When Martin “Smash” Brown went along with Lex McMahon, the Chief Operating Officer of the Titan Fighting Championships, on a fight week media tour last December to promote Titan FC 51 in Kazakhstan – the organization’s first foray outside of the United States – he knew the probability of adventure was high.
After all, a quick scroll through McMahon’s social media pages shows a COO who likes to live a little during his many travels, with scenes worthy of the famed “The Most Interesting Man In The World” commercials for Dos Equis beer.
There is a pic of a giant alligator held high as a hunting trophy, alongside images of muay thai training sessions with longtime friend (and former consensus top-rated lightweight) Gesias “JZ” Calvacante during his down time at home in South Florida. There are also the prerequesite promotional money shots from the buildup to Titan FC 51, one of which shows McMahon sitting majestically on a throne in the snows of Turgen’, Almaty as the self-proclaimed “King of the mountains in Kazakhstan.”
So when it was time to sit down to eat with McMahon and some of the Kazakh power players that had a hand in helping bring Titan FC to the country, Brown was ready for anything served his way. Even the horse meat.
“I tore that horse meat up,” Brown jokes.
The milk that he tried while visiting a Kazakh library with McMahon, on the other hand, not so much.
“The camel milk smelled like smoked steak and the horse milk was disgusting, I’d rather headbutt a bullet than drink that stuff,” Brown recounts with a laugh. “But it is so disrespectful to say or act like you don’t like it… so Lex (McMahon) is seeing me struggle, looking at me like, please don’t say anything and embarass me.”
Brown certainly did not embarass, and the exotic locale – and all the unique tastes and smells that come with it – were clearly not a distraction, as he made the most of his time in Kazakhstan, defeating Beibit Nazarov to become the Titan FC lightweight champion.
Now, in the next stop of Titan FC’s continued international expansion, it will be “Smash” defending that title in the Dominican Republic (against local star Johansser Paulino) on October 19 as the headliner for Titan FC 57, from Pabellón de Esgrima Juan Pablo Duarte del Centro Olímpico in Santo Domingo.
For McMahon, the formula that brought Titan FC to the Dominican Republic was the same that led them to Kazakhstan: partnering with a strong third-party partner who has the right connections and can help connect them with the government.
“I had familiarity with Kazakh fighters because I’ve had Kazakh fighters fight for us,” McMahon explains. “I looked at the demographics of the area, the economics in terms of how they spend their money, had the UFC been there before, and are they huge combat sports fans, and the answer was yes.”
“So I found the right party to partner with over there that helped link us into the government. And it’s really the same process here in the Dominican Republic. I found the right partner and they really helped us navigate the landscape on the ground.”
Linking with the upstart Dominican Republic-based MMA organization Fighting Force has clearly opened doors, allowing McMahon to get in and sit down with the Minister of Sports and the Vice Minister of Tourism.
There was also national television coverage of the Titan FC 57 on-sale press conference, which even received placement above the country’s much-loved Major League Baseball coverage.
“I can go promote an event anywhere in the world,” McMahon says. “But it helps to have someone who is familiar with the local environment to ensure success locally.”
The Titan FC COO had originally taken an investigative trip to the Dominican Republic back in April, where he first made a connection with the Dauhajre’s, the father-son team that run the Fighting Force organization. The Dominican Republic, like Kazakhstan had before, checked all the boxes for McMahon.
It resulted in a three-year deal being reached between the groups, with Titan FC agreeing to run two fight shows per year with the support of Fighting Force and the local government.
“As we began to get to know one another and look at what the key drivers were for each organization, I found that there was an opportunity to enter into a strategic partnership and talent development deal with them,” McMahon explains.
“So essentially, the same thing that I’m doing for the UFC is what Fighting Force is going to be doing for us. The difference is I’m not showcasing their fights, I’m showcasing their fighters. The UFC showcases our fighters and our fights (on UFC Fight Pass). So a little bit different, but very similar. At the end of the day, our role is to help develop talent for the UFC and that’s what Fighting Force’s role is going to be with Titan.”
In the meantime, McMahon continues to embrace the culture of the countries he visits with all the enjoyment of the proverbial kid in a candy shop. His recent trip to the DR included stopoffs at the rain forest with a big waterfall and beach areas with miles of white sand, mountains and palm trees.
While in Kazakhstan filming promotional videos prior to Titan FC 51, McMahon asked his local guide for something “uniquely Kazakh.” Enter Kokpar, a game that McMahon calls a personification of the Kazakh warrior culture and describes as a “combination (of) rugby and MMA on horseback played with a dead goat as a ball.”
Before they knew it, they were suited up on horseback and flinging goat.
“There was no safety brief, no ‘hey, do you know how to ride a horse?’” McMahon recalls. “They just handed both JZ and I the reins to our horses and gave us kind of an outfit to put on and the next thing you know we were in the middle of this intense game throwing a dead goat around, so it was a whole different experience.”
Which is exactly what McMahon is aiming for – a different experience. He looks at these trips as more than just a sporting event, he views it as a cultural opportunity.
“Part of what I’m trying to accomplish and part of what I’m selling to the government is that we are going to showcase the country, the culture, the people and the athletes,” McMahon says.
But it’s not all fights, Kokpar and horse milk, after all, there is a business to run. Giving credit to his own background as a venture capitalist, while referring to his partner Jeff Aronson as a “serial entrepreneur,” McMahon continues to push the boundaries between business and pleasure. But don’t let the jet-setting lifestyle fool you, business comes first.
“Yes, I’m a promoter, and Jeff (Aronson) and I work to promote Titan and make it a great place to fight,” McMahon says, noting that Titan FC is looking at future expansion into the Caribbean, Latin America and Eurasia. “But it’s also a business; and how you grow a business has to be one of the seminal questions you ask yourself if you’re in it to be a real business as opposed to a hobby.
“This is a really expensive hobby if someone wants to treat it as such. We treat it as a business and we’ve been growing year after year and doing well.”