bring, but we are mostly focused on ourselves because we have this philosophy. Every minute you spend thinking about your competitors, you are losing time that you can spend to make yourself better. So that’s why we are constantly focusing on our product to be better.
Insider Sport: How significant is the commercial opportunity within UK and European MMA and what steps has Oktagon taken to take advantage of this?
Right now, our aim is to become the best domestic show in the UK and Ireland for next year, that’s why we have booked the venues for more shows in 2024. I think we have a different approach – we are more fan-oriented and focused on building the narratives and the storytelling. Doing this we are of course looking to collaborate with brands and people who share our vision for success.
It’s fantastic that we are here and we will do our best to deliver a great show, which people will love.